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Thursday, 5 October 1911

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I am not surprised at Senator McColl taking action in this matter, though I am surprised at the terms of his motion in respect of their width. I was, however, greatly astonished at the information given by the Minister of Defence in reply, as to the policy adopted by this Government with respect to contributions from residents of districts asking for extended postal facilities. The policy explained by Senator Pearce was not that which was pursued from the inception of the Commonwealth. Since the first Parliament met I have been continuously in correspondence with the Post and Telegraph Department with respect to facilities desired by residents in various parts of my own State. It was the policy of the Department to enter into a very nice calculation as to the probable revenue to be derived from a requested new service, and the cost of conveying the mail. They then called upon the local residents to make up the deficiency. That, I say, was the original policy. I am very pleased, surprised, and gratified to know that it has been departed from to the extent stated by the Minister of Defence. I believe that that information will be news to many besides myself. Speaking from my own experience, I have on many occasions had to point out to residents who asked for facilities of this kind, that the Department could not, on its own principles of financial administration, comply with some of them. It will now be my pleasure to inform those of my constituents that the information I then gave was incorrect, and that another policy is now carried out by the Department. I shall be able to inform them that they can put their claims forward in future with some amount of confidence. I do not know how long the new policy has been in force.

Senator Pearce - Since December of last year.

Senator KEATING - It would have been wise if members of the Senate had been informed of the change, because I have no doubt that there are many beside myself who are in weekly, and almost daily, correspondence with constituents in respect of facilities asked for. Certainly I regarded the policy of the Department as long established, and though I did not personally approve of it, I had on many occasions to inform persons what that policy was, and what prospect they had of having their wants complied with. I do not agree with those honorable senators who consider that Senator McColl's motion, even in its wording, is aimed against the present Government. It is aimed at what has been the established policy of the Department since the Commonwealth took over its administration. From my own individual point of view, I have always considered that the policy of the Department, in this and other matters, has been too casehardened and too illiberal. I have experienced - as other honorable senators have - from the officers of the Department, whenever I have had to approach them, the utmost courtesy and the fullest consideration. I do not attribute any blame to them whatever. But I do say that they have worked too much in grooves. While dealing most courteously with every application that has been brought under their notice, they have not allowed themselves to escape from the grooves which they had formed for themselves before they came over to the Commonwealth service, or immediately before the establishment of Federation. It is certainly gratifying to learn that the departmental officers are expanding a little in comparison with what has been their attitude during the last ten years. I recollect a personal experience in connexion with postal facilities that may interest the Senate. It illustrates the point that sometimes facilities that are desired are not obtained owing to the observance of a little too much formality, and that not merely by the departmental officers themselves, but even by residents in country districts. I remember that on one occasion - it was while a Government of which I was a member was in office - I was visiting a certain part of Tasmania, when a deputation waited upon me with regard to postal facilities. They represented a certain district which was then very young, but which gave promise of early and sturdy growth. They pointed out that they were situated between two post-offices 7 or 8 miles from either. They wanted their mails to be conveyed to them in their own district. I told them that they would have to estimate what would be the revenue, and also what would be the cost of meeting their wishes by having the letters conveyed out to them. Calculations were made, and there certainly was a very considerable discrepancy between the small amount of estimated revenue and the calculated cost of carrying the mails 7 or 8 miles at least once

Or twice a week. There was also a difficulty about the appointment of somebody who would take the responsibility of distributing the letters to the persons to whom they were addressed. I was talking in the street about this matter with a number of persons, and I got into particular conversation with a man who seemed very much interested in getting the mail out to this place. He began to tell me how many residents there were, how many there had been six months before, and how many he expected there would be in six months' time. He appeared to possess great knowledge of the subject, and I asked him how it was that he was aware of so many details. He told me that he was a storekeeper, and that, as he was supplying the people at the outside settlement with commodities, he was able to measure fairly well the number of residents in that district. I asked him who supplied the people out there with their bread. He stated that he supplied them twice a week. I then said, " What is wrong with your sending the mail out when you are sending out the bread?" He replied, "Well, I never thought of that." I said, " What will you do it for?" He mentioned a price, and I said at once, " Well, write it down." He went to his store, took a piece of paper, wrote down his price, and by the next mail I sent it on to the Post and Telegraph Department. The result was that within a fortnight or so those people had their mail being delivered twice a week. I believe that the service has since increased to a delivery three or four times a week.

Senator Pearce - That was self help !

Senator KEATING - It was really that. These people were surprised to find that the settlement of the difficulty was largely in their own hands, and that it could have been overcome without going through any considerable formalities. Senator McColl has pointed out that the total amount involved in the cessation of the present contributions of people towards country mail services is less than £[1,000 per annum. The Minister of Defence has properly pointed out, in reply, that the cost of making the change asked for is not to be measured by the amount of present contributions, because if the system were entirely abolished the non-payable districts would swell their applications so enormously that the cost to the Department would run up to about £[40,000. Now, in reply to a question put to the Minister representing the Postmaster- General to-day, I was informed that the special mail train which runs from Adelaide to Melbourne for the purpose- of bringing the English mail more expeditiously costs £[186 each time.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The mail often comes by the express train.

Senator KEATING - That is not the case with every incoming English mail. The special train which runs from Melbourne to Sydney costs £[218 every time.

I am informed that last Monday fortnight the English mail brought by the Orontes arrived in Melbourne on Monday morning. A special train left Melbourne for Sydney on the same day. I am told that she left at noon. The cost of that train was.£2i8. Notwithstanding the fact that the ordinary express was leaving at 5 o'clock in the afternoon.; the Department, at an increased cost of £218, engaged a special train simply to save five hours. I do not think that the special train travels any faster than the express. The point is, that when country residents see that, for the purpose of getting one English mail into Sydney five- hours earlier, the Post and Telegraph Department are prepared to spend £218 - although the residents of that city- may have three or four deliveries per day - they naturally ask, " How many country mail services not now existing could be established for that expenditure?" The figures quoted by Senator McColl show that there are fifteen of these subsidized services in Victoria, the average subsidy amounting to £26, and the total sum paid being £387. In Queensland there are twelve of such services, the total . cost being .£l65. and the average £14. There are in South Australia three services, costing £44 1 03., or an average of £15. In Tasmania there are four, costing £26, or an average of £6 10s. In Queensland there are three, costing £108, or an average of £36. Yet, for accelerating the delivery of the English mail by five hours £404 was paid. These are discrepancies which justify country residents in urging that they should not be called upon to guarantee that a particular mail service shall pay from the "jump. I do not agree with the terms of the motion submitted by Senator McColl. In my opinion they are too wide. I believe that in the past the policy of the Department has been a case-hardened one. But the statement of the Minister of Defence shows that at last it is beginning to realize that it must get out of the old groove in which it has remained so long, and that we may expect better things in the future.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator must know, from his own experience of the Department, that very often these special trains have to be arranged in order to enable people at the other end to answer their correspondence by the outgoing mail.

Senator KEATING - That is so, but the remark does not apply to each of the States.

Senator de Largie - It applies to Sydney.

Senator KEATING - Yes, sometimes. But in the case which I quoted the English mail would have reached Sydney in the ordinary way by the express train at 10 o'clock on Tuesday morning, whereas it arrived there by the special train at 5 o'clock that morning. The residents of Sydney would, therefore, have to post their letters in reply to their English correspondence in time to catch the Wednesday night's train.

Senator de Largie - And those letters would just miss that week's outgoing mail.

Senator KEATING - It is not every recipient of a letter by an inward English mail steamer who has to reply to it by "the first outward mail. But so far as Tasmania is concerned that is a matter of frequent occurrence, and, under these circumstances, I do not see why a special train should not be run between Launceston and Hobart, at a cost to the Government of £50. All this goes to show that the Department very properly facilitates correspondence, and country residents who are denied very many other advantages naturally desire that their correspondence with the outside world should also be facilitated. One outstanding feature that we ought to recollect in this connexion is that through no other Department more than through the Postal Department can the sense of Australian unity be brought home to those who reside in districts far removed from all the advantages of city and municipal life.

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