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Thursday, 5 October 1911

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - I had not intended to speak upon this motion, because I had expected to initiate a discussion of a more general nature upon the Postal Service by submitting a proposal in regard to the report of the Postal Commission. I find, on referring to that report, that the question which is now under consideration was the one which received least attention at the hands of that body.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! I hope that the honorable senator is not going to debate the Postal Commission's report. Although the discussion upon the motion under consideration has been fairly wide, I have not allowed anything in the nature of a debate upon the report presented by that body.

Senator DE LARGIE - I was merely making an incidental reference to a matter which has a direct bearing upon the motion that- is now under consideration. So- far as the Postal Commission is concerned, I say that this question did not receive as much attention as did many other matters, for the simple reason that time did not permit us to inquire into it as exhaustively as we would have liked. But whilst we did not give it a great deal of consideration some attention was paid to it, and I have here some figures which will prove instructive to honorable senators - figures which support the contention of the Minister of Defence that the few thousand pounds which Senator McColl declares would cover the cost of the new departure which he advocates would represent a mere bagatelle compared with the financial responsibility which would be thrust upon us if we were to initiate a change of policy in regard to our mail services. I would further point out that if we abolish any service that has been established, we must be prepared to substitute something better for it. In other words, if we dispense with all outside financial help, we must be prepared to foot the entire bill. According to the figures which are embodied in a table contained in the Postal Commission's report, there are no less than 1,675 mail services in the Commonwealth which are conducted at a loss. There are 363 in New South Wales alone, and a still larger number in Victoria. In this State, there are 620 such services.

Senator Rae - That is strange, seeing that Victoria is a more compact State.

Senator DE LARGIE - Exactly. As a matter of fact, in Victoria there are nearly double the number of services which are run at a lass that there are in New South Wales. In Queensland there are 339 such services, which, considering its greater area, is not an unreasonably large number. In South Australia there are 142 mail services conducted at a loss, whilst in Western Australia, which is the largest State of the group, there are only 125. I ask honorable senators to recollect that in a State which comprises one-third of the Commonwealth, there are only 125 mail services of this description.

Senator McGregor - But there are no people living in two-thirds of it.

Senator DE LARGIE - There are; although there may not be many. In the little fly-speck of Tasmania, there are eighty-six of these services. The loss incurred upon the whole of them aggregates £[63,980 annually.

Senator Ready - To which year does the honorable senator refer?

Senator DE LARGIE - To 1908, the year for which the latest figures were available to the Commission.

Senator Ready - And the charges have been reduced since then?

Senator DE LARGIE - Yes; they have been reduced by almost one half. Senator Keating has referred to the fact that the Postal Department has continued in one groove for some years. But that charge can scarcely lie against the present Government. An Administration which has reduced the postage upon letters from 2d. to id., has made an alteration of a very radical kind.

Senator Keating - The Department was agreeable to that change long ago. It was Parliament that would not sanction it.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am sorry that Parliament did sanction it. In my judgment, it was a -false step to take. As a result of that, innovation, unless we are prepared to face a much greater financial responsibility, our country mail services in the future will be even more severely handicapped than they have been. It was because I recognised that fact, that I voted against the present Government when the Penny Postage Bill was under consideration in this Chamber. But certainly the Ministry can claim that they have not followed conservative lines in the matter of the carriage of mails. When we reflect that the present loss upon mail services in the Commonwealth aggregates .£63,980 annually we can easily understand that if services were granted, irrespective of whether or not' they were likely to pay, that amount would be multiplied several times over.

Senator McColl - Nobody advocates that.

Senator DE LARGIE - To use an old adage, we cannot very well afford to throw away dirty water until we have obtained clean. If we abolish the present system, we must substitute another for it. Senator McColl has identified himself with certain ideas of an anti-socialistic character which, if put into practice, would show up very badly indeed. Is the Government to be called upon at any expense to grant the best possible mail facilities ? If so, our finances will have a strain imposed upon them which it will be impossible for them to bear. All that we can reasonably expect is what the Government have proposed, and that is to give, as recommended by the Postal Commission, more liberal treatment than has been given in the past. While reducing the cost of postage on the one hand, they are providing a more liberal service on the other. They are showing that they are not adhering to conservative ways or following in a rut. We know that more money will be required by the Department if we carry out this policy. For that reason, I think it is only reasonable that the Department should say to the people of these districts, " Cooperate with us, give us the assistance which you can render, and we will meet you as far as we can, and provide you with a service." I know that in the out-back districts of Western Australia farmers can give a much more economical service by cooperating with the Department than can be provided if it has to call for tenders for the carriage of mails, and the residents stand aloof, and do not assist to get a service at a reasonable cost. If we have to submit to the claims of men who are making a living out of running coaches we must be prepared to pay a great deal more for mail services than we have paid in the past. What we are losing will be multiplied several times, and we shall find that we have attempted to do a great . deal more than is possible with the money at our command. The financial aspect of the question cannot be ignored. I hold that, instead of blame, the Government deserve the greatest praise for what they are attempting to- do.. If the financial results should cause surprise in years to come, I hope that those who find fault with the Government to-day will then remember that that Government accepted responsibilities which no other Government had attempted to undertake. For that reason I must oppose the motion. I think that if Senator McColl had taken time to reflect he would have recognised that it is impossible for us to lose sight of financial considerations in regard to services of this kind. I believe that if he had regarded the matter from that stand-point he would not have brought forward the motion. I hope that he will ask leave to withdraw it. I think' it has been clearly shown that his proposal is utterly impracticable. I feel sure that he does not wish his name to be identified with anything which is utterly impracticable. I hold that the only thing we can do is to allow the Government to carry out their scheme. If it has been a surprise to learn that they are providing for a more liberal mail service in the future than has been provided in the past we ought to be very well satisfied, instead of passing a motion which may be taken as a reflection on the administration of the Department.

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