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Friday, 13 October 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - I have a matter to bring before the House, and this is the first opportunity I have had to refer to it. During the referenda campaign I was- in Queensland, and in what is called the far north. While there, I was shown post-offices the condition of which was a disgrace to the Department. Time after time requests have been made for repairs to old buildings or the erection of new buildings. 1 was shown buildings the boards of which had been so eaten through by white ants that it was possible to stand in the street and see what was being done in the office. We have been told by Ministers that the Post and Telegraph Department has been placed on a better footing. I should like to know where is the evidence of that. It may be evident around Melbourne, and within a short radius of Parliament House; but let me say that the outside districts, inhabited by the pioneers of this country, are being starved by the Department, while money is being squandered in the southern parts of Australia. I draw attention to this important matter, and to the practical rebellion in the service. The statement was made only last night in another place that the Post, and Telegraph Department is now almost perfect, and is, at all events, in a far better condition than it was under any previous Administration.

Senator McColl - I call attention, sir, to the fact that there is not a quorum present. [Quorum formed.']

Senator SAYERS - To my surprise, I read in the newspapers this morning that the telegraphists of New South Wales had made demands against the Government and were threatening trouble. It is quite possible that there are not many honorable senators who take an interest in the matter that I have been speaking about, because the place is too far from the centre of Government. But, unless steps are taken to remedy this disgraceful state of affairs, we are likely to hear of more trouble in the Department. Whenever I mentioned this subject previously, the reply was that there were no funds. But now the Government cannot make that excuse. They have more money than they know what to do with. They are lending to the States at 3§ per cent.

Senator Needham - Cheaper than the States were ever able to borrow before.

Senator SAYERS - The honorable senator's statement is incorrect. I know that a number of loans have been arranged by the States at 3^ per cent., and a few at as low as 3 per cent. We all remember how Ministerial supporters clamoured for the rectification of grievances when they sat in Opposition. What sort of men must they now appear to the people at large when they do not say a single word to force the Government to remedy evils that they know to exist? As long as I am a member of this Parliament I intend, no matter what party is in power, to use my best endeavours to compel the Government to do what is right and just. I shall not be restrained by any party ties. I do not go to a party meeting and enter my protest against something that is proposed to be done, and then vote with the majority in favour of doing it. I claim always to be a free man; and no matter what is done at party meetings, I reserve to myself the right to express my views fearlessly upon the floor of the Senate.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator should not allow himself to be drawn off the point as to what the Government are going to do with the Sydney telegraphists.

Senator SAYERS - I do not intend to be diverted from that point. When Ministerial supporters were sitting in Opposition they drew sorrowful pictures of the hardships of widows and children of postal employes. Now they sit supporting Ministers, and are dumb. They have forgotten all their previous expressions of sympathy; But the people will not forget what they are now doing. I have protested, no matter what Government was in power, against this sort of thing, and shall continue to do so. Whenever honorable senators opposite meet with the case of a man who is a bad employer they denounce him. The worst employers in the Commonwealth sit on the Government benches to-day. If they liked, they could put the service on a proper footing. Their supporters, if they liked, could compel the Ministry to do so. We should not then hear of all this strife and discontent. Why should people be compelled to put up with such hardships as I have described ? I know of post-offices in the north of Australia that are so rotten that one can poke his finger through the boards. If those buildings were in the suburbs of Melbourne they would be condemned by the press, honorable senators opposite would take out parties to inspect them, and Boards of Health would denounce them. Yet the Government do nothing. Another matter to which I wish to refer relates to the Defence Department. I saw that the Minister, in answer to a question, stated that the Commonwealth sent Home sixty-four men to be trained to take positions in the Australian Navy; but that since fifteen of them have left the service. That is a little over 22 per cent. What service on God's earth could be carried on under such conditions? Why were these men either dismissed or allowed to leave the service before their term was completed?

Senator Chataway - They broke their agreement.

Senator SAYERS - I suppose the Commonwealth Government were not prepared to make them stick to their agreement. We are spending vast sums of money on the construction of vessels in the Old Country. I had the pleasure of seeing some of them while I was there. How can we conduct a navy if 22 per cent. of the men who sign agreements leave the service before their time expires?

Senator Blakey - Not 22 per cent.

Senator SAYERS - The honorable senator has no right to interject ; and I particularly object to his giving me the lie direct.

Senator Blakey - Some of them were sick men, and had to leave.

Senator SAYERS - Why is not the honorable senator man enough to stand up on the floor and say what he wishes to say?

Senator McDougall - Do not get angry.

Senator SAYERS - I am angry when I see men expounding one set of views when they are in Opposition, and not having the courage to maintain the same opinions when they are sitting behind a Ministry. What are we to say to the taxpayers of Australia when they ask us why these things are so? No explanation is made by the Government. We are simply told that fifteen men out of sixty-four have left this service which we spent a considerable amount of money on training them for. If 22 per cent. of our men are dissatisfied with the conditions, how can we hope to build up an Australian Navy? There must be something rotten. Either the men are not being paid sufficiently, or their treatment makes them discontented. We talk a great deal aboutour great Commonwealth, and of the liberality with which we are prepared to treat men. I say that this great Commonwealth is not treating its men liberally and fairly when they want to leave the service in this fashion. The Minister of Defence owes some explanation as to why there have been such a number of desertions.

Question - That the Senate do now adjourn - put under sessional order, and resolved in the negative.

Senator SAYERS - The interjections from the other side have caused me to speak longer, and, perhaps, a little more warmly, than I had intended. To-day we have heard a lot about immigration. When I was in England a short time ago a large number of persons questioned me about the facilities which Australia offered to immigrants. The Prime Minister made certain statements on the subject. I am sorry that he made some of the statements, but, perhaps, he spoke with a fuller knowledge than I possess. I do not agree with him, for instance, that there is ample room in Australia for miners. I think that we have plenty of miners here to-day. There is ample room, however, for men who are willing to go on the land. Whenever I was questioned by persons on the subject I said, " Are you prepared to take any job you can get? If so, there is plenty of room in Australia for you, but if you want a particular job, or are not prepared to rough it, I advise you to remain where you are." There is a home for people in Australia if they like to put up with the rough usage of the bush for a few years, but if they wish to remain in towns, go to theatres, and sleep under mosquito curtains, they should stay in England. I was written to from various parts of that country. Some of the letters I took to the Queensland Emigration Agent. I mentioned that I had seen the writers, and asked him to communicate with them. I told him that' I was advised that they were mainly farm labourers. I was interviewed on behalf of a gardener who was working about a house. His employer came to me and said, " Now that the lad is getting on in years I cannot afford to pay him a fair wage, but I am prepared to help him to emigrate to Australia if you think it is a good country for him to go to." I said, " It is, send him along to-morrow morning." When he came he seemed to be a hard-working man - just the type of man we need. We do not want men to come here to hang about the towns. If, instead of having 500,000 persons in Melbourne and nearly 600,000 in Sydney, we had a much larger number distributed throughout the country we should be a great deal more prosperous than we are. If we wish to people the land we should hold out inducements to settlers. Compared with Canada there was no inducement, so far as I could see when in England, held out to persons to come to Australia. In nearly every street, Canada announced that it was a desirable country for persons to emigrate to. In the Mall, in London, there was an arch showing the resources of that great Dominion. They also had a building where every article they produced was exhibited. But what was the position in regard to this Commonwealth. One had to climb two. flights of stairs, or to go up in a lift, to ind the office of the High Commissioner. Compared with the results we have obtained we have spent far too much money J think. Instead of the money being spent in a proper manner it has been frittered away, and wehave got practically no return. Perhaps, in our eyes, Canada is not of as great importance as Australia. Judging by what I have seen I prefer Australia to Canada, or any other portion of the British Dominions, as a country for young men to emigrate to. We have only to look round this chamber to realize what a fine opportunity Australia offers to young men. How many men do we see here today who, if they had remained in their own country, would have had a chance to obtain a seat on. the floor of the House of Commons ? I came to this country fortyseven years ago, . but young men who arrived here only a few years ago, have been in this Parliament pretty well since they landed. In Great Britain they could not win a seat in Parliament or get £600 a year there.

Senator Millen - The costof living is higher here.

Senator SAYERS - That is a great inducement to young men to leave the plough' or to drop the pick and shovel, and to' come out to Australia. It is about time, I think, that the Government took stepsto reorganize the Post and Telegraph Department. I do not doubt that my opinion is shared by honorable senators sitting on the other side. There can be no excuse on financial grounds. I hope that, before this session ends, the Government will takesteps to put the Department on a proper' basis, and to secure to those who are a long way from head-quarters reasonable accommodation and a proper scale of pay. I wish to make some remarks on the subject of old-age pensions, but very likely I shall have an opportunity to speak fully on another occasion. I find that there is a vast number of eligible persons who, for some technical reason,' are unable, even after a delay of twelve or eighteen months, to get old-age pensions. It should be made as easy as possible for a man who is qualified to get an old-age pension. I have referred to the Prime Minister two letters from persons who before I left for the Old Country tried to secure an old-age pension each. I can take an oath that they are over the prescribed age, but, for some reason or other, they tell me that their application has not been approved of yet.

Senator Barker - Perhaps they could not get a birth certificate.

Senator SAYERS - Surely when a man can certify that he has known the applicant in this country for forty years the authorities ought to be satisfied. These old persons do not know as much about the procedure as we do. They go to a. neighbour who fills in a form and forwards it to the Department. The Government should find some means to assist theapplicants. Why should persons be kept' waiting for a year or two for old-age pensions? That is a hardship which I hope the Government will find a way to rectify.

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