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Friday, 16 August 1912

Senator BLAKEY (Victoria) .- Whilst giving the Government every credit for the expenditure of money in certain directions, I must take exception to the proposed allocation of the vote for new works for the Postal Department in Victoria. I find that a sum of .£36,950 has been set down for new works in Victoria for the Postal Department ; but I very much regret to say that it is proposed that no less than £28,800, or about 66 per cent, of the vote, shall be spent in Melbourne and the metropolitan area. It is proposed to erect twenty new post-offices, in this State, and of that number nine are to be erected in the vicinity of Melbourne, and only eleven in the rest of the State. In the circumstances I am of opinion that the Government are not dealing fairly with the toilers of the country districts, who are after all the backbone of the State.

Senator Millen - Does the honorable senator propose to conclude with an amendment?

Senator BLAKEY - I do not. Though honorable senators opposite often say that we, on this side, are " gagged " by the Caucus, I have a right, as a member of the Labour party, and a Victorian senator, to criticise the Government if I believe they are acting wrongly in the allocation they propose of expenditure upon public works.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator may criticise them, but he must not vote against them.

Senator BLAKEY - I commenced by saying that I give the Government every credit for the large amount of money they propose to expend on public works.

Senator Givens -. - They have the cash.

Senator BLAKEY - I am very pleased to know that they have the cash. They have not to resort to the borrowing policy to which my honorable friends opposite would like them to resort. They have the cash, and, therefore, do not require credit. I think that the Government have been wrongly advised by their officials, seeing that they practically affirm that out of every £3 expended upon postal works in Victoria £2 shall be spent in Melbourne and only _£i in the country. I have nothing to say against Melbourne. Indeed, I am rather proud of it. But it is not the hub of the universe, or even of Victoria ; and, although more than half the population of this State is settled in it, that is no reason why 66 per cent, of the money to be expended upon postal works in Victoria should be spent in this city. I am strongly opposed to centralization. I hold that the Government are spending too much in the metropolis, and are thereby inflicting a wrong upon the country. I would prefer to see a greater amount upon the Works Estimates for expenditure in other portions of Victoria rather than such a large sum for expenditure in Melbourne.

Senator Guthrie - Where the people are.

Senator BLAKEY - Where half the people are. If the Government, had proposed to expend in Melbourne one-half instead of two-thirds of the money which appears upon these Estimates for postal works in Victoria, it would not have been so bad. But when they propose to expend two-thirds of the money devoted to postal works in Victoria upon half the population of this State, they are doing an injustice to the country districts. Under the division " Telegraphs and Telephones," I find that £60, 1 50 is to be spent upon the " construction and extension of telephone lines, instruments, and material, including construction of conduits and placing wires underground." If we are to attach any importance to the remarks which have fallen from the lips of Senator Gould, we must come to the conclusion that out of this expenditure of £60,150, possibly £150 will be spent upon postal works, and £60,000 upon the upkeep of the man who is loafing on the job. I, for one, repudiate the statements which have been made by Senator Gould to-day, and on a former occasion by Senator Vardon. The allegations that the men who are employed by the Postal,

Defence, and Home Affairs Departments are unworthy to be called men-

Senator Vardon - The honorable senator is defying the allegator.

Senator BLAKEY - The statements which have been published in the press from time to time have been effectively answered by the Leader of the Government in another place. Those statements were made only with the object of damaging the system of day labour in the eyes of the electors of Australia. We know perfectly well that the great daily newspaper in Melbourne, whose motto is such a paradox, has always been persistent in libelling the person who is obliged to earn his living by the toil of his hands and the sweat of his brow.

Senator Chataway - That is what politicians are complaining of.

Senator BLAKEY - They are not. If a single charge can be proved against any man employed in a public Department which the Government have to administer - I do not limit my statement to those who are employed in the undergrounding of our telephone wires - that individual should be reprimanded, and, if the necessity arises, should be dismissed from the Service. I am not here to advocate the claims to special treatment of any person in the Service who happens to be in sympathy with the views of the Labour Party. Neither am I actuated by any bias towards the individual who may be an opponent of that party. I merely say that, irrespective of their political opinions, the Government should pay a fair wage to the men they employ, and should expect a fair day's work in return.

Senator Chataway - And they should see that they get it.

Senator BLAKEY - They do see that they get it. It comes with very bad grace from honorable senators opposite to jibe at the manual labourers in the employ of the Commonwealth, and, for party political purposes, to follow the lead of newspapers which ought to have better sense.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - There is not an officer in the Commonwealth who has so many sweated men under his charge as has the officer in control of those who are engaged in undergrounding our telephone wires.

Senator BLAKEY - At the present time there is in charge of them a gentleman whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting - I refer to Mr. Sullivan. He has sole charge of the work which is being carried out in the metropolitan area. I hold no brief for him, but, in my opinion, he is carrying out that work conscientiously, effectively, and economically. He has under his control a body of men ranging from 600 to 1,000. At the present time there are 600 men employed in undergrounding our telephone wires over whom he has direct or indirect supervision. It is absolutely impossible to find a body of men of that character in which there will not be a few loafers or shirkers.

Senator Millen - That is all that has ever been alleged.

Senator BLAKEY - It is all very well for the honorable senator, in his dictatorial style, to declare that that is all that has ever been alleged. But Senators Gould and Vardon both made wholesale charges against men, in support of the statements published in the Melbourne Argus. They backed up all the insinuations and accusations that were levelled against the man on the job."

Senator Clemons - Surely the honorable senator does not contend that one man can supervise the work of 600?

Senator BLAKEY - I do not say that he can attend to all the details, any more than one general can control the operations of an army. I do not suggest that Mr. Sullivan is a Kitchener in the control of his men. But, as far as seeing that the men under him do an honest day's work for a fair day's pay, I do say that he has rendered good service to the Commonwealth.

Senator Chataway - Why would not Mr. Fisher give the name of the official who signed the report which he read?

Senator BLAKEY - If honorable senators opposite will read the statement which was made by the Leader of the Government in another place-

Senator Chataway - Without a signature.

Senator BLAKEY - The statement came from Mr. Charles Bright, the Deputy PostmasterGeneral.

Senator Chataway - A covering letter did, but not, the report.

Senator BLAKEY - If honorable senators will refer to Hansard, they will see that each of the charges made by the Argus two or three weeks ago has been absolutely refuted.

Senator Chataway - By an anonymous report.

Senator BLAKEY - No.

Senator Chataway - Whose report was it?

Senator BLAKEY - I presume that the anonymous report to which Senator Chataway refers was that which appeared in the columns of the Argus. The denial of the accuracy of that report was not an anonymous one. Knowing Mr. Bright as I do, I have no hesitation in saying that, as a man of honour, he would not send.-to any Prime Minister a report which was inaccurate, misleading, or dishonest.

Senator Chataway - Does the honorable senator think that he would not forward to the Ministerial head of his Department a report from an official merely because he did not agree with it?

Senator BLAKEY - In my opinion, the Deputy Postmaster-General would not forward to the head of any Government a report from one of his subordinates which was nothing more nor less than a' tissue of lies. In my opinion the whole of these villainous charges which have been made about "the man on the job" have absolutely failed, just as have other charges which have been made with the object of injuring the Government. The accusations in regard to the appointment of Mr. Chinn as an engineer on the transcontinental railway broke down in very much the same way. That, also, was a mare's nest. The evidence shows that the appointment of Mr. Chinn was not only thoroughly justified, but that, if everybody had his due, he was entitled, by reason of his abilities and character, to be, at all events, second in charge, if not, indeed, principal engineer of the line.

Senator Millen - He was not appointed in consequence of those testimonials.

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