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Thursday, 15 April 1915

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - The honorable senator who has just resumed his seat has put forward a case which I think would have been greatly strengthened if it had been expressed in milder language. He should know that the members of the Government, and, indeed, all the members of the Senate, have quite as much sympathy with the residents of King Island for any real grievance from which they suffer as he has himself.

Senator Long - They have not shown it.

Senator GARDINER - Why the honorable senator should add to his statement of the case the complaints he has made about the present Government I do not know. I venture to say that his language, and even the veiled threats he has made, will not help the case of the King Island people.

Senator Long - Does the honorable senator wish to make a personal matter of it?

Senator GARDINER - Certainly not. I desire to say that the Government will be prepared at all times to take into their most earnest consideration the necessities of any of the people of the Commonwealth, no matter how far they may be removed from centres of civilization, and to give them the even-handed justice which Senator Long has asked for the residents of King Island. There will, however, always be some cases of apparent injustice suffered by people in some part of the Commonwealth.

Senator Long - Not continuously, surely? ?

Senator GARDINER - What are the facts? I am not disputing that Senator Long put them very accurately before the Senate, though he expressed them in what may be termed strained language. The military authorities thought it was expedient that the wireless station established at King Island should be dismantled. Furthermore, the postal authorities, as business men conducting a business of the Commonwealth, were of the opinion that the. wireless station established at King Island was too costly a station for them to take over. They had no desire to deal with the people of King Island in any harsh manner, and they put a certain proposition before them. During the dinner adjournment 1 had an opportunity to discuss the matter briefly with the Postmaster-General. The proposition put before the people of King Island by the Post and Telegraph Department is such as has frequently been submitted to people in isolated districts of the mainland.

Senator Long - Can the honorable senator mention any people in a similarly isolated position ?

Senator GARDINER - I remind the honorable senator that it has very often been decided by the Department to run mail services under an agreement with the people interested to contribute a certain amount to the expense. It his been a business practice with the Department in providing telephonic communication in outlying districts to do so on the understanding that the people served will guarantee a certain' revenue from the service or will guarantee the Department against loss.

Senator Long - Why did not the Government ask the people of King Island for a guarantee?

Senator GARDINER - It is not fair to ask me a question concerning a matter which I have not inquired into. I had not time during the dinner adjournmentto inquire into everything that had been done in connexion with this matter. I do not contend that every one brought into communication with civilization, as Senator Long has phrased it, should be called upon to pay for the service rendered, but I do say that a plain and practical business proposition his been put before the people of King Island. They were told that if they agreed to contribute a certain amount towards the cost of the communication required the Government would" be prepared to do their share. As I understand the matter, that proposition is still under consideration. Senator Long will not help the matter at all by the use of harsh phrases addressed to the Government. I tell the honorable senator at once that the Government will make no promise to do at once anything he desires to ask.

Senator Long - I am absolutely sick of the promises of the Government.

Senator GARDINER - That statement will not add to the reputation for sound judgment which the honorable senator has enjoyed for so many years in the Senate. If the honorable senator is sick of promises that have always been kept it is about time he had experience of promises that are not kept. I hope that not only in this case, but- in all other cases, the present Government will maintain the high reputation they havefor keeping their promises.

Senator Long - I hope so, too.

Senator GARDINER - I again state that the question raised by the honorable senator is purely a business one. The people of King Island were without the communication for a good many years. For how long did the Government of Tasmania, when they had control of the island, leave the people without this provision for communication ?

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator should know that the population of the island has become considerable only within the last few years.

Senator Bakhap - Only since Federation was consummated.

Senator GARDINER - I understand that, since Federation, settlement on the island has increased, and is increasing. It should not be forgotten that, during the past six months, the present Government have had a fairly strenuous time in dealing with a great many difficult questions. I do not think that it is fair that they should be met at the present time with an attack couched in the strongest language imaginable, merely because, during the few short months in which they have been in office, this matter has not been fixed up to the satisfaction of the honorable senator who has put this claim forward to-night.

Senator Long - I remind the Minister that the Labour Government were in office for three years before their present term ; but, unfortunately, Senator Gardiner was not a member of the Government during that period.

Senator GARDINER - I wish only to put the position fairly. The Government considered that the wireless system established at King Island was altogether too costly for them to take over, when, from a business point of view, a satisfactory system could be established that would not be half so costly. A matter of this kind affecting a place like King Island cannot be settled off-hand. Yet Senator Long, departing entirely from his usual good-natured manner, has used expressions concerning the Government which might lead to the impression that they have lost the confidence of the whole of the people of the Commonwealth because they have treated the people of King Island .harshly. I will not say that the whole of our departmental machinery does not sometimes work too slowly for all of us, but I give a promise which the honorable senator assured me he will not take.

Senator Long - I did not.

Senator GARDINER - I make the promise that, so far as the people of King Island are concerned, if, considering the business aspect of the matter, and the interest of the Commonwealth generally, we can in any way-

Senator Long - No qualifications.

Senator GARDINER - I am not in a position to give the honorable senator an unqualified promise. If the people of King Island can in any way be brought more closely into touch with civilization and with Tasmania, I shall be prepared to do my utmost to bring that about. I feel sure that when the honorable senator has fairly considered all that has been done up to the present, he will admit that he was not justified in what he has said. The first proposal made was to take over the existing wireless station ; and, in the opinion of the authorities of the Post and Telegraph Department, it was altogether too big a concern for them to take over. There was then the question of the establishment of another wireless station that would not be nearly so costly. It is only reasonable to expect that it would take some time to consider a business proposition of that kind. If Senator Long believes that the strength of his language will make any very great impression upon tlie Government, he is mistaken. This is purely a departmental matter, which might easily have been settled without making it a matter for discussion in the Senate. Communication with the mainland is a matter of importance to the people, not only of King Island, but of other islands belonging to the Commonwealth, and it is becoming more important every day, owing to the peculiar position in which we are placed.

Senator Bakhap - King Island contains the largest community of white people of any island on the Australian coast, with the exception of the island State of Tasmania itself.

Senator GARDINER - I am not attempting in any way to underrate the importance of King Island. I believe that there are about 1,000 people there.

Senator Long - The honorable senator is overlooking it in his argument.

Senator GARDINER - I am not overlooking it at all. I quite recognise that a growing population is entitled to the consideration of the Government, no matter where the people reside. But the whole machinery of government cannot be stopped in order that attention may be given to a matter of this kind at one particular time. Negotiations have been conducted for months past.

Senator Long - For some years past.

Senator GARDINER - I am not going to take the responsibility of what happened years ago. There has been delay. I recognise that all negotiations or business transactions between the Department and any section of the community are necessarily slow. We have to move slowly in order that we may move safely. There is many a rapid move which, ;f made, would probably please a few persons, but which would end disastrously so far as the Government and the Commonwealth are concerned. I could put before the Cabinet a hundred and one propositions which would be highly satisfactory from my view-point, but which, perhaps, the more matured minds of my colleagues would regard otherwise. 1 recognise that the establishment of communication with King Island cannot afford to wait, and there will be no unnecessary delay. At the same time .the matter will not be expedited either by threats or by the strength of the language which is hurled against the Government.

Senator Long - I do not know that my language was strong; otherwise I would have been called to order.

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