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Thursday, 6 May 1915

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I listened with very great attention to the reply of the honorable the Minister in this matter, and have come to the conclusion that the Minister, or the Department, or both, have misunderstood what is required bv this motion. Whether the Department has done so intentionally or otherwise, I do not know. But I do not ask in this motion for all the details that are contained in the stock-sheets that the Minister referred to. I asked for a return showing the ' ' quantity, the general nature and purpose, and the value" of the materials held in reserve, and, so far as I am concerned, the information could have been contained in one sheet of paper.

Senator Pearce - To arrive at the totals they would have to get all the details.

Senator KEATING - I am going to speak of that. I did not know the Minister had in his possession stock-sheets for the 30th June last year. I may say at once that I was not wedded to the 1st October as the date for the return. I took that as a convenient date when tabling notice of this motion; but my only object was to ascertain what amount of reserve stocks for future telephone development the Government have. There was no idea of party or of unfair criticism of the Department in my mind. My one object was to ascertain if, in my opinion and in the opinion of other honorable senators, the Department was keeping itself equipped to meet the demands that might be made upon it, and that should be made upon it if it were a popular Department - popular in the sense that its facilities were being availed of to a large extent by the people. It needs very little argument from me to assure honorable senators that the activities, or inactivities, of the PostmasterGeneral's Department in relation to telephones are probably responsible for more profanity throughout this Commonwealth than any other single Department, State or Federal, and we are entitled to know what the Department is doing in the way of equipping itself to fulfil its functions. We receive innumerable reports with regard to various other Departments, many of which are far more uninteresting, far more unintelligible, and far less value than this return would be. I wanted the return to enable us to see what the Department is doing, what it has done, and what it is prepared to do. When I put the motion on the paper, I was mindful of the fact that objection had been taken by Ministers on the grounds of procedure, to senators asking Ministersto furnish the Senate with information by way of question with or without notice. In a preceding Government, the Leader of the Senate asked that members desirous of obtaining information, such as that referred to in this motion should not ask for it by way of a question, but should move for a return. Had I followed my own inclinations, I would have asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral for a return showing what I desired to be furnished to myself and the Senate, but I felt that I was bound by the rules of procedure to move for a return.

Senator O'Keefe - Do you think if you got this information that it would have any influence in extending the present telephone system, or of removing the troubles you, speak of ?

Senator KEATING - I do. There has been a good deal of dissatisfaction on this subject in the United Kingdom, where a parliamentary Committee has been appointed, and where the Chairman of that Committee has gone even outside Parliament, and has, through the medium of the Nineteenth Century, pointed out why it is that Great Britain lags behind America. The principal reason is that the authorities responsible for the telephone system in the United States of America keep on hand an immense stock of reserves ready to meet every demand that may be made. Though it would not have been relevant to the subject, I might have referred to further portions of that article, where it is shown that the telephone authorities in Chicago have been ready at a moment to " scrap " a whole system; and I want to know whether our Department is keeping itself abreast of the times or not. We know that when new telephones are required we are frequently told in various places that there are none in stock; and we are very often asked to accept an inferior and obsolescent telephone until such time as the Department gets a better one in stock. I know of one man who has been waiting for eight years to get an improved telephone.

Senator O'Keefe - Are not these difficulties really difficulties of finance?

Senator KEATING - That may be. But I want to know what the Department does to keep its stock replenished, and to have adequate reserves to meet the demands that are made upon it. 1 am not accusing theDepartment under this Government with neglect. I am speaking of what, in my opinion, the Department has failed to do ever since the establishment of Federation. I do not think that we, as a Parliament, know sufficient about the activities of the telephone branch in matters of this kind. I am glad to know from the Minister that this information is available as from 30th June last. I quite recognise that to ask for another return made up to October last would not be of very much greater value than the earlier return, and I shall be very pleased to avail myself of the invitation of the Minister to look at it; and if there are particular items in respect of which I should like a return to be made to the Senate, then I will take the opportunity of getting that information furnished; but I wish the Minister and the Senate to understand that I have no sinister motive in moving this motion. I desire to get what I consider is valuable information for members of the Senate, and for the public; but in the circumstances following upon what the Minister has said, and recognising that it is not likely that this motion will be carried - and perhaps it would not be desirable that it should be carried in the form in which it appears, asking for a return up to 1st October - I do not know whether I am in order in withdrawing it or not-

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator is perfectly in order in asking leave to amend or withdraw the motion.

Senator KEATING - The only course I could take if I were to amend the motion would be to ask for this information from 30th June last, and as the 30th June of this year is not so far away, it would, perhaps, be better to wait the return from 30th June next; and perhaps between now and then I may find means of asking the Department to put, as far as it possibly can, in their next return, a separate account in relation to telephones, so that the Senate may have the opportunity of seeing what reserves we have. I think that I have served the purpose that I had in mind in having the subject discussed, and I therefore ask leave of the Senate to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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