Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 13 May 1915

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - It is my desire to bring before the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral the difficulty which contractors have in connexion with the conveyance of mails in different parts of the Commonwealth. Everywhere contractors are complaining bitterly that they are losing money on account of the increased prices of fodder since the contracts were accepted. This matter has been referred to by myself and other representatives from

South Australia, and I know from the public press that the same complaint is being made from many other parts of the Commonwealth. The Postmaster- General, in his reply, has stated that it is the intention of the Department, so far as possible, to reduce the number of deliveries per week by 50 per cent., and to reduce the allowances by 25 per cent. That is the most extraordinary method of relieving- distress that I ever heard of. The Postmaster-General seems to forget that a contractor has to feed his horses whether they are working or not. It has been suggested that in some of the smaller contracts one delivery a week can be cut out in certain places, and probably a reduction made in the contract price. But, as I have pointed out, that is no relief to these men. Representations have been made to the Postmaster-General that the men are carrying on their contracts at an absolute loss, but they cannot throw up their work, because certain other men have guaranteed them.

Senator Guy -They are under a bond, I suppose.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes, and if they do not carry out their contracts their guarantors will be called upon to do so. It has been suggested that the Government should act as they have done towards the horse-drivers on the east-west railway, namely, purchase supplies of fodder on behalf of the mail contractors in drought-stricken districts, and provide it at the same price as to those drivers. I recognise the difficulty of breaking a contract, and realize that when a man enters into a contract with the Commonwealth Government, they have a right to expect him to carry it out. But I would point out that these men are labouring under exceptionally severe conditions*. As everybody knows, there is no feed for horses scarcely anywhere in the interior of Australia, and men in far-back districts have to pay from £12 to £15 per ton for their chaff, while at the time they made their contracts the price was probably less than half- that amount. I am sure the Minister will see that this is a case of great hardship. As a rule, the people who take these contracts with the Postal Department are poor, hardworking men. The winter is coming on, and they will have to use more horses than during the summer months, owing to the heavier state of the roads. For the next three or four months, it is likely that some mens will have to use five horses to do the work which is done usually by three in the summer time. They are obliged to put on more strength, for if the mail contractor is five minutes behind at any place, he is called upon for a report. The horsesare so poor in many places that they can hardly stand up, and in not a few cases the men themselves are so poor that they cannot afford to buy a winter overcoat out of the contract, which they are carrying on at a loss. I am confident thatthe Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral will make representations on thismatter with the idea of seeing if something can be done to relieve the men speedily. Neither the Commonwealth nor the men are to blame. This is a case deserving of the .most earnest consideration of the Government, consideration such as was shown to men engaged on the east-west railway, and I think that we can reasonably ask that they betreated in the same manner.

Senator PEARCE(Western Australia, - Minister of Defence) pJ.57]. - I crave the indulgence of the Committee to makereference to a matter which I am sure has been engaging the attention of honorable senators to-day. I know that honorable senators are anxious to hear anything in connexion with the Australiansubmarine, in view of the Turkish report that the vessel had been destroyed. Immediately the report was published, we cabled to the Admiralty, and the Admiralty have replied that, so far, they have received no information to confirm the Turkish report. I am sorry it is not more definite than that, but, at any rate, this information gives us a ray of hope that the news from the Turkish source may not be correct.

Suggest corrections