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Wednesday, 7 July 1915

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) .- The question of the delay in the delivery of letters to and from out boys at the front has been written about in the press and referred to in Parliament times out of number; but we are in no better position to-day than we were at the commencement; indeed, if anything, the position is worse to-day. Anything I may say will not be in condemnation of the Defence Department for the administration in Australia. I want the Minister to understand clearly that we are ventilating a grievance because we are desirous of strengthening his hands in any action he may take. I was astonished the other day, and so wore honorable senators, to read of the appointment of a gentleman to go to Egypt or elsewhere.

Senator PEARCE - YOU are quite under a misapprehension there. No appointment of anybody has been made to go to Egypt. Mr. Keith Murdoch happens to be. going to England; he has not been given any appointment.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - According to the newspaper reports, the gentleman has been given authority to make inquiries into the postal arrangements as regards letters passing between the troops and their friends.

Senator Pearce - Surely you do not object to him being asked to inquire ?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No. This gen- "tleman, if he has any authority, will merely make inquiries in Egypt, and go on to London. Some person or persons should be sent to Egypt with absolute authority to take possession of the mail matter at the front, or at the base in Egypt, and deal with it from a practical, common-sense, business stand-point.

Senator de Largie - There are in the Department men who are well fitted to do that, too.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I think that if that plan were adopted it would save a certain amount of time, and the soldiers at the front would have a better chance of getting their letters, and so, too, the people, who are anxious to receive news from the soldiers, would be more likely to get letters. Yesterday week I received from my son a letter which he wrote on the 3rd May, when he was lying in a hospital at Alexandria. The letter was in transit for two months ; . by 'some means or other it went to England, and came round to Australia via America, whilst other letters written on the same day to friends of my son reached Adelaide, a month ago. I am not blaming the Defence Department for the fact that my letter did not reach me till last Tuesday.

Senator Pearce - After it left the camp it would not be handled by the Defence Department.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am making this explanation in justification of my recommendation that some person should be sent there with authority to deal with the letters from and to the troops. Another matter I desire to refer to is the receipt of a departmental telegram - and here again I do not blame the Department, because they gave me the best information they had; but some alteration is required. Although my son was wounded on the first day of landing at Gallipoli, I received - the departmental telegram on the 25th May, that is exactly one month after he was wounded.

Senator Millen - Was that telegram the first official intimation you had after he had been wounded ?

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes ; a month after my boy was wounded I received the telegram.

Senator Keating - I received to-day a telegram about a man who was killed two months ago.

Senator Pearce - You would get the telegram on the day after we received it. Sitting suspended from 6.80 to S p.m.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I was explaining that some steps should be taken to improve the means of postal and telegraphic communication between our soldiers at the front and the people of Australia. I have said that on the 25th May I received a departmental telegram to the effect that my son had been wounded. Later I received a comunica- tion from him informing me that he had been wounded on the 25th April. So that the telegram had taken Exactly one month to reach me.

Senator Pearce - It had not taken a month to reach the honorable senator, but it was not sent until a month after his son was wounded.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I repeat that I am not blaming the Defence Department. I know perfectly well that all the information which the Department receives in connexion with matters of this kind is given to the people of Australia as soon as possible after they receive it. I say that it indicates serious laxity of administration at the front, when it is a month from the date on which a lad is wounded before notice of the fact reaches his parents in Australia. In due course I received a card from my son dated 14th May, 1915, which informed me that he would be back again at the front in two days' time, that is to say, on the 16th May. As a matter of fact, I know that he is back again in the firing line, but the point I wish to make is that he was back at the front for nine days before I received the telegraphic message to. say that he was wounded. That shows that there is something seriously wrong. I have not yet received any official information that my boy is back again at the front. It is evident that the Defence authorities at the other end have lost all track of him. He must have been registered as received at the hospital wounded, his discharge from the hospital and the fact that he went back to the front must also have been recorded, and yet no official information has been received in Australia regarding the matter. A recital of these facts may satisfy the public who are under the impression that certain persons in the community are given information of what goes on at the front before the general public. I hope it will satisfy them also that the Defence Department are doing the best they can.

Senator PEARCE - It amply justifies the step taken to secure some one other than a departmental official to make inquiries ' into the matter.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I know only from newspaper reports that a certain gentleman has been selected to go to Egypt and then on to England.

Senator Pearce - That is incorrect.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I have given the newspaper report on the subject. The fact remains that after eight months the business arrangements in connexion with postal facilities are more imperfect today, if that be possible, than they were at the commencement of the war. I am suggesting that the Government should do something practical to remedy what is complained of. Why should the Minister of Defence have this matter on his mind all the time? Why should he not send some one to the front with authority to take charge of postal and telegraphic business ?

Senator Pearce - That waa done long agĀ°-

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Then what are those- persons doing?

Senator Pearce - That is what we want to find out.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The whole business has been shockingly bungled. One, two or three men who knew something of the details of post-office work should be sent to the front straight away.

Senator Pearce - That was done long ago.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They should be instructed to take charge of the post and telegraphic business, and be in a position to see that letters and telegrams are sent without delay. What sort of administration is it under which a letter addressed to me is dealt with in such a way that n goes first to England, and then to Australia, via America ? That is the work of a man who does not know where Australia is situated, or the shortest route by which to communicate with Australia. Two or three letters have been delayed for a month, owing to the stupidity or incapacity of some one connected with the post-office business at Alexandria. I do not wish to labour the question, but as the matter was brought up, I thought it advisable, and perhaps beneficial, to give my personal experience, to suggest that the whole business has been badly muddled up to the present, and to ask the Minister of Defence to take steps to put it upon a satisfactory basis. We cannot take up a newspaper without finding half-a-dozen letters complaining of nondelivery, or delay in the delivery, of communications between Australia and our soldiers at the front. I know that this is causing the Minister of Defence and the officers of his Department a good deal of worry, but it seems to me that it should not be difficult to remedy what is complained of. If some practical steps were taken in the matter, honorable senators here and honorable members of another place would not need to take up time in discussing it, and a stop would be put to the complaints made on the subject.

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