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Thursday, 3 November 1921

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I could mention four or five honorable 'senators who subscribed to that idea. One honorable senator went so far as to suggest, by interjection, that the age should be sixteen years.

Senator Russell - All gave the reason that the boys, when turned off, became labourers; but that has been disproved.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I want to define the second position that was set up yesterday, and it was that there was a fairly strong opinion that the age at which a boy should cease to be a telegraph messenger should be seventeen, and not eighteen, years, for the reason that if there were no further career open to these lads in the Post and Telegraph Department, it would be very much better for them that they should know it at the age of seventeen, rather than at the age of eighteen. I am not 'clear as to whether the whole of -the 'telegraph messengers employed by the Commonwealth can, as they reach the age of .eighteen years, be absorbed- into 'the . Service. There is a conflict of opinion on this point; but 1 am informed . that not anything like all of those who annually reach the age of eighteen years can be found positions in the Service.

Senator Russell - I am informed that the number of appointments made in a normal year is 1,500, and there are about 500 of these telegraph messenger iboys. That number would represent 33 per cent, of the normal annual appointments.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Senator Henderson, who, I am in a position to say, has given some attention to this subject, says that nothing like- all the boys cam be absorbed, in the Service.

Senator Russell - The honorable senator was. not present when I gave the Commiittee some facts and figures, upon which Senator Payne withdrew his amendment, and Senator Henderson withdrew his statement..

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The force of my argument depends upon whether these boys can be absorbed in the Service afterthey reach the 'age of eighteen years or not. Here is the statement made by the high council of the Commonwealth Public Service organizations -

In Victoria there ore, approximately, 700 telegraph messengers, and there are not positions to promote this number of lads to. In the other States' a similar state of affairs exists.

Senator Bolton - The 700 range over a number of years'.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think that matters for the purpose of my argument. The statement made is that there are not sufficient positions to which to promote these lads as they arrive at. the age of eighteen years.

Senator Russell - That might have been so in. bad. times, when practically the only permanent employment was in the Public Service,, but nowadays the boys are given better, opportunities and higher wages outside.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I wish to be clear as to the actual position. If it is a fact that there is a considerable number of telegraph messenger boys who, when they arrive at the age of eighteen years, examination or no examination, cannot be placed in the Service, it would be better for them that they should be retired at the age of seventeen years.

Senator Russell - In 192.1. all were absorbed, with the- exception of seven who did not pass, or did not go up for the examination.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then I am. to understand that there will be sufficient openings for these lads in the Service in the future.

Senator Russell - Yes. Of the last batch 99 per cent, passed the examination and have been drafted, into the Public Service;

Senator Bolton - Senator- Pratten has now no more, argument.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, I have.I am coming now to- the third position set up by the amendment which the Minister has moved. If it be passed-, every boy who passes the prescribed- examination, irrespective of the wants of the Postal Service, must be- passed' into the Service.

Senator Bolton - They are already public servants- as- telegraph messengers.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not so, and it is a matter of some complaint that, irrespective of the duties- which they perform, they rank only as telegraph mesv sengers- until they arrive at the- age of eighteen years. The effect of the amendment would be that the 'Government would be morally bound, after a telegraph messenger had passed the prescribed examination, to find1 him a position iin the Service, irrespective of its require>ment's. If", as the Minister has- said, the Service can absorb all these boys as they arrive at the age of eighteen years, then the. effect of the amendment will be merely to prescribe that, before they are aibsorbed by the Service, they must pass an examination. But if the Service cannot absorb all. these boys,, year after year, as they arrive at the agei of eighteen years - and I am informed that, so far,, it has been unable to do so - by passing the amendment we shall be committing ourselves to a moral obligation to every boy who passes the prescribed, examination, to find him a position in the Service, irrespective of its. requirements.

Senator Foster - Might not the honorable senator put it that the obligation already exists, but the Government will not honour it unless the boy passes an examination ?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - No, the obligation does not at present exist. I have it on several authorities that there are injustices perpetrated, in connexion with these boys at the present time. The complaint is. made that a boy, after serving three or four years as a- telegraph messenger, is very often dumped out into the world when he reaches the age of eighteen years, irrespective of his qualifications for promotion in the Service, because he is not wanted.

Senator Russell - That is not imperative. A boy may not be taken on at the moment he reaches the age of eighteen years, but he may be absorbed before he reaches the age of twenty years.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - He still remains a telegraph messenger?

Senator Russell - Not necessarily.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What occurs in the interval between the time at which he reaches the age of eighteen years and the time when he passes into the Service?

Senator Russell - They may remain until a vacancy occurs in the Department. They will then get preference.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But they could not if this Bill is passed as drafted.

Senator Russell - Ifthey pass the examination.

Senator de Largie - A lad may remain in the Service until he is twenty years of age.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If he passes the examination. I am not out to create difficulties, but I think it would be a domestic tragedy if a bright boy, say, belonging to a large family, entered the Post and Telegraph Department as a telegraph messenger at the age of fourteen or fifteen years, and after serving three or four years were informed that the Department had no further use for him.

Senator de Largie - What is your remedy for a case of that kind ?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The remedy was suggested yesterday, namely, that the maximum age should be reduced. If a boy had to leave the Service ultimately through circumstances beyond his control, it would be better for him to start again in some other avenue of employment at the age of seventeen years than at eighteen years of age.

Senator de Largie - That is not much of a remedy.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - One of my honorable friends suggested yesterday that it would be better to make the maximum age sixteen years .

Senator Russell - I saw representatives of the whole of the Service, also the central executive of the Returned Soldiers' Association, and I had a perfect agreement with them on this point.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - May I suggest that this is not a matter for the Returned Soldiers' Association at all. It ia a national issue - what we shall do with our boys.

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