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Wednesday, 4 December 1935

Senator COOPER (Queensland) . - Last night I was endeavouring to show the inconveniences endured by settlers in the far western districts of Queensland through the operation of the existing mail service. During the past few years the Postmaster-General's Department has been able to effect a saving of many thousands of pounds on these services. and, as an instance of these substantial economies, I shall quote the WintonBoulia contract. Winton is situated at the rail head, and Boulia is 251 miles distant. In 1920 two mail contracts existed, one to serve the district between Winton and Middleton, which is 106 miles along the route, and the other to serve the settlers between Middleton and Boulia. The contract for the WintonMiddleton section was £526, and for the Middleton-Boulia section £330, a total of £856. During the period 1921-23 the Winton-Middleton contract was let for £550, and the Middleton-Boulia contract for £330, a total of £880. The contracts for the years 1924-26 showed a substantial decrease, the Winton-Middleton section .being let for £200 and the MiddletonBoulia section for £324, a total of £524. Further considerable economies were effected in the years 1927-29, when the Winton-Middleton contract was let for £49 and the Middleton-Boulia contract for £49, or a total of £98. In 1931-32 a tender for the transport of mails from Winton to Boulia was let for £286, and the present contract for the combined services, which does not expire until 1937, has been let for £190. This mail service is operated by motor lorry, which covers a distance of 502 miles every week. The wear and tear on the vehicle, plus the cost of benzine and oil, and incidental expenses, make it utterly impossible for the contractor to obtain a profit from the tender of £190. What happens is that he makes up the difference between the present contract price of £190 and the 1921-2.3 contract price of £880 by the revenue he collects from the people in the closer settlement areas of the district which his motor lorry traverses. The settlers must obtain household stores and other requirements from Winton, and these commodities are brought to them by the contractor. These people are entitled to better facilities from the Postal Department than they are receiving. Before the country was subdivided into smaller areas, by which I mean holdings of 60,000 acres, it was held as large stations, and the' contractor delivered the mails direct to the homesteads. The resumed and subdivided areas are naturally on the outside of the station properties, and some of the settlers are many miles from the. mail route. One selector is obliged to travel 30 miles to Middleton to collect his mail. If there happens to be any urgent matter requiring a prompt reply, he must return to Middleton within the next three days to catch the mail, and thus he may be compelled to travel a total distance of 120 miles a week to deal with his correspondence. Four years ago I submitted to the department a scheme for a subsidiary mail to overcome this difficulty. I suggested the inauguration of a subsidiary service from Middleton, deviating from the main road' in order to serve eight settlers, and rejoining the ' main road about 15 miles further along the mail route. The deviation involved a distance of only 40 miles. Following a report by a departmental inspector, tenders were invited, and one of £70 was submitted. The department would not accept it, intimating that as the 1927-29 contract for a distance of 106 miles was let for only £49, it was not prepared to pay £70 for a 40-miles deviation. The department entirely omitted to consider the fact that the selectors themselves were indirectly paying the difference between the two contracts on the goods and parcels that they ordered from the railhead, thus enabling the contractor to tender for such a low amount. A departmental inspector interviewed the storekeeper and hotelkeeper in Middleton, hut I am given to understand that he did not visit the selectors themselves - the persons vitally interested - and, as his report was unfavorable to my suggestion, the plan for a subsidiary mail was rejected. The Minister should realize that these selectors have been too hard-pressed during the last ten years of drought to make any organized protest; but I contend that, in view of the substantial economies made by the department during the last few years on this route alone, the settlers who have made that saving possible should receive more favorable treatment. I have had brought to my notice details of four other similar cases in this district. Earlier in my remarks I stated that the postal facilities in some of the far western districts of Queensland were not so good as they were 25 years ago. This may be due to the fact that, as the result of closer settlement, and lower contract prices the contractor is forced to depend to a greater extent on his revenue from the carriage of goods to and from the properties on his route. In some instances, a mail contractor finds that he has to delay his lorry in order to pick up or deliver goods. "When Cob*) and Company carried out mail contracts in the far western districts of my State 25 years ago, one of the terms of their contract required the mailman to cross all streams or rivers if the water were not higher than the saddle flaps. Nowadays water so deep as that would cover the radiator of a motor lorry. Thus the mail would be delayed till the water had receded. The contractor is naturally not to blame for this. It is due to the bad condition of the roads which are not under the control of the Postmaster-General's Department. From the departmental point of view it may be considered good business to save £690 a year on One mail contract, but the settlers who are served by the mail are seriously inconvenienced, and in view of the part which they play in developing our outback ureas they should receive more consideration than they are now getting from the department.

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