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Wednesday, 4 December 1935

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) . - To clarify the position, I point out that the Broadcasting Commission is governed by a special act. If honorable senators refer to that act, they will see that the revenue and expenditure of the commission are dealt with there. Further, if they also examine a report which I tabled this morning, they will see that the accounts of the commission are kept separate from the general Treasury accounts.

Last evening Senator Allan MacDonaid asked a question concerning the northwest air mail services. I point, out that the provision of air mail services is under the control of the Department of of Civil Aviation, which decides upon the routes to be followed, and deals directly with such matters as ground work and direction finding. However, when services are provided between certain points, the Postmaster-General takes advantage of them for the dispatch of His Majesty's mails. If the honorable senator refers to page 18 of the memorandum circulated by the Department of Civil Aviation in reference to its estimates, he will find this matter dealt with there. Thus, eager as it is to utilize air services for the carriage of mails, the PostmasterGeneral's Department does not fix the routes, hut if such services run to a schedule to suit the department, it takes full advantage of them.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The present hours are, in many cases, not suitable.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That may be, but the honorable senator, as I pointed out the other day, is aware that certain difficulties exist in this respect. I entirely sympathize with the suggestion for the provision of better communication generally by air. The department's interest in this matter is evidenced by the establishment during the last three or four months of air mail- services to Tasmania, Mount Gambier and Port Lincoln, from Tennants Creek to Alice Springs, and from Alice Springs to Adelaide. The last-named service carried mails on a poundage basis, and has had a somewhat chequered career. Honorable senators may rest assured that the existing services will be improved and synchronized as soon as possible, and as existing difficulties gradually disappear.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Australian services could be synchronized immediately if the overseas air mail were speeded up.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - -The overseas air mail is not under the control of the Postmaster-General's Department. That, department stands very much in the same relation to air services as it does to railway services. We merely load the mails on to the trains and the planes. To a certain extent the time schedules of these services are arranged to suit' the department's convenience for the despatch of mail matter; other than that, however, we have no say in regard to routes or time tables.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The department can use considerable influence in this respect.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is so, and it has endeavoured to exercise that influence so far as possible.

The mail services to outlying country districts, to which Senator Cooper re ferred, has given the department considerable worry. I cannot, blame the department or any of my predecessors for getting the mails carried at reduced rates.I understand that the Boulia to Middleton service has been examined, but the honorable senator's suggestion fora subsidiary service will be investigated immediately, and, if possible, something will be done to afford relief to the settlers.

As to improving conditions in respect of mail services generally the department considers that the present regulations are framed on a very liberal scale, and that the interests and requirements of settlers in outlying country districts have been safeguarded. During the depression, it was found necessary to curtail certain services, but since the return of more prosperous times services which were previously withdrawn have been gradually replaced where the circumstances justified such action. A departmental officer, skilled in the carriage of mails, is reviewing the services which had been curtailed, and to date it has been possible to reestablish no less than SO services. That investigation is still proceeding, and partial provision is made in these Estimates for the establishment of new services, and increasing the frequency of existing services, where and when such improvements become justified.

Senator Brown - Is it not a fact that the mail services in many country districts have been reduced ?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes , but those services are gradually being improved.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Honorable senators may be interested to learn that 80 new postal services have been inaugurated since the financial position became easier. Having in view the vast territory over which the department operates it is impracticable to say which services are deserving of the most consideration ; but it is the endeavour of the department to provide services where the need is greatest. I think that Senator Duncan-Hughes directed attention to the considerable increase of the number of employees in the postal department. If the increase continues in the present ratio, it is expected that by the end of the present financial year the department will have absorbedmost of the adult permanent employees performing the work of juniors, and thereafter when further vacancies are to be filledapplications will be invited. In September last 900 adults were performing the work of juniors, but since that time quite a number have been given other work. The position in Victoria, which is remarkable, was due largely to the rush of postal business during the visit of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester, flood conditions and other unusual circumstances. This necessitated the employment of a larger number of employees than would have otherwise been necessary. I. assure Senator Brand that the policy of preference to returned soldiers is adhered to more strictly in the PostmasterGeneral's Department than perhaps in any other branch of the service.

I remind Senator Abbott and Senator Cooper, who referred to the necessity for a reduction of the charges by mail contractors in various centres that in all cases tenders are called for the carriage of mails. Those carrying mails under contract are able to carry goods to settlers at a cheaper rate than they would otherwise be able to do because of the subsidy they receive from the department. It would be a mistake to conduct such services on other than a competitive basis. I know of only one instance in which dissatisfaction exists between the contractor and the department. If certain settlers have to pay more for the carriage of their stores than they consider necessary, it is a matter over which the department has no control. I remind Senator Abbott, who referred to a sevenmile limit, that there is a -formula upon which the department always acts. There has been some relaxation in the matter of finance during the last few months, and in consequence the department has been able to construct new telephone lines, the number of which I hope to be able to state to the committee later. The telephone services mentioned by Senator Gibson are a matter to which I have given a good deal of attention. I do not regard a telephone service terminating, as it does in some centres, at 6 p.m., as a real service to country settlers. The department is endeavouring to extend the hours during which exchanges remain open in a number of centres. In some instances those closing at 6 p.m. will now close at 8 p.m. and those which previously closed at 8 p.m. will remain open until 10 p.m. I believe that extended hours of service have been introduced at 500 country exchanges. A month ago 26 auto- matic exchanges had been erected in various centres and five others were in course of erection. In addition to the 31 exchanges mentioned another 44 are to be put in hand this year. Senator Gibson suggested the adoption of the selective ringing system. I believe that Mr. Brown, who is an engineer, does not view the system favorably. I shall, however, ascertain to what extent it has been examined by the department.

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