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Tuesday, 29 June 1937

Senator COOPER (Queensland) . - Many country districts in Queensland suffer through lack of adequate telephonic communication. In this connexion I instance a district which I know well; other districts may be in a similar position. There is a suggestion that a telephone line should be erected between Winton and Boulia, a distance of about 245 miles, but the department has objected to the proposal on the ground that the revenue from the line would not pay interest and sinking fund commitments. The provision of proper telegraphic and telephonic communication in outback districts should be regarded, not so much in the light of revenue as of the fact that they are developmental lines. The traffic over telephone lines serving outback districts is not the total business associated with the district that it serves, because the produce of such districts is sent to the cities, where further use of the telephone system is made. A portion of the revenue derived from telephone services in the cities should rightly be credited to country lines. In 1920, the Department paid £856 to the mail contractor for the carriage of mails between Winton and Boulia, but this year, the cost to the Commonwealth for similar services is only £85. The department surely will not maintain that the contractor is now running the service for his own pleasure, at a loss; and therefore, it must agree that the difference between the contract rates is a contribution to its funds by the people of the district. The savings effected by the department in respect of the mail contract should be utilized to provide a better telephone service for the district. Another mail service runs between Winton and Kynuna. In 1919, the mail contract cost the department £565, but, this year, the same service is rendered at a cost of £44. That service represents 220 miles of travelling weekly, which would cost the contractor "much more than £44 a year. Obviously, therefore, the department, in this instance also, is making a saving at the expense of the people of the district.

Senator Sir George Pearce - I suggest that the honorable senator bring these matters forward when the bill has reached the committee stage.

Senator COOPER - This is a matter of great concern to the residents of outback districts. They are entitled to better treatment; and out of the savings which it has effected in respect of mail contracts the Government should provide it.

For a long time I have advocated the erection of a wireless broadcasting station in western Queensland. The Postmaster-General (Senator A. J; McLachlan) informed the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) a few days ago, in reply to a question, that a short wave station in New South Wales served that district. That may be, but as many of the people in that area cannot afford dual wave sets, the short wave station is not of much use to them. A regional station should be provided to serve the settlers in the far western country.

For a number of years portions of Queensland have been affected by severe droughts, with the result that the losses of stock have been enormous. In July, 1935, when the drought broke, 3,330,000 sheep were lost in Western and North-western Queensland. Had a catastrophe of that magnitude occurred in any of the capital cities of Australia, the newspapers would have had headlines an inch high informing readers of the fact; but because these things happen in outback districts, where the population is small, they are given little prominence. Statistics compiled by the Queensland Statistician from .stock returns supplied to the

Clerks of Petty Sessions, show a further loss of .5,360,000 sheep between 1931 and 1935, which also was a drought period. The year 1930 was fair. But between 1925 when the drought commenced, and 1929, a further 8,170,000 sheep were lost. In other words, 16,860,000 sheep were lost in ten years. Those figures provide food for thought. Apart from the loss qf the sheep themselves, the value of the wool which they would have produced, even in those bad years when the price was as low as 8d. per lb., would have been considerable. I realize that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has done much to assist pastoralists in connexion with animal disease, nutrition, the blow-fly pest, &c, but no one seems to realize the terrific losses which graziers incur through droughts. Losses due to dingoes, fluke, the blow-fly and other pests are small in comparison with those caused by drought ; recent investigations have shown that drought is responsible for 700 out of every 1,000 sheep lost. During the recess I visited the west and north-western portions of Queensland, and at all the meetings I attended I was asked if the Commonwealth Government could not assist graziers to restock their holdings. When I brought this matter forward last year I was informed that the Commonwealth Government could not make a grant for this purpose to one State, as other States could make similar claims; but I fail to understand why, under the Farmers' Debt Adjustment Act, settlers cannot be assisted to restock their holdings. Surely that act can be amended to enable money to be made available for this purpose, and thus allow these deserving men to get on their feet again. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later hour.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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