Database House Hansard
Date 26-08-1920
Source House of Reps
Parl No. 8
Interjector CHAPMAN, Austin
RILEY, Edward
WISE, George
FOSTER, Richard
COOK, Joseph
POYNTON, Alexander
LAMOND, Hector
TUDOR, Frank
RYAN, Thomas
MAHONY, William
Party ALP
Speaker MOLONEY, Parker
System Id hansard80/hansardr80/1920-08-26/0077


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I am not at all satisfied with the answer to a question I asked yesterday of the Postmaster-General. (Mr. Wise) as to whether he was in agreement with the circular letter that had been sent to the mail contractors in regard to the drought allowance. Some little time ago a deputation from this side of the House waited upon the PostmasterGeneral

Mr Austin Chapman - From only that side of the House?


Mr Austin Chapman - We, on this side of the House, have been making representations in Parliament.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I understand that honorable members from both sides have taken part in deputations to the Postmaster-General, but no member on this side was asked to accompany the deputation arranged by honorable members opposite. And later on, seeing that on this side of the House there are as many honorable members interested in this particular matter as there areon the other side, and especially as it concerns country districts, we had a deputation to the Postmaster-General. We asked for reconsideration of an instruction issued from his Department that all the mail contractors who had entered into contracts from 1st January of this year should not receive a drought allowance, and he promised that he would go into the matter. In view of the fact that some of these tenders had been submitted as far back as August and September last, he said that it was only fair that full consideration should be given to the matter. He seemed to be entirely sympathetic.

Mr Lavelle - He was.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Before he was Postmaster-General, he frequently displayed his sympathy towards the mail contractors, but I am inclined to think that he is not a free agent in the matter, and that he has had shackles imposed upon him either by the Treasurer or by the Government, and is thus not able to carry out what he would desire to do.

Mr Riley - The Treasurer has made the statement that he can get all the money he requires.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that what the Treasurer said was that all the money required for the settlement of soldiers on the land would be provided, but I do not think that such an assurance can be relied on any more than the statement that the Postal Department can secure all the money it needs. It is not only in regard to mail contractors that I condemn the Postal Department. I think its administration is wrong from beginning to end. I am glad to note that the Minister (Mr. Wise) in control of the Post Office is now in the chamber. If he has a free hand in this matter, I cannot excuse him, because his sympathy is utterly useless. He must accept the full responsibility for the attitude adopted by his Department towards these unfortunate mail contractors who, as the circular issued to them informs them, can get no relief in the case of contracts dating back to the 1st January last, because the Department says they must have known at the time whether their tenders were payable or not. The man who has lived all his life in the post-office probably cannot be blamed for taking up such an attitude, but the Minister ought to know that the excuse offered is most trivial. The price of fodder in January last was only about half what it was last month.

Mr Wise - That is not correct.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In January last, the price of fodder was from £7 10s. to £.9 per ton.

Mr Richard Foster - Where?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have with me a letter in which the writer states that he purchased chaff in January last at £7 10s. per ton, and that it cost him £16 10s. to £18 per ton last month.

Mr Richard Foster - In January last the price of chaff in South Australia was £8 per ton, and to that price must be added the cost of removing it to New South Wales.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Chaff could be purchased in New South Wales in January last at £8 to £9 per ton, and this mail contractor informs me in his letter that he was able to get it at £7 10s. per ton, whilst last month he was obliged to pay £16 10s. to £18 per ton. All these facts indicate that the statement that the mail contractors in January last were in a position to know whether their tender would be payable or not was entirely erroneous, and one the Minister should not have sanctioned.

Mr Richard Foster - Special relief ought to be given for an extraordinary drought year; otherwise tenders will all be double what they have been previously.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The drought in New South Wales extended over a period of three years, and the honorable member must be well aware that many mail contractors have been absolutely ruined.

Mr Richard Foster - That must be the case.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They cannot carry out their contracts. It is useless to wink at this matter. The Postmaster-General answered my question yesterday by saying that he acquiesced in the policy set out in this circular, but I am at a loss to know his reason for doing so. My interpretation of his attitude is that he does not really acquiesce in this policy, but that he is unable to do anything in the matter, hecause the Treasurer will not give him the money he requires.

Mr Wise - I am not blaming the Treasurer on this occasion.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then the Postmaster-General must accept the whole responsibility, and I hope that he will take an opportunity of making a statement in regard to this matter, which is a very sore point with the mail contractors in the drought areas, not only in New South Wales, but all over the Commonwealth as well.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - It may be, and it would be a sore point with the Minister if he is not careful of what he is doing.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - So, apparently, it is the Treasurer who is responsible.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - No; the responsibility lies with the gentleman who was Postmaster-General for four years.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What interpretation can I put on the remarks of the right honorable gentleman?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Let me explain. In my young days I set out, as PostmasterGeneral, to do away with all the sweating on mail routes, and I gave the old contractors advantages of one kind or another that I thought were fair. But immediately I began to do so, every individual contractor or would-be contractor who had sent in a tender got his member of Parliament to ask what favoritism was being displayed, and declared that if he had known these favours were to be conferred' he would have been prepared to submit a lower tender. Of course, I had immediately to drop all my altruistic notions, arid fall back on public tendering. That is what I mean.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Treasurer's explanation is all very fine, but it does not touch this matter at all. The right honorable gentleman was referring to ordinary times. I was speaking about a drought allowance. This is a matter which must be considered on its merits. If there had been no drought there would have been no request for a revision of tenders. It is because there has been an extraordinary drought, which has affected not only New South Wales, but the whole Commonwealth, that tenders have been affected, and the contractors are asking for some allowance.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - When the drought threatened the tenderer added to his price accordingly, but if another man did not do so, relying on action in Parliament in order to get equal, where are we?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If that be the case, why, was an allowance made last year on account of the drought? There was no cavilling at the allowance last year. It was considered just and equitable. It ought to be equally just and equitable to make an allowance this year.

Mr Wise - The drought was in existence in January of this year, when they entered into these contracts.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Now we are getting the matter boiled down. I am pleased to hear the Minister make such a statement. It is just this one point I wish to see threshed out. The Department says that, in January of this year, the contractor ought to have known whether his tender was likely to pay him; whereas I contend that it was impossible for him to know it. As a matter of fact, the drought did not end in January, but continued for six months afterwards. The worst part came after January, and last month the price of fodder was twice what it was at the beginning of the year.

Mr Lister - Was not the tenderer influenced by the drought of the previous three years when submitting his price for the coming year?

Mr Wise - Hear, hear !

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He may have been influenced by the drought of the past, but how was he to know that it was likely to continue for another six months ? He might have believed that it would be over in the following month, and tendered accordingly. I am disap- pointed with the decision of the PostmasterGeneral to acquiesce in the contents of the circular issued by the Department to the mail contractors. His attitude will be regretted not only by those contractors, but also the persons who receive the mails through the services of these men and know the hardships they suffer, and who, in many cases, are subsidizing the contractors.

Mr Richard Foster - Is the honorable member speaking of new contracts or old ones?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My remarks refer to new and bid contracts. Although a contract might date from 1st January this year, the tender might have been submitted some months previously, but under the decision . of the Department, as expressed in the circular I have mentioned, the people submitting tenders in August last can get no relief.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Two men tender , one man puts up his contract price because of the outlook, and the other man takes the risk.

Mr Wise - The whole systems of tendering goes by the board.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The whole system is influenced by matters over which these men have no control.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - That is not the point.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is. Subsequent to the 1st of January, there was a six months' drought, which these men could not foresee.

Mr Poynton - Supposing that fodder had fallen after the contracts were made?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In that event I presume the honorable gentleman would have required the mail contractors to carry out their contracts at lower rates. In this case, as in every other, the Department wins at the expense of the men. I would remind the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton) that this is a serious matter, not only to hundreds of mail contractors, but to many of the people who are served by them. But for the' subsidies paid by people who are served by these men, it would be impossible for many of them $o carry on. their contracts. The attitude that has been taken up by the Department is entirely wrong, and cannot be too strongly condemned. If there is a majority in this House prepared to support such an iniquity, then it is a reflection on the whole Parliament.

The administration of the Department, lock, stock, and barrel, is wrong. In making that statement I am only repeating what the present Postmaster-General said when he was not in office. On 15th July, 1915, as reported in Hansard, Vol. lxxvii., page 4953, the honorable gentleman, who was then a private member, followed the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Austin Chapman), who had made a very telling speech in regard to the Postal Department. He said -

After hearing the Honorable member for Eden-Monaro and also various PostmastersGeneral, I oan only wish that honorable members would hold the same opinion in office that they do when in Opposition.

That was his view as a private member, I desire now to point out the hardships suffered by allowance officers. Everything relating to allowance post-offices in country districts is on a wrong basis. The present Postmaster-General, in the speech from' which I have just quoted, went on to say -

Over and over again I have heard PostmastersGeneral say that the allowances are not intended and do not profess to be living salaries. At the same, time I cordially agree with the denunciations of the reductions that are made from time to time. Some of them are exceedingly petty. I know of one case where, because the business had fallen off as compared with that of the preceding year, the allowance of £5 a year was reduced by £1. It is a pettifogging thing for a great Commonwealth to insist upon a reduction of £1 per annum' in any individual's allowance, and I think that all these matters might very well be looked into so that some general rule might be adopted upon the subject.

Mr Hector Lamond - The present Postmaster-General has put a stop to such reductions.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am waiting for him to adopt some general rule.

Mr Wise - The honorable member, of course, is not aware that we have added, this year, £67,000 to the payments to allowance officers.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How should I be aware of that fact? The honorable gentleman will have an opportunity to inform the House of it.

Mr Wise - It has already been intimated.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Having regard to the number of allowance postoffices in Australia, an additional £67,000 would not go far. It would mean but an infinitesimal increase in each case.

Mr Wise - It is, at all events, very much more than your own Government put on.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We are speaking about the present.

Mr Wise - And I like to compare it with the past.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We have to take things as we find them. The honorable gentleman, in speaking of " your own Government," refers, I presume, to a former Labour Government ?

Mr Tudor - Which he supported.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. I have here a eulogy of the Labour Government by the present Postmaster-General.

Mr.Wise. - That was in regard to country telephones.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. The honorable gentleman said, in the course of the speech to which I have already referred -

The second Fisher Government reduced that guarantee-

The guarantee required of applicants for telephone lines in country districts that they would provide the whole of any deficiency - to one of 50per cent. of the deficiency, which was a very great consideraton, and I have never failed to give credit to this Government for having made that reduction.

Mr Wise - Its own supporters would not even give it credit for that.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And yet the honorable gentleman just now condemned that Government's administration of the Postal Department.

Mr Wise - In respect of allowance post-offices.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Quite so. My experience as the representative of a country electorate is typical of that of all representatives of rural districts. There is in my constituency a district the residents of which nearly two years ago supplied the poles for a telephone line,put up the necessary money, and asked for the work to be carried out. The Department, however, has not yet taken action. It tells these people that there is a shortage of material. The Department is shirking its responsibility.

Mr Wise - What is the district?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am referring to a request for a line from Cootamundra to a district some miles distant, the name of which I have already supplied to the honorable gentleman. These people have fulfilled their obligations, and yet no consideration is extended to them. I do not wish to labour this question. I shall be content to quote the view expressed by the honorable gentleman when he was a private member. I have never believed that the Postal Department should be a concern run for making profits. It is a public utility, and ought to be conducted in the interests of the people. Those who have to battle in the back country districts are surely entitled to some consideration. When they ask for a telephone line, why should they be required to guarantee to such an unreasonable extent to make good any deficiency on its working? Surely they are entitled to reasonable facilities. If people were not prepared to go into the back country the Commonwealth would never progress. Dealing with this particular question, the present Postmaster-General said in this House on 15th July, 1915 -

I desire that it shall be clearly understood that, in my opinion, the Postal Department is not a Department that ought to be run for the purpose of being made to pay.

Mr Wise - That is my view to-day.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then , when are we to have an announcement that applicants for country telephone lines will not be required to make good any deficiency, as under present conditions?

Mr Wise - I announced months ago that we had decided to ask them to pay only 25 per cent. of any deficiency.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable gentleman, in this speech, went on to say -

The Department was established for the purpose of furthering the social and commercial intercourse of the people, and the places where the services of the Post Office are mostly required, and are of most value to the individual, are in those country districts where the Post Office does not pay, and where it probably will not pay for very many years. The large surpluses made in the cities could not be better expended than in giving better postal communication to country districts, and I hope that we shall soon reach the time when, wherever there is a reasonable settlement, the people there will not only have a decent mail service, but decent telephonic communication as well, without their being called upon to contribute anything by way of a guarantee.

That was the honorable gentleman's view when he was a private member of the House. Let it be clearly understood that I am not dealing with the honorable gentleman from a personal stand-point. I believe that he is more sympathetic towards the requirements of country districts than is any other member of the Ministry.

Mr Ryan - He is probably hampered by other members of the Cabinet.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have already said that I believe there are shackles placed upon him; I hope he will get rid of them.

I shall not conclude my speech after the manner of the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), who this afternoon started off with a full head of steam against the Government, and in the end simply fired blank cartridge at them. When he was shown by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) how he could take effective action, he apparently had no desire to hurt the Government; but I do not content myself with adopting such an attitude.

I now wish to refer to a postal matter which affects all the country from Sydney southwards to Albury, and I do so because it is a concrete example of the hardships inflicted on country residents. Country mails close in Sydney at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, and a letter posted at, say, five minutes to 5 o'clock on the Tuesday is delivered at, for example, Wagga, next morning; but if a letter be posted at five minutes past that hour, it is not delivered at the latter place until the following Thursday.

Mr Wise - I should like to hear the honorable member if he were representing the postal employees in Sydney !

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I know that the blame is put on to the unions, but I am going to suggest a remedy for the anomaly which involves no union trouble at all. A fast mail train leaves Sydney at five minutes past 10 o'clock at night, but it is not utilized for carrying the mails, which are sent on by a slow newspaper and goods train at five minutes past 2 o'clock in the morning.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Do you know the reason for that? It is in order to give the men an hour off.

Mr Wise - That is the fact.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I know that the responsibility is put on to the shoulders of the men, but no private company in any part of the world would conduct its business on such lines. The goods train in the morning takes about twelve hours longer to do the journey than does the fast mail train. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Wise) tells us that this delay is caused in order to give the men an hour off - that if they were kept on duty until 7.30 p.m. they would kick up a row. But the present arrangement does an injury to thousands of people, who have to wait twenty-four hours longer for their mails; and if the staff at the present time would raise any complaint about being kept at work, and allowed full overtime rates, could the staff not be increased?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - What about economy ?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is false economy to cause injury to thousands of people. I have already quoted the PostmasterGeneral himself, when speaking as a private member, as an effective answer to any plea of economy.

Mr Mahony - Who is responsible for the present arrangement - the Treasurer ?

Mr Tudor - The Treasurer has never refused the Post Office any money.

Mr Mahony - Is that true - that the Treasurer has not refused the Post Office any money?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I have not since I have been Treasurer.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is important, because it throws the whole responsibility on to the PostmasterGeneral.

Mr Wise - Who is quite prepared to take it!

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In order to give an opportunity to honorable members who feel strongly on this matter to express their opinion and show their disapproval of the postal maladministration, I move -

That after the word "That," the following words be inserted: - "the Postmaster-General be requested to provide increased postal and telephonic facilities for country districts, and to grant a drought allowance to mail contractors for the year 1920."

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