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Wednesday, 22 August 1906

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro) (Postmaster-General) . - I have already explained that tenders were invited last year for the copper wire necessary for the telephone line between Syd- ney and Melbourne, and, as it was found that the cost would greatly exceed the amount voted, no tender,, was accepted, but new tenders were asked for, in anticipation of a second parliamentary vote, and an extra £7,000 has been placed on the Estimates for the undertaking. I do not know why the right honorable member suggested a sinking fund, seeing that the work is to be paid for out of revenue. With regard to the toll system, I shall be very pleased to let the right honorable gentleman see a list of the objections made to it by Chambers of Commerce and other parties. If he reads it, he will see that the principle was not objected to, although it was said that a sufficient number of free calls would not be given. The right honorable gentleman made a very unhappy comparison when he referred to the gas meters. Under the present, flat rate system there are subscribers in Sydney and Melbourne who cost the Department more for operators, without taking into consideration the interest and wear and tear on their instruments and connexions, than they actually pay.

Mr Frazer - Then why does not the Department put the toll system into force ?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I ask honorable members to give me time.. I believe that the original project can be liberalized, and I hope to be able to give a greater number of free calls. If I were permitted to do so, I could very easily reply to the statements of the right honorable gentleman with reference to the penny postage system.

The CHAIRMAN - I cannot allow the Minister to discuss that question. He may make a general statement, but must not go into details.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The right honorable gentleman was allowed to go into details, and if I am not to be permitted to follow his example, I shall have to postpone my reply until I move the second reading of the Postage Rates Bill, which I hope to be able to do, when we have disposed of some of the business at present before us. The right honorable 'gentleman made one observation, which, although it was apparently uttered in the most jovial spirit, cannot be permitted to pass without my flat contradiction. The right honorable gentleman referred to me as his friend, but not his political friend, because I had used a dagger upon him. A remark of that kind, although it may be made in a jovial spirit, looks very bad in cold type.

Mr Reid - Did not the Minister sharpen up his dagger in the Botanical Gardens at Brisbane?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The right honorable member has made a number of statements to which a flat denial could be given.

The CHAIRMAN - I am afraid that I cannot permit this discussion to continue.' I regarded the statement of the right honorable member for East Sydney as in the nature of a joke. If, however, the PostmasterGeneral feels aggrieved, I cannot in fairness fo him, deny him an opportunity to make an explanation.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I have no desire to enter into details. I merely wish to show that if the right honorable gentleman took fright and committed political suicide, it was no part of my duty to go up with him in the explosion. For political purposes, he frequently makes statements such as he has uttered to-night with regard to me, and I would point out that he would be acting much more fairly if he made a clear and plain announcement .with regard to my conduct, or that of any other honorable member of whom he thinks he has cause to complain. If he has anything to say with regard to me, I shall be quite prepared to make a clear reply. What right has he to say that I used a dagger upon him ?

Mr Reid - I felt the dagger ; that is all I can say.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The right honorable gentleman makes statements of that kind because he knows very well that when they are put into cold type they can be used with some effect for electioneering purposes. I am not the only member whom he has accused of using; a dagger upon him.

Mr Reid - I made the Minister stab me openly upon the front of the stage, instead of behind the scenes, that is all.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I should feel disposed to say much more upon this matter, but I know that it would not help me in passing the Estimates. I shall have to avail myself of another opportunity to refer to it. The right honorable gentleman has uttered many statements which I have not considered worthy of replies, because they have been made in a jovial way. In connexion with his last charge, however, I publicly invite him to lay bare any trans actions that I have had with him, or any conduct of which he thinks he has a right to complain. If he thinks that I have driven a dagger into him, let him give his version of the circumstances, and I shall meet his charges in the most open and frank manner.

Mr Reid - I must reply to the Minister's statement. I cannot permit that to go into cold type without some comment.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - So far as the right honorable gentleman is concerned, " the least said the soonest mended." I have no desire to rake up any unpleasantness, but I decline to allow the right honorable member to make such charges as he has done without offering some reply. He ought not to say one thing in this House and another outside of it. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman desires me to make any further explanation?

Mr Reid - The Minister will not give me any satisfaction.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I regret that the right honorable gentleman should have made such a charge against me. I have no desire to quarrel with him, but if he is anxious to give battle, I shall be quite ready for him.

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