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Thursday, 15 April 1915

The PRESIDENT - The time appointed under the sessional order for the dinner adjournment has now arrived, and I wish to point out to Senator Long that, should the House adjourn for dinner, upon its resumption he will have lost the right to continue the speech he. is now making, as private members' business must then be called on. I suggest to the honorable senator, and to the Senate, that perhaps the most convenient course to adopt, in order that the honorable senator may conclude his remarks, is that we should agree to his prolonging them briefly at the present stage.

Senator Pearce - I can make another suggestion.

The PRESIDENT - It is my desire only to consult the convenience of the Senate and, at the same time, of Senator Long.

Senator Pearce - May I suggest to Senator Long that if he moves the adjournment of the Senate to-morrow, the Government will have no objection to the matter to which he is referring being fully ventilated.

Senator LONG - In the circumstances, and because I am so disgusted with the action of the Government in connexion with this matter, I do not feel inclined to accept either suggestion. I feel that I am called upon to make this public protest on behalf of people who have been pleading with the Federal Government for years past to provide them with wireless communication with the mainland or Tasmania. It must be within the knowledge of honorable senators that I have been unceasing in my advocacy of their claims in this connexion. It has been a matter of regret to me that time and again the Postmaster-General, and PostmastersGeneral who have been members of Labour Governments as well as others, have permitted themselves to be browbeaten by the highly paid officials of their Department who do not wish to get out of the rut in which they have been operating for years past.

The PRESIDENT - I ' find that I made a mistake in my statement of the position. The motion now before the Senate must be proceeded with to its conclusion, and Senator Long would, therefore, should the Senate adjourn for dinner, have the right to resume his speech on the resumption of the Senate after the adjournment.

Sitting suspended from 6.35 to S p.m.

Senator LONG - Mr. President, when the tea hour arrived I was addressing some observations to the Senate on what I considered the neglect of the Government in not providing some means of communication between Victoria or Tasmania for the people of King Island. I. have learnt since that it was the desire of honorable senators to complete the day's sitting at the tea adjournment, and I am sorry if any action of mine in prolonging the discussion has caused any inconvenience. This Government have persistently refused the requests of King Island residents in connexion with the wireless communication, and the most recent happening is one which I think will cause no little astonishment. For some time negotiations of a kind were proceeding between the Government and the people of that island whereby the people were called upon to pay a subsidy to the Commonwealth Government in return for the services established by them. It has been pointed out - and I think that I am justified in again pointing out - that wireless communication has very properly been established at Flinders Island without imposing any such restrictions on the people there. I am in entire agreement with the action of the Government in that respect, and I will not be charged with unreasonableness when I ask that the people of King Island shall be similarly treated. Quite recently, as honorable senators will gather from the question I asked yesterday and the answer by the Minister of Defence this afternoon, the wireless station which had been erected by a private firm at King Island for purely experimental purposes has been entirely dismantled. The Leader of the Government in the Senate carefully evaded one part of my question asking if it was intended to restore communication to those people. Now I am not pleased with this Government, nor am I pleased with the other Government, for what I am inclined to regard as their inhuman neglect of the people in connexion with the- matter. Honorable senators will know that there is only a mail steamer service between Victoria and King Island, or between King Island and Tasmania, and there are times during rough weather when several weeks - in one instance, more than three weeks - have elapsed from the time the boat left Victoria until it was heard of again. Imagine the agony of mind of the relatives of the people on board the steamer, situated as they were, and unable to get any information as to whether they reached King Island safely or otherwise. And now we find that the Government, instead of making an effort to prevent that in the future, have wantonly destroyed the wireless station, which was the only means of communication people had on the island. What is the reason for it? Economy? Why, it would have cost the great Commonwealth Government of Australia nearly £150 a year to maintain that wireless station ! The Government ought to blush, if they have a blush left in them, at their neglect in this matter. I understand that at the outbreak of the war they thought it necessary to place a guard over this wireless station, as a similar precaution was taken in the case of most private wireless stations in Australia. The guard was there for nearly six months, and it has now occurred to the Government that the cheapest way to exercise absolute control over this wireless station is to dismantle it altogether, and so do away with the guard on the island. The Government are to be commended for this decision, and commended for having deprived the people on King Island and the people on the mainland of Victoria and Tasmania of the opportunity of getting into communication with their relatives - a convenience which the residents in almost every other part of Australia enjoy. I think I am entitled to a definite statement from the Ministry as to whether they intend to make some provision for the people to whom I refer. In matters of policy I do not want to go to subordinates for information. I do not want the Government to adopt a circumlocutory process in giving a reply, and find that after a lapse of six months the matter will come back from the Postmaster-General with an indorsement that it is " contrary to the practice of the Department " ; but I want the Government to have the courage to tell the Senate definitely what they intend to do in this matter. If they do not propose to undertake the construction of a wireless station, which they say can be erected for half the cost for which they could purchase the wireless plant already erected on the island, I want them to tell me so. I have no brief for the proprietors of the wireless station. My sole object in taking up the time of the Senate on this as on previous occasions was to get some means of communication for the people on the island. If the Government think it is too mighty a project for the National Government of Australia to undertake, let us know exactly where we are, so that the people on the island may be privileged to make whatever arrangements they think best. According to the Minister's reply this afternoon, it is not the intention of the Government to compensate the owners of the wireless station, which is one of the finest and most powerful in all Australia, for their action in dismantling it. Now, this does not appear to be justice, and I hope it will not appear to members of the Senate as being justice. Although it might have been necessary - and I am not disputing it for a moment - from a defence point, of view to take the action that they did, some other arrangement ought to have been made for the people, and, in justice, the Government ought to compensate the proprietors of the wireless station for whatever damage has been done.

Senator McKissock - What about the cable system ?

Senator LONG - I have no brief for any particular system. I do not care what the system is so long as the people are placed in communication with other parts of civilization.

Senator Keating - It was demonstrated by survey that the bottom was not suitable for a submarine cable, which would not last more than twelve months or so.

Senator LONG - £ understand that is so. The most inexpensive system of communication is by wireless. The Minister said this afternoon, in reply to one of my questions, that the stations had been dismantled in accordance with instructions issued by his Department, and that this instruction referred to all privately owned wireless stations in Australia. It would be intensely interesting to know to what extent those instructions have been carried cut, and what number of wireless stations have been closed as the result of that action. I intend to get the information, and to-morrow I shall move for a return of the number of wireless stations that have been closed in Australia since the outbreak of the war. When we get that information I think it will be found that- the answer given to one of my questions this afternoon was simply begging the point at issue, and that, after all, the Government of the day have been actuated by the paltry motive of saving a few pounds. They are pretty lavish in other respects, and will not hesitate to pay mighty large salaries to incompetent individuals who are responsible in some measure for the development of our defence scheme. But that does not worry the Government in the least, though they take fright at the thought of having to spend £150 a year to bring the people of Kine Island into touch with civilization. I have no wish to delay the Senate at greater length, but in this matter I feel very keenly. I have entertained a desire to prosecute a vendetta against the Government because of their apathy. I have made one protest to-night which will be followed by a number of others if something in this connexion is not done.

Despite tEe opposition of the Government, I believe that 1 can appeal to the sense of fair play of the majority of honorable senators to assist me to compel them, without any reference to their subordinate officials, to do justice to the people whose cause I have espoused to-night. I have now only to express the hope that it will not be necessary for me to take the action I have indicated, and that the Government will themselves see the justice of doing for the people of King Island what I think they ought to do, and what is not denied to the people in any other part of the Commonwealth.

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