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Thursday, 15 April 1915

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - Like the "Vice-President of the Executive Council, I have recognised that the provision of wireless communication for

King Island is probably a matter which can better be arranged for with the Department directly than by occupying the time of the Senate. I have recognised that fact ordinarily; I have recognised it still more strongly in recent times on account of the peculiar circumstances that have made other matters of great urgency for both Houses of Parliament since the outbreak of the war. I have had a good deal of correspondence with the Department on this subject, and, like other members of Parliament, I have had interviews with successive Postmasters-General and members of the staff. In coming over from Tasmania this time I brought over some of my own file on this subject to supplement what I already had here, and the file I have would make a respectable file in any Department, so thick is it. I propose to say a few words in support of the proposition that the Government should take into early consideration the provision of this facility, more especially since the communication which had been established for some time has recently been dismantled. King Island in this matter stands in a peculiar position - a position different from that of any of the other islands round the coast of the Commonwealth. The population, I suppose, is about 1,000 or 1,200. It is a place where a good deal of business is conducted with both Victoria and Tasmania. There has been open there for some years a branch of a prominent bank, whose head office is in Victoria. In order to carry on financial matters for clients in Tasmania, Victoria, and King Island it is essential in banking business that there shall be some means of regular and, speedy communication. Senator Long has pointed out that there is a steamer service which runs between Victoria, King Island, and Tasmania. On more than one occasion a steamer has been weatherbound at King Island for a week or a fortnight or more, and nobody on either side of the strait could even know the simple fact that it was weatherbound there, and that the passengers were safe. That occurs, I think, at least once or more in every year during the stormy months. When it occurs, those who are interested in the passengers on the steamer have to go through a very painful time of apprehension indeed, and it is just at that juncture that representatives from Tasmania are generally impressed by those in anxiety with the necessity of having some sort of communication, and again the Postal Department is stirred up, though with no result. Some years ago, when I was a member of a Government that was arranging to establish Commonwealth cables between Tasmania and the mainland to replace the private cables, I asked my colleague, the PostmasterGeneral, to ascertain if it was not practicable to lay one cable via King Island and the other via Flinders Island, and thus have communication with both islands. A submarine survey revealed that the bottom of Bass Strait in those places was of such a rocky character that the life of a cable, if laid, would be very short indeed. As a result of that survey the present cables run from Flinders, in Victoria, to Low Head, in Tasmania. Neither Flinders Island, on the east side of Bass Strait, nor King Island, on the west side, can be connected by cable. Therefore, so far as telegraphic communication is concerned, they are both dependent upon wireless, and in that regard both communities stand distinct from any other outlying island which could be connected by cable. That is a feature which should never be overlooked. The Postal Department have satisfied themselves long since that it is impracticable to lay a cable to either King Island or Flinders Island. It is a case of wireless or nothing. Senator Long has pointed out that the steamers trailing from King Island to Tasmania and vue mainland are frequently weatherbound. Their size is not very great, and mail communication is of very little value in cases when the storms are prevalent. That, again, is a feature in connexion with King Island which must not be overlooked in regard to any provision for communication. Senator Gardiner baa asked how long Tasmania has had this island, and has not provided some means of communication; but I would point out to him that Tasmania could not, at any time, have laid at cable to the island. That was impracticable, and the wireless telegraphy has only been a means of communication since King Island came over to the Commonwealth. It was in 1905 that this Parliament passed a Bill making wireless telegraphy a monopoly of the Commonwealth. No wireless telegraphic communication can be established except by the Commonwealth. Cable communication may be established, but it would be of no value. Postal communication is necessarily infrequent, and, in many instances, very irregular.

Senator O'Keefe - I think that King Island is frequently as long as ten or twelve days without a mail.

Senator KEATING - I have known it to be three weeks and more. I have had bulky correspondence with the departmental officers for a considerable time, and have asked questions here on more than one occasion. I have asked, on notice, why provision for wireless telegraphy with King Island was not made. I have asked the question asked here today by Senator Long, why do the Government insist upon the residents of King Island entering into something in the nature of a guarantee when no such guarantee was asked in the case of Flinders Island. I do not deprecate the action of the Government in establishing wireless communication with Flinders Island without asking for a guarantee, but I have asked in this chamber, in questions upon notice, why a : differentiation has been made between the two cases. I heartily approve of what was done in the case of Flinders Island; but why should not both communities be treated alike ? I think thai I am not exaggerating when I say that never once could I here get a definite answer to that question. The answers furnished to the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral in this chamber, no matter what Government he belonged to, have always, intentionally or otherwise, evaded this issue. For a long time I believed that there was some reason why the Department deliberately evaded the issue, and I think I am right in saying that for a considerable time in my correspondence with the Department I sought unsuccessfully to pin them down to an answer to my question. On one occasion, immediately on receipt of a letter from the Department answering one of mine of a date some time before, I wrote a rather strong letter, pointing out that T had asked this question and wanted an answer to it, and that the answer they had given would be very well in its place, and quite relevant if I had asked something else. In their reply - and I believe this was the only time the fact was brought under my notice - they pointed out that the Flinders Island station was established as part of a scheme of wireless stations throughout the Common wealth for defence and strategic purposes-, and was not established primarily or solely for the purpose of telegraphic communication, and that King Island, was not included in that scheme. It was for that reason that Flinders Island got a. wireless station without any local guarantee being asked for, while King Island was asked to provide such. Senator Gardiner has somewhat stressed the statement that the policy of the Government in regard to outlying districts and telephonic communication was, in most instances where the estimated revenue wa& not proportionate to the outlay, to ask the local residents to make a contribution or give a guarantee. That may be ยป very correct policy so far as concerns outlying places on land, because they can. always have regular communication by post, and generally have, or can have,. telegraphic communication. King Island;, on the other hand, until its population, and trade grow, and its ports are made of: such a character as to admit shipping towhich the storms of Bass Strait will be* of no moment, cannot have regular mail communication, nor can it have effective' submarine telegraphic communication.. It is, therefore, in a different position from outlying places on the mainland. It must have regular communication, and the only means for it is wireless or nothing. To those other places,, which have regular mail communication and which already have, or may. have, telegraphic communication, telephoniccommunication is comparatively a luxury superadded to the necessities with which* the Commonwealth has already provided them. I am not aware that the Postal Department ever asks an outlying town which sends in a request for telegraphic communication for a guarantee in regard to it.

Senator Pearce - Yes, they do. T know of one case in my own State.

Senator KEATING - I knew it was done in the case of telephonic facilities, but was not sure that it was done in regard to telegraph lines. I hone the Minister will bring this matter under thenotice of the Postmaster-General, and nut strongly before him the considerations which I have just expressed and the peculiar position in which King Island must find itself. I earnestly hope that the needs of the population of King Island and of both sides of Bass Strait, and indeed of all those people throughout-

Australia who have trading relations with King Island, will be considered. Victoria does a tremendous amount of business with the island in proportion to its population. King Island stock is frequently seen in Victoria, and is highly appreciated. The- stock sale-yards often witness the marked appreciation of Victorian buyers for stock fattened on King Island. Many more people would do business with the island if regular communication was established. It would mean a great increase in business and a great development of the resources of the place. I am sure the Postmaster-General will realize that there is every need for the Government to do something to provide King Island with regular wireless communication.

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