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Thursday, 20 May 1920

Mr LAVELLE (Calare) .- I hope that some of the £40,000 set down for contingencies for the Department of the Postmaster-General will be devoted towards paying increased allowances to mail contractors in the drought-stricken areas of western New South Wales. Apparently many honorable members are not fully acquainted with the seriousness of the position in that part of the Commonwealth, which is suffering from the most disastrous drought ever experienced in the State. All sections of the community are affected, and the mail contractors are no exception to the rule; but while it is impossible for this Commonwealth Parliament to give relief to all sections of the people who are suffering, immediate relief can be given to the mail contractors. I feel sure that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) believes that these men have been fairly treated because an increased allowance was paid to them last year, but if he is of that opinion it is only because he is not conversant with the true facts of the situation. I have received numerous letters on this subject. The following is one I received only to-day: -

I would respectfully ask you to make inquiries into the very unfair treatment which I have had meted out to meby the PostmasterGeneral's Department in connexion with the running of the Wellington-Parkes mail. In 1918 I was running this mail and was making a fair living, and put in a tender for 1919 at an increase of £28. This was based on the increased cost of living, and in making up my price I based it on the price of fodder at that time, as per List No. 1. Late in 1919, on account of the greatly increased price of fodder, an allowance of £11 18s. 2d. was made to me, while other contractors, with much smaller mail contracts, received far greater allowances. On the 29th December, 1919, I wrote, asking why I was only allowed this small amou nt, and received a reply dated l5th January, 1920, from the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, stating that as my price for 1919 had been increased by £28, 1 had presumably made this increase to meet the rise in fodder, and thereforeI had received better treatment than the other mail contractors. Now, is it at all feasible that such a difference in the price of fodder as shown by List No. 1 attached would be covered by a sum of £28? ... I only want fairness; I am willing to work as hard as any man, but at present it is costing me £37 a month to run my mail contract, and under present conditions I cannot carry on. I might add that I lost £124 7s. in 1919.

The letter received from the Deputy Postmaster-General was as follows : -

In reply to your letter dated 29th December, 1919, I have to inform you that the 1919 price of theWellington-Parkes mail service was £28 higher than in 1918, an increase of about 13 per cent., and as you. held the service up to the end of 1918 and presumably raised your price for 1919 to meet the increased prices of fodder, you have actually been better treated than the others, as the remuneration paid to you for 1919 was about18 per cent, higher than that for 1918, whilst the others received only a 15 per cent, increase.

My correspondent has attached what he refers to as List No. 1. It is as follows : -

August, 1918, when I contracted - Chaff,5s. 9d. cwt.; corn, 5s. 9d. cwt.; oats, 4s. cwt.; bran,1s.1d. cwt., with grass.

November, 1919, when allowance was made - Chaff,14s. cwt.; corn, 9s. 9d. cwt.; oats, (is. 6d. cwt.; bran,1s. 9d. cwt., with grass unprocurable.

Present prices - Chaff, 17s. cwt.; corn, 12s. cwt.; oats, 8s. cwt.; bran, 2s. 3d. cwt. No grass.

There has been an increasein the price of chaff of from5s. 9d. per cwt. to 17s. per cwt., yet the Department say that this man has been generously treated by actually making him an allowance of £1118s. 2d. to assist in making up his deficiency. I know that the Department say that special cases will be treated on their merits, but if a special case is sent along to them a reply comes to hand in a week or two to say that an allowance was made on such and such a date, referring to the 1919 allowance, and under the circumstances no further allowance can be made. This inflicts a severe injustice on the mail contractors and settlers in the droughtstricken areas. If a mail is to be delivered to these settlers, if the avenues of communication are to be kept open, and if these people are to be kept in touch with civilization, the Postal Department must be more generous and must pay a greater allowance to the mail contractors. Otherwise it will be impossible for them to carry on. This afternoon the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) advised the Postmaster-General to visit Sydney. I recommend the Minister and a few of his colleagues to travel through the drought-stricken areas of New South Wales and see the conditions with which the men and women there have to contend. Let them visit those districts where chaff is selling at l7s. per cwt., and where millions of stock are dying, and men are giving away their horses or shooting them rather than trying to keep them alive. They would know something of the conditions prevailing, and not only would see that the grievance of these mail contractors is removed, but also would expedite the matter of making use of the services of some of the Commonwealth steamers in the coastal trade in order to remove the surplus fodder of Western Australia and South Australia. In the ports of these States there are thousands of tons of chaff awaiting shipment to drought-stricken areas; it may be bought at a reasonable rate, and would assist in relieving the distress that now exists. I hope that the Postmaster-General will take notice of this matter, and see that his Department does not make use of the stereotyped reply that an allowance was made in 1919. That allowance does not cover the present circumstances, and therefore I hope the Department will adopt a different policy, and give some measure of relief to the mail contractors and those other people whose claims I have mentioned.

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