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Thursday, 9 November 1911

Senator DE LARGIE - If any words of mine can remove any feeling of soreness on the part of honorable senators opposite, I wish to state at once that the term to which exception was taken by the President was not intended by me to be applied to them personally. I can now, I trust, resume the discussion of the financial question. Comparisons have been made between the telephone service in Australia and in other parts of the world. I have inquired into this matter, taking special note of the rates charged and the wages paid in similar services elsewhere. If we take the telephone rates of the United States, Canada, and South Africa, we shall find that in some instances they are 200 and 300 per cent. higher than they are in Australia. If we compare telephone charges in the United Kingdom with those in Australia, we shall find that our own people have very little to complain about. When people in a large and sparsely-settled country like Australia obtain their telephone services actually for less than do people in a densely-settled country like the United Kingdom, it will be seen at a glance that we have a condition of things upon which we may reasonably congratulate ourselves. In Australia, a person can obtain a telephone for £4 per annum, paying an additional halfpenny per call. In the United Kingdom the charge is £5 per annum, with an additional charge of one penny per call. It is therefore evident that our business men are obtaining an exceedingly satisfactory service at a very low rate. The comparison in respect of wages is also in favour of the Commonwealth. Our wages are nearly 100 per cent. higher than are those in the United Kingdom. According to published statements collected by the Postal Commission, of which I was a member, wages in the telephone service in the United Kingdom aresomething like £67 per annum as compared with £110 per annum in the Commonwealth. Moreover, the telephone attendants in the United Kingdom work over fifty hours per week, whilst our attendants work only thirty-six hours. Linesmen in the United Kingdom receive a minimum salary of£65 per annum, with a maximum of £122. In the Commonwealth the minimum salary is £126 and the maximum£180. These comparisons are sufficient to show that our telephone system is in a very satisfactory position indeed. As to new works, the Postal Commission recommended that, a considerable amount of capital being required, the expenditure might very well be spread over a number of years. The Commission did not recommend that the Commonwealth should borrow. That is a matter of policy for the Government of the day to determine. But we did point out the amount of money that was required to make the service efficient. The present Government, finding itself possessed of an overflowing revenue, determined to provide for the works without borrowing. Surely that was a wise determination. If the Government had resolved to borrow under such circumstances, they would have laid themselves open to serious charges. Senator St. Ledger has referred to what he calls " schoolboy finance." I wonder what kind of finance he was advocating. I am precluded from applying the term " stupid " to his policy, but I could not, on any account, call it intelligent finance. The policy adopted by the Government is the only one that would have been justifiable under present circumstances. If ever the day should come when the Commonwealth will find it imperative to borrow, I shall regret that step, and shall never agree to it smilingly. Under Senator St. Ledger's " schoolboy finance," we should borrow whether we require the money or not. In my opinion, it will be time enough for us to borrow money when we cannot meet our liabilities with the money we have.

Senator St Ledger - That will be about next week.

Senator DE LARGIE - I think that day will be very much further off than next week. It will be soon enough to borrow when the necessity for borrowing arises. At present there is no such necessity, and we should compliment ourselves on the fact that we do not need to borrow. However, our friends opposite appear to take so much pleasure in borrowing that they would rush in and borrow whether they needed the money or not.

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