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Thursday, 6 May 1915

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - When I have been in the Senate as long as Senator Keating has been, I hope that I shall be as innocent as he appeared to be when he expressed surprise at* his motion not being treated as formal business, although, with his great experience of the Departments, he must know the enormous amount it would cost to answer the questions he has placed on the paper.

Senator Keating - I only ask for information as to three things - quantity, general nature and purpose, and value.

Senator GARDINER - This assumption of innocence by the honorable senator really astonishes me when I come to think of the extraordinary distribution of the material required for our telephone system. Not only that, but the fact that much of the material used in that system is also material for the telegraphic system

Senator Bakhap - How many important depots are there in the Commonwealth ?

Senator GARDINER - There are some hundreds of important depots, and the material for the telephone system is spread over thousands of places. I presume that when Senator Keating asks for a stock-taking, he wants an accurate one. He desires to know, I suppose, how much material is on hand, not only in the twenty-six or twenty-seven depots in Sydney, but in every little centre where there is telephonic material stored. If he does not mean that, let him put his inquiries in such a way before the Department that they can be answered. I may mention here that if he had indicated in a communication the purpose for which he required the information, he would immediately have had a full reply. The Department will not either delay or keep back any information which a member of Parliament desires to use in his public position. The motion of Senator Keating means, if it means anything, a stock-taking of all the material used for the telephone system from one end of this great Commonwealth to the other. I venture to say that the return, if ordered, would necessitate the appointment of men to do that kind of work. If that is not the information which the honorable senator desires, he should not have placed his motion on the notice-paper in its present form. I would point out that the difficulty of dividing the material used for the telephone system from the material used for telegraphic purposes would be very great.

Senator Bakhap - The Department will have to find the information for the Committee of Public Accounts' if it is required.

Senator GARDINER - I have no doubt that the Committee of which ray honorable friend is such a distinguished member will cause a good deal of expense and trouble.

Senator Bakhap - Quite so; it is very likely we will.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - In getting valuable information.

Senator GARDINER - All that I hope is that the value will be proportionate to the cost, that is, if we are to be treated to the threat of my honorable friend that if the Public Accounts Committee demand the information they will get it.

Senator Bakhap - They will have to get it.

Senator GARDINER - Not only that, but the information if it is easily obtainable, and at a cost commensurate with the desire to obtain it, will be given to any individual member of Parliament on making an application. Cut a demand for the preparation of a return showing the stocks in the Department is quite a different matter. There is, of course, a regular stock-taking in the Department, but the stores are not kept separate, and there would be great difficulty in separating them in the manner desired by the mover of this motion. I hold in my hand a sample sheet of the stock-taking at the Sydney stores - not of material for telephones alone, but of all material in the possession of the Department. Honorable senators may look at the sheet at their leisure. Similar sheets, made up to 30th June last, have been available to Senator Keating. All the stores are kept in a similarly businesslike way. On the strength of an article in a magazine my honorable friend has made a comparison between the British system and the Australian system, and stated that whan he gave notice of his desire to get this information there was an intention on the part of the Government to increase the charges for the telephone service. I do not know whether I am in a position to speak on their behalf, but I believe it is the policy cf not only the Government, but the party to which they belong, to make the services of the Commonwealth pay for themselves, and to call upon a section of the community who derive great benefits from a service to pay more for the service than those who do not derive such advantages. I think it is a sound proposition, and also a sound position to assume. If the Government, starting out with that intention, have not given effect

I i it at once, it is not fair for any one to assume that they will not do so yet.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator is now, I think, transgressing the hounds of relevancy to the motion.

Senator GARDINER - I thank you, sir. for the reminder. I was trying to reply to earlier remarks by Senator Keating, but I recognise that all that has been said in regard to Unking up the farmers and increasing the number of forms has no bearing on the motion. ?Senator Keating, but I did not hear him give one reason why he should put the Commonwealth to the enormous expense of preparing a return . of this kind.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - How much will the cost be? If you have the stock entered iu proper order in your books, there will be no serious trouble to the Department.

Senator GARDINER - In this case the expense would be considerable, because the material is shared between two branches of the Department. "When one considers the magnitude of the Commonwealth, he cannot even hazard a guess at the many thousands of pounds it would cost to carry out a separate and accurate stock-taking of telephone stores alone. We already have complete records of the stores. Not only are there many branches throughout the Commonwealth, but there are many places where no storemen are kept to compile an accurate account of the stores, and if the motion were passed, officers would have to be sent specially to those places to collect the information. I failed to gather, from the opening remarks of Senator Keating, his reason for proposing the motion. His generalities had no bearing on the motion, and I hope that in his reply he will give us, at least, one solid reason for asking the Government to go to this "extraordinary expense. I leave it to the honorable senator's own good sense to recognise the magnitude of the task of a separate stock-taking of the material for telephones from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. All the stores of the Commonwealth are, at the present, tabulated in an easily understandable form, and these records are kept in the Department and made up each year. There is, therefore, no reason for. asking for the return in the form suggested by the honorable senator. If a question is put on the notice-paper asking for information in a convenient form, and the Department is able to supply it, no difficulties will be placed in the way, but it would be extremely difficult to undertake such a huge task as the honorable senator has put before us, and my chief difficulty is to understand why he is asking for the information.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [5.22].- The Minister's speech appears to be an attempt to make a mountain out of amolehill. If he is correct in saying that an accurate stock-taking showing all particulars takes place, what difficulty can there be in bringing it up to the 1st October! I presume the stock-taking takes place every year up to 30th June, and Senator Keating is only asking for another quarter. Stock will have to bp taken up to the end of the year in any case. If readily understandable stocksheets exist, it cannot cost so large an amount as the Minister indicates to bring thom up to date. Stock has to be taken regularly by ordinary business people, so that they may easily ascertain the amount in hand, and the business oi the Depart- ment should not present much greater difficulties. If, for instance, certain material has been sent to Albury, and it is desired to find out how much they still have in hand there, surely they have their books to show how much, there was in hand at th© beginning of the year, what they have received since, and what they have used ? The return may involve a little trouble, but honorable senators ought to be very careful before they allow the. Minister's arguments about the enormous expense to influence their judgment. Senator Keating has probably only a few members to support him, and if the Government offer very strong objection it will destroy his chance of having the motion accepted, because the Government must necessarily carry a great deal more weight with their own supporters in a matter of this kind than an individual member of the Opposition can. There has been for a long time an eager desire to get more information as to the inner workings of the Post and Telegraph Department, particularly in regard to the telephonic and postal branches. Ministers have conscientiously tried to do what they could in this matter, but we have not been able to get the full par ticulars that we want, and any motion which will tend to elicit the information and throw more light on the subject ought to be welcomed. Complaints aremade from time to time about the telephone system, and excuses are put forward, such as the want of proper appliances; or we are told that something new will create a revolution. Any man who is compelled to use the telephone regularly knows the many difficulties and troubles that have to be put up with to obtain even an ordinary service. We do not know whether the telephone branch is paying or not, and for some time we could not ascertain the difference between the telephonic and postal expenditure, or which branch was to blame for the loss. Any motion that will throw light on the matter will be of great value. Wo ought to be in a position to say to the Minister, " Here is material and here are opportunities to improve the telephonic service." People complain that they are paying too much for the telephone, while to get a telephone installed in a country place, one has to wait a long time, or put up a guarantee. I do not say that the furnishing of this return will remedy that, but we want all the light we can get on the matter, and it would certainly be a great advantage if every farmer had an opportunity to use the telephone. The reasons advanced by the Minister are very small, and should weigh very little with honorable senators. I do not say that there is any desire to hide or hold up anything in connexion with the business, but it will be of great advantage to members and to the people who are vitally concerned in securing an adequate telephone service to let in all the light possible on it.

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