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Wednesday, 4 December 1935

Senator ABBOTT (New South Wales) . - I support the remarks of Senator Cooper, who has directed attention to the unsatisfactory fulfilment of many mail contracts in the far-western districts of Queensland. What the honorable gentleman said applies to many districts in other States, and I was rather surprised at the apparent complacency with which the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) received the complaint from Senator Cooper.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The PostmasterGeneral is " the toad beneath the harrow " !

Senator ABBOTT - I wonder if that is the explanation of the honorable gentleman's official attitude to the complaints of outback settlers? It should be the concern of the department to make available to pioneer settlers as many as possible of the amenities of civilization, including those inventions which eliminate time and distance and, by enabling settlers in remote areas to get in touch with the larger centres of population, make their lot a little easier. Residents iu the outback areas to which Senator Cooper has referred measure areas in thousands of miles, whereas smaller settlers in the Upper Hunter districts of New South Wales measure their areas in hundreds of miles. But their difficulties are in every respect identical. Settlers who are pioneering outback areas suffer definite disabilities, and are deserving of special consideration. There is too much evidence of a desire on the part of officialdom when inviting tenders for mail services to adopt a cheeseparing policy. In this way some savings may be effected, but not infrequently what at first sight appears to be a good piece of business is not necessarily good business at all.

Senator Collings - The honorable senator and others are always calling out for reduced expenditure; they cannot have it both ways.

Senator ABBOTT - It is false economy to limit unduly expenditure designed to encourage closer settlement. I. have had brought to my notice many such instances of false economy. One in particular concerns a settler engaged in mixed farming, who before the depression had made application for the installation of a telephone in his home distant about 9 miles from the nearest exchange. The department informed him that lie could have the telephone if he entered into a. seven years' contract at a rental of £11 a year. I should add that for seven miles of the distance there were telephone lines connecting other subscribers, so the department incurred no additional expenditure for the erection of posts for that portion of the new service. Nevertheless, it required the subscribe;1 in cover the co3t of installation for the additional two miles. At the onset of the depression, as we all know. Commonwealth and State Ministers agreed to a plan to effect economies in every direction, and emergency legislation was introduced effecting, among other- things, a reduction of interest on advances, in order to ease the burden on the people generally. It is well known that government departments were extremely reluctant to give relief in respect of interest charges, and in this case the department itf used to make any reduction of the original rental. Even the Lands Department, New South Wales, under the Pastures Protection Act, charged settlers the full rate of 6 per cent, for advances for some considerable time, although it was shown that up till about eighteen months ago the most efficient dairy-farmers had lo be content with a return of 3d. an hour for their labour. I am wondering what Senator Brown would say if the people for whom he so often " barracks " in this chamber had to be content with that reward for their labour. I congratulate Senator Cooper upon having brought under the notice of the Senate the attitude of the Postal Department in connexion with mail contracts in outback areas. It is known that the department has been able to secure cheaper contracts largely as the result of closer settlement. The settlers who are rendering such splendid service to this country should receive more sympathetic consideration.

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