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Wednesday, 27 May 1942

Senator ASHLEY (New SouthWales) (Postmaster-General) . - by leave - The question of the remuneration of nonofficial postmasters was raised last week by Senator Lamp and Senator Herbert Hays. This is a matter that has been discussed in this chamber on many occasions, and representations have been made to me personally. At present payment is made on a uniform basis according to the volume and nature of the business transacted from year to year. As new items of business are introduced, for example, the issue of petrol ration tickets, and the payment of Army allotments, they are added to the scale, and payment is adjusted accordingly. Special allowances are paid for the provision of accommodation and light, and for services rendered after hours and outdoors.

There are approximately 6,700 nonofficial post offices in operation throughout the Commonwealth, and the volume of business transacted at the offices varies considerably. In some cases the number of mails handled is very small, amounting to only one mail weekly, consisting, perhaps, of less than twenty postal articles for distribution to the local residents. The volume of other business in such cases is usually inappreciable and the postal work would occupy only a very small proportion of the postmaster's time, perhaps less than one hour a day. In other cases, however, the work is sufficient to require the full-time attention of the postmaster, and one or more assistants. Where only a small community is to be served, or the post office work is insufficient to occupy the full-time attention of the person in charge, the only practicable method by which the department can provide postal service is by placing the office under the control of a local resident who conducts a private business which necessitates his, or her, attendance at the premises in which the office is to be established, or who is able to carry out the duties in conjunction with household work or some other form of activity. The great majority of the non-official post offices in operation is conducted under such conditions.

The department has appreciated the need for revision, in the light of presentday conditions, of the basis of payment to non-official postmasters generally, and recently undertook a thorough investigation of the matter. In the meantime, however, and shortly before the completion of the departmental investigation, the Non-official Postmasters' Association of Australia, which had secured registration under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, lodged with the Public Service Arbitrator a plaint concerning the rates of remuneration and conditions of employment generally. A preliminary conference before the Arbitrator in connexion with this plaint was held on the 30th April, and as agreement between the parties was not reached, the conference was adjourned to a date to be fixed. At the conclusion of the conference the association asked for an opportunity to discuss certain aspects of the plaint with the department with a view, if practicable, to reaching agreement on the main points at issue. Discussions on this basis are continuing at present, and the indications are that within the course of the next few days the department will be in a position to put forward proposals which will be acceptable to both parties and which in due course can be incorporated in a determination of the Arbitrator.

The department fully appreciates the valuable and loyal service which is being rendered to the community by this large body of public-spirited people who have agreed, often at great inconvenience to themselves, to provide facilities for local residents. Consequently, I am very hopeful that the present discussions, which are being held in a spirit of cordiality and co-operation, will result in an agreement which will be satisfactory and equitable in all respects.

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