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Wednesday, 4 June 1902

Mr MCDONALD (Kennedy) - There are one or two matters to which I should like to direct attention. Some little time ago a deputation waited upon the PostmasterGeneral and urged upon him the necessity for providing an extra mail service to the northern portion of Queensland. The whole of the representatives of that State were present at the deputation, but they received no definite assurance from the Minister that anything would be done in the matter, save that a report would be obtained as to the cost which the proposal involved. I do not know whether that report has yet been secured, but I wish .to point out that at the present time the northern portion of Queensland receives only one mail a week. It is quite true that three boats run weekly, but, despite this fact, there is practically only one mail service a week. For example, a mail leaves Brisbane upon Friday night, which catches the Barcoo at Gladstone on Saturday at noon. On Monday morning it reaches Townsville and Charters Towers, where it is delivered about two or three o'clock in the afternoon. Of course, there is a boat leaving Brisbane on Saturday, but although it leaves that city only a few hours later than the train, its mails are not received in Northern Queensland till four or fivedays have elapsed. Another boat which leaves on the Monday arrives ' in Townsville, weather and other circumstances permitting, on the Friday night, and the letters are delivered on the Saturday. Oftener than otherwise, however, this boat does not arrive till Saturday morning, with the result that the mail does not reach Charters Towers until Saturday night by the seven o'clock or the eleven o'clock train, too late for delivery that day. The mail is delivered on Mondays, when the letters, which have been posted five days later, are also delivered about five hours afterwards. It will be seen that there is really only one mail per week to serve two large centres with a population of about 45,000, who are deserving of much better treatment. Some years ago the late Mr. T. J. Byrnes, when Premier of Queensland, decided that the Government should buy a fast steamer and have the mails conveyed twice a week from Gladstone to Townsville, but, unfortunately, that gentleman's death caused the project to be put aside. The present Premier, Mr. Philp, contends that an extra mail is not required ; but he was a member of the Byrnes Government when it was decided to build a fast steamer. . Mr. Philp's real reason for opposing the running of the two mails is the extra expense at the present time. That I could understand as an argument against the project just now, but I cannot understand it as an argument why these two centres should be content with one mail a week. All the western country would be served by the extra mail, together with places like Mackay, Bowen, Cairns, and Cooktown. The whole of the north of Queensland, with a population of some hundred thousand, would be benefited ; and we ought to try to bring those large centres as close to one another as possible. I understand that the subsidy asked for by the present steam-ship companies, who have a monopoly on the coast, is out of all proportion to the work done. For a long time the people of Hughenden have been promised additions to their post-office, which at present consists of a room 6 feet by 8 feet, in which all the business has to be transacted. I understand that the department approve of the work, but there is a desire that the expenditure should be met out of loan money, of which there is at present none available. The cost would not be more than £130 or £150, yet the Government allow that objection to stand in the way. I should also like to urge the construction of a telegraph line from Richmond along the Flinders. There is a stretch of nearly 200 miles of country, thickly populated with selectors and squatters, and during the drought such a line might have been the means of saving a large amount of stock, to the benefit of the Commonwealth generally. I believe that the Government want a guarantee of £2,000 before proceeding with the work, but it is ridiculous to expect the selectors to fall in with those terms, when there is always the possibility that they may have to sell out or remove to other districts. I am rather pleased than otherwise that Cobb and Co. stopped the running of the mails recently. That action brought most forcibly before the Government the fact that it is not wise to allow any particular firm to have a monopoly of the carriage of mails. For years past in Queensland, the labour party have urged the necessity of breaking down this monopoly ; but the Government, through some influence or other, have always been anxious to give the contract to this firm, who have been allowed to group a number of services together, and, tender for them as a whole. That may have proved some slight saving to the Government, but, on the whole, it is not calculated to improve the mail services. There are a number of contractors who would undertake a single service, but who are not prepared to tender for a large number ; and the result is that they have been squeezed out by Cobb and Co., I understand that the grouping of services will not be permitted in the future ; and on that decision I congratulate the department. ' I realize, like every one else, that the drought has been of such an exceptional character that it would not perhaps be wise to incur a big expenditure for mail services at the present time ; but I hope every inquiry will be made as to the probable cost of running a steamer twice a week_ from _ Gladstone to Townsville. I venture to think that such an undertaking would prove profitable to the department and of great benefit to the community.

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