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Thursday, 31 July 1902

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - In the time at our disposal it is utterly impossibleto deal with all the iniquities of the Ministry

Mr Page - Do not say anything about-, Wragge.

Mr CONROY - That reminds me that no reply was given last evening to my question why there had been an expenditure of £15,000 per annum for telegrams to a private individual like Mr. Wragge, when Signor Presa has distributed papers showing how much more correct his weather forecasts are than those of the former gentleman. If Mr. Wragge were pursuing the ordinary avocation of a palmist or prophet, I should not seek to interfere with him. It does not matter that Mr. Wragge may send to the newspapers weather forecasts based on meteorological data received from the South Anbarctic ; there ought not to be this expenditure. He must have got this data by special revelation, and it ought, therefore, to be quite unnecessary for him to ask the Government for any help whatever. I think I gave sufficient instances last night to show that Mr. Wragge knows nothing whatever of the subject withwhich he professes to deal.

Mr Fowler - Does the honorable gentleman wish the Government to give Mr. Wragge an official salary ?

Mr CONROY - I do not rate the intelligence of the Government so low. In passing, I ask what better proof there could be of the inaccuracy of this man than the fact that he failed to predict the storm of last night. The Government are not warranted in incurring this expenditure by a mere executive act, and when the Estimates are under consideration, I shall propose that they be reduced by £15,000. As to the Post and Telegraph department, I, amongst others, objected strongly to that department being taken over by the Commonwealth last year. So far back as May last, I and other honorable members entered an emphatic protest against the transfer. The very crux of the Post and TelegraphAct - namely,the post and telegraph rates - has not yet been brought before the House, and I should be very glad if it were never brought forward. Perhaps, until the book-keeping period has expired, we may as well continue on the old lines, and merely try to adjust differences in State rates by regulation.

Mr Page - What would the honorable and learned member suggest ?

Mr CONROY - In view of the misconduct of the Ministry, I suggest that they should step out, and allow somebody else to clear up this muddle which they have created. It would be impossible for any senator to attend to requests concerning telegraphic or postal communication. The people of a district would not know which senator to communicate with ; therefore, all complaints and all requests for telephonic and telegraphic communication are addressed to the members of this House. It would have been much better had the PostmasterGeneral been chosen from the members of this House, and the administration of another department entrusted to a member of the Senate. That has been a grave mistake on the part of the Ministry. To a certain extent they have tried to remedy that error by appointing as honorary Minister a member of this House, but, unfortunately, he is absent.

Mr Deakin - Owing to family circumstances, he is detained in Tasmania.

Mr CONROY - I very much regret to hear that explanation. I shall take the case of an application for telephonic communication in my district. During the last few years a large number of men have settled at Binda. They are prevented from obtaining telephonic communication with Bigga. Had the department continued under State management their application would have been granted twelve or eighteen months ago. In reply to request after request, we are told that nothing can be done, and finally, when we make an insistent appeal, the answer is - " Yes, if the applicants put up two-thirds of the cost of constructing the line, and the cost of its maintenance for five years:" Not only do the department make that extraordinary demand, but, in a letter I received, they said that in any case want of funds would not allow of the work being carried out at present. It is the duty of a department to see that funds are provided for carrying on necessary works. I admit that circumstances now require that great care should be exercised, but if a line can be shown to be necessary, then undoubtedly the funds for its construction should be found. The progress of a whole district should not be delayed merely because it is not convenient at that time for the department to find certain funds. A portion of the surplus revenue which was returned to New South Wales would have enabled the line to be constructed. Therefore, there ought to have been no difficulty in finding sufficient money to provide the desired communication. I mention the case of that line because it is one to which I have drawn ministerial attention for a . longer period than any other. In my electorate the people have asked for a line from Marulan to Bungonia, and from Wombat to Young or Murrumburrah. They do not mind which route is taken provided that they get telephonic communication. It is a great disability to country people to be shut off from ali telephonic communication with the outside world. I hope that full consideration will be given to all these requests. I do not ask that they should be granted if they are not found to be justified. I am not here to ask that any portion of my constituency should have a farthing of public money spent in it if the demand is not found to be absolutely justified. I would go so far as to oppose a vote for that purpose if I thought it was being wrongly asked for. All I ask is that an inquiry shall be made, and what I call a reasonable guarantee asked for, and, of course, if it is not forthcoming, the department need not proceed with the work. It is very wrong for the department to ask the- applicants to put up two-thirds of the cost of constructing a line. I believe I am well within the mark when I say that the life of the poles and a line is 15 years. I have known many poles 'to stand 25 or 30 years ; but we are told by the department that the life of a telephone line is only 8 years. It is an unreasonable estimate; and the demand of the department is unjust to the people living away from the settled centres. I was glad to hear the honorable member for Newcastle call attention to the question of sealing the ships' stores. I was under the impression that a modus vivendi had been arrived at, and that in the case of certain ships coming into our ports no harsh measures would be used by the department. It is doubtful whether we have any legal authority to seal ships' stores. Friction is created more easily in these matters than in others. I trust the Minister will see that only officers of previous experience ore entrusted with the duty of dealing with ships' stores. I ask the Acting Prime Minister to say whether that has been done. I observe the Minister for Trade and Customs nodding his head as much as to say that attention has been paid to the matter. It seems very strange that vessels which are not engaged in the coastal trade, but which merely enter and leave Newcastle, should be taxed on their stores as if they were within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth. I hope that no friction will arise from the administration of the Customs Act. I was informed a considerable time ago that an American captain promptly decided that the Customs officer should go overboard, and took his ship out of port. It is all very well for some of us to talk largely about bounce, but I trust that the Minister will be no party to allowing any ill-feeling to spring up between America and Australia. What is a matter of saving a few pounds in a ease like this? I am sure that no honorable member would like to see a break occur in the friendly relations which exist between the two countries. America does not exercise this privilege of taxing ships stores, although its customs laws are, perhaps, the strictest in the world. I do not think that we should seek to exercise a greater power than they do. I do not say that this power has not been claimed by various nations, but, in deference to the opposition which it evoked in others, it has always been given up. It does seem a curious thing that honorable members should view a practice which, if continued, may lead to a war with far less interest than they view some twopenny-halfpenny complaint as to a nail having been improperly driven into a plank. When the Customs Bill was going through the House . I was surprised to find with what little interest Ministers viewed a provision which, if enacted, might seriously affect our national interests. It showed me that they had not been able to raise themselves to the higher level of national politics. I should like the Minister for Trade and Customs to let us know exactly in what position we are regarding the sealing of ships' stores ? It is too important a question to be passed over in silence, to be treated as if it were of no account.

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