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Wednesday, 1 October 1902

Mr FOWLER (Perth) - I have waited very patiently in the hope that something would be done in the direction of improving the department in Western Australia.

Sir George Turner - An inspector has been appointed for Western Australia under the Public Service Act, and he will deal with the whole matter.

Mr FOWLER - Again and again matters have been brought up which, I am bound to say, have not been dealt with in a very satisfactory way. At first I was inclined to blame the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, but I am bound to say that I now consider the honorable and learned gentleman at the head of this department is in some degree blameworthy for not doing a little more than what has been done to accomplish improvement. It would be very hard, indeed, to statetoo strong a case with regard to the condition of postal affairs in Western Australia. Here is an extract taken from a sub-leader which appeared in a daily newspaper published in Perth, and it is only one of many complaints that are continually being urged -

Scarcely aday passes without the levelling of some serious complaint against the administration of the Postal department of the State. . . It was thought that the transference of the Postal department to Commonwealth control would be one of the most noticeable blessings that the State would receive from federation, the expectation being that our postal system would be at once brought up to the same level as those of the other States. No doubt this will be the' case ultimately, but up to the present time it would appear that the effect of federation has been to make the postal authorities more careless than ever of the requirements of the public.

This is merely a sample of the general summing up by those who have been watching the affairs of the Postal department in Western Australia. I. shall detain the committee for only a very little while in giving one or two instances of what is yet being done there. I dare say that the Minister at the head of the department is fully aware of the peculiar conditions regarding postal development in Western Australia. It appears to me that the department is being starved in this connexion in view of the estimated increase of our population as made by the Treasurer himself. Around Perth, in particular, new suburbs are growing up, but no adequate attempt is being made to increase the postal facilities in accordance with the increase of population. One of the suburbs - the suburb in which I reside - is Subiaco, which at its centre is somewhere about three miles from the post-office at Perth. In the year 1900 it had a population of 2,000. At the present time it has a population of 4,500, and that, honorable members will admit, shows a very considerable increase for the period named. The municipal authorities of that suburb have written to the PostmasterGeneral, and pointed out that they have appealed time and again for an improvement of the postal facilities there. I wish to emphasize one statement in the letter to the department, which is worthy of the attention of the Government. They say that although the population has increased from 2,000 in 1900 to 4,500 in 1902, "the staff in the post-office remains absolutely the same." The answer obtained from the postal authorities is that -

To give the residents all the facilities they would wish would mean a large additional expenditure.

That answer is given as if the expenditure would not be fully justified in the circumstances. Then a further statement is made of a most surprising character, namely, that -

The same would be asked for on equally good grounds by a dozen other outlying suburbs of Perth and Fremantle.

Surely if it is admitted that there are good grounds for these requests, the department should make some effort at least to overtake them. A little while ago a doctor commenced to practise his profession in another suburb. The telephone wire passed his door, and he asked to have his house connected. That request was refused. He could not obtain any satisfaction from the deputy Postmaster-General. He was determined to obtain telephonic communication, to which he had a perfect right, but before anything was done the secretary of the Perth Chamber of Commerce, the Premier of Western Australia, and finally I myself, had to take the matter up.

Mr Salmon - What was the reason for the failure of the department to do anything?

Mr FOWLER - I cannot give the reason, but I propose to show how the work was eventually carried out. A reply was made to this effect -

Your telegram re complaint by Dr. Darbyshire. - The Postmaster, Cottesloe, informs me Ins application dated loth inst., and rent paid for six months in advance from 1st June next. As he is a medical man he utilized portion of a dead wire with some old material and had him connected on the 1.9th.

Surely that is not a condition of things that ought to exist in connexion with this large and important department ? Surely it should not have been necessary for the department to obtain portion of a dead wire and some old material before a medical man's house could be connected with the telephone system which passed his door. Here is another complaint by a gentleman who lives a little over a mile from the Perth Townhall. He has telegrams sent occasionally to his private residence, and in addition to the cost of transmitting a message, he is charged ls. for its delivery. I find that according to the regulations in Melbourne a telegram would be delivered over the same distance at a cost of 3d. There is a good road to this gentleman's house, and I fail to see that there is evidence of very much effort un the part of the department to obtain uniformity if at this period such a remarkable difference prevails with regard to the rates charged in the large cities of the

Commonwealth. These are simply samples of numerous other cases which have been brought before me as having occurred in my own electorate. The same condition of affairs is prevailing throughout the whole, of Western Australia. I would strongly urge the Government to take some steps tq place the department in Western Australia upon something like a commercial basis, That is all I ask, and I think sufficient patience has been exhibited in regard to these matters to justify an improvement at a very early date. I can assure the honor; able gentleman in charge of the department that I intend to see that something is done in the direction of remedying these legitimate grievances. My patience is now rapidly becoming exhausted, and I think I have shown that very strong reasons exist for a greater effort being made by the department in Western Australia to meet the re;quirements of a permanently increasing community. There are one or two other matters with which I desire to deal, and which go to show the curious anomalies that exist within the department. There is not only an almost unanimous outcry on the part of the public against the management of the department in Western Australia, but there is a condition of seething rebellion within the department itself. There are very few of the different branches in which the employes are even reasonably satisfied. This state of affairs is largely owing to the many inconsistencies and anomalies which have existed up to the present time. I am expecting that under the commissioner and his inspectors these matters will be speedily righted. But- in the meantime it is my duty to call the attention of the gentleman in charge of the depart1 ment and of the commissioner to a few of these anomalies. There seems to be no system, whatever regulating salaries, and particularly the salaries of officials in charge of post-offices. I have taken out some rather significant figures which I desire to lay before the committee. The town of Geraldton, with a population of 2,400, has a postmaster whose salary is £240 a year. The postmaster at Bunbury, with a similar population, receives £270. At Northam, with a population of 2,000, the postmaster receives £190i. At York, with a population of 1,300; the salary paid is £220. At Busselton, with a population of 452, the salary paid is £180. At Newcastle,, with a population of 339, the salary paid is £150. My point is that these are old centres in Western Australia. 1 now quote some of the newer settlements.

Sir Philip Fysh - Has the honorable member any record of the money order and other departments connected with these past-offices, because they have an influence in regulating the salaries?

Mr FOWLER - I have not that information, but I hold that the salary should bear some fair relation to the population. I find that at Subiaco, with a population of 4,500, the postmaster is paid only £165. At Helena Yale, or Midland Junction, with a population of 1,500, the salary paid is £180 ; and at Leederville, where there is a population of 2,500, the salary paid is only £140. To compare two specific cases, the salary paid to the postmaster at Newcastle, with a population of 339, is £150, whilst the postmaster at Leederville, with a population of 2,500, only gets £140. I quote these figures as evidence of anomalies existing in Western Australia, which I trust will soon be remedied by the Commissioner and his inspector. I should have dealt with a number of other matters showing the maladministration of this department in this State ; but as the Government are anxious to get through withtheir Estimates, I shall not labour the subject. I think I am fairly justified in asking that some attention shall be given to the conditions which I have indicated as prevailing in Western Australia, and that some earnest effort shall be made at an early date to bring about some degree of improvement.

Progress reported.

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