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Thursday, 2 October 1902

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - At the outset, I should like to know why the House met at 10.30 o'clock this morning. When I left the Chamber last evening, it was generally understood the hour of meeting would be eleven o'clock. Owing to the sudden alteration of the meeting hour I might have lost an opportunity of referring to postal administration in Western Australia. Honorable members should be made acquainted with any change in the intentions of the Government, because neither of the Melbourne daily newspapers now takes much notice of our proceedings, and the Votes and Proceedings are of no use, because they reach us too late. The latter publication would be more useful if it gave notice to honorable members of the hour fixed for the meeting of the House.

Sir George Turner - The honorable member gets his business paper early in the morning.

Mr MAHON - Not always.

Sir George Turner - I receive mine at my office at nine o'clock in the morning.

Mr MAHON - I had no notice of the intention to sit half-an-hour earlier than was previously arranged, and I was much surprised to find that these Estimates might have been passed before I had an opportunity of addressing myself to them. I do not wish to unduly delay the committee. Having, some time ago, made my protest against the continuance of the faulty system in existence in the Post and Telegraph department in W estern Australia, I only wish to state now that little or no substantial improvement has been made. I hope that the Public Service Commissioner will so reform the department as to obviate any complaints in the future. There are also one or two matters connected with the living allowances which are paid to officers upon the gold-fields and in the tropics, to which I should like to direct attention. These men, stationed as they are in outlying districts, and living under the hardest possible conditions, ought, I think, to receive a little more monetary consideration than they do. The Government have often been told of the severe conditions of life in these localities, and they experience the greatest difficulty in inducing officers to go there. When once an unfortunate man is sent out to any of these remote stations he appears to be left there for the rest of his natural life. It is possible that the action of the Government may be defended in refusing to transfer officers from the city and the comfortable coastal stations to the interior, and in declining to sanction the. removal of officers from Western Australia to the eastern States. At the same time, I should like to hear what are the reasons for the adoption of that policy.. It is a great hardship to compel men to remain in these remote districts year after year, with no possibility of a respite. Seeing that the Government cannot conveniently effect transfers, I think they should make official positions in the outlying portions of the interior more attractive to the service by offering, as a tropical and gold-fields allowance, a considerable amount in addition to the salary paid. I have in my hand a letter from an officer who is located on the confines of civilization in Western Australia. It was written at Cossack by an ex-lineman, who complains of the inadequate nature of the allowance given to the line repairers in that country. These men, in the performance of their arduous duties, frequently have to risk their lives by swimming rivers, in addition to which they are exposed to all kinds of weather, and have to submit to numberless hardships. Yet I am informed by the writer of this communication that the allowance which is supposed to be given to them for native assistants - a sum of £30 a year- is paid to the postmaster of the place to which they are attached, and that the linemen do not receive it. A lineman has to find food for the nigger who usually accompanies him, and for this service he apparently receives nothing.

Sir George Turner - Is not the aboriginal employé paid by the postmaster ?

Mr MAHON - Apparently not. Perhaps I had better read what my informant says -

I have known linemen to be out on the line for weeks at a time, especially in the north-west, in the summer season, when the heat is quite unbearable. Also, I have seen the same linemen swimming rivers after a willy willy when no one else would do it. I think that these men are entitled to their leave without paying for it. Also, I should like to point out another very unfair thing, concerning what is called the lineman's native assistant. The West Australian department allows £30 a year for linemen's native assistants,but instead of the linemen getting this money it is paid to the postmaster of the place to which the lineman is attached.

Sir George Turner - That is very serious if the facts are as stated.

Mr MAHON - Other officersstationed in the remote portions of the interior, and especially on the gold-fields, are entitled to more consideration than is extended to them. There is no denying the fact that in some of these places an allowance of £30 a year is quite insufficient. Not merely are the necessaries of life much dearer, but the absence of water is a serious drawback to these officers. The cost of hauling and conserving it is a very heavy item indeed. Yesterday I referred to the ruling of the Attorney-General under which leave of absence after six years' continuous service is now being refused to officers of the Commonwealth. I cannot argue the question from a legal stand-point ; but it seems to me that no Parliament would deliberately pass an Act entitling all its servants at the end of six years to obtain leave of absence simultaneously. Of course, if such leave were granted the service would be completely disorganized, and I cannot think that that was the intention of the State Parliament in enacting that law. This point the Attorney-General has not met satisfactorily ; in fact, he ignored it. Another matter to which I desire to call attention is the protracted delay which occurs in obtaining decisions from the PostmasterGeneral upon matters relating to Western Australia. The practice appears to be to forward to that State by post all papers relating to any question in dispute, and to" await the pleasure of the Deputy Postmaster -General at Perth to deal with them. When he has leisurely done this the papers are returned by post. It seems to me that the Government ought to make more use of the telegraph service in this connexion.

Sir Philip Fysh - They use it to an enormous extent.

Mr MAHON - Certainly they have not used it in some cases in which I have interested myself, because I usually have to wait from five to six weeks to obtain a decision. Before concluding I should like to say a word or two upon the proposal to reduce the status of many " official " postoftices to that of " non-official" post-offices. It seems to me that the Government are pursuing rather a niggardly course in reference to the " non-official" postmasters. Last evening I cited a case in which a man was handling nearly 20,000 letters a year upon the gold-fields, for. which service he receives only £12 annually. That, I think, is pushing economy to the extreme. A service of that kind should be adequately rewarded. At the same time, I commend the Government for abolishing a number of " official " post-offices, and substituting in lieu thereof " non - official " offices. Last night I was surprised to hear the honorable member for Canobolas reading resolutions from the residents of a small town, protesting against the action contemplated, evidently oblivious of the fact that this is not a State Parliament, but a Parliament which has to deal with national issues. I think that the Government should abolish a number of the small " official " offices in the coastal districts of Western Australia, and offer a larger salary to the storekeepers who could be appointed as " nonofficial " postmasters. The system is working satisfactorily in Victoria, and should be extended. It is evident that if a salary of £120 a year is paid to an officer conducting a post - office which yields only an annual revenue of £81, there must be a very large loss in the aggregate. This means that ultimately the mail services which are now enjoyed in the remoter portions of WesternAustralia, New South Wales, and Queensland will be considerably curtailed. I cannot understand how the honorable member for Canobolas can defend a small town which desires to preserve the dignity of an official post-office. Is not the fact that its residents secure a regular delivery of their mails the main consideration ? What difference does it make to them whether the man who hands them their letters when they call at the post-office is designated an "official" postmaster or " nonofficial " postmaster? I think that the honorable member in urging the request which he did was doing considerable damage to the cause of the people resident in the remoter portions of Australia. I trust that the Government will intimate to the Public Service Commissioner that the living allowance upon the gold-fields should be considerably increased, and that in future we shall be able to obtain decisions upon matters in dispute in Western Australia much more rapidly.

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