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Tuesday, 30 June 1903

Sir EDMUND BARTON (HunterMinister for External Affairs) - On the question raised by the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs with reference to the weather bureau in. Queensland, I have to say that I understand that that is a private enterprise subsidized by the Governments of Queensland and of New South Wales, at least, if. not by some other State Governments. I inquired this evening when the honorable member spoke to me on the subject, and found that no communication as to the intended closing of this office had been received by my Department, although I am aware that there has been lately in the newspapers a paragraph of which, of course, I could not take official cognizance. The Government is not in any way responsible for the closing of this bureau, because it was open to the Queensland Government, as in the case of all the other States, to support their Meteorological Bureau or not as they pleased. The Post and Telegraph Bates Act was, as the honorable member rightly says,amended during its passage. Section 5 reads as follows : -

Telegrams, letters, and postal articles transmitted or posted on behalf of the King, the Commonwealth Government, or any State Government, shall unless exempted by some Act be subject to the postal and telegraphic rates for the time being in force. Subject to such regulations as the Governor-General may prescribe, telegrams may be transmitted without charge on behalf of the Meteorological Department of or subsidized by a State until the establishment of a Commonwealth Meteorological Department.

The Government has faithfully fulfilled its obligation undertaken in that section, and telegrams for this bureau have been franked.

We could have done no more, because the Act is rigid in demanding that everything shall be paid for except in those cases where there' is an exemption. I think honorable members will see that what has occurred is independent of anything that the Commonwealth could have done. At the same time I do not pretend to apportion any criticism to the Queensland Government or any one else in this matter, because until we legislate on this subject any Meteorological Bureau- that is, any official bureau constituted with the consent of the Government - is a State and not a Federal matter. I admit that it has been found necessary by the Postal Department in some cases to close minor offices, and that that has occasionally caused some friction. There is a difficulty in this matter, because honorable members are all very well aware that the Government is continually told, at any rate in quarters not within the House, that it must spend nothing, but that everything must go on in just the same way. How that kind of thing is to be carried out mustbe left, to the very sapient people who give . the advice. It is the duty of the Government to carry out economies so far as it can legitimately be done, and done without the infliction of unnecessary hardship. The complaints which have been made tonight about mail services, together with those relating to telephone matters, will be' laid before the Postmaster-General, whose attention will be drawn to the report of this debate. As regards .the question of the contract for Federal works and the minimum wage, I heard nothing about it until I returned from Sydney, but I corroborate what the Minister for Home Affairs has said. We shall endeavour to take such steps as' shall insure that when State Governments are carrying out public works on behalf of the Commonwealth, any obligation which is imposed upon the Commonwealth, even by resolution of the House, shall be faithfully adhered to. I may inform the honorable member for Eden - Monaro that I lament the occurrence which he says has happened at Milton.

I am able to assure him that it is owing to no fault of this Government, and here, again, I do not wish unnecessarily to criticise any State action. I content myself with saying that any delay which has occurred is in no sense due to the fault of the Commonwealth Government, and that we shall do our best to see that such delays do not occur in the future. Question resolved in the affirmative.

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