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Wednesday, 8 June 1904

The CHAIRMAN - The question raised by the honorable member for Hume will serve to set out the procedure which is to be adopted. I intend to follow the usual practice. Upon the first item there will be a general discussion of the whole of the Estimates, and after that the Departments will be dealt with in their order.

Mr McCOLL - I notice that, whilst it is proposed to expend an additional £22,000 in the Department of Defence, some radical changes have been made in the disposition of that sum. I Should like the Treasurer to give the Committee some information respecting the items which have been deducted from the £22,000 in question, in order to reduce it to £6,006. It is just possible that some very grave questions of administration may be involved. I notice further, that a sum of £5,000, which appears on the Estimates-in-Chief, in connexion with the defence of Fremantle, has been eliminated.

Mr Watson - That was done by the late Treasurer. .

Mr McCOLL - I also desire to say a few words in regard to the recognition of military titles in the Commonwealth service. When the discussion upon that matter terminated this afternoon, a very hazy notion obtained as to what rule is to be followed in the future. So far as I can gather from the papers, ' through which I had an opportunity of glancing, the whole disturbance arose in the telegraph-room at Ballarat. Of the four operators employed there, three belong to the Defence Forces. These had been in the habit of changing their clothes and cleaning their rifles in the operatingroom. The officer in charge of the room protested against the practice, because it compelled the sections which these officers worked, to remain idle, and because it necessitated taking the young fellows who were engaged entering up messages, entirely away from their work. Very properly, he pro tested, and the postmaster thereupon issued an instruction that the practice should be discontinued. Three of the officers then petitioned to be allowed to wear their military pants whilst they were engaged upon duty. The Deputy Postmaster-General thought that the request was a reasonable one. The whole affair, as Mr. Scott says, was a very trumpery one, and ought not to have been dragged before the public. The display of a little tact would have obviated all the trouble. It has been stated that the Ballarat postmaster demanded to be addressed by his military title, but I would point out that there is no proof of that. All the talk that has been indulged in to the effect that postal officials demand that they shall be addressed by their military titles is founded upon that illusion. Far too much importance has been attached to that phase of the question. The Secretary of the central office, writing upon this matter, says -

The practice should not only be discouraged, but distinctly forbidden. I 'note the Deputy Postmaster-General's supposition, that officers "can claim to use their titles at all times." The point at issue is not their "claim to use" these titles, but rather their right to require other officers to recognise and use such titles in conversation or written communication. The Postmaster at Ballarat should ask for an explanation of the third paragraph of the Deputy PostmasterGeneral's minute.

I do not think it is wise to absolutely forbid the practice of addressing officers bv their military titles. If Public Service officials wish to address their chiefs by their militarytitles, they should be at liberty to do so.

Mr Mahon - There is no compulsion exercised either one way or the other.

Mr McCOLL - That is the impression which the discussion left upon the minds of many honorable members. As long as Commonwealth officers are free to do as they please, I think that the position is a perfectly satisfactory one.

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