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Wednesday, 8 June 1904

Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) - I do not intend to speak at a later stage on the Estimates of the different Departments ; but I desire to refer now to one or two matters which seem to me to be of importance to the House, and to the people in the thinlypopulated districts of the States. I should like the Minister in charge of the Estimates at present to explain to me, if he can, what by-election for East Sydney the item of £370, under the head of miscellaneous expenditure on page 9, refers to?

Mr Batchelor - The by-election for East Sydney, which was held after the leader of the Opposition . resigned as a protest against the non-adoption of the electoral boundaries.

Mr WEBSTER - Is that the election which is commonly known in New South Wales as " Reid's Folly?"

Mr Lee - No, the gerrymandering one.

Mr WEBSTER - This represents the cost of the election when the right honorable gentleman sought to make, as it were, a false start, with the view of securing his return to this Parliament. I never knew anything so ridiculous or so unjustifiable as his action on that occasion. For the right honorable gentleman, merely as a matter of pyrotechnics, to resign his seat, and put the Commonwealth to the expense of £37°, was, to my mind, an act which did not do credit to him. I trust that in future no such folly will be displayed by any honorable member. I wish to speak more particularly of the attitude of the Post and Telegraph Department towards those residents of the Commonwealth who, in my opinion, are being victimized. I refer to the residents in the back-blocks of the States, especially in New South Wales, who have no railway communication, and very inadequate coach communication, and whose mails arrive, in some cases, only once a week, and under great difficulties in bad weather. These people, who are practically the pioneers of this country, and who have to put up with all these disadvantages, are put by the Federal Government under conditions which did not exist prior to the transfer of the Post and Telegraph Department. We find that we cannot get telephonic communication provided to these people in their interests unless they are prepared to put their hands into their pockets, and pay very heavy demands by way of guarantees and otherwise. We have heard a great deal here about settling the people on the land, and the good results which will flow to the Commonwealth from such settlement ; and yet we fail to recognise that settlers in remote districts require at least some means of communication in their isolation, if we are to keep them there. The Parliament of New South Wales used to take these matters into its ' consideration. It considered that by granting these concessions to men who were going out to take up its unoccupied lands, it would bring about the settlement of a large population on the soil. These settlers went into the back-blocks believing that when the Federal Government came into existence similar concessions would be made by the Commonwealth, with a view to promote settlement of people on the land, and of course the general prosperity of Australia. Yet we find that in places where the rivers overflow the flat country, and threaten the lives of the residents, we cannot get telephonic communication provided for the purpose of informing them as to rises in the rivers at higher . levels, which are likely to submerge their families and their stock. Through the absence of this information ruin has overtaken many, persons. We have a right to expect that the Commonwealth Government will be, at least, a little broad-minded in dealing with the requirements of this most deserving class, who receive the least consideration at the hands of the Post and Telegraph Department in the matter of the extension of telephonic or telegraphic communication. I appeal to the Postmaster-General to take into his consideration the regulations which were initiated by the late Government, and to see whether they cannot be liberalized. We should at least do what we can to make the lot of these people as comfortable as possible, and spare no efforts to carry out the policy of settling the people on the land which we advocate.

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