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Wednesday, 22 June 1904


Mr McWILLIAMS - In all States where there is political honesty and good government a Department will not take a contract from one' person and give it to another, unless for very strong and proper reasons. But if a hard-and-fast line were to be applied now in the way suggested by the honorable member for Grey, I am afraid that very serious injustice might result.


Mr Poynton - I do not suggest anything of the kind. I suggest that this man's contract should be forfeited, because he has deliberately broken his agreement.


Mr McWILLIAMS - If we draw a hard-and-fast line, a very serious injustice may be done, not to the man who sublets the contract, but to the man to whom it is sublet.


Mr Poynton - The honorable member's consideration is all for the man who sublets.


Mr McWILLIAMS - I am as absolutely opposed as is the honorable member for Grey to subletting, and I 'go with him to the full extent of his denunciation of the practice. But, if this rule is to be applied, I ask the Postmaster-General to show some consideration to the small. man who has taken the sublet contract, and has bought his eight, ten, twelve, or, it may. be, twenty horses, and made other provisions for carrying it out. If we are now to have a clean slate, and offer contracts for competition again, the small man now doing the work may be shut out altogether.


Mr Hutchison - The small man is protected for the period over which he has agreed with the contractor.


Mr Poynton - The honorable member for Franklin would rather allow the original contractor to pocket the difference all the time.


Mr McWILLIAMS - No ; I would not.


Mr Poynton - That is what is occurring.


Mr McWILLIAMS - In Tasmania, there was a system - I do not know whether it is now applied in Commonwealth contracts - which answered very well indeed. Alternative contracts were always called for, one for the whole group, and one for each line. In some cases, the smaller contracts were infinitely preferable, while in other cases it was found better to let the whole in one group. Whatever we do, we ought to see that there is not encouraged a great monopoly by one or two large firms, who compel the* small contractors, in order to get any work, to take sub-contracts.


Mr Hutchison - That is exactly what is happening.


Mr McWILLIAMS - Sometimes in Tasmania when a contract for a main line, say, from A to B, has been let, and the running over small roads to isolated townships has been sublet, it is found that the sub-contractor really gets more from the original contractor than he would under a direct contract with the Government. Unfortunately, the large- contractors generally endeavour to monopolize the best paying roads, and, to use an American phrase, " freeze out " the small contractor every time. It is a common practice for one firm to put in four or five different tenders, and when it is found that two or three of those tenders are too high, to simply forfeit the deposits on them, and accept the contract at the lower figure of one of the remaining tenders. I know that such a practice is not recognised or allowed, but all who have practical experience know that it is resorted to in all kinds of contracts. So long as there is open competition, there would be very great difficulty in drawing any hard-and-fast rule, which would protect the contractor, and allow him to get a fair price. I would far rather see contractors lose occasionally, or see occasional inconvenience and injustice, than I would allow a public Department to discriminate between tenderers, and decide what price was to be remunerative. There have been serious complaints from time to time in the different States, and even in the Commonwealth itself, that favoritism has been shown in the matter of mail contracts. Personally, I do not say there is any ground for the complaint. But such a charge was made, and is commonly made, because the Department, in the exercise of its judgment, gives a contract to one person in preference to another. I should like the Postmaster-General to bear in mind that if a hard-and-fast rule is to be applied, some consideration should be shown to the men who have already taken sub-contracts., and made all preparation for carrying out the work. Whatever punishment may be inflicted on the man who sublets, it ought not to extend to the man who has taken a subcontract, and is prepared to carry it outto the best of his ability.

Question resolved in the negative.







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