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Thursday, 23 June 1904

Mr CHAPMAN (Eden) (Monaro) .- The subject to which the honorable and learned, member for Ballarat has called attention is of considerable importance, and I should have been very glad had a member of the Government told us whether the Ministry propose to follow up the action which the previous Prime Minister initiated in order to see if anything can be done to encourage immigration. It is not merely a question as to whether certain Italians are desirable immigrants or not. The important point is, what we propose to do, and whether it is the' policy of the present Government to encourage people to come to Australia. There can be no doubt that it is desirable that we should encourage immigration, if only in order to diminish the burden of taxation by distributing it over a greater number of people. Therefore, I should like to have some declaration from the Government that they are in favour of a proper system of immigration.

Mr Hughes - We have not had a chance to say anything yet.

Mr CHAPMAN - I would remind the honorable and learned member that two Ministers have already addressed themselves to the question in answer to the statement of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. The remedy suggested by the Minister of Trade and Customs was that we should appoint a High Commissioner.

Mr Fisher - To prevent misrepresentations.

Mr CHAPMAN - I take it that the people of this country will want to know what the Government propose that a High Commissioner shall do. A story is told to us to-night in regard to the sending home of butter to Europe. We learn that butter has been re-shipped to Denmark, re-packed and sold in England as Danish butter at a great profit. Will a High Commissioner be able to prevent practices of that kind? I am certain that we are not in a position to maintain a High Commissioner, as well as general agents, Agents-General, and large staffs unless some practical work is to be done. In any case, it does not seem to me that there is any need for desperate haste in regard to the appointment of a High Commissioner to prevent misrepresentations. If that be the object of the Government, they can take steps to see that the statements made bv the Agent-General for Queensland, which, we are told, are misrepresentations, are promptly corrected. But undoubtedly if this country is to' be saddled with extra expenditure, and no practical work is to be shown for it, the electors will ask awkward questions.

Mr McCay - They always do at election times.

Mr CHAPMAN - The honorable and learned member for Corinella should not try to make us nervous by interjections of that kind. We are not near a general election yet, I hope. The answer of the Mini-' ster of Trade and Customs is not sufficient. We require a more definite pronouncement from the Government. Statements have been made relating to land settlement. This Parliament has nothing to do with land , settlement. Therefore, it is idle for us to debate it. But I may remark that, in my opinion, the land settlement system of this country is a rotten one. The statements that there is no land available for settlement are due to the fact that the best land is locked up. But this is not a Parliament in which that subject can be dealt with effectively. I agree with the honorable member for Dalley that this is not a time for us to introduce the fiscal question. I understood* that we were to have a period of fiscal peace, and that a large majority of the members of this House had been returned on that policy. But I cannot for a moment allow .the statement of the honorable member to go unchallenged, that protection means low wages and a dearth of employment. He told us of a large number of applicants for some position in Victoria. We all know- that Victoria, though a small country, is the most self-contained State in Australia. Why? Because her industries have been built up under protection. The honorable member for Dalley also said that the highest wages were earned by workmen in England. If this is so, how is it ihat so many men leave England to go to America and to other protectionist countries? Do they go for the good pf their health? How is it that some who, owing to family ties and other claims, cannot leave England permanently, cross to Canada - another protectionist country - for a season or two? Do they go for the sake of the trip ? Those are . questions - that require a plain answer. It is a notorious fact that labourers are not found leav ing protectionist countries to go to freetrade countries. Consequently it is moonshine to talk as the honorable member did; and, while I am in favour of fiscal peace, I am not prepared to allow statements so idle to go unchallenged. The honorable member for Perth has picked out an isolated case about some one wandering through Victoria to look for work. Dozens of cases of that kind could be found in any country in the world, and they have nothing to do with any fiscal policy. This is an occasion upon which grievances can be ventilated. Some honorable members are so situated that they have no grievances to bring forward. 1 am afraid that we are rapidly getting into such a position that we will! not grumble because we feel that grumbling in this House does no" good. I have many grievances to ventilate on behalf of my constituents. I do not seem to be able to get them remedied, though I have been trying for a long time. I am afraid that many other honorable members are similarly situated, though they will not complain. This statement may be very amusing to the Minister of External Affairs, but the facts which I shall relate are not very amusing to my constituents. They are in the back-blocks, and are unable to get postal and telephonic conveniences. When they apply for such conveniences, they meet with the old stereotyped replythat it would not pay to provide them. I suppose that I am no exception to the rule, but I know that whenever I make application for the extension of mail communication, ot for extra telephone facilities for a little mining centre, i am informed that after a careful inquiry the Department has arrived at the conclusion that to afford the facilities asked for would not pay from a commercial stand-point. Such official replies enable us to understand why people are reluctant to go Out into the isolated places and to submit to the inevitable inconveniences. They are entirely deprived of the conveniences and the comforts which are so liberally distributed in the centres of population. That is one of my grievances. I do not accuse the present Government particularly. The_ fault of which I complain has .been continuing for a long time - for so long, indeed, that some honorable members, representing

Country electorates, have reached the stage when they think that it is useless to complain about the. administration of the public departments. In my opinion, the system that prevents settlers in the isolated parts of Australia from enjoying some of the conveniences and comforts and pleasures that are provided for those in the larger centres, unless it can be shown that to provide those facilities will pay, is a wretched system. The Postmaster-General has some experience of life in the back country. I appeal to him to make some alteration in this policy. The basis of it is wrong. We should not wait until these modern conveniences are likely to pay. There ought to be some system such as was adopted in Victoria, of putting up cheap telegraph lines fastened to fences and trees. We need not wait until it pays to erect elaborate and substantial lines. Within, a short distance of Melbourne I have seen telegraphic accommodation such as I have described provided for country places, and it answers very well. Many people in country places at the present time feel that they are suffering injustices, and something should certainly be done to remedy them. Then again, I have a grievance with reference to the payment of the men who undertook duties on behalf of the Government at the last Federal election. I have written about three-score of letters with reference to complaints and grievances on this subject. We have been told time after time, both by the late Minister of Home Affairs and by the present Minister - no doubt on information supplied by the officials of the Department - that these claims have been settled. Every week, however, claims are coming in ; and some of the persons concerned are writing to members of Parliament, asking them whether there is any possibility of their accounts being paid. These claims ought to be met. I have taken so much trouble with reference to these complaints, and have got so little satisfaction, that I am at last compelled to say that there must be something wrong. We have had assurances by Ministers - given to them no doubt by officers of the Department - that the claims have been met as far as possible, and that only a few are outstanding. Yet in my own district to-day there are a number of men who cannot get payment for the work done by them. In some cases the applications for payment have been set aside on. the ground that the applicants ask far too much. I contend, however, that where men have carried out work in connexion with State elections for years past, and have worked at the same places in the same positions for the same number of hours on behalf of the Federal Government, they may reasonably expect to be paid the same sums as they are paid by the State - unless, of course, when they were engaged they were told what rate of pay would be provided for their services. I bring this matter forward in the hope that the grievances will be remedied immediately. It would really appear that the officials controlling some of the Departments prefer to follow in the old groove, and will not extend a helping hand to those in out-back districts. We should enter an emphatic protest against that kind of thing, which, as I have said, is particularly) noticeable in the PostmasterGeneral's Department. I have two or three cases in mind which I shall not mention, because I know that the proper course to adopt is to give the Postmaster-General notice of fhe time when I propose to deal with such matters, so that he may come prepared with the necessary papers. I wish to make it clear that I do not lay the blame for the grievances to which I refer at the honorable gentleman's door. The kind of thing to which I have referred went on for some time before he came into office, but I think there is now a splendid opportunity to ask for some alteration, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will see whether some change in official methods cannot be made. I regret that the time of the Federal Parliament should be taken up with these little local matters. That ought not to be. But when we find that our constituents are not paid what they have earned six months ago,- and that people in outside districts are not given ordinary conveniences, because a policy is laid down that necessary services cannot be supplied until it can be shown that they will pay, the time of the House must be taken up to some extent in dealing with these matters. The matters referred to may appear to be but small, but they affect a very large number of people, and honorable members will recognise that they have a distinct bearing upon the larger questions which have been discussed this afternoon. We have been asked why people flock into the cities and towns, and why they will not go into the outside districts. One reason is that they do not get any encouragement to go into the country districts. They do not get fair play. They are not given ordinary facilities of telegraphic, telephone, and mail communication. They are at a distance from the services of a doctor in cases of accident, and no encouragement is held out to them by the Government endeavouring to counterbalance the natural disadvantages of their situation- I think it is high time that a change took place. Representations upon these matters were made to "the late Minister of Home Affairs, and to the late Postmaster-General ; and, on the assurance of their officers, they made certain statements to this House. In spite of the statements which were made1; there are still a number of persons who were engaged in connexion with the general elections who have not yet been paid for their services. " We are promised another election by some honorable members, and it is surely high time that those who satisfactorily performed duties in connexion with the last election should be paid for the services they rendered.

Mr Batchelor - To what case is the honorable member referring?

Mr CHAPMAN - I do not desire to refer to special cases.

Mr Hughes - I could give some particulars. I sent two or three on myself.

Mr CHAPMAN - What I specially complain about is nhat many men, not only in my district, but, I take it, in other districts also, who acted as presiding officers and poll-clerks at State elections, and were given a certain fee for carrying out their duties, were employed by the Commonwealth Government to fill similar positions at the same places, though their duties were more arduous ; and yet when they sent in a claim for the amounts which they had previously been paid by the States, payment was refused them, and in. many cases a .half or one-third of what they claimed was offered them. I am not in a position, nor is the Minister, to say what would be a fair payment; but if there is to be any alteration in the payment for these services, it should be stated when the men are engaged for the work. That is really the trouble. I hope that this difficulty will be remedied in the future. It is all very well for some persons to say that ros. a day is sufficient payment for men in a humble position, but it is forgotten that they worked for twenty-four hours, and longer in some cases. These little tinkering, matters ought not to brought before the Federal Parliament. I go further, and say that even Federal Ministers ought not to be troubled with them, and it is time a change was made which will have the effect of clearing these matters up.

Mr Batchelor - A change has been made, and a different system already inaugurated.

Mr CHAPMAN - I am very glad to hear that; but I know that some of the outstanding accounts have not yet been met.

Mr Batchelor - I think I know the case to which the honorable member refers.

Mr CHAPMAN - I can quite believe that, because I refer to about half-a-dozen cases.

Mr Batchelor - I should be glad to hear the honorable member mention a case.

Mr CHAPMAN - If the Minister desires that I should mention a special case I shall do so. I have only to-day had a letter from a man who acted as presiding officer at Queanbeyan. He tells me that for months and months he has been trying to obtain payment for his services.

Mr Carpenter - What was the amount claimed ?

Mr CHAPMAN - Ten guineas.

Mr Batchelor - He has been paid his claim.

Mr CHAPMAN - He tells me that he had a voucher sent to him at last, and though it was sent back fourteen days ago, he can hear nothing of it. We should have more prompt settlement ; payment of these small accounts, should not be delayed from December to June. There may be in particular cases some good reason for delay, but why were we told that all the claims were paid ?

Sir John Forrest - Some asked too much.

Mr CHAPMAN - I believe that the right honorable gentleman fixed the amount of payment, but not a generous amount in the case of men in my district, who certainly carried out their duties satisfactorily.

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