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Tuesday, 27 September 1904

Mr CHANTER (Riverina) - I also wish to say a little about telephones. It appears to me that the cry for economic reform which was taken up by the press and spread throughout Australia paralyzed not only this Government, but preceding Governments to such an extent that they have attempted to go to the other extreme, and have clone a great deal to injure the Post and Telegraph Department, which, perhaps more than any other in the Commonwealth, is closely connected with our social life. It is impossible to say on what grounds other than those of false economy this Department can be working. I have one or two instances to bring before the Committee. In one very important centre of a large wheatgrowing district for years past a telephone line has been asked for to connect the two towns of Daysdale and Oaklands, which are twelve or thirteen miles apart. The honorable gentleman at the head of the Department very properly says that there is no necessity to be at the expense of erecting telegraph poles where the natural timber as it grows can be utilized, but honorable members will be surprised to hear that the officer employed to prepare estimates for this particular line suggests an expenditure of between £200 and .£300. The people are perfectly willing to erect the line if they can only get the permission of the Department to do so, but Minister after Minister has absolutely refused to allow them to do this, except under impossible conditions. I am not blaming one Minister more than another, but the policy of the Department. All through New South Wales post and telegraph offices which have been in charge of efficient officers are being suddenly reduced in status and classed as non-official offices. The officer in charge of a post and telegraph office is withdrawn, an interested person in the town is put in charge of the telephone, and there is absolutely no secrecy for the messages which a trader or farmer or other person may send. Take, for instance, the town of Daysdale, which is situated between Corowa and Jerilderie. Although for very many years its post and telegraph office brought in a large amount of revenue, still a considerable time ago the Department determined that it should be placed in charge of a non-official person. The whole district, by petition and otherwise, has protested against this action. I have protested to the Ministers personally, whom I have also asked by letter to comply with the wishes of the residents, but the request has been absolutely refused. It is intended to place the office in this town in charge of a trader.

Sir John Forrest - Is it carried on at a loss?

Mr CHANTER - No ; and I sent to the Department a letter, intimating that the rental of the premises would be re'duced. The residents of a place meet the Department in every way they can in order that the post and telegraph office should be a paying concern; but the Department seems to have got into a groove from which it cannot be induced to depart. It is determined to establish nonofficial post and telegraph offices throughout the back portions of the States. I wish to know why certain advantages are being enjoyed by people resident in the cities at the cost of the people living in the back portions of the States; for the latter are being charged with the deficiency in the revenue. A telephone, for instance, was required to connect Warmatta with Berrigan. The residents of Warmatta, not acquainted with the intricacies of the bond drawn up by the Crown Law officers, willingly bound themselves to pay any deficiency on the line. There was an old-established post office at the place, and the Department absolutely came down on those persons, and demanded from them the deficiency on the working of not only the telephone but the post office. These grievances have been represented to the Department times without number. It almost makes one tired to go to the Department ; it cannot be persuaded to move. "

Mr Page - Perhaps the Department is tired.

Mr CHANTER - The Department is not too tired to do wrong in these matters, or to apply to the residents in the back portions of the States a different policy from that which they apply to those who live under more favoured conditions in the cities of the States. Take again, the difference in the postage; and on this point the Premier of Victoria and the Premier of New South Wales may have something to say. Re venue is being lost to New South Wales, and credited to Victoria. The postage per half-ounce is one penny in Victoria, and twopence in New South Wales. Day after day, letters are sent from Melbourne to towns near the border of New South Wales, and every unfortunate addressee, before he can receive his letter, has to pay a deficient postage of one penny, in addition to a fine of another penny. That grievance ought to be redressed as rapidly as possible. I should think that it could be remedied by adopting a kind of zone system. Then, again, take the services. Although two trains leave Melbourne daily for Echuca, still the mails for Moama and Deniliquin, on the other side of the river, are held in the Echuca post office until about half past two o'clock next day. Under this new-born regulation, although Moama and Deniliquin are distant only 150 and 200 miles respectively from Melbourne, it takes three days before one can get a reply to a communication from Melbourne. Surely it does not need a heaven-born statesman or administrator to grapple with these things quickly, and give some relief to the people concerned. What is the consequence to the border towns ? The legitimate revenue of the various post-offices is decreasing, and the classification of the officers is being interfered with, simply because persons take letters across the river and lodge them in Victorian post-offices, in order to secure the benefit of the penny postage. That is not fair or just to the border towns of New South Wales, nor is it economical. This Department, I claim, should not be administered from the point of view of whether the revenue will defray the expenditure. It is intended to meet the convenience of the people of Australia, no matter where they live. I am quite sure that the residents in the cities are quite prepared to bear any little loss which may be incurred, in order to give the residents of the back blocks the convenience of communication, whether by telegram, letter, or telephone. I sincerely trust that the PostmasterGeneral will strike out a new policy, quite irrespective of departmental traditions, and see that justice is meted out to these people without further delay

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