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Tuesday, 27 September 1904

Mr WILKINSON (Moreton) - I have no desire to delay the passage of the motion, but there are one or two little matters to which I should like to direct attention. I do not think that this is either the time or the place in which to ventilate individual grievances. I suppose that almost every member of the Committee could refer to a number of such grievances, but I have always found Ministers and the Public Service Commissioner also ready to listen to matters of that kind, and the departmental offices are the places in which to ventilate such matters, unless they affect large bodies "of men, when I think an honorable member is justified in directing the attention of the House as well as of the Minister to them. I must pay my tribute of commendation to what I think is a step in the right direction, taken by the honorable gentleman now at the head of the Post and Telegraph Department, in making a legitimate endeavour to cheapen the means "of communication in the country districts by a modern system. I sometimes think that we attach too much importance to the £ s. d. aspect of the question, and lose sight of the indirect advantages to be gained by making life in the country districts more attractive. It has become customary for politicians to speak of " settling people on the land," but one of the effects of the policy which has obtained in nearly all of the States in the past has been to settle people in the land. Those who have, in the first instance, gone out into the country districts to develop them have worked themselves to death, with but very little return for their labour. It is the people who come after them who reap the benefits of their pioneering efforts. Although there may be some little direct loss on the working of the great Departments which tend to make the conditions of life in the country better, there is an indirect gain which more than counterbalances that loss. If we make the conditions of life of people who go into isolated and remote districts better and more comfortable than they have been made in the past, there will be inducements to the rising generation to go into those districts, and we shall not find so many of them desiring to secure appointments in the Railway Department, the Police Force, and the other public Departments. I suppose that one of the greatest hardships of a member of the Commonwealth, or of a State Parliament, is to have to deal with the number of applications which are made to him to secure employment for some person in the State or Commonwealth Departments. The reverse of that should be the case. The greater attraction should be in the direction of country occupation. The rule that applies in business should be applied in dealing with this matter. If a man has a small business, and a mono- poly of a certain line, he may demand what profit he likes, but if he wishes to build up a business with a large number of customers, he will be guided by the old adage, of " small profits and quick returns." Once the spirit of travelling is induced, persons who otherwise would not travel, will be tempted to make many journeys. Introduce a country youth or maiden to the attractions of Melbourne or some other city, and the visit will be repeated. If conveniences for the people are provided, and they are accustomed to the use of them, they will command an increasing number of patrons. And so I think it will be with the telephone- system. The Postmaster-General is considering a very wise proposal, namely, to connect various centres by cheap lines with remote districts. When an application is made for telephonic or telegraphic communication from a centre to an outlying district, a guarantee is asked from those persons who reside in the immediate neighbourhood of the proposed convenience, although they are not the only persons who will benefit from its establishment. Supposing that, on its own application, Roma, say, situated at a distance of 300 miles to the westward, is connected with Brisbane ; it is not Roma alone which benefits from the connexion, because Brisbane also benefits. Yet a guarantee is asked from only the persons who are located immediately round the centre from which the application is received. Railway communication with a country district benefits not only that country district, but also the terminus with which it has been connected. If a line connects several parts which are benefited by it, why should not the residents of those places be asked to join with the applicants in the guarantee ? That result can be achieved by making the expense of the line a tax upon the whole community, instead of upon the very few persons who ask for the convenience. Once the convenience has been used, an ever-increasing number of users will be found, and although the return from each subscriber may be smaller than it is, still in the aggregate the return will be very much larger. That is, I think, the way to make the Department pay. Several honorable: members have referred to the difference between the charge for a telephonic message, and the charge for a telegraphic message. They have lost sight of the fact that when a man pays a fee of ninepence for speaking through the telephone for three minutes, he pays for the reply as well as the message1, so that a fair comparison cannot be made without include ing the sum of sixpence for the reply to a telegram. The charges for telephonic communication are too high. By lowering them the volume of business would be increased to a very great extent, and in the aggregate a larger revenue would be derived from that branch. In some country districts, especially across the great plains, where a tree is not to be seen for perhaps fifty or sixty mile's, wooden or iron posts are necessary. But in the coastal districts of Queensland, and, I believe, of New South Wales, the ide!a of the Postmaster-General could be carried out very well. It has been urged that a considerable amount of supervision would be required, in consequence of bush fires occurring, and wild animals running against the wires, and breaking the circuit. As far as the eastern part of Australia is concerned, I do not think that there is very much in that objection. If the suggested plan is carried out, many places which under the guarantee system are cut off from communication with centres of population will be able to obtain these conveniences. I shall have another opportunity to discuss this question fully when we reach the Estimates if a dissolution does not take place in the meantime. I wish to bring a matter under the notice of the Minister of Defence. There is a misapprehension existing in the minds of a good many members of rifle clubs with regard to the issue of the new magazine rifles. A regulation has been made whereby a member of a rifle club may obtain one of these rifles as his own property. If a man. pays £1 annually for three years, and makes himself efficient, no' further payment is required j but if he is not efficient he is required to pay a further sum of 15s. gd. I know that the supply of these rifles has been somewhat limited, but there is an impression in the minds of many men that only one rifle is available for purchase to each club. Three rifles have been sent to each club in Queensland, and in some cases have been supplied to the officers - the president, vice-president, and secretary. It is thought that because the rifles have been issued to the club, the officers are entitled to the use of them.. I take it that it was intended by the Department that any member of a rifle club should be allowed to use the rifles. Unless a rifle is in charge of one man, and is well taken care of, it will be worth little at the end of twelve months. In my opinion, the officers of a rifle club are wise in keeping these rifles under their own supervision rather than allowing any member of the club to use them at his own sweet will. I would point out to the Minister that if he would allow; the members of the rifle clubs to purchase their own rifles, a valuable Defence Force would be armed, not at the cost of the Department, but at the cost of private individuals, and ari immense sum would be saved. If a man does very much shooting, the barrel of 'his rifle will be practically worn out at the end of three years, and I understand that a new barrel can be put on the old stock at a cost of from 15s. 6d. to £j is. If the rifle clubs were supplied with rifles, the barrels would require to be renewed at the end of three years, and that would create a further charge on the Department. But if every member of a rifle club were to own his own rifle, he would defray the cost of renewing the barrel. I should like the Minister to seriously consider what saving might be effected in that branch of the Defence Force. I think it will be an important part of the Defence Force when Australia's hour of need arises.

Mr McCay - It has begun to cost a good deal of money, and that shows that it is getting on.

Mr WILKINSON - If the Commonwealth has to supply every man who is willim? to go to its defence, with a rifle, it will cost a lot more. But if it is made possible for thousands of rifle club men to buy their own rifles, a saving will be effected, not only in the first instance, but when the time comes for renewing the barrels. Tens of thousands of men will be induced to buy their own rifles, and so reduce the cost of defending the Commonwealth.


Mr WILKINSON - I am satisfied that thousands of them are prepared to buy their own rifles. I have a few matters to bring under the Minister of Trade and Customs' notice. I wish . to remove a misapprehension which has existed for a considerable time with regard to the reduction of the duty upon timber which is largely used in the manufacture of butter boxes. Some reflection has been cast on the honorable member for Maranoa, because of a vote which he gave when that item in the Tariff was under consideration. It is well known to a good many honorable members, that the imposition of a lower duty was carried against the Government by a majority of one vote, through a mistake on the part of the honorable member for Mernda. The honorable member for Maranoa has been blamed considerably for that decision ; but the fact is that the . lower duty was -carried through a mistaken vote of the honorable member for Mernda, who had intended to vote the other way. New Zealand has put an export duty upon timber such as has hitherto been used in Victoria for the manufacture of butter boxes, and the Victorians are therefore turning their attention to Queensland as a source of supply. The representatives of that State assured them when the Tariff was under consideration that in Queensland there is an unlimited supply of timber superior to that which has been obtained from New Zealand. The matter is now occupying the attention of the Government of Queensland, and I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs to meet sympathetically any proposal which they may make, with a view to bring about the use of Queensland pine for the manufacture of the butter boxes used in the Victorian export trade. It would be a big thing for the Commonwealth if that timber were so used, because there is an unlimited supply of it. At the present time all the butter which is exported from Queensland is packed in boxes made of Queensland pine, and although it is not bringing in the London market prices as high as are obtained for Victorian butter, that is due to the fact that Queensland needs a proper dairying Act, and a proper system of grading before exportation. I have corresponded with all of the leading Queensland butter manufacturers on the subject, and I have placed most of their replies on record in Hansard:. They say that, although in times of drought, when it has been impossible to bring timber to the mills, they have imported New Zealand timber, as soon as supplies of the local and northern New South Wales pine were available, they have used it again, a fact which shows that in their opinion it is more suitable than the imported pine. I am sufficiently a protectionist to believe that when we can give preference to a local natural product, or a product which is partly natural and partly artificial, we should do so. A very large business in Queensland pine could be developed if its use were encouraged, and in this way a good deal of the friction between the State and the Commonwealth which has been engendered during the last few years might be removed. Unfortunately the States are beginning to think that the legislation and administration of the Corner. Wilkinson. monwealth has been inimical to their interests, and it is about time that we showed them that the contrary is the case, and that we are more than willing to work hand in hand with them in the development of the resources of the Continent.

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