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Tuesday, 8 November 1904

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - I am under the painful necessity of directing the attention of the Government to the large sum they are paying as rent for post-offices in Western Australia. The present system has been going on for many years, even in populous places like Fremantle.

Mr Watson - The amount . is only £780.

Mr MAHON - That is a very considerable sum.

Mr Watson - It is not much for the whole State, is it?

Mr MAHON - There is no necessity for the Government to pay so much. I noticed, even before Federation, as well as subsequently, that buildings were being rented for postal purposes, when they should be owned by the Government; and', if I remember rightly, in some cases the rent was extravagant. What I wish to refer to more particularly is the outlay for rent on the gold-fields. Some of the officials seem to labour under the peculiar idea that all mining towns are purely ephemeral, and that the Government are not justified in putting up a small post-office until the public have given absolute proof of the permanence and stability of the place.

Mr Brown - That is the view they hold in respect of all mining towns.

Mr MAHON - It is a view which they ought to get rid of very quickly, so far as Western Australia is concerned. Mulline, 'on the North Coolgardie goldfield, is only a small plage, but for ten years there, has been profitable mining carried on, and a large quantity of gold obtained. The State Government have expended between £10,000 and £15,000 in the erection of a twenty-head battery, with all proper gold-saving appliances, and I have repeatedly applied to the Post and Telegraph Department for the erection of a post-office there. However, from year to year the Department goes on paying £52 a year for a small cottage.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - Is that not a reflection on the late Postmaster-General?

Mr MAHON -- The late PostmasterGeneral did hot have time to alter the present state of affairs, andi, besides, he had a natural delicacy in dealing with matters affecting his own State. The cottage, though the site is convenient, is unsuitable for the purpose, there being only three rooms, while the public have no place except a bit of board outside on . which to write telegrams. A small postoffice could be erected at a cost of £500 or £600, and if the public have sufficient faith to erect buildings costing nearly as many thousands in such places, and if the State Government, who have the best opportunity to test the stability and permanence of new towns, go to the expense of putting up an expensive battery, surely, the Federal Government should feel justified in providing a modest postoffice such as I have described ? It is not merely that the Government are unnecessarily paying rent, but the buildings are utterly unsuitable for post and telegraph work. Any person having experience as an operator has only to stand in the middle of the street to be able to read every message which is received or sent. In another place, Mulwarrie. some distance away, there is a similar state of affairs. There a building was rented as a post-office which was "cheek bv jowl " with a public house, and the miners' children when sent for letters - I need not say that there is not the luxury of a letter delivery - had to run the gauntlet of the undesirable surroundings of such a place. Here, again, a small expenditure of £500 would provide the public with every reasonable convenience. The present state of affairs is still more inexcusable, when we remember that in all these townships the State Government have set apart land for post-offices, which is at any time available to the Commonwealth Government. But the Government will not take the trouble to have the land transferred, and the officers of the Department, for some reason or other, set their faces against the erection of Federal buildings.

Mr Robinson - There is an item of £[1,100 for the purchase of post-office sites in Western Australia.

Mr MAHON - A sum of £1,100 will not go very far in a progressive country, but I think that item represents the preliminary deposit for the purchase of a postoffice site in the city of Fremantle.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In Great Britain, post and telegraph business is frequently carried on in grocers' shops.

Mr Tudor - Not official post-offices?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, official postoffices. Even in a town like Bristol, the whole of the postal work was carried on in such a place up to within a few years ago.

Mr MAHON - I cannot draw a line between an official post-office and an ordinary post-office, because, after all, the business transacted is much the same. In the one case, I take it the office is under contract, and conducted by some one not an officer of the Department, while in the other case the management is in the hands of an officer under departmental supervision.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In large provincial towns in England the business is carried on in shops to the present day.

Mr MAHON - I do not object to that arrangement where it is of advantage to the public and economical for the Department. But at the places I have mentioned the officers are official, being conducted by a postmaster and expert telegraphist. Those cottages are not used for any . other business, and there is no advantage to the Department in renting them. The Government, by putting up their own building at a cost of £500, could save from £25 to £30 a year in rent. I am not so much objecting to these offices being in private structures as to the waste of opportunity of which the Government have been guilty in not utilizing the land placed at their disposal by the State Government in more suitable places.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is this not a matter for discussion on the postal Estimates ?

Mr MAHON - I hardly think so, seeing, that the Department of Home Affairs erect buildings.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Department of Home Affairs cannot erect a building unless they are asked to do so by the Post and Telegraph Department.

Mr MAHON - That is so. But the Department of Home Affairs impinges rather closely on the Post and Telegraph Department ; and once the plans have been approved the Home Affairs Department manages the rest. Indeed, the Post and Telegraph Department is now little more than a registry for the Home Affairs on the one side, and the Treasurer on the other.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No, the contrary is the case.

Mr MAHON - Experience will satisfy the honorable member that he is mistaken. Under existing arrangements there is little reason for a Postmaster-General, because a clerk at £150 a year could do almost everything that the Postmaster-General is permitted to do at the present time.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has the honorable member been long of that opinion?

Mr MAHON - I formed that opinion from my experience in the Department. I hope the Minister will consider the idea of utilizing the land placed at the disposal of the Commonwealth Government in Western Australia, and thereby save a considerable amount of money.

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