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Friday, 30 April 1915

Mr POYNTON (GREY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to a letter that I received this morning, on which I desire to base a question. The letter was in reply to a request made by me for further consideration for the mail contractors who had been so badly hit by the high price of fodder. I draw attention to this passage in it -

The general question of granting relief to mail contractors on account of the drought has already been given careful consideration, but it is not seen how, without inflicting a grave injustice on tenderers, and striking at the fundamental principle of public tendering for mail services, any consideration can beshown to contractors by way of increasing their subsidy during the currency of their contract. The contracts are let both in good years and in bad years, and tenderers understand that they must make provision in their tenders to meet the vicissitudes of the weather.

The communication adds that the concession offered by the Department is that services may be reduced 50 per cent., with a subsidy of 25 per cent. I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he is not aware that horses have to be fed, whether they make two trips a week or a trip a day ? It is impossible, at thepresent time, to turn them out when they are not running. I ask him to again consider the representations that have been made to him on behalf of the mail contractors.

Mr SPENCE - The Department has entered into over 5,000 mail contracts, many of which are being carried out with motor cars. Since the drought, some of the contractors have substituted motor cars for horse-drawn vehicles. Of the contractors who are still using horses, while some have to feed their horses, others are able to obtain grass. All are not in the same position. The problem with which the Department has to deal is a most difficult one. A large number of the contracts were let last December, in the middle of the drought, and the contractors knew the conditions when they ten dereel. Doubtless their prices were higher than they WOuld have been under ordinary conditions. The Department does not demand a refund when seasons prove to bp unexpectedly good, and it would be an unsound business arrangement to increase subsidies when a bad season was being experienced. To do this would be unfair to those persons who, having calculated the probability of a bad season, had tendered at a higher price than those who succeeded in getting the contract. To increase the subsidies in the manner now proposed would cost an enormous sum of money, and could not be done in the offhand way that seems to be thought possible.

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