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Thursday, 20 May 1915

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) . - There is much wisdom in the concluding words of the honorable member for Wakefield, who says that action, if it is to be taken, should be taken immediately, because the trouble is now at its maximum, and it is while it is at its maximum that some relief should be afforded I wish to say a few brief words with regard to the alleged remedy for overcoming the difficulty suggested by the Department in their own official way.

Mr Spence - They have not suggested a remedy yet.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) - Perhaps I am wrong in calling it a remedy, but some of the recent departmental replies to complaints that I have forwarded from persons who have been suffering very acutely suggest that the frequency of the mails should be reduced by 50 per cent.

Mr Spence - That has been done in some cases.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) - This is the alleged remedy. This decrease of 50 per cent. in the frequency of the service is accompanied by a decrease of 25 per cent. in the subsidy. Honorable members who have spoken upon this matter previously have claimed that this gives very little relief. I think that it makes the trouble worse. It certainly aggravates the position. The contractor's expenses are going on just the same as they were with a full service, and he gets less remuneration for it. Thus, instead of being relieved, these unfortunate victims of the drought are placed in an infinitely worse position by this alleged remedy. I raise my protest against this alleged remedy, because, by its means, the Department is making the position of the contractors much worse. The reply usually given by the Department is that the contractors enter into these contracts with their eyes open, and they must take the risk of a drought. Everybody knows that when the contractors tendered for these contracts they would be considering only the normal conditions, and would have no regard to possible abnormal conditions, such as those we have recently experienced.

Mr Richard Foster - Invariably the competition for these contracts is keener than for any other.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) - That is so ; the price is cut as low as possible, and the tenders are framed on the supposition that the conditions will be normal. It is almost unnecessary to remark that if the contractors had expected that the conditions would be such as we have experienced during the last twelve months, they would not have accepted the contracts at any price. The officials of the Department say that it would not be fair to the unsuccessful tenderers to give an increase to the men who hold the contracts. I do not think that the unsuccessful tenderers would feel aggrieved, especially if the Departmentgives the so-called remedy that has been proposed. Those tenderers will be only too pleased to know that they missed the contract. Even if the Department agrees to remunerate the contractors, I do not think that the unsuccessful tenderers will grumble; rather will they consider themselves lucky to have missed the contracts. I register my protest against the replies which are frequently given by the Department to the representations of a section of the community who are suffering more than any other section by reason of the disastrous drought. I know of several distressing cases in my own electorate. There are instances in which the contracts are held by women who have lost their horses, and are carrying the mails with borrowed horses. No lengthy statement is required to prove to the Postmaster-General that something should be done, and anything that is to be done should be done at once. Mention has been made of the fact that the State Government in Victoria have given relief to some of those persons who are working for the State. Not infrequently in times of distress relief has been givenby past Governments to those who were suffering most. We know of seed wheat having been supplied to farmers, and of private landlords having reduced their rents, and in many other ways those in a position to do so have gone to the rescue of the sufferers during a crisis. The Commonwealth Government will be setting a bad example by treating in a shameful fashion those who are under engagement to them. I have always maintained that the Postal Department, as an institution run for the benefit of the people, should not be conducted with a view to making huge profits. Indeed, it does not matter very much whether an institution of this kind even pays its way, so long as it gives benefits to the taxpayers. The alleged remedy proposed by the Department in connexion with these contractors is to cut down the mail service and decrease the subsidy.

Mr Spence - The Department does not propose to do that; but several people have been thoroughly satisfied with that arrangement.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) - Then those persons are not hard to please. I know of no one in my district who was satisfied with the arrangement; on the contrary, the general opinion is that, under that arrangement, the contractors would be worse off. My own view is that not only would it put the contractors in a worse position, but it would also do an injustice to the residents, because if a biweekly service is reduced by 50 per cent., thepeople in the district will receive only one mail a week.

Mr JOSEPH Cook - I know of a case where the trips have been reduced from six to two a week.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) - The authorities ought to be ashamed of themselves. I do hope that if any relief is to be afforded by the Government, it will be given immediately, while the contractors are feeling their lot so keenly. If the present conditions are allowed to continue, some of the contractors will have gone to the wall, and now, before it is too late, is the time for the PostmasterGeneral to act. I am sure that if the honorable gentleman is guided by his own feelings he will not lose the opportunity of doing something to assist those deserving people.

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