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Thursday, 20 May 1915

Mr MANIFOLD (Corangamite) . - I have very much pleasure in supporting this motion. The position taken up by the Department is extraordinary, and for it the officials have put forward a number of excuses. On many occasions the Postmaster-General has been questioned as to the intentions of the Department, and his reply has been that due consideration is to be given to the matter and certain concessions are to bo made. That due consideration and those certain concessions, whatever they are, must be given quickly or there will be no mail contractors left in the country. The mail contractors will have to go to the wall, and their bondsmen will be called upon to carry out the contract. If the bondsmen are not men of substantial means, my advice to the contractors is to throw up their contracts, and let the Postmaster-General endeavour to get the money from the bondsmen. The position of many of these men is pitiful, and the conditions are not going to improve before next December or January. The Minister of Trade and Customs, in replying to a question regarding the removal of the duty on chaff, said that the matter would be left in the hands of the House, and that, now rain had fallen, a great responsibility had been taken off the shoulders of the Government. But the trouble is only starting now. The position was bad enough while the dry weather continued, but now that the rains and cold weather have come, stock are dying in hundreds along the roads in the Corangamite electorate. There are dairy farmers who have fed to their stock every penny they had in the world, and now the stock are dying of cold. The coach horses are practically in the same position. The men who obtained these contracts prior to December tendered on the basis of a normal price of chaff. Even as late as last July it was anticipated that the price of chaff would not go much above £4 or £5 per ton during this year. They calculated that there would be a reasonably good crop of hay, and they would be able to get their chaff at a fair price. To-day those men are paying £13 or £14 per ton for their chaff, and they do not know in which direction to turn for the next load. The PostmasterGeneral has said that the position presents great difficulties, but surely the Department can surmount the few difficulties that exist in regard to this matter. Cannot the Department inquire into each contract, ascertain what the contractor has to do, and the price he is getting for the job, and then give him a reasonable allowance ?

Mr Thomas - I thought you desired something done quickly.

Mr MANIFOLD - We cannot act without inquiry, but I hope the inquiry will be quicker than such inquiries usually are. Surely to goodness the inspectors in the district can ascertain the conditions of each individual contract. On no account should the Department reduce the frequency of the mail service, especially in well-settled districts. It seems to be the aim of the Department not to consider the public, but to endeavour to make the ledger balance as nearly as possible. No consideration is given to the people who live in the country, and who in many cases have to be content with two mails a week when they are justly entitled to four mails a week, if not a daily mail. The circular letter from the Department to which reference has been made is very interesting in its application to the southern portion of the Corangamite district. The Postmaster-General suggests that the contractor should sell his equipment and get a motor car or a motor bicycle, or carry the mail on horseback. I wish the honorable gentleman would go into the district and observe the nature of the roads the residents have to travel over. The only thing the mail contractor can possibly do on most of those roads is to carry the mails on horseback; perhaps a sledge would be even better. That circular recalls to my mind. the circumstances of a request for a telephone in that district. There was a proposal by the Department that the line should be altered so as to be brought nearer to the main trunk line. The residents wrote to me, urging that the route of the line should not be altered, but that it should be allowed to go to the railway station, because they wished to be able to ascertain at the station if there were any goods awaiting them. They did not wish to travel to the station unless the trip was absolutely necessary, and then they preferred to travel on a sledge, such is the condition of the roads. As to the use of motor cars and motor bicycles, has the PostmasterGeneral, who represents a country district, ever seen a country mail going out? If he has, it is strange that he should suggest the carriage of such loads on motor bicycles or even on horse-6 back. In 1903, Messrs. Cobb and Company, of Queensland, had to forfeit their contracts, and were practically ruined, not because of the number of letters they had to carry - for these might well have been carried on horses - but because of the immense loads of parcels.

Mr Thomas - What effect has the extension of the parcels post had?

Mr MANIFOLD - Personally, I do not know .whether the parcels post has thereby been rendered much heavier. I had an interview with a postal contractor the other day, and his reply to the suggestion about purchasing a motor car was that if the Postmaster-General would' buy his horses and vehicles he might do so, for he was unable to find any purchaser for them; and he further showed me some immense baskets of parcels, and asked how the Postmaster-General would manage to carry them on a motor bicycle. It has been suggested that some consideration should be given to those contractors whose contracts have a year or eighteen months to run, bub if the PostmasterGeneral is going to do anything, as I hope he will, the men whom he should assist are not those who took up their contracts in December, but those who did so in July, when they could have had no idea of the high prices they would in the future be called upon to pay for chaff and oats. Of course, under the circumstances, there . must be a general policy of " give and take." We cannot suppose that borrowers will be able to pay their interest in the way they did when there was plenty of rain and we had prosperous years; now every member of the community is called upon to put his shoulder £o the wheel, and see the country through the trouble. Despite what the Prime Minister has said, the drought has been practically an Australian drought, extending over the greater part of the continent; and those who have suffered ought to receive consideration and assistance. I do not see why the Department should be exempt from the general sacrifice that we all have to make, and permitted, by the policy adopted, to drive not only the contractors, bub their bondsmen, into the Insolvency Court.

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