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Thursday, 20 May 1915

Mr POYNTON (Grey) .- I trust that there will be some practical result from this debate. I am really astounded at the attitude of the Department. I do not know who is responsible for the extraordinary suggestion that the services should be reduced by 50 per cent, and the subsidies by 25 per cent. ; but it reminds me very much of a story told about a station that was managed from the city. The manager on the station intimated to his principals in town that, owing to the drought, there was going to be a bad lambing, and he received prompt instructions, by wire, to " postpone the lambing." When the present PostmasterGeneral first took office there was, in some quarters, a little anxiety, because it was thought that he was rather a dangerous man, but I assured those timid people that there was no more steadying influence than responsibility; and I think the honorable gentleman presents to us an example in this regard. From his place in this chamber, I have heard the honorable gentleman, day after day, railing at the Postal Department for their ineptitude in the way of affording postal facilities; and I am sure that, if he were not PostmasterGeneral to-day, no one would be more severely critical than himself of the way in which these contractors are being treated. It is idle to say that the contractors ought to have taken into consideration the possibility of a drought; such a suggestion is almost adding insult to injury. If these men had had the foresight to anticipate the drought, they could have made a fortune very much more quickly than by driving mail carts. No man could foresee the drought; and, as a matter of fact, the Department of Home Affairs, which supplies fodder for the horses used upon public works, have now to pay for it a much higher price than that at which they undertook to supply it to the men. The Government attitude is really a demand for their " pound of flesh," and unless some concession is made, not only the contractors, but their bondsmen, will be ruined. A week or two ago I said that if the Government declined to place a sum on the Estimates for their relief they ought at least to free the bondsmen and contractors from their obligation. But nothing has been done beyond putting forward the extraordinary suggestion that the services should be reduced by 50 per cent., and the subsidies by 25 per cent.

Mr Wise - The horses have to be fed all the same.

Mr POYNTON - Exactly; and the suggestion of the Department is really one to " postpone the lambing." Every contractor has to keep a certain number of horses and vehicles, and there is no chance to turn the animals out on the trip, because, the country is as bare as the floor of this chamber.

Mr Sampson - The honorable member, forgets that, according to departmental ideas, these horses are not supposed to eat.

Mr POYNTON - The horses must bc fed. It might be possible, of course, to reduce the consumption of food a little; but we all know that, under ordinary circumstances, they do not get any more than is necessary, and they have to pull immense loads over unmade roads. In some places the vehicles are loaded with parcels until they represent tons.

Mr Richard Foster - Even groceries are sent by the parcels post.

Mr POYNTON - There is no doubt that the parcels have increased considerably since the extension of facilities a year or two ago. However, I have not lost all hope of the Postmaster-General, and I believe that the Prime Minister would give sympathetic consideration to any suggestion he might make; but if anything is going to bo done, let it be done quickly. Not one, but hundreds, of these men are facing ruin. The mere fact that we have had glorious rains does not mean that the necessary fodder can be provided at once. The outlook is certainly brighter than it was three or four weeks ago; but something must be done to tide these men over until next November, when the first hay may be expected. In the country districts fodder is £15 to £16 per ton, and even in the city of Adelaide it is £13. The mail contractors deserve every credit for the way in which they have stuck to their business. The Government obtain no cheaper service than this, owing to the competition there is for the contracts, and to the contractors it is, after all, a mere hand-to-mouth business. The Commonwealth has received the full benefit from these circumstances, aud the Government ought to show themselves good employers in this time of trouble.

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