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Wednesday, 30 June 1915


Mr JOHN THOMSON - I wish to refer now to some matters connected with the mail service. The Postmaster-General is aware that many country districts do not enjoy the convenience of train mail services. In many districts important, towns and centres of considerable population are dependent upon the carriage of mails by horse and by coach. This has given rise to a good deal of complaint, and attempts have been made to induce the Department to provide quicker means of transit for the mails by the use of motor lorries or motor cars. I regret that the Department has not, so far, kept up with the times in this direction. In my own district two or three contracts have been accepted for the conveyance of mails by motors, but in many districts the Department cannot be induced to move in this direction. Tenders are now being called for services for 1915-16, and I think it will be found that, owing to. the high price of fodder, the cost of conveying mails by coaches will be considerably increased. In the circumstances I ask the Postmaster-General to consider seriously whether the public might not be much better served by the adoption of a more expeditious method of carrying the mails ? The day has gone by with most of our people when, if they do not get a mail this week, next week will do. We all now want our mails delivered as quickly-as possible, and a coach travelling at about 5 miles an hour in districts where the roads aire good can scarcely be said to be up to our modern requirements. By the use of. motor vehicles., we could, get: a better service at a i very slightly increased, cost to the Department.. I. have a. word to say now on. the subject, of - the- payments made to persons in charge- of allowance offices. I have reason to believe . that it. is in, the. minds of responsible officers of the Post and. Telegraph Department to reduce the amounts, at- present, being paid to persons keeping allowance, offices. The PostmasterGeneral is as well aware as is any other honorable member of the Committee of what is required from these people. Most of them, are living in. little wayside places in remote districts, and they are expected to provide at these places the facilities which we look for at the Sydney General Post Office. They are expected to get up at all hours of the night, or to leave the work of their farms ortheir kitchens, to sell a few stamps, and the remuneration paid to them is miser1 ably small. These people do not expect' to make a living out of the allowance offices, but when they are prepared to go to a considerable amount of trouble, and spend a great deal of their time in looking after- the offices, they are entitled to some consideration from the Department for the work they do, and we should not look too closely into the allowances paid to them. I have been told that it is proposed to reduce the payments, now beingmade to some of these persons, and the Postmaster-General will find that there will be considerable opposition to any proposal of the kind from honorable memberson both sides. Those who have charge of allowance offices are not under the same regulations with respect to holidays and half-holidays as those employed in official offices. They find room, light, and other necessaries for the convenience of the public, and they are at the beck and call of the public at all hours. In the circumstances, it would be most unfair to deprive these people of the very small allowances now made to them for the services' they render.


Mr Spence - There is no proposal to reduce their payments.


Mr JOHN THOMSON - The proposal may not yet have reached the Minister, and I am taking advantage of this opportunity to- enlist his sympathy before it does reach him. I can assure the honorable gentleman that a responsible officer of the Department told me, in a casual" way, that such a proposal was to be made:


Mr Charlton - - It is being done now.


Mr JOHN THOMSON - The honorable member for Hunter informs me that it is .being done now.


Mr Spence - No; the honorable member ia quite wrong. Any reductions that take place are automatic, in accordance with the scale of payments that has been adopted. There is no proposal to alter the scale.


Mr JOHN THOMSON - If the Minister means to say that those in charge of allowance offices are being paid according to the number of letters they handle, T .say that it is not fair to ask them to keep these offices going for £1 or £5. a year. They give a considerable amount of their time to the work, they find rooms and light for the convenience of the public, and they should not be remunerated under any hard-and-fast scale according to ' the number of packets they make up, or of mails they despatch. The PostmasterGeneral, from his large experience of life in the country districts, will not, I hope, .allow himself to be tied to a scale in dealing with payments of this kind, and will give careful consideration to the question before he permits £1 to be deducted from the allowance paid to any of these persons. If he errs in the matter at all, it should be in the direction of a more liberal remuneration for these services, and, if he takes that view of the matter, I am satisfied that he will receive the support of every honorable member of the Committee. Quite recently, a new system has been adopted in connexion with letter-boxes in country post-offices, and increased rents are being charged to the subscribers. The Department goes further, and asks these people, some of whom have -been renting letter-boxes for many years, to deposit 5s. before they can secure the keys of their boxes.


Mr Spence - That has' been done away with.


Mr JOHN THOMSON - I am afraid that the people who have been responsible for this charge have not done with it yet. In some cases, respectable business people who have had letter-boxes for from five 'to fifteen years are asked to pay a deposit of 5s. before they are given a key worth Is. 6d.


Mr Spence - I have directed that that practice be abolished, .and the deposits returned or credited to the subscribers' .accounts with the .Department. [163]- 2


Mr JOHN THOMSON - I am very glad to hear that statement from the Minister. I have now to raise the question of the rents charged for these letter-boxes. As the Postmaster-General is aware, they are of two or three different sizes, but the people take whatever box is given them by the Department. In .my own district the boxes used were taken from the Sydney General Post Office. They were removed for the convenience of the Department, and in the interests of economy, which I appreciate. At the same time, they happen to be big boxes, and many of those who rent them do not require boxes of that size. They are charged a certain rent for them because the boxes are of a certain size. It should not be forgotten that the renting of these letter-boxes ia as much a convenience to the Department as to the subscribers, because the Department is not called upon to deliver the letters addressed to those persons, since they come to the Post Office for them themselves. They should, in the circumstances, be more liberally dealt with. The mails are very infrequent, and for the service rendered 30s. a year for one of these, boxes is a very heavy charge. These matters give rise to friction between the Department and the public, and are not worth the trouble and annoyance they cause. People should not be charged a rent of 30s. a year because boxes of a certain size have been put in to suit the convenience of the Department, when smaller boxes would serve the purpose of the subscribers. There is still another matter to which I should like to direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral. Whether it is because the officers are pushed for time I do not know, but we frequently receive telegrams in writing which are difficult to understand. I received a telegram two days ago, and I do not yet know what it means. The illegibility of one of the words seems to have destroyed the sense of the telegram. This telegram was received from the Telegraph Office, Melbourne. I think that arrangements should be made to have telegrams typewritten, and type-writing machines might be more liberally distributed amongst telegraph offices in the country districts. Where funds are not available for the purpose, the Postmaster-General might consider a proposal to allow assistants in the offices "who have type-writing machines a reasonable rent for their use. It would avoid a -lot of difficulty if telegrams were type-written.


Mr Sharpe - How does the honorable member propose to meet the additional expenditure involved in what he suggests]


Mr JOHN THOMSON - The honorable member for Oxley suggested a means himself in some remarks he made on Friday last.


Sir Robert Best - A tax on bachelors is what the honorable member suggested.


Mr Sharpe - Not for this purpose.


Mr JOHN THOMSON - The honorable member and some other honorable members were discussing the amounts charged by the Railways Commissioners in the different States for the carriage of mails. I am inclined to think that if the PostmasterGeneral went into the matter of the payments made to the Railways Commissioners for the carriage of mails he would find it possible to make a considerable saving. If the honorable member for Oxley would look into the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department, he would probably find that economies might be effected in many directions. The Postmaster-General himself referred to one the other night which led to a saving of £20.000. That is the sort of thing I like to hear about. Apparently, however, it is more to the .taste of the honorable member for Oxley to suggest that there should be a tax upon newspapers posted to country districts. People in the country districts who have sent their sons to the war are anxious to receive newspapers to find out what has been their fate ; but the honorable member for Oxley suggests that we should tax these people by asking them to pay extra postage for the newspapers they receive.


Mr Sharpe - The honorable member knows that I do not.


Mr JOHN THOMSON - That is all the sympathy the honorable member has for people who have sent their sons to the front. I am satisfied to bring these matters under the notice of a more liberal man, in the person of the PostmasterGeneral, who, I am sure, will extend to honorable members credit for any suggestions they make, will accept their criticisms in the best spirit, and will give them every consideration.







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