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Wednesday, 30 June 1915

Dr CARTY SALMON (Grampians) . - There are two matters of policy that I wish to say a word or two about. I am sorry to see the Postmaster-General has issued orders which will have the effect of reducing the allowances paid to persons at the allowance offices - the people in the Postal Service who receive the smallest remuneration.

Mr Spence - There is no reduction in the scale. No such order has been issued.

Dr CARTY SALMON - Then somebody is acting without authority. I have a letter dated 23rd June, in which it is stated that the sum to be paid in future will be much less than £28.

Mr Spence - They are being paid on the scale of business done. If the business goes down, that may account for a reduction; but there has been no change in the scale.

Dr CARTY SALMON - I want to ask the Postmaster-General whether he thinks at this period, when everybody is suffering, and when his Government is begging employers not to reduce their hands or their remuneration, that the Postal Department should act in this way and give people less than a living wage? It cannot be contended that £28 10s. per year is sufficient payment to these officers where premises are provided. In the case I refer to, it is not only a post-office, but there is a telephone attached, and, in addition, the contractors, or whatever they may be , called, have had thrust upon them extra work in connexion with the revision of the rolls without any extra payment. Now they are being told that at the end of this month they will receive considerably less than they have been getting up to the present time.

Mr Webster - Perhaps the revenue is going down.

Mr Spence - A great many others have got more.

Dr CARTY SALMON - It may be that the revenue is decreasing, but does the Postmaster-General think that the sum of £28 10s. is enough for the Government to pay to any person who gives the use of his house, looks after the postal business, the telephone, and the revision of the rolls?

Mr Spence - Some are only getting £12.

Dr CARTY SALMON - Then I say it is a shame.

Mr Spence - It is for services rendered.

Dr CARTY SALMON - I have heard the Postmaster-General and many of his friends argue that payment should not. always be limited to services rendered, but that there should be a minimum below which no one should be allowed to go, notwithstanding what the conditions are.

Mr Spence - There is a minimum of £12.

Dr CARTY SALMON - Five shillings a week ! If the Postmaster-General says that is sufficient remuneration for the work that has to be done, then I am surprised. I am sorry that there has been no practical result from the representations that have been made in regard to my district, at any rate, as to the conditions of those people, who, having made their contracts last year, before there was any drought, now find themselves in a very bad way indeed. I think better consideration should be shown to them. The other matter to which I wish to refer is also a question of policy. Here the Department is seeking to shelter itself behind the Postal Act, which provides that if anything is 'lost within the Post Office the Department shall not be responsible for more than £2. A constituent of mine sent a cheque by registered letter to one of the leading warehouses in Melbourne. It was properly addressed. The letter contained a cheque for £6 Is. 3d., which was crossed, and which was intended to pay an account at the warehouse. The money was not received, and inquiry was made. The Postal authorities said the letter had been delivered to a representative of the firm, that he had signed the book, and that was all about it, so far as they were concerned. Further inquiries, however, showed that the letter was de- livered to some unauthorized person, that the cheque was cashed at a public house in Bourke-street, since when the man who cashed the cheque had not been seen. The Postal Department refuses any redress whatever to this person, who took every care to insure the safe delivery of the letter. Under the circumstances, I think the Postal Department is acting most unfairly in sheltering behind an Act which protects them in a certain degree; and here, again, I appeal to the PostmasterGeneral personally not to refuse to pay to a person, from whom they have taken money for the safe delivery of a letter, an amount which I say they are in honour bound to return. I do not wish to attack the administration, but I do say that it is a remarkable thing that this should occur in the Melbourne General Post Office, where we have a box-room for letters delivered on behalf of those who pay a fee. More postmen would be necessary were it not for the number of people who pay fees to the Department for the privilege and the convenience of having their letters placed in private boxes, and surely the Department ought to exercise some care with respect to the delivery of re- 'gistered letters through that box system ! In this case a pink card was placed in the box belonging to this warehouse intimating that there was a registered letter which could be obtained on application at the window. That is the ordinary practice, and it is a proper one. Registered letters addressed to this firm are collected from day to day, and sometimes three and four times a day, by a lad who is well known personally to the officials in the office where such letters are delivered;' but the Department employs a man who is so careless that in this case, although it was well known that a lad always called for the registered letters, he handed the letter to a man. It is known that the pink card was presented by a man of whom a description was supplied by an hotelkeeper to the police, who made inquiries on behalf of the person who lost the money. The official on duty at the time knew that the person who applied was not the usual representative of the warehouse, and yet he handed over this registered letter to him. For all he knew it might have contained hundreds of pounds ; but he made no inquiry as to the of the individual who signed the book. This I regard as gross carelessness. The Department is responsible for carelessness on the part of its employees, just as any other employer of labour should be, but although the matter has been under consideration since last November, no satisfaction has been obtained. I received from the Deputy Postmaster-General a few days ago a letter intimating that, after full inquiries, it was found that no responsibility could be accepted by the- Department. I am loath to move for a reduction of this item, in order to give the Committee an opportunity to direct the Postmaster-Genera! to pay the unfortunate woman who addressed this registered letter to the warehouse in question, but I am afraid I shall have to do so. As a matter of fact, the money was advanced to her by a relative to enable her to pay a trading account. She is compelled now to suffer the loss and to again pay the whole amount, owing to the most extraordinary method adopted by the Department in first of all sheltering itself behind an Act of Parliament, and secondly in employing persons who are so wanting in a proper sense of their responsibility that they will hand over a registered letter to any one who presents a card of the kind I have described. Tt has been said that this particular firm lost a key to their box some time before this incident occurred, and the idea is that the person who found it used it on this particular occasion. That explanation, to my mind, is a little too thin. Any one who had found the key, and had desired to use it, would have employed it more frequently. In such circumstances it is not likely that only a card relating to a registered letter would have been removed from the box. Since the loss of the key many unregistered letters containing money have been placed in the box; but all that has been taken from it is the card in question. In all these circumstances, I am surprised that the Department presided over by a Minister such as we have at the head of it at the present time, should shelter itself behind an Act of Parliament, and allow this unfortunate woman to lose her money in this way.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - The Minister will inquire into the matter, and see if he cannot do justice. .Dr. CARTY SALMON.- The PostmasterGeneral does .not seem to be inclined to favorably view my request. .1 shall, therefore, ask the Committee to divide on the question. I appeal to honorable members to support me in urging that those who .send valuable articles through the post, and who take the precaution to register them, are entitled to the exercise of ordinary care by the Department, so that these articles may reach those to whom they are addressed.

Mr Mathews - The honorable member would not divide the Committee without an inquiry on the subject? .Dr. CARTY SALMON. - There have been months of inquiry, and I am tired of the delay. I move -

That the proposed vote be reduced by £1.

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