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Thursday, 15 July 1915

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (Eden) (Monaro) . - I am sorry to disturb the little tea-party that they are having on the Government side this afternoon. We have heard som© good sound horsesense from the honorable member for Darwin. I regret that the Commonwealth Bank was not established on lines such as he laid down, because, had it been, it would be stronger and better for the people than it is. I have always favoured a Commonwealth Bank. I congratulate the honorable member for Cook on his plain speaking. It would be a good thing ^ if we had a little more plain speaking occasionally from honorable members on both sides. I rose to ask the Postmaster-General to tell me why he is cutting down the allowances of postmasters and postmistresses? Last night he fenced my questions by saying that the payments of £14 and £10 that are made to these persons do not constitute salaries, but are merely allowances. It is only juggling with words to make such an excuse. These people are expected to take this money as an allowance, and to engage in some occupation other than conducting the post-offices of which they have charge, in order to earn a living. I had the honour to preside over the Post Office at one time; and, if my memory serves me aright, even when the revenue fell, it was laid down as a golden rule that these allowances should not be reduced until a new postmaster or postmistress was necessary, and the smaller amount was then offered. In my opinion it is despicable, in the case of an old and tried- servant sometimes of thirty -or forty years' standing, who has to handle a dozen or two dozen, mail bags a week, and to attend the office from 9 in the morning to 6 at night, and often later, to reduce the allowance by a few shillings . or a few pounds a year. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will look into this business, and refuse to be bound by red tape. The honorable gentleman has told us that he knows that the mail contractors, owing to the increased price of fodder and the increased cost of living, have had a very bad time, and that he finds it necessary to come to the assistance of some of them. By the way, there does not appear to be much tangible proof of any such assistance being handed out to contractors; and if it is not speedily forthcoming, we shall find that many of the contractors' horses are dead, and their bondsmen bankrupt. I do not blame the Postmaster-General for the present state of affairs; I can only. think that he is not aware of the facts. I ask him, however, whether he considers it fair, to make all calculations of the kind on the basis of the revenue earned. If there are a few less letters in the mail bag, that does not make the work any the less ; and my opinion is that the allowance should be according to the work done, and not according to the revenue derived from the work. I do not wish to cavil or find fault, but there is something -radically wrong, and it ought to be probed to the bottom ; otherwise it would be better to have a Commission to run the Post Office on business lines.

Mr Wise - That would be a bad day for the country districts!

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - 1 think not. Common-sense men realize that such a Department as this cannot be run on commercial lines.

Mr Wise - Those are the lines on which a Commission would run the Post Office.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The honorable member is defending the Postal administration, but I fancy that some of the population in his district* will not appreciate his attitude.

Mr Wise - I do not defend the administration, but I do not desire to go from bad to worse. I have lived in the country, and I know what Railway Commissioners are".

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The honorable ' member will have an opportunity to defend the Department later on. The

Postmaster-General has a thorough knowledge of country conditions, and I believe that he does his best, and that it is the system that is to blame. It is certainly not right to " rob Peter to pay Paul "- to take money from these- allowance-office people and give it to the mail contractors. This matter has been drifting on for about six months; and now notices have been sent out to those who run these postoffices, informing them that their allowance of from £10 to £20, or so, is to be reduced. I could give forty or fifty instances in Eden-Monaro, and I cannot suppose that that district has been singled out for this kind of treatment. The PostmasterGeneral ought to find out all about this regulation. In every case these people have to provide office, light, and so forth, for a paltry pittance of, in many cases, from 5s. to 10s. a week, although they have long hours and plenty of work. The honorable member for Gippsland will doubtless receive some communications on this subject, because, I suppose, similar reductions must have been made in his electorate. If the Postmaster-General does not take action after what has been said to-day, he must take the blame. Some of the officers of the Department require " shaking up," for a change is urgently necessary in postal matters and administration. I see it is proposed to meet any loss by increasing the telephone rates. Of course, it is. . easy, in the case of a monopoly, to do that sort of thing; but . it will not make the Postmaster-General's Socialistic ideas any more palatable to the people. If the Department were run on proper business lines, it would not be necessary to increase the telephone or any other rates, because, under private management, the business would be made to pay handsomely. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to. remind the Treasurer that twelve months ago I had a motion before the House to increase old-age and invalid pensions by half-a-crown a week. At the subsequent elections, the' Government and their supporters told the electors that the pensions would be increased; but, although the proposal found a place in the Governor-General's Speech, nothing more has been done. The Government must know that, owing to the increased cost of living, .many of the pensioners are practically half -starved ; and, as a result of my repeated efforts to effect a reform, I am told that the matter will be dealt with in a financial statement to be made. I appeal to the Prime Minister to give the pensioners a fair deal, because they cannot keep ,body and soul together on 10s. a week. I think it inopportune on the part of the honorable member for Cook to cast blame upon the Government. Our mission at this time should be to help the Government; and I do not criticise Ministers, because I know the difficulties that they are facing. I can say, personally, that I am not tied in any way, and, in anything they do for the benefit of the country, they will have my generous support. As to the allowance post-offices, I can only say that if any private individual did to his employees what is done in the Department, he would be hounded out of the country with shame. I have been told of men being pinned down to mistakes they have made, and so treated that they have absolutely committed suicide. I do not wish to mention any particular officials, but I shall be obliged to do so unless there is some change in the administration. It is regarded as unfair to mention officers here, where they cannot speak for themselves, but, unless there be an alteration, in my district, at any rate, I shall give the PostmasterGeneral names, so that he may be prepared to defend the officers when I refer to the matter in the House. There is too much false delicacy here; and officers, not only in this, but in other Departments, are inclined to shelter themselves behind the parliamentary custom to which I have referred. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to display some strength, and "play the game" fairly - to give the same consideration to postal officials that he would to men in his private employ. I am sure that, as PostmasterGeneral, he is paying allowance men and women as. he would not dream of paying them as an individual.

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