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Tuesday, 5 September 1911

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - What Senator Findley said makes me believe that I received from the Department a letter in reply to one I sent, which practically conveyed the information which he has conveyed to us to-day - that is, that there is a contract let, and that it cannot very well be varied. That, of course, is a departmental matter. But I take this objection - that if the Department wanted to vary the contract, and recognised the injustice done to Cooktown by the mail to that port being carried to a southern port, and then sent back again, I feel sure that the contractor could be approached, and that some variation could be made in the contract which would meet the wishes of the Cooktown people. I am prepared to say at once that the explanation offered by the Minister tallies with that which was made to me when I wrote to the Department on the subject. But I reply that if the Department would look into the matter it would probably be possible to make an arrangement with the contractors so as to alter the present method of running the steamer. I also wish to refer to item 14, under the heading " Miscellaneous " - Press Cable Service Subsidy £730. That subsidy, if I remember rightly, was granted on the condition that the persons receiving cable messages from abroad should receive a certain number of words per week. I should like to know whether a check is being kept on the number of words that come over the cable, or whether the subsidy is being paid without any such check? When information is furnished to me on that point I may give notice of a question to ascertain what number of words come through and a few other details.

Senator ST.LEDGER (Queensland) tS-31]- - I have to thank the Minister for his prompt and clear explanation regarding the question that I raised. But I wish to ask why the reply so made was not sent to me in the form of a letter ? Without undue egotism, I may claim that if there is one thing more than another, in connexion with my parliamentary duties, about which I am careful, it is not to go unnecessarily to the Commonwealth Departments, either to see Ministers or their responsible officers. Whenever I have to go on public business I do so with a certain amount of reluctance. But I think that honorable senators will agree with me that when I do have a communication to make to a Commonwealth Department a reply ought to be sent to me.

Senator Rae - Does the honorable senator complain of the discourtesy of any Department ?

Senator ST LEDGER - I hope that there has been no intentional discourtesy, but the Minister representing the Post? master-General stated that a communication containing the explanation of the Government had been sent to other honorable senators. If that be so, apparently an invidious distinction has been made. Why should that be so? In fairness to the Minister and his officers, however, I should say that it is just possible that a letter may have gone astray, because I have been recently away from Melbourne. If that be the explanation, of course neither the Minister nor his officials are to blame. Senator Chataway and Senator Rae have indicated the weak spot in the matter of the contract with Burns, Philp and Company. I dare say the company is conducting its business under the contract with the object of making as much money as possible. We are all, in reference to business matters, anxious to make what we can. The question is whether the contract price has not been cut down so much that Burns, Philp and Company cannot afford to concede even the few hours' delay that the call at Cooktown would involve. Still, in view of the flourishing state of the finances of the Commonwealth, I consider that some concession might be made in the interests of the little port of Cooktown. The payment of an extra £20 or so ought not to prevent the wishes of the Chamber of Commerce being attended to.

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