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Thursday, 5 October 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) .^-! am rather glad that Senator McColl has brought this matter forward, because it gives the present Government an opportunity of showing that it has done- more in increasing country mail facilities, and thereby, benefiting the. settler and the farmer, than any other Government that has ever occupied office since Federation. That is a pretty big boast, I. know, but Senator McColl has been a supporter' of several Governments since the commencement of the Commonwealth which have refused to* give the facilities that are being given to-day. It was not until the -present Government came into power that the people in the sparselypopulated localities were accorded even the facilities which they now enjoy. Now the honorable senator, who has sat silent all these years, suddenly wakes up and complains that the existing facilities are not what they ought to be. I propose to give the Senate the benefit of the history of this particular class of cases. I intend to point out what was the practice which obtained in the State which he represents prior to Federation. That practice was as follows: -

New mail services were instituted on trial, provided the residents concerned arranged for the mail to be conveyed and the letters distributed free of cost to the Department f9r a period of three months, a record being kept at the office of despatch of the amount of correspondence forwarded in the mail. At the expiration of such period of trial, the revenue was computed on the number of letters posted at id., and the residents were required to make good the total amount of loss, if any, which would be incurred by the establishment of a service.

In March, 1905, the following circular was issued conveying a ruling by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Sydney Smith) dealing with the question of the contribution to be made by the Department in such cases, namely -

Requests having been made from time to time for the establishment of mail services in cases where the prospects of the district did not appear to be very certain, while the expenditure involved would be considerably more than the revenue expected from such services, the PostmasterGeneral has given the matter careful consideration. and, as all proposals of this kind are put forward more for the purpose of rendering assistance in developing the country than upon any business basis so far as this Department is concerned, and the charge has been made against the administration of the Department of extravagance as compared with previous management when under State control, ,he has decided that no services be undertaken which are likely to considerably increase the expenditure without adding materially to the revenue.

It is considered that a safe rule to. followin all such instances would be for this Department to contribute towards the desired service the estimated or actual revenue derived, leaving it to those interested or to the State Government to make up the sum required. Please note and act accordingly.

That meant that if a service returned a revenue of only ^5 a year, and its cost was £5°> the residents of the locality were obliged to contribute ,£45, the Postal Department contributing only the amount of the revenue. Senator McColl found no fault with that system. Subsequently, it was decided that, in arriving at the amount of the estimated revenue, instead of taking the whole of the postage on matter which it was estimated would be posted on the line, 50 per cent, of the correspondence in both directions should be taken. In connexion with the introduction of penny postage, it was arranged that, for the purpose of deciding whether or not new mail services should be granted, the revenue should be taken as the total value of the postage on correspondence in both directions. I come now to the action taken by the present Government. In December last the Postmaster-General approved that, where the estimated revenue was less than the estimated expenditure in connexion with desired new mail services, the services should be granted upon those interested agreeing to pay half the difference between the revenue and expenditure, the Department paying the other half - that is to say the Department allows towards the cost of the services, not only the postage value of all correspondence carried by it, but is prepared to pay half the difference between that amount and the actual cost of the service. This is the arrangement, in force at the present time. It will thus be seen that the existing arrangements under the Commonwealth are very much more liberal than they were under the State, and than they were prior to last year. In order that honorable senators may realize the effect of that practice, and what would be tEe result of its repeal, I propose to invite their attention to certain facts. Let us assume a case in which the revenue from a service would be £100 per annum, and in which its cost would be ^300. Under the existing rule, the Postal Department would find' £100, in addition to one-half of the loss incurred on the service, namely, another £100. In other words, it would contribute- £200, whereas the local residents, or the State, would contribute only £100.

Senator Vardon - The Department would contribute £100 in excess of its receipts?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. But the former practice was for the Department to contribute only the amount of the revenue which was derived from any service. Of course, in a great many instances, the revenue does not represent anything like £100 annually. It is generally about £15, and the contract usually represents about . £50, so that there is an annual loss of £35. In such cases, the Department pays , £15 - the amount of the revenue - and in addition contributes . £1710s., or half the amount of the loss incurred on the service. There are other cases in which the cost of a service bears a greater disproportion to the revenue than I have shown. Only last week, the Postmaster-General had an application made to him for a service which would cost , £300, and the total yearly revenue from which would be only£5. Under the . present administration, the Department is prepared to grant that service, and to pay one half of the loss sustained upon it. It is ready to contribute £150, and to face an annual loss of , £145. The last. Government were not prepared to do that, nor were any of their predecessors. Yet Senator McColl has endeavoured to make it appear that we are not assisting the struggling settler in different parts of the country. I take it that nobody would lay down the rule that we should grant a mail service to every resident in the Commonwealth.

Senator Long - But every district in the Commonwealth ought to have a service.

Senator PEARCE - When the honorable senator looks into the matter, he will see that he is wrong. In the centre of Australia there are districts in which no white men live, and there are other districts in which only one or two white men reside. To grant mail services in such cases would cost thousands of pounds a year.

Senator Long - I was referring to settled districts.

Senator PEARCE -I know that. It is impossible to give a mail service to every person or to every district in Australia, because there are some districts in which it would cost thousands of pounds, and in which the revenue would amount only to 4s. or 5s.

Senator Long - Define a "district"?

Senator PEARCE - Exactly. We have, therefore, to say that we will grant a mail service to as many districts, and to as' many individuals aswe can. We have to draw the linesomewhere short of granting one to every district and every individual. Previous Governments have drawn the line by saying that they would grant such services only to districts where the residents were willing to bear half the loss sustained upon them. The present Government go half way between that and the other extreme by saying, " We will grant a service to those residents who are willing to pay one-half of the loss incurred upon it." Honorable senators must see how enormously that practice has increased the expenditure of the Department, without appreciably increasing its revenue. It is estimated that; during the current year, as a resultof that practice, nearly £40,000 will be added to the expenditure of the Post Office.

Senator Long - In this connexion?

Senator PEARCE - Yes. The country ought to know that the present PostmasterGeneral has done more for the scattered districts of Australia than has any of his predecessors.

Senator Long - I am not disputing that. But he might do a great deal more.

Senator PEARCE - If the Postal Department is to provide a mail service whenever it is asked for, and to bear the whole of the loss-

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The motion does not say that.

Senator PEARCE - If it means anything, it means that. If it does not mean that the Postal Department must grant every mail service for which it is asked, no matter what may be the loss upon it, it must mean a reversion to the position which obtained prior to Federation. In other words, it means that the Department should say to applicants, " We will not give you a service unless you consent to bear the loss that may be sustained upon it." Is not the present position infinitely preferable to that? If the motion is aimed at anything, it is aimed at the present administration of the Post Office.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Nonsense !

Senator PEARCE - It is no use being as charitable as is the honorable senator. Seeing that Senator McColl remained silent when the people in country districts were bearing the whole of the loss incurred upon their mail services, and woke up when they are called upon to pay only half of that loss, I confess that I am disposed to be suspicious. Either the Government- must give every service that is asked for, no matter what may be the loss upon it, or they must exercise a choice astowhat services they will grant. Otherwise a man in the interior would have a right to say, " I want my mail delivered regularly every week.1'

Senator Long - An individual ?

Senator PEARCE --It would not be the first time that an individual had asked for a regular weekly service.

Senator Long - That is not the object of the motion. " Senator PEARCE.- Before the Senate affirms this proposition, which is a censure on the present administration of the Post Office, 1 want to ask honorable senators what they are going to substitute for the existing practice. The Postal Department to-day is granting people advantages which they have never previously enjoyed. Senator McColl has either to say that the Department must give everybody a service, no matter what may be the loss involved, or that it shall have an opportunity of judging what services it will grant. I want honorable senators to realize what is behind the motion. When they weigh these facts, and remember that the Prime Minister has dealt with these persons far more generously than they had been dealt with previously, either before or since Federation, they will see that the motion is not justified. I ask them, on these grounds, to negative it.

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