Tasmania - Colonial: 1857 - 1900.
Discussions about the 1894-95 merger of the Post and Telegraph Departments.

The discussions about the merger of the Postal and Telegraph Departments were long. A summary of some of the details and one Parliamentary debate are given below:

On 26 May 1894, the Premier announced "that a vote of £4,300 was passed in the last Parliament for the extension of the present Post Office buildings so as to amalgamate the Post and Telegraph Departments. Should there be any delay in getting the vote of £4,800 passed through the Upper House (Legislative Council), a commencement will probably be made with the $4,300 and the remainder subsequently asked of Parliament by way of a supplementary vote. The present Post Office buildings are to be raised by one storey and extended in the direction of Macquarie Street" (Mercury 26 May 1894, p.2).

In the House of Assembly on 19 June 1894, the Treasurer asked Parliament for £71,000 so that the amalgamation of the Postal and Telegraph Departments could take place.

In the debate, the Treasurer said he was afraid that a good many questions would be asked which it would be unfair for the Government to answer. In asking the committee to deal with so large a sum as £71,000 for two departments without giving details of those departments separately, he was as asking such a large measure of assistance to the Government that he was going beyond what was usual. It had been customary to consider item by item how much each official and item of each department should receive, but now Ministers had the boldness to come before the House and request it to give them its assistance in the purpose they had in view. He was prepared to say that Ministers pinned their faith on the total of £71,000, which would be a saving of over £5,200 for next year in addition to some savings effected this year. He had every faith in asking the House to believe that Ministers would be able to accomplish all that, but he dare not pledge them to any more, although they would not be satisfied without trying to secure even greater savings to the country than those shown in the £71,000. (Hear, hear).

During intervals of the last week, he had given attention to the object of securing a very great reduction in the Post and Telegraph service estimates. Members knew that the telegraph> office had for the past two years been losing most considerably and, speaking from memory, the loss sustained for the present year would be over £10,000 [A voice: "No wonder."] The Post Office Department had not been losing but had fairly paid its way up to the end of 1893 although they could not expect it to do so for 1894. The decline in the number of messages sent through the Telegraph Office had led Ministers to come to the conclusion that there must be some very drastic remedies applied. Although the Ministers wished to study those employed in the Department, there were 150,000 people in the colony whose interests they had to serve (Hear, hear.)

That which the Government had done in the past in respect to Civil servants, was some assurance, he thought, that there would be nothing done in the future in an utterly reckless manner towards those men who served their country and received their pay from Parliament. But although they could not be reckless, a judicious use of the pruning knife was necessary in these departments. The Government was following the lead of the late Ministry with regard to this amalgamation which, at the time it had been suggested, he heard would reduce the cost by £10,000. That was the sum at which he aimed, but he did not think it wise to ask the House to believe at present that so serious a reduction would be made. He might, however say, since the House had granted Ministers permission to make such alterations and improvements in the present buildings as would assist in the amalgamation contemplated, he had had constantly before his mind the thought that the amalgamation might take place with the wished for results of reducing expenditure. There could be no necessity for two heads at Hobart and two at Launceston, nor for the other dual offices in those cities, where one would suffice. The proposed amalgamation would throw a good deal of the dual work on to single individuals, and he saw no reason to fear that good men and true could not be obtained to fill the positions that would be vacated by those about to retire on well-earned pensions. (Hear, hear.) He asked the House to give to Ministers their trust and confidence, and let the whole responsibility of the amalgamation of the two departments rest on them as trustees for the House, and give to the public a continuation of the useful services it received from these departments at a reduced cost.

Mr. LEWIS said members of the committee must remember that they were trustees for the whole people [Hear, hear] to whom they had to do their duty honestly and fairly, and see that the money which was voted was not lavishly spent but was, on the other hand, sufficient for the particular requirement of the service under consideration.

The Treasurer now suggested that they should vote a lump sum of £71,000 for the amalgamation of the Post and Telegraph services, and it was for the committee to consider whether that was sufficient to supply the requirements of these two departments. To do that honestly and intelligently, he thought they should have received more information than the Treasurer had given them. [Hear, hear.] The Treasurer asked them for a large measure of confidence without giving the committee any in return. [Hear, hear.] It was a question whether the Treasurer could save as much as he suggested. He had shown that it was unnecessary to have two heads at Launceston and two at Hobart, etc., but when all those salaries were totalled up they certainly would not amount to anything like £5,000 [Hear, hear] and he should show where the saving would be effected by taking them into his confidence, so that they could intelligently go to work. If the Treasurer showed what his savings had been on the vote for 1894, they might form an idea of what they were likely to be for 1895.

Mr. FENTON said members of the late Ministry should be the last to complain of the vagueness of the Treasurer's information, as when they had the matter in hand the only information given was that it was intended to save about £6,000. For his part, he thought the best way of accomplishing the amalgamation was to leave it to the Treasurer to carry out, and only ask him not to be so long about it as his predecessors were.

Mr DOBSON said if this department was passed in globo without information, the committee might be asked to do the same with other departments. Ministers should show more confidence in the House. As the late Government had done a good deal towards the amalgamation of those departments, they would be able to check the figures of the present Government, and perhaps improve them in some items. Before the Treasurer would have got through half a dozen items the committee would be able to give him valuable assistance. The Opposition were glad indeed, that be proposed to amalgamate those departments, but they did not think he could save a further sum of £10,000 or anything near it, unless the Telegraph Department was to be dwindled down to almost nothing. He would like to know whether the Treasurer based his proposed savings under two roofs or under one roof.

The PREMIER: Under one roof.

Mr DOBSON thought the answer supplied another reason for requiring some broad details as to what was to be the probable expenditure in the next 12 months for he supposed the amalgamations would take another 12 months to effect.

The TREASURER: We hope everything will be completed by January.

Mr DOBSON urged that to adopt this item in globo would be setting a very bad precedent for the future. In the best interests of the country broad, general details should be furnished, and he maintained that members could not do their duty to those who had sent them there without such details before them.

The PREMIER would remind the committee that on a previous occasion Mr Dobson said " As to the post and telegraph offices, there Ministers might claim to take a vote in globo and be allowed to have a free hand. (Ministerial laughter ) Ministers only asked the House to give them the power to reduce the expenditure on the item by £5,200 taking upon themselves all responsibility as to how it should be done, being inspired by the hope that they would effect a greater saving still.

Mr DOBSON: Tell us how?

The PREMIER thought Mr Dobson should not, at any rate, ask for petty details.

Mr DOBSON: Give us broad details and we will be content.

The PREMIER: The Treasurer has already done so. Further details would be wearisome to the committee.

Mr HENRY said the Treasurer had only referred to certain duplicate officers to be dispensed with. He was satisfied in his own mind that the Ministry had not yet mastered the details of their proposals. When in office he (Mr. Henry) effected savings in 1893 of £4,127 in the Post Office Department, and £2,485 in the Telegraph Department, making a total of £6,612 - (Opposition cheers) - and when the Ministry retired from office, savings were still going on steadily whereever they could be effected without impairing efficiency. The question was, could the committee be satisfied to vote such a large sum as £71,000 in globo and leave it entirely to Ministers to deal with everything in those two departments? He thought Mr. Lewis' request was a very reasonable one. The Ministers had not had sufficient time to prepare a complete scheme in connection with the proposed amalgamations. Why, they could not get all their accounts in before July 1?

The PREMIER: We are doing it, not talking about it.

Mr HENRY No, you are promising to do it - not doing it - copying our lines and following the policy of your predecessors. In that you are right - (laughter) - but you are ill-prepared with your scheme. He pressed for details.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL thought the front Opposition bench was only trying to raise a bogie by means of wanting to go into matters of routine.

Mr DOBSON was only asking for such broad outlines as, for instance - were there to be any changes in the management and what did the Treasurer propose to do at Launceston? Was he going to let the Telegraph Department look after the railway telegraphs or vice versa. How was he going to keep the telegraphs in repair - separate inspectors, public works inspectors or railway inspectors? Was be going in any way to interfere with the re-adjustment of the salaries of postmasters and postmistresses throughout the island? Was he going to keep the free mail carts going up and down to meet the mail trains and so on? He did not ask for the whole of the details (Hear hear).

The TREASURER said he could not answer off hand what were to be the details of the savings for l894; but he had indicated that there would be savings amounting to £1,000 to £2,000 in the current year The Government was asking the committee to take a very different course as to the estimated saving altogether from that pursued by the last Ministry, who came into office in 1892, having more than four months before them before 1893 commenced, and notwithstanding were content to place the same sums down on their estimates for 1893 leaving themselves to discover how much they could strike off as they went along through decreases in business in the two departments. The present Government at once said they intended to further reduce the expenditure of the two departments by £5,300, but he would defy Mr Henry or anyone else to make out the details in 24 hours. He had only just been inspecting the offices at Launceston, and he was obtaining fresh information every day which enabled him to effect retrenchments. He could not go into details but he knew £5,300 could be saved - [Opposition laughter] - and must decline to commit himself to individual items. He therefore begged of the committee to give the Ministry a free hand.

Mr WOOLLNOUGH remarked that what the Ministry did actually know about how they could effect this saving seemed to him to be uncommonly little. If they did not know now more exactly what they did know, when would they know? (Laughter )

Mr BURKE said it seemed to him from what the Treasurer said it would be just as well if they packed up their papers and went away home.

Mr URQUHART: Just as well (Laughter).

Mr BURKE: Every member had a duty to perform in the interests of his constituency and it would have been a very simple matter for the Treasurer to have given information on how he was going to make the saving of £5,276.

Mr LEWIS asked the Treasurer if he would, as a favour to members, say in a fortnight when the amalgamation scheme was ready, bring down particulars of the scheme.

Mr DOBSON urged that they did not want to discuss details but the principles of the scheme.

The TREASURER assured members that no question was asked him but a mental note was made of it. (Laughter.) The session might be over before his scheme was ready. He hoped it would be therefore, he could not enter into an agreement of the kind suggested. (Renewed laughter.)

The item was agreed to.