19th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I direct to the Minister for “Works and Housing a question relative to telephone facilities in Launceston. Some six weeks ago I addressed a question to the PostmasterGeneral in which I pointed out that the capacity of the existing telephone exchange in Launceston was seriously overtaxed. I requested the PostmasterGeneral to expedite the commencement of work on the proposed new automatic exchange. He informed me that he realized the urgency of Launceston’s telephone requirements and that he had already passed the matter on for consideration by the Public Works Committee. I ask the Minister for Works and Housing whether, in view of the inability of the existing exchange to cope satisfactorily with the volume of calls, particularly in peak periods, he will undertake to regard the building of the new automatic exchange in Launceston as a work of the utmost importance and give it the highest possible priority? Can the Minister indicate approximately when the work will be commenced?
– The work to which the honorable member has referred is of considerable magnitude and may cost nearly £1,000,000. The plans in relation to it will be sufficiently advanced for submission to the Public Works Committee in January. I am afraid that owing to the tremendous amount of public works of first-class priority that the Government has to tackle in the immediate future, largely arising out of the national service scheme and the immigration programme, I cannot give the honorable member any reason to believe that a high priority will be given to the construction of the Launceston telephone exchange even after the plans have been dealt with by the Public Works Committee. I should not like to state any particular time at which work on the exchange will be actually commenced. I shall go into the matter most sympathetically and shall later advise the honorable gentleman of the position.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the announcement of the Council of the University of Melbourne that it proposes to increase by 50 per cent, the fees payable by students “ attending that institution next year? Whilst I appreciate the present provision of Commonwealth scholarships and living allowances for university students in approved cases, I ask whether, in view of the parlous financial state of Australian universities and the impossibility of obtaining further financial aid from impecunious State governments, the Government will give consideration to the granting of additional assistance, wherever necessary, to those national institutions in order that the high standards of learning that prevail in them will not be allowed to deteriorate ?
– 1 have already stated publicly that earlier this year the Government appointed a committee to investigate the financial position of the universities in the various States. That committee has sat and has made an interim report which contains certain recommendations. These are being examined by a Cabinet committee which will recommend to the Government what action should be taken in relation thereto. The matter will be considered with all possible speed. I, personally, wish to have it determined as soon as possible so that I may announce the Government’s decision. I do not wish, however, to be thought to be in agreement with any proposition that the responsibility for additional finance to the universities is solely a matter of Commonwealth responsibility, although I agree that they need that finance very badly. There is some variation among the States in relation to the. generosity of the provisions made by them for these important institutions, and in determining this matter we shall take into account not only such responsibilities as the Commonwealth may choose to assume, but also what seems to be a reasonable contribution on the part of the States themselves..
– I direct to the Minister for Labour and National Service a question relative to the current Victorian railway strike. By way of explanation I say that the judges of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court have expressed criticism of the 1947 Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. They have said that they are powerless to deal with the strike because the court’s powers in relation to such matters have been transferred to conciliation commissioners. They have also stated that the time has arrived for a revision of that act. My question is in two parts. I ask, first, whether the Government proposes to amend the act with the object of returning the lost powers to the courts; and, secondly, whether it proposes to take any action in relation to the Victorian railway strike.
– I have read with considerable interest the ‘ reported statement of the Acting Chief Judge that referred to the limitations upon the court’s capacity to deal with matters that come before it and, in this particular instance, to deal with one particular matter that came before it, and also his statement that related to the absence of any right of appeal from the decisions of conciliation commissioners. I may say that those comments confirm the criticism that was voiced by members of the present Government parties, when they were in opposition in 1947, at the time those radical alterations to the conciliation and arbitration system were made. As previously announced, the Government has had under consideration for some time the question of making a suitable amendment to the act and the comments of the judge have an obvious bearing upon that matter. Pressure of business will not enable the amendments to be introduced during this session, but it is hoped that they will be placed before the House early in the new year. As
I have told the House, the Government has not received, at any stage, a direct request to intervene from any of the governments involved in the railways dispute, and as the matter is one that 90 directly concerned them the Australian Government has not done so. However, I understand that a mass meeting of the men will be held this evening and I hope that they will accept the recommendation of the court and the decision of the umpire and return to work. If this should not happen, no doubt the Victorian Government will give immediate consideration to what action it must take in the matter. The Australian Government will also further consider how the Commonwealth can be of assistance.
– In view of the failure of the Full Bench of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to settle the current railway strike in Victoria solely because it has not the power to do so, and of the fact that the court will still lack that power when the dispute is again referred to it, does not the Minister for Labour and National Service believe that in the public interests the Government should take steps immediately to give to the court the requisite power to settle that dispute and similar disputes?
– I do not accept the honorable member’s assumption that the only reason why the Full Bench of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has been unable to determine the present railway dispute in Victoria is that it lacks the requisite power to enable it to do so. I have not been able to read into the comments made by the court any suggestion that had it possessed that power it would necessarily have given a decision different from that which was given by the two conciliation commissioners who dealt with the matter fully in their own jurisdiction. The purpose which the previous Government had in mind when it amended the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act was that there should be available to the parties to a dispute an impartial tribunal which could deal with the question at issue on its merits and give a decision.
– That has been done in this case, and a decision has been given. The trouble continues, not because some one has not been available to give a decision, but because one of the parties to the dispute will not accept the decision that has been given. Even if suitable amendments were made speedily to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act the position would not be remedied so long as parties to the dispute are not prepared to abide by the decisions of tribunals. The true remedy lies in a willingness on the part of those who resort to arbitration to act in the true Australian spirit of fair play by accepting the decision of the umpire.
– Some time ago I placed on the notice-paper a question which related to retired postal and other government employees who were recalled to the Public Service during the war and who, during that period of employment, were deprived of part of their superannuation pension. I understand that one gentleman concerned sued the Australian Government for the part of his superannuation pension that it retained and that the Government settled the matter out of court. The gentleman then withdrew his complaint but his is only one of many hundreds of similar cases.
– When did this settlement out of court occur?
– Some time last year. The gentleman to whom I refer was a Mr. Hughes, of Queensland. His case is typical of hundreds in which exgovernment employees have been deprived of part of their superannuation pensions. I understand that the organization to which these people belong has made many requests to the Government for the amount of superannuation of which they were deprived during the war years to be paid to them. I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government has finalized consideration of that request? If these men have a legal claim on the Government, as seems to have been indicated by the settlement to which I have referred, will the Government immediately pay to them the amounts which are due?
– I shall have the matter which the honorable member has raised investigated and provide him with an answer to his question.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral a question concerning commercial broadcasting station 2DU Dubbo in north-west New South Wales. Has a new frequency been allotted to station 2DU? Has an increase of power been granted to that station? If so, what effect on the station’s coverage will result from these alterations ? If neither, of the alterations have yet been made will the Minister bear in mind, before finalization of the matter, the service which this station gives to Dubbo, the largest country town in New South Wales, as well as to a large area with otherwise limited broadcasting services?
– For some considerable time the Dubbo station has made applications for an increase of power. The Australian Broadcasting Control Board, which has been investigating” the question of increased power for Dubbo and other broadcasting stations, recently agreed to a very substantial increase of power of station 2DU. That, however, involved a change in the wave length of the station. I understand that the wave-length on which it has been operating for a long time was granted to it only temporarily in the first place, and that it was expected that for certain reasons it would have to be changed at a later stage. I also understand that at the present time the Dubbo station is not satisfied with the wave-length allotted, and claims that the increased power is offset by the deterioration of the wave frequency. I shall have the matter investigated and inform the honorable member of the result of my investigations.
– I understand that arrangements for broadcasting descriptions of the play in the forthcoming test matches have been completed with the New South Wales Cricket Association and the Victorian Cricket Association. Can the Postmaster-General indicate whether arrangements have been completed with the Queensland Cricket Association for broadcasting descriptions of the play in the test match which will take place in Brisbane?
– I stated in the House some time ago that difficulties had arisen between the cricket associations of the various States- on the one hand, and the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Australian Federation of Broadcasting Stations on the other hand, about the payment that should be made by the broadcasting interests for the right to broadcast descriptions of the play in the forthcoming series of test matches. At the time 1 made thai announcement, an agreement had been reached between the parties for the broadcasting of the descriptions of the test match that will be played in Sydney, and subsequently an agreement was reached on the broadcasting of the descriptions of the play in the two test matches that will take place in Melbourne. I have since been informed that arrangements have been completed between the cricket associations of all the States and the broadcasting interests on the right to broadcast descriptions of the cricket matches. In my original statement to the House on this subject I also expressed dissatisfaction with the attitude of the Australian Federation of Broadcasting Stations because it was not prepared at tha* time to contribute an amount which I considered to be its reasonable quota of money in order to ensure that the descriptions of the test matches would be broadcast. Since that time, Mr. Ridley, who is the general president of the Australian Federation of Broadcasting Stations, has advised me that, at the particular period to which I have referred, he was unable to speak with authority on behalf of all the commercial stations, as arrangements had to be made with individual stations in the various States. Those arrangements have now been completed, and the commercial stations will contribute their fair share of the sum that will be paid by the broadcasting interests to the cricket associations of the various States. The amount which those associations will receive from the Australian Broadcasting Commission is £1,968, and the amount that it will receive from the commercial broadcasting stations, is £1,711. The House will see, from those figures, that the Australian
Broadcasting Commission and the commercial stations each will bear a reasonable proportion of the cost. I. have been assured by the chairman of the New South Wales Cricket Association, Mr. Oxlade, that such moneys will be distributed among the cricket associations for the purpose of improving facilities at the various ovals on which test matches are played, and that not Id. will find its way into the pocket of a private individual. Therefore, that amount of £3,679 will be used to encourage cricket in Australia, and to develop young cricketers.
– In view of the substantial wage increases which have taken place since the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act was last amended, can the Prime Minister advise whether, at an early date, the act will be further amended to provide for more equitable workers’ compensation payments?
– I shall be glad to investigate that matter at once.
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development. Is it a fact that imported Oregon timber can be used only sparingly in country districts for joinery and certain other constructional purposes because of the small dollar allocation available? However, it is common for this timber to be widely used in special areas for timberframe homes, and from a nacional point of view should not hardwood be used for that purpose? Would the Minister consul t with his colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs, with a view to increasing the quantity of oregon available for country districts?
– I believe that the cost of oregon timber landed in Australia is appreciably higher than the cost of hardwood. I think that is responsible for the fact that hardwood is much more generally used in country districts than is oregon for the purposes for which that timber is suitable. I believe that the use of either hardwood or oregon is determined largely on the cost. An increase of the provision of dollars for the purchase of North American softwoods, particularly Oregon, has been given particular attention in recent times by reason of the shortage of suitable housing timbers in Australia and very large increases have been made in the number of dollars allocated for this purpose. I think that in New South Wales there was a 75 per cent, increase in the number of dollars provided this year as compared with last year. I shall certainly consult with my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs, on the matter which the honorable member has raised.
– In an effort to keep employees of farmers and farmers’ sons on the land, and to encourage primary producers to build better accommodation for their employees, will the Treasurer give serious consideration to allowing, as a taxation concession, the cost of homes or hutments built on the farm by farmers for their sons or employees ? This matter should be treated for taxation purposes in the same way as other improvements are treated. I believe that this would have a tremendous effect for good on the progress of our primary producing industries.
– The matter raised by the honorable member involves a distinction betwen capital and income expenditure. The items that he referred to are of a capital nature and there is no provision under the income tax law for a deduction in respect of such expenditure.
– In view of recent statistical reports that only half of the migrants entering this country are coming from the United Kingdom can the Minister for Immigration give the reasons for that disparity? Is it due to the unwillingness of the British Government to encourage emigration to Australia? Are our representatives in Great Britain employing sufficiently imaginative methods to attract migrants? Whatever the explanation may be, will the Government take all possible steps in the future to increase the proportion of British migrants in comparison with those from other countries and thereby strive to maintain the preponderatingly British character of our population and of our institutions?
– I assure the honorable member that the Government has in the forefront of its immigration policy the desirability of attracting -as many British migrants as possible and of preserving the preponderatingly British character of the Australian community. Since the end of the recent war 400,000 new settlers have come to Australia, 50 per cent, have been British migrants. Of course, the British character of our community is also being maintained by natural increase of our population. Births in Australia during the last three years at any rate have averaged more than 180,000 annually. Thus for a considerable time there will be no danger that the British preponderance *of the community will be overcome by the arrival of foreign migrants. However, rather than be critical of the number of British migrants that we have attracted we have reason to feel proud that we have been able to attract so many. It is estimated that this year a record number of 80,000 British migrants will come to Australia and that number, proportionately, is much greater than the number that any other dominion has been able to obtain. Figures supplied recently to me show that Canada, which has always been Australia’s strongest competitor for British migrants, received approximately only 8,000 British migrants during the first seven months of this year whereas during the same period 43,000 British migrants came to Australia. The Canadian Government was so concerned about that position that it sent a Minister to Great Britain to try to step up the flow of British migrants to Canada. The honorable member asked whether we could employ more imaginative methods to attract British migrants to this country. The figures that I have just cited show that our methods have not only been successful but I might add they also have provoked complaints from British industries which are short of labour. I assure the honorable member that the Government is doing all that is reasonably possible to maintain a substantial flow of British migrants to this country.
– Can the- Minister for Immigration inform me of the present rate paid by new Australians for board and lodging in Commonwealth hostels? Can he also say on what date the tariff was altered? Have any complaints been received by the Minister to the effect that the new tariff is imposing hardship on the migrants accommodated in the hostels? WU1 the honorable gentleman also say what reply he furnished to any such complaints ?
– I shall obtain precise details for the honorable member. However, at this stage I can tell him that some increase of the tariff has been made. That increase followed upon a number of quarterly adjustments in the award rates of wages payable to migrants and was not by any means out of proportion to the increase of their wages. . The tariff charged for board and lodging varies according to the number of dependants of migrants, and a limit is placed on the amount that may be charged. That limit is not affected by any additional income that a migrant may receive in. consequence of overtime or incentive payments. When the increased charges for board were first made a number of complaints were received and disposed of. When the reason for the increased charges was explained to the migrants they realized why the action was taken. I am not aware of any recent complaints having been made to the Department of Immigration. I understand that some complaints were also made by trade union representatives on behalf of migrants, but when the facts were explained to them the grounds for complaint were dissipated. For the information of honorable members I point out that if board and lodging were provided for migrants at less than the present tariff the Government would incur a financial loss and it would be open to criticism on the ground that it was subsidizing migrants and treating them more favorably than it treated Australians who are accommodated in hostels. I do not think that honorable members want the Government to treat migrants more favorably than Australian citizens.
– Is the Minister for Immigration aware that a number of new Australians, who. are employed in heavy industries at. Port Kembla have not been placed in the most suitable employment for the purposes of obtaining the greatest volume of production from their efforts and of making decent citizens of them ? Is he aware that many men who are classified as clerical workers are merely employed in sweeping the places where they work and that professional men are doing labouring jobs? In order to make these new Australians more contented, and in order to obtain the best results from their services, will the Minister review their employment classifications periodically and ensure that they shall be engaged upon work that is commensurate with their skill?
– This is a matter of some complexity because it involves competing interests and conflicting desires insofar as the Government is concerned. If our immigration programme is to be successful, and if we are to make the best use of immigrant labour from the point of view of national development and industrial production, it is essential that we shall employ as many new Australians as passible in vital industries in which manpower needs are greatest. Therefore, by mutual arrangement, every migrant undertakes to work for a period of two years after his admission to Australia in the occupation that is prescribed for him by the Government. We endeavour to deal sympathetically with every individual immigrant. Requests for transfers from one class of employment to another are received from time to time and they are carefully examined. We must uphold the principle of providing the best possible services in the national interests, having due regard to the feelings of the immigrants. At the end of the. contract period of two years, each new Australian is free to choose his occupation. I am glad to say that most immigrants are carrying out their contract arrangements properly and in a cheerful spirit. In fact, many of them have remained in the occupations to which they were originally directed even though their contracts have expired. If the honorable member for Cunningham or any other honorable member can bring any special cases of hardship to my notice, I shall be glad to have them examined expeditiously.
– I desire to address a question to the Postmaster-General, and, by way of explanation, I point out that since the severe floods, which lasted for a considerable period in the outback districts of New South Wales, many mail services have been seriously disrupted. Will the honorable gentleman investigate the conditions under which mail services are operating in those outback areas at the present time, with a view to renewing services to many centres which have not received any mail for some months?
– It is correct, as the honorable gentleman has stated, that the mail services of many towns in the western districts of New South Wales and Queensland have been greatly disrupted by the recent floods. Only a few days ago I flew over the areas, and noticed that hundreds of miles of country are completely under water. The Postal Department has very serious difficulties to overcome in providing mail services when major disturbances such as the recent floods occur. However, aircraft are used wherever possible in emergency periods to provide normal mail services. I shall inquire into the matter raised by the honorable gentleman, who may rest assured that the mail services will be restored for the people in the flooded areas as soon as possible.
– Some time ago I directed the attention of the Minister for Supply to a number of complaints that I had received from constituents in the electorate of Corio, which I represent, to the effect that a Commonwealth motor car was being frequently used by an exmember of the Parliament to travel through the electorate for political purposes. Can the Minister say whether he has yet been able to ascertain whether those allegations were correct?
– I have ascertained that Mr. Dedman, the former member for Corio, has from time to time since the last general election used a Commonwealth motor car to be driven to places in the Corio electorate. The motor car concerned was not under the direct control of the Department of Supply, but is on weekly hire without driver to the Repatriation Department. The assessing officer of that department stated that he received instructions from another Commonwealth officer at Geelong that he should accompany Mr. Dedman in the motor car. The consequence is that Mr. Dedman has been obtaining transport for his own private and political purposes. Whatever excuses there may be for the officers concerned for the improper use of the car, it is clear that Mr. Dedman, who is a former Minister, should have known better. The Minister for Repatriation has told me that he shares my view in the matter, and that he has given instructions that the practice complained of is to be discontinued.
– I ask the Prime Minister what progress has been made towards giving effect to the Government’s proposal to convene a conference of the Commonwealth and the State authorities to ascertain to what extent there is avoidable overlapping between Commonwealth and State departments, and to make recommendations for the elimination of such overlapping in the interests of economy?
– For one or two good reasons it was desirable that my first communications on the matter should be with the Premier of New South Wales. Those communications have not yet been completed, but when they have been completed I hope to be able to make an announcement.
– Will the Minister for Air say whether, in the course of an address that he delivered to the Air Force Association on Tuesday, the 14th November, he described Nepal as being the latest democratic victim of Communist aggression? Was the Minister expressing the official view of the Government of the struggle that is proceeding in that country? Did he list the struggle in Korea and the struggle in Nepal in the same category? If so, is it the view of the Government that Australian forces should be made available to uphold the hereditary political tyranny in Nepal?
– I do not know whether the honorable member has ever been to Nepal. I have been on service with the Gurkhas, and I know something of the country. I did not say that all the troubles of the world lay at the feet of communism; but, in case my audience was not aware of the fact, I pointed out that the world was likely to be reduced to a very uncivilized state unless we lived up to our obligations. I said that Australia’s tradition was to fight tyranny from without and from within, and I spoke of what was happening in Europe and in Asia. The revolution, or whatever it is that is taking place in Nepal, may or may not be the result of further pressure from Red China. That remains to be seen. I think that the honorable member, who knows a lot about the Communist state of affairs, might well study what is going on and take a hand in fostering recruiting, which is necessary to bring our armed services to their proper strength, instead of standing aloof like other members of the Labour party.
– I ask the Minister for National Development whether the Government of New South Wales has consistently refused to enable Australia to take advantage of the Burragorang coal deposits, either by conducting effective mining operations on its own behalf or by granting additional leases to the highly efficient operators who are at present winning enormous yields per man per day in that region? Is it the policy of the Government of New South Wales to hamper the exploitation of those deposits, and do the Communist leaders of the miners’ federation still espouse the policy that was clearly revealed by the Chifley Government during the coal strike over a year ago? Is the Australian Government urging the Government of New South Wales to take genuine action in order to increase coal production ? If not, will it give prompt consideration to my submission, which is backed by the opinions of six eminent counsel, that it should resume land in order to mine coal for defence purposes?
– As far as I know, this, matter is entirely within the jurisdiction of the Government of New South Wales.. Without committing myself to agreement, with the honorable member on all the points embodied in his questions, I admit that there is a great deal of truth in what he has said. However, I shall inform myself further on the subject and will reply to the honorable member in greater detail as soon as I can do so.
– Can the Minister for Air say for how long after the end of World War II. the Royal Australian Air Force may attempt to recover debts that were allegedly incurred by airmen during the period of the war? I refer particularly to the case, which was brought to my notice recently, of a man who was trained in Southern Rhodesia nine or ten years ago and who has received a bill for an amount of £43 for clothing that he is alleged to have received from the Air Force. In view of the long period of time that has elapsed and the difficulty of establishing whether or not he received the clothing, will the Minister consider waiving the claim?
– Speaking subject to correction, I should say that the statute of limitations would apply to such cases. However, I should like to have details of the case that the honorable member has mentioned. I should be sorry to think that the man would refuse to honour his obligations and discharge his debt, if any. I shall have the matter examined.
Debate resumed from the 26th October (vide page 1480), on motion by Mr. Anthony -
That the hill he now read a second time.
.- This bill, which is designed to increase the charges for services that are rendered by the Postmaster-General’s Department, follows upon a similar measure that was passed by the previous Parliament. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
.- This bill to increase post and telegraph charges is another splendid example of the great success that has attended the magnificent efforts of the Menzies Government, up to date, to put value back into the £1, to increase purchasing power, to lower prices and to give the people goods worth £1 for every £1 they spend !
– Did the Government parties promise to do those tilings?
– Yes, they did.
– In their joint policy speech and in the advertisements that were published all over Australia during the last general election campaign. I do not wish to repeat all the details of that joint policy speech nor to refer any further to those advertisements, but in both instances the joint parties that were then in opposition promised to do the things that I have mentioned. This bill proposes to increase the cost of postal services by more than £6,000,000 in this financial year. The Government wishes the increases to operate for seven months from the 1st December this year. I suggest that the bill would be fairer if it were made to apply from the 1st January next, because T see no reason why the letters that children send to their friends and relatives at Christmas time should have to bear the increased postal charge that the Government proposes to apply. I see no reason why the Christmas telegrams that old folks send to their children and grandchildren should have to bear an additional impost just because this Government finds itself unable to balance the budget. The senders of Christmas cards and telegraphic and postal communications at Christmas time are to be burdened with increased charges as the result of this bill, and to that extent I. consider that the bill is very un just. At least we should leave the people in peace as much as we can at Christmas time. They will not have much peace, because prices are rising and we have no less an authority for that fact than the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) himself, who stated on the 3rd March ‘ this year -
This absurd spectacle of wages chasing prices, with prices always in the lead, must be corrected.
Well, he does not propose to correct the spiralling of inflation by this measure. He proposes to increase it. It is not that Ministers are ignorant of their responsibilities in this matter, because even before the anti-Labour parties became a government they said, through the joint policy speech delivered in December last, by the then Leader of the Opposition, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) -
The greatest task, therefore, is to get value back into the £1, that is, to get prices down.
On the 20th December, ten days after the general election, the same right honorable gentleman said in a nation-wide broadcast -
We hope to attack our tasks boldly. The greatest of them, I am sure you will agree, will be to arrest the present alarming rise in costs and prices and so put value back into the money you earn and spend.
– What has he done about that?
– Almost a year has passed since he made that statement and he has done nothing about it. Instead we are being asked now to give consent to a bill to impose increased charges on the users of our great postal services. In the 45 minutes for which the secondreading speech of the Postmaster-Genera] (Mr. Anthony) lasted, he did not reiterate one word of the protests that he uttered last year when he was in Opposition and when I had the honour to bring down, in this House, a bill that had been approved by the Senate, to raise postal charges for very good reasons. I introduced that bill on the 20th June last year, and a number of speeches on it were made by members of the then Opposition. The first speech was made by the present - and absent - Speaker, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). He announced that he was a former Postmaster-General. He was not a very successful one, as history records. He lasted five months in his office. In the course of his contribution to that debate, he said -
The Postmaster-General is the luckiest man in the Cabinet and can do all his work in two hours a day.
That statement is not much of a compliment to the Postmaster-Generals who preceded him or to the present PostmasterGeneral. I do not wish to rehash the whole of the speech made on last year’s measure by the honorable member for Barker, but I have selected what I consider to be the spicy pieces. In that speech he also said-
Telephone charges are a burning subject in country areas
That bill did increase certain charges, but in it we treated the country districts reasonably in the light of all the circumstances. I wonder how the people in country districts feel now, when they are asked to approve of the attitude of members of the Australian Country party and the Liberal party who represent country districts in this Parliament and who will vote for a measure of this kind? I dismiss last year’s speech by Mr. Speaker with those few words, because what he said was not worthy of much more notice than I have already given to it.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, also made a contribution to that debate on behalf of the Australian Country party. You said that the Postal Department was profitable and you outlined the high percentage of profits in all its branches. You used the following words : -
The extra charges should be met out of Consolidated Revenue.
I invite honorable members to note the volte face on the part of honorable members opposite. Last year they asked that the increased costs of the Postal Department should be met out of Consolidated Revenue. This year, hoping that every one will have forgotten their attitude on that occasion, they say, “ “We cannot meet the increased costs out of Consolidated Revenue, and, in addition to the charges that the Labour Government levied, which amounted to £5,000,000 a year, we now want the people to pay another £6,000,000 annually in order to keep the Postal Department solvent “. The present Postmaster-General is a member of the Australian Country party, a fact which adds to your embarrassment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In your speech last year on the bill to which I have referred, you said -
Because I consider that the increases proposed under the bill arc an extra tax which will hamper the people who produce our real wealth, I am opposed to the measure.
I do not know what you think of the present measure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you are precluded from voicing your opinion, but I should like to hear from some other member of the Australian Country party whether this measure will or will not hamper the people who produce the real wealth of the community. If honorable members opposite vote for this measure, obviously they will give the lie to the protestations made by their spokesmen last year on the measure that the Labour Government brought down. Of course, they cannot dodge responsibility for the speeches that they made only eighteen months ago. The absent Minister for the Interior (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) was himself a PostmasterGeneral at one time, and did some atrocious things while he occupied that office, just as the honorable member for Barker did. The Minister also had something to say on the measure that we introduced last year. At the moment he apparently finds the fleshpots of London more enjoyable than the summer heat of Darwin .or Alice Springs. In the course of his observations on last year’s measure, he admitted that big business would pay the increased charges that we proposed to levy. That states the point exactly. We directed our measure at those who are the most constant and biggest users of the instrumentalities controlled by the Postal Department. We refused to increase the postage rates on letters and the charges for calls made from public telephone booths. We tried in every way possible to throw the burden of maintaining the Postal Department on those who use its facilities most. This bill is totally different from ours in that respect, because under it the numerous little people, the wage earners, salary earners, those who work with their coats on and those who work with their coats off, those who use pens and those who use picks, and the small farmers, will bear the burden of this imposition that honorable members opposite now seek to place on the country.
– Is not that the reason the Government was put there?
– Of course it was. It is a big business government. The observation of the honorable member for
Burke (Mr. Peters) is pertinent because on page’ 1598 of Hansard of 28th June, 1949, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Eric J. Harrison) is reported as quoting approvingly from the captains of industry. He quoted Mr. A. E. Heath, president of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, as saying -
The approval by Federal Cabinet of higher charges for postal, telephone and telegraph services is another example of the belief popular in Parliamentary circles that industry and commerce can absorb unlimited increas.es in costa.
Mr. Heath is as silent as the grave to-day. Perhaps he feels happy because under the customs by-law on which I spoke recently he is a beneficiary of the remission of the heavy duties on imported timber. Mr. Ashley Buckingham, president of the New South Wales Retailers’ Association, was quoted by the honorable member for Wentworth as having said -
These increases are an impost on private enterprise. Although the proposed increases may not seem to be very large, they will turn into a very large increase in the annual bill which commerce must foot.
Mr. Ashley Buckingham has said nothing about this measure. He is just a silent, sour, disgruntled old man who has found that his Liberal idol has feet of clay. The honorable member for Wentworth went on in the extraordinary way that he has of patronizing other honorable members and said something which I commend to the Postmaster-General in view of a discussion which took place in this House recently about proposed extensions to the telephone exchange at Lismore. He asked -
Could not the new buildings be erected later so that their cost could be spread more evenly over a period, and posterity be called upon to bear some of the expense?
If honorable members opposite had had their way the building programme of the Chifley Government which provided for automatic exchanges and the extensions of telephonic and telegraphic facilities would have been deferred, not so that posterity could meet the bill, but so that buildings would not be erected until posterity had arrived to take our place on the scene. Now I come to the star turn of the debate to which I have been referring. That was the speech of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony)-
– I would not go without hearing this.
– I am sure that the honorable gentleman would be glad to hear it repeated. He said that the previous Government’s bill of June, 1949, was a kind of financial new year greetings to the people of Australia. What is this bill but a Christmas present, presumably to the people of Australia for 1950? The Minister went on in the delightful, irresponsible way that he had in that period and said -
I submit that if the shareholders of any private company had a statement presented to them similar to that which this Government has presented to the shareholders of the Postal Department, who are the people of Australia, they would probably seek the replacement of the board of directors responsible for such a result.
– That is exactly what they did.
– That is exactly what the Postmaster-General did not do.
– I rise to order ! Is this a debate on a bill brought before the House in 1949, or the bill at present before the House?
– There is no point of order.
– The Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) tried to be helpful, but, not quite understanding what the whole debate was about, he interjected with these words -
So will the shareholders of the Postal Department.
The directors of the Postal Department, so ungraciously referred to by the PostmasterGeneral, are still in their positions. They are still being kept there by this Government, and they ought to be kept there. The present PostmasterGeneral is using their skill and taking their scientific advice as the previous Government did. The PostmasterGeneral attacked them eighteen months ago, but he is glad to have their advice now in order that the department may be run successfully.
– The honorable member’s allegation is not correct.
– I am quoting the exact words used by the PostmasterGeneral. Surely he does not contend that Hansard misreported him!
– Hansard says a bit more further on.
– The honorable gentleman always tries to qualify himself out of everything he says. That is the extraordinary thing about anti-Labour members. They always try to give themselves an escape clause but there is no escape clause in this statement. What are we members of the Nineteenth Parliament to think of the humbug of the two honorable members whose views I have quoted and who are now Ministers, responsible with the rait of Cabinet for the- increases proposed in this measure? The Postmaster-Gener.il will not deny that he blamed the 40-hour week for the state of the Postal Department’s finances but his Government has not yet approached the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to increase the working week. If the 40-hour week was a major factor, as the honorable member alleged, in increasing the cost of postal services, what does he propose to do about it?
– It is a major cause now.
– Does the Minister propose to drop the matter or does the Government propose to ask the court for the re-institution of the 44-hour week? If the Government believes that that should be done why have they not the courage to do it ? Is it political cowardice that prevents them? The honorable member, having waxed rhetorical and worked himself up in some frenzied fashion said -
I resent the increased charges by the Postal Department. I resent them particularly on behalf of country people, who will suffer most.
Who is going to suffer under this bill? What with the wool tax grab and all the other imposts on the country people it will be a wonder if they survive at all.
– The sooner we have a double dissolution the better.
– I agree. The sooner it comes the better it will suit me. 1 would like to tell the people of Australia what members of the present Government said when they were in
Opposition. A further statement which the Postmaster-General made during his long speech on the previous bill was - because of the . . . fact that this monopoly has no competition the public must bear these increased charges and suffer the consequences.
Then, rising to great heights of oratorical brilliance, he said -
I only hope that they will not have to suffer them for more than another six months.
Six months went by and the Chifley Government, the best Government that this country has ever known, was defeated and a ministry of all the talents was succeeded by a ministry of all the remnants. Instead of immediately proceeding to repeal the measure on this subject, the Government allowed that legislation to continue and it now proposes a further increase in charges. I hope that after another six months there will be another change of government. Certainly honorable members of the Opposition could not do worse than the present Minister has done as exemplified by the proposal now before the House.
The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) and two of his colleagues - three champions of the primary producer - denounced the previous Government’s bill. The leader of the Australian Country party, in his speech, referred to -
The decision of the Government to inflict this additional impost upon an already unduly heavily taxed community.
The right honorable gentleman has done nothing to reduce the load. In fact he is party to an increased load, and is the person primarily responsible for the great wool steal. He continued -
What both the Minister (Mr. Calwell) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) failed to disclose was that the 40-hour week was a major factor in increasing all the costs of the wide range of locally manufactured materials purchased by the department.
If honorable members on the Government side of the House really think that the 40-hour week is menacing the success of the Postal Department, why do they not take the strong and courageous action of approaching the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and ask for its repeal, stating that the department cannot carry on profitably unless everybody in it works longer, harder and more efficiently?
– Order ! The honorable member may submit the 40-hour week as a reason to advance his argument, but he cannot debate the merits of the 40-hour week.
– I am only mentioning the 40-hour week insofar as it is a factor involved in the Government’s statements about the increased cost of maintaining the Postal Department. I would not presume to discuss the range of the 40-hour week, but I think that I am entitled to drive home to honorable members that they have already prescribed their own remedy but have not the courage to apply it. I ask honorable members to listen to their priceless proposals which were based on misrepresentation. They were advanced in 1949, and now appear as a judgment of self-condemnation passed by the present Treasurer upon himself in anticipation -
A brow-beaten Labour caucus apparently has no qualms about taxing the farmer and the worker even more heavily than he is taxed to-day, because, surely even the most rabid Labourite in the House no longer regards telephones or telegrams as a luxury.
In the bill now before the House the Government has definitely shown that it regards telephones and telegrams as a luxury because their cost is being increased.
– And the cost of postage on letters also.
– I shall come to the postal charges after I have cleared the decks in regard to what was said last year by honorable members who now sit on the Government side of the chamber but were then in Opposition. What does the most rabid Australian Country party member in this House think - and I am now looking at the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Treloar) - of a Treasurer who is a party to raising postal, telegraphic and telephonic charges to the highest level ever reached in the history of this country? The Treasurer has not done so because revenues are falling, for he has budgeted for £130,000,000 more revenue than was budgeted for last year. He cannot say that he has no money. He is proposing to grab all the wool money that he can get, and the proposed excess profits tax will bring in undisclosed millions. Yet the people who use our postal services must pay more for them than they have ever paid before. The right honorable gentleman concluded his speech by moving an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill. His amendment was -
That the bill be referred to a select committee of this House appointed to inquire into and report upon the deterioration of the finances of the Postmaster-General’s Department which has resulted in the imposition of these heavy increases in charges at a time when revenue from other sources is at a record high level.
The revenue from all sources to-day is at the highest level ever known. It is even higher than during the darkest period of the last war, when we not only taxed incomes at rates up to 18s. 6d. in the £1 but borrowed all we could from the people. Throughout the war years we also used the national credit to the amount of £300,000,000, in order to balance the budgets. The Treasurer does not propose to hold any inquiry into that matter, or if he does intend to do so he has not told us about it. I am quite sure that the amendment to which I have referred has not been taken into consideration in any Cabinet discussions of the postal finances. The amendment was defeated by 31 votes to 24. Nine of the present Ministers voted for the amendment and four of the remaining five paired in favour of it. They all wanted an inquiry to be held into the finances of the Postal Department, but to-day they submit a bill which, if it had been brought forward last year, would have been denounced by them as a piece of revolutionary legislation and a final evidence of the complete inefficiency of a socialistic enterprise. They say nothing to-day about their own inability to balance the budget. A final refutation of the nonsense talked by every Opposition speaker during the life of the Eighteenth Parliament lies in the measure that we are now considering. For five years I represented the PostmasterGeneral in this House when the Estimates of that department were under consideration, and I remember the present Minister for the Army (Mr. Francis) pleading with us on several occasions to revert to the pre-war practice of charging 2d. as postage on each letter.
He said that we had no right to continue the war-time surcharge of £d. At that time he quite ignored the fact that in order that the war might be won, Australia had incurred a debt of £1,000,000,000, upon which interest had to be paid.
Early in 1949 the previous Government made a permanent feature of the postal charges the war-time imposition of an extra 1/2 d., but the present Minister for the Army again advocated that we should revert to the pre-war practice of charging 2d. as postage on all letters. The Government now proposes, under this bill, to make a charge of 3d. on each letter as a permanent feature of our postal service. The Government has not mentioned teleprinters in this measure. I am well aware that the House does not deal with telephones under this measure, because they are dealt with under regulations. But we are entitled to discuss them in the debate on this bill.
– Teleprinters are not dealt with under this measure.
– That is so, but if we are to increase the charges imposed upon ordinary people surely the contracts that newspaper proprietors have entered into with this Government in regard to the use of teleprinters should also be reviewed. Moreover, at least some trunk-line rates now charged to other users of telephonic services should be imposed upon the users of teleprinters. The Minister should not wait for the contracts to expire. He intends to impose these new rates as soon as they are authorized by the Parliament, but I do not think that he has much hope of being able to apply them by the 1st December. When they become law he should revise the Government’s contracts with the users of teleprinter services. I have not the figures of the number of teleprinters in use, but I know that people who use them avoid the necessity of sending telegrams. The teleprinter service is more convenient than the telegraphic service, and newspaper proprietors avail themselves of the service of teleprinters in preference to the use of telegrams. I do not think that people in that section of the community should be placed in a privileged position. No doubt, sup porters of the Government will vote for this measure; but they should do so with their eyes open and with a recognition of the fact that under it telephone subscribers in remote districts in which only from five up to 300 subscribers reside, will have to pay a unit fee of 2d. instead of 1 1/2d for every telephone call that they make. The little people in the outback about whom, we are told, this Government is so concerned are to be charged an additional £d. for each telephone call that they make. In every other country district, the unit fee is to be increased from lid. to 2d. The Labour Government did not impose increased charges on country telephone subscribers. It tried to look after the interests of country people. However, this Government, which is supposed to represent country interests, is now demanding that the little people in the outback shall help to balance the finances of the Postal Department. At the same time, it does not propose to impose any additional charge on users of bulk postage or on telephone subscribers in city areas. Yet, those sections benefit most from the services that are provided by the Postal Department, which is greater than any other enterprise, governmental or private, that has yet been established in Australia. Last year, the Labour Government did not alter postal or telephone rates for individual users, but it increased bulk (postage rates and also telegraphic rates. By and large, no general protest was made against that action, but a great deal of public criticism has already been voiced concerning this measure.
– That is wishful thinking.
– The honorable member for Gwydir will have great difficulty in explaining to his electors why the Government which he supports has failed to put value back into the fi and why he has voted for every reactionary measure that it has introduced?
– The electors did not take much notice of what the honorable member told them at the last general election.
– They will do so when the next general election is held. The honorable member will then take his departure from Canberra permanently.
During the last few months supporters of the Government have boasted about the great benefits that it intended to provide for people in outback areas. For instance, the Postmaster-General said that persons living in such areas would be relieved of the obligation to provide the sum of £200 or a proportionate share of the cost of extending telephone connexions up to distances of 1 mile. That charge had been made since 1930. Now we are able to see the catch in that proposal. Whatever small benefit persons in the outback may receive under it will be lost by reason of the fact that rebates that were payable under the old system will be discontinued whilst, in addition, such persons are now to be charged an additional £d. postage on every letter and a unit fee of 2d. instead of l£’d. for every telephone call that they make. They will also be obliged to pay increased telegraphic charges. This measure is reactionary. The proposed rates should not be implemented, if they are to be implemented at all, before the 1st January at least. The Government should review the position generally with a view to exempting from the proposed increased rates the great mass of the people who have no option but to use the splendid services that are provided by the Postal Department, not only in circumstances such as exist at Christmas time, and with which I have already dealt, but also at all times.
When speaking in the budget debate one supporter of the Government alleged that the Postal Department is inefficient and said that inefficiency is contributing to the losses that the department is incurring in its operations and which the Parliament is now being asked to make good under this measure. That honorable member said that employees of the department observe a darg, and that they will not fold more than a certain number of forms a day for fear of breaking their union’s rules. That is the sort of nonsensical criticism that members of the Government parties level against employees of a department which is rendering outstanding service to the community and is deserving of every credit. Honorable members opposite will not shed any crocodile tears for the primary producers in this debate. On this occasion they will not voice criticism of the kind that they voiced -during the last general election campaign. They wish to get this measure to the Senate so that the Parliament may go into recess as soon .as possible and thus enable them to get away from this place where they are being held for their sins of omission and commission and where they stand condemned for their failure to carry out the task of putting value back into the £1 - the task which they imposed upon themselves on -the hustings during the last general election campaign.
.- The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has just made several reckless statements. Every honorable member regrets the circumstances that have compelled the Government to increase charges for services rendered by the Postal Department. However, we must face up to our responsibilities and recognize the fact that under present inflationary conditions every department is being called upon to meet increasing operational costs. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) , when he introduced this measure on the 26th October, set out the reasons for the increased charges and, perhaps, it might be well to remind honorable members of those reasons. The Minister said that primarily the Government must make provision to enable the Postal Department to meet increased costs that have resulted from the introduction of the 40-hour week. Whether or not we are in favour of a 40-hour week, we must face up to the fact that it has caused a substantial upsurge of costs. Indeed, only now are we beginning to realize the effect of that innovation upon administrative costs. Every honorable member looked forward to the time when we would be able to reduce working hours to 40 a week without disrupting the national economy. However, on every occasion when we debate the problem of rising costs in this House further evidence is provided of the fact that the Chifley Government introduced the 40-hour working week at a most inopportune time. During the recent war the Postal Department ceased to expand its activities because most of its technical officers were seconded for war service. However, after the end of that conflict the Chifley Government recklessly introduced the 40-hour week before we had changed from a war-time to a peace-time economy and by that action it caused injury from which the nation will not recover for many years to come. The increased cost of materials is due partly to the introduction of the shorter working week, aud is reflected in the increasing expenditure of the Postmaster-General’s Department since that time. The effect of the 40-hour week on the finances of the department, the higher costs of materials, the even sharper rise in the charges for transporting mails by road and rail, the cost of deferred maintenance work for the war-time years, and the recruiting and training of adequate staff to provide efficient services, were problems that had to be met suddenly, and those factors inevitably converted a series of surpluses for a number of years into a deficit. The Postmaster-General’s Department made a profit of £1,800,000 in 1947-48, and of £1,700,000 in 1948-49. The Chifley Government increased postal and telephone charges in the financial year 1949-50, yet the department completed that year with a deficit of £1,500,000. Therefore, the present Government inherited a deficit in the operations of the Postmaster-General’s Department, which was brought about by the inability of the Labour Government to foresee the requirements of the future. This Government has therefore been obliged to rehabilitate the financial position of the department so that an efficient service may be rendered to the public.
The honorable member for Melbourne read extracts from speeches that were made by members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party who were in Opposition at the time the Chifley Government increased postal and telephone rates, and he cited this bill as an example of the way in which the present Government has failed to honour its pre-election promises to the people. Such statements, coming from the honorable member for Melbourne, are extraordinary. Not many weeks have elapsed since his voice supported the chorus of Opposition members who declared definitely that they would oppose the Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950, in the form in which the Government desired it to be passed, even if their hostility resulted in a double dissolution.
They announced their resolve to contest it to the bitter end. Yet the people were deprived of an opportunity to express their views on the Government’s proposals for combating communism in this country. Why did Opposition members withdraw their hostility to that bill? An outside organization, the Federal Executive of the Australian Labour party, instructed them to change their tactics, and to support that legislation. Consequently, Opposition members had to squib their responsibilities, as they had previously visualized them, to this country. Yet they have the audacity to attack members of the present Government, because they opposed, on another occasion, the decision of the Chifley Labour Government to increase postal and telephone charges.
I congratulate the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) on the excellence of the service that he has rendered to this country since he has been administering the Postal Department. The Chifley Labour Government increased postal and telephone rates, but did little or nothing to improve the services. More work has been accomplished, more progress has been made, and more plans have been laid during the last eight or ten months for the improvement of postal and telephone services than ever before. Those achievements are to the credit of the Postmaster-General and the present Government. An early attack was certainly made on the problem of improving postal and telephone services. I can cite many instances of such improvements in my own electorate, and I expect that nearly every other honorable member can tell a similar story. When I became a member of the Parliament, postal and telephone services in my constituency were considerably below the requirements of that area. I make that statement as a charge against the Chifley Labour Government, because it failed to provide the necessary financial assistance and equipment which were needed to improve post office buildings and postal and telephone services. At the time of which I speak, dozens of applications for connexions to small exchanges and hundreds of applications for connexions to large exchanges could not be granted because of the lack of suitable equipment. The present Government baa been in office for a comparatively short time, but a great deal of urgently needed equipment has been provided this year, and new telephones are being installed fairly rapidly. I am sure that if sufficient quantities of cable could be obtained, the present rate of progress, satisfactory as it is, would be accelerated. Ono of the first actions taken by the present Postmaster-General, when he assumed office, was to secure supplies of urgently needed equipment. He let contracts in this country for equipment which involved considerable sums of money, and he also placed other contracts abroad for all the materials that arc required to provide an efficient telephone service for the public. The House will see, from tho few facts that I have given, that this Government, early in its career, has taken really determined action to improve postal and telephone services.
Obviously, the Government has given close consideration to the requirements of the residents of country districts, and has generously amended the conditions under which telephone services may be provided for them. Such sympathetic treatment has brought into the realm of possibility the provision of telephone services for many people in remote areas who could not previously be considered as subscribers on account of the high costs of installation. I am not entirely satisfied that the Government has gone far enough in that matter, because I am of opinion that the producers, who are doing a magnificent job for Australia in outback districts, should have telephones so that they may be able to summon medical assistance in the case of illness, and use the service for business purposes and general convenience. I am sure that the Government will not be completely satisfied with its efforts until an even more generous measure of assistance is given to the people who live in the remote areas.
New post offices must be erected, or existing buildings must be extended in almost every town and village throughout the country. Automatic telephone exchanges, and many facilities that are necessary to give a more efficient service are needed in the larger towns. The
Postmaster-General, with the support of the Government, has accepted the challenge which is offered by those needs, and has ordered large quantities of equipment, so that the necessary works may be undertaken at the earliest possible moment.
We all regret that the need has arisen to increase postal and telephone charges, but we accept the responsibility for taking that action at the present time. Above all, the Postmaster-General and the Government are achieving a substantial measure of success in providing services for the public that were not rendered by the Chifley Labour Government. It is obvious that, during a period of emergency such as war-time when technicians and other employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department who are normally associated with the extension of postal and telephone services, join the armed forces, the works programme begins to lag. The department, during World War II., encountered that difficulty, and is still endeavouring to overtake the arrears. In addition, what I can only describe as an upsurge of industrial activity occurred in the country districts during that war, and Australia began to produce goods that we had not previously attempted to make. A tremendous increase of secondary industry generally has taken place in the electorate of Lyne, which I represent. Before the war it had very little secondary industry, and manufacturing processes were confined to relatively simple operations. Nowadays, whole milk produced in the district is processed in order to provide all kinds of by-products and preparations, and local timber is extensively treated to provide building requirements and furniture of all kinds. I mention those matters in order to demonstrate the increased industrial activity that characterizes, not only the electorate of Lyne but also many other country areas. Increased industrial activity always necessitates the provision of efficient postal and telephone services. During the last few years pressure has been applied continuously to the Government to provide improved postal, telephonic,, transport and road services, but until now it has not been possible to effect any real improvement. The present
Government hopes, if the disaster of war can be averted, to embark upon a large works programme to provide proper communication facilities for country areas. The three principal factors which restrict development in the area that I represent are inadequate telephone facilities, poor transport services and inferior roads. It is obviously the function of the Government to remedy each of those causes of complaint. Although private enterprise has done its utmost to develop the area, it has been frustrated until now by the inability of governments to play their part. I am glad, therefore, that the present Government is confronting its task with a determination that is, I am sure, appreciated by country residents. Of course, the Government is also making extraordinary efforts to overcome the leeway in the provision of proper postal and telephone services in the cities.
The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), in common with other members of the Opposition, refers frequently to the fact that the present Government has not carried out its promise to reduce the cost of living and to restore value to the f 1. Such criticism indicates a complete lack of responsibility on the part of those who make it. When the Government parties gave that undertaking during the last election campaign, no one could possibly have foreseen that within a few months we should be involved in war in Korea. It was not generally realized either, that because of the possibility of another general war there would be an urgent need to provide adequate defence for this country. The provision of proper defence and the support of a field force in Korea have not only cost an enormous amount of money, but have also accentuated the scarcity of goods and services. I do not think that I can do better than repeat a passage of the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in the House yesterday on prices control, in the course of which he said -
The “ C “ series index figures confirm this statement. In the last complete year of Commonwealth price control, that is the year ended June, 1948, the percentage increase in the index figure was 8.8. In the 12 months ended June, 1949), it was 9.8. In the 12 months ended June, 1950, for one-half of which the present Government was in office, the percentage increase actually fell from 9.8 to 9.4.
Those statistics indicate clearly that the Government has already done a great deal to arrest the increase of prices, and I point out that its task has been made more difficult by the record high prices paid for our exports.
In examining the proposals for increased postal and telephone charges it is our duty to satisfy ourselves that the increases are justified and necessary. No administration is justified in increasing charges for government services in order to obtain more revenue because it happens to be short of funds. On the contrary, it is the duty of any administration to endeavour to minimize the charges for government services by reducing overhead costs to a minimum. It is noteworthy that although proposals for reductions of government charges are usually characterized by lengthy delays, recommendations for increased chargesare made with relatively little delay. Members of the Parliament are naturally concerned about the increase that has taken place of the number of public servants generally, and we expect the Government to ensure that the most efficient control is exercised over departments in order to ensure that they are not overstaffed. The overstaffing of Government departments not only reduces the efficiency of those departments and increases the cost of administration, but it also has the effect of accentuating the present shortage of man-power, which is an even more serious matter. A reduction of the number of people employed in Government departments would not result in public servants becoming unemployed because there is an unprecedented demand in private enterprise forthe services of men and women. The observations that I have just made apply particularly, of course, to the Postal Department. Because of the extent to which the community utilizes the services provided by that department, it is absolutely necessary that no unnecessary increases should be made in the charges for its services.
As I have already pointed out, a great deal remains to be done to improve the efficiency of our postal and telephone services. For one thing, the department does not seem to be as anxious as it should be to provide the best possible service for the public. We naturally expect the department to provide more, and better, services than it is now doing. There is an extraordinary difference between the privately operated post and telegraph services of the United States of America and the government services of Australia. Perhaps it is unfair to compare conditions in a great country with a vast population like the United States of America, and conditions in a large country like Australia with a sparse population. However, such a comparison helps us to appreciate the nature of the shortcomings of our services. Charges generally are higher in the United States of America than they are in Australia, but the services rendered in return are vastly superior. .1 contend that similar efficient services could be provided in Australia and that the people would be glad to pay higher charges for them. Additional trunk lines are urgently needed in all parts of Australia. Callers very often have to wait for hours before they can make contact with other subscribers by trunk lines. I know that plans have been made for the extension of long-distance telephone services, but I believe that they are not sufficiently / ambitious. I was amazed by my first experience of American trunk line telephone services. Upon my arrival in New York in 1948, I booked a call from my hotel room to a person in Chicago. I put the instrument down and turned round to attend to my baggage, but the telephone rang immediately and the operator asked, “Don’t you want Chicago?” I replied, “Yes, but I thought that you would ring when the call came through “. The operator said, “ In this country, don’t put down the phone unless you are advised that there is a delay on the line. You will be connected immediately.” Within a few seconds I was’ in conversation with the subscriber in Chicago. During the eight weeks of my stay in the United States of America I received equally prompt attention except on rare occasions when, there was an interruption on some lines. We long for a- service of that kind in Australia, but I do not know how long we shall have- to wait for it.. Considering the standards of efficiency that have been achieved in other countries, members of the- Opposition ought to help the Govern- ment to improve Australian services instead of recklessly attacking measures like the one that is now before the House.
Automatic telephone switchboards are urgently needed in rural areas, and I am glad that the Government has placed orders for the supply of large numbers of such exchanges for both small and large country centres. Under existing conditions, the Postal Department has great difficulty in arranging for contractors to conduct manual services because the operators are required to attend switchboards for many hours each day. Small automatic exchanges can provide continuous telephone services for subscribers who now are provided with a service only during the limited periods when the official contract office operators are on duty.
The Postmaster-General’s secondreading speech dealt with the tasks of the Postal Department so comprehensively that there is no need for us to prolong the debate. The Opposition should accept most of the responsibility for the increased charges because the necessity for the increases has arisen from the recent period of Labour administration. This Government has made numerous efforts to gain the co-operation of the Opposition in fostering industrial production in Australia, but the Opposition has- rejected every invitation of that character. It has delayed legislation which has a vital bearing upon the productive capacity of the nation. Transport services have been interrupted, freight rates have risen, and production in. essential industries has been interrupted as the result of interference which the Opposition has either countenanced because of its refusal to co-operate with the Government or even actively encouraged in some instances. Therefore, the Labour party must accept some responsibility for the proposed increased charges. I regret that the increases are necessary, but the Government has distributed the higher rates equitably. I hope that, as a result of the efficiency that the present administration is fostering within the Postal Department and of the extension of post and telegraph services, many of the charges for those services will be reduced in the near future.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- When the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) introduced this bill, which provides for increases of post and telegraph charges by the equivalent of £6,000,000 a year, he stated various reasons why such rises were necessary. However, as the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) pointed out, the Government’s decision to enact this measure represents a violation of the promises that were made on its behalf during the last general election campaign. The anti-Labour parties promised to put value back into the £1. These increases will violate that promise. They also promised to reduce taxes. The bill will also violate that promise. The additional burden of £6,000,000 a year for which the bill provides will be just as much a tax upon the people as will be the increase of sales tax charges by £10,000,000 a year. The two measures represent £16,000,000 worth of broken promises.
The Postmaster-General pointed out that post and telegraph charges had been increased by the Chifley Government in 1949. We do not deny that, but what the Minister has said about the increases that were made last year is in complete contradiction of what he has said about the increases for which this bill provides. He was Dr. Jekyll last year; he is Mr. “ Hide “ this year. The honorable gentleman said -
Since 1912, in accordance with the express wish of the Parliament, the Postal Department has prepared its balance-sheets on a commercial basis, which takes into consideration the value of services performed for other government departments, such as the transmission without charge of meteorological telegrams and the payment of pensions, for which it does not receive full cash payment.
I shall discuss those services later. He also pointed out that, with the exception of one year, the commercial balancesheets of the Postal Department during the last twenty years, had shown substantial profits. The highest surplus ever recorded by the department was £6,674,595 in 1944-45, and the greatest peace-time profit was £3,625,371 in 1938-39. The total amount of the profits recorded by the department during the last twenty years is probably between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000. All of those profits should have been retained by the department instead of being diverted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The Postal Department should be conducted as a separate entity so that the profits recorded in its most successful years could be used to offset losses sustained in difficult periods.
As the Postmaster-General pointed out, the department’s accounts do not include credits for the services that it renders free of charge or at low charges to other government departments. The financial results of its operations would be much more satisfactory if it were recompensed, for example, for the transmission of meteorological telegrams. Hundreds of meteorological stations are scattered throughout the Commonwealth, and the development of aviation services has led to a considerable increase of the number of telegrams despatched by those stations each day. The Postal Department should not be required to bear that expense. The task of handling pensions and other social services payments is onerous and it involves the department in considerable expense for which it receives little or no recompense. It provides agencies for the Commonwealth Bank in many parts of Australia, and it has handled such undertakings as the issuing of petrol ration coupons. Many tasks of that nature are performed by post office staffs on behalf of other departments, and the Postal Department should be given full credit for them. The deficits of the department would be considerably reduced if the appropriate costs were deducted from its operating expenses and were charged to the other departments.
The Postmaster-General has accepted excuses for the proposed increases that the House is now considering which he refused to accept last year when the Labour Government increased various post and telegraph charges. He has declared that one cause of the increased operating costs of the department is the 40-hour week. But the Postal Department has not suffered from the full impact of the introduction of the shorter working week, and the financial effect upon it has not been so great as the Minister has claimed it has been. Many officers of the Postal Department work for fewer than 40 hours in each week. Men engaged upon telegraphic work and other duties that impose severe nervous strain have not been required for many years to work for 40 hours a week. Furthermore post offices now close earlier than they did before, and that fact obviates the necessity for a great deal of overtime being worked by employees. When the Postmaster-General was in Opposition last year, and the Labour Government introduced a measure similar to this one, he complained that postal workers were very much underpaid. He has made no effort to adjust that matter since he assumed office. An examination of the schedules shows that far too many odd halfpennies are included in postal charges. I consider that the department has reached a stage at which it could reduce rates by those odd halfpennies. Halfpennies are now practically outofdate coins. For instance, shops now raise the prices of goods not by halfpennies, but by sixpences. The inclusion of odd halfpennies could be eliminated by scaling the charges down by halfpence in each instance. Such a step would facilitate book-keeping and would ease the work of officials behind public counters, who find the handling of halfpennies a nuisance.
Some bulk postage rates are not to be affected by the present measure; this was mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell). The people who will benefit from that fact are not the ordinary people in the community but mostly the proprietors of big daily and weekly newspapers. I do not consider that they should be spared when it is necessary to increase postal rates to offset a deficit. I am not, however, in favour of increasing bulk postage rates in respect of periodicals such as Red Cross, religious and trade union journals and a number of other newspapers and small journals not conducted for profit, which could well be exempted from any increase. Daily and weekly newspapers in the big cities, however, should not be exempted from increases of postal rates. They often increase their charges, although, naturally, without headlining the fact. While they scream about spiralling prices they unashamedly increase their own prices.
I am glad to see that the Government has decided to increase the rentals for private postal boxes by 100 per cent, in the case of general post offices and the Elizabeth-street Post Office in Melbourne, and by from 33J per cent, to 50 per cent, in suburban and country post offices. Appendix D shows that there is to be no change of the existing rates for press telegrams. That is another instance of how the big newspapers will escape from much of the impact of this measure. There is no mention of any increase of the charges for the hiring of teleprinters and other telegraphic machines which newspapers hire from the Postal Department.
– There could not be any mention of that matter in this measure because it is the subject of a separate agreement. Everybody knows that those rates are to be reviewed.
– The bill also provides for an increase of the rental charges for domestic telephones by 25s. a year. I consider that in that regard some consideration should be given to people like pensioners and blind people to whom telephones are a necessary of life, who find the present charges a burden and who will find the proposed charges very exorbitant. For instance, the rental for domestic telephones connected with an exchange serving 10,001 subscribers and upwards is to be increased from £6 5s. a year to £7 10s. a year. I have already received representations from blind people to whom a telephone is an essential, stating that they will find it very difficult to pay the new charge?. The Government should revise the proposed charges in respect of pensioners and blind people.
I shall follow the example set by the honorable member for Melbourne by referring to some of the spicy bits that were contributed by honorable members opposite to a debate on a similar measure that was introduced last year by the Labour Government. The present PostmasterGeneral had this to say -
I resent the increased charges by the Postal Department. I resent them particularly on behalf of country people, who will suffer most
A great deal .of the mail matter goes out into the country, and it is the country people who must bear a great part of .the cost involved in the increase of parcel postage rates.
Now we find that, although the PostmasterGeneral was very concerned about that matter last year, he has seen fit to increase those charges by 20 per cent, in some instances and by 33^ per cent, in other instances. He also had this to say in relation to last year’s measure -
The Postmaster-General mentioned the difficulty experienced in recruiting staff for the Postal Department. I have drawn attention to the poor salaries paid to postal employees . . .
I direct the Postmaster-General’s attention to the fact that when postal workers, particularly on the lower ranges of salaries, approached the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, they obtained an increase of no more than 5s. a week on their salaries. During the debate on last year’s measure the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) had this to say -
As -honorable members know, Mildura is the most progressive decentralized area in Australia. At present the full rate for a telephone call between Mildura and Melbourne is 3s. lOd. for a three minutes conversation; that is to be raised to 5s.
I do not know what he will do about that now, because the Government that he supports intends to raise the charge for such a call to -6s. Another matter that might interest the honorable member for Mallee, who unfortunately is not in the chamber at the moment, was published recently in a newspaper item which read -
Werrimull branch, of the Australian Primary Producers’ Union has decided to protest against the Federal Government’s 74 per cent, wool levy and the 20 per cent, tax deduction.
In a. letter to A.P.P.U. head-quarters, Mallee branch states the levy tax, added to other expenses such as insurance and freight, amount to a deduction of 30 per cent, of the gross receipts on wool. “We ask to fight this act of piracy on our income by all the legal means available “, the letter said, “ and if necessary a levy will be made on members to assist fighting it in the High Court.”
Perhaps the next time the honorable member for Mallee visits his electoratehe may have occasion to say that Mildura is the most regressive, instead of the most progressive, decentralized area in Australia.
I direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to a statement made by the secretary of the Canberra branch of the Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association, Mr. Lind, who criticized the Public Service Hoard in relation to favoritism displayed in promotions. What he had to say about Commonwealth public servants in Canberra could also be said with equal truth about public servants within the Postmaster-General’s Department. He said that public servants in Canberra were very dissatisfied with the promotions appeals system. Such dissatisfaction could be one of the contributing factors to the Postal Department’s deficit. If we do not have a fair system of promotions and a fair promotions appeals system to win the co-operation of the employees in the Postal Department then the department could suffer. I consider that the PostmasterGeneral should give some attention to that matter. My experience of the Postmaster-General’s Department has shown me that Mr. land’s remarks could apply to it. I suggest also that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should be credited with the value of the work that it carries out on behalf of other departments.
.- It is very easy to make from the Opposition benches a speech in relation to a bill of this nature that offers only destructive criticism and that would probably sound very well when read over to one’s wife and political supporters. However, the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) has advanced arguments which, I believe, were completely lacking in logic but were in accord with the arguments of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who complained to the high heavens about the proposed increase of postal charges. After complaining about the proposed increases, the honorable member for Banks asked why the charges should be increased by halfpennies instead of by pennies.
– He did not say that.
– For the benefit of the honorable member for Watson (Mr.. Curtin), who has probably just awakened, I say that the honorable member for Banks said that we should follow the example that has been set by some stores, and increase charges by sixpences instead of by halfpennies. Then, like a bolt from the blue, he complained about bulk postage rates not being increased. He went through the Postmaster-General’s speech, selecting a sentence here and a sentence there, and then he went through the bill picking clauses at random, . and said. “ I am ag’in the whole thing “. He appealed on behalf of the poorer people of the community on the ground that they could not afford this increase of charges, and then said that the charges should be increased further. He. took up the cudgels on behalf of the hirers of private boxes, and said that their charges had been raised out of all proportion to the increase of other rates. Most of the people who use private boxes are business people. On the one hand, the honorable member complained that the worker is being hit and that the employers and business people are not; yet, on the other hand, he has shown that the employers are to be affected.
I suppose that if I were a member of the Opposition I should seize the opportunity, as honorable members of the Opposition have done, of looking over back issues of Ilansard and recalling what honorable members who were in Opposition last year said then. One thing that honorable members of the Opposition have in their favour is that it will be a long time before this Government will be in Opposition again, and by that time honorable members who now sit on this side of the House may have forgotten what honorable members of the Opposition said on this occasion. This bill was first presented at a time when all .honorable members were expecting a double dissolution. Some honorable members thought that there would be a general election on the 16th December next. Some honorable members opposite prayed that it would not take place, but is was generally believed that it would. At the time the Government believed that there was a possibility of facing the electors within a matter of weeks. But so convinced was it of the necessity for increasing these charges, and so sure was it that the people would acknowledge that necessity that, casting political expediency to one side, it accepted the responsibility to govern wisely, as no other government had done for nine years. an>d brought down this bill in order to put the Postal Department on a sound financial basis. The Postal Department had made a profit, sometimes substantial, for approximately twenty years, except for the period 1930-31, when it made a small loss. In 1941, some of its charges were increased. The socialist party then took office. But, as the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) went to great pains to point out in his second-reading speech many factors operated in favour of the Labour Government to offset the misdirection of the Minister at that time. For example, the transport and delivery by the armed forces of mail matter without cost saved the Postal Department a considerable amount of money. During the war period., in order to conserve materials and man-power, a great deal’ of maintenance work was not carried out, there was virtual supension of recruitment to the postal services and expenditure was not incurred in making many improvements that would otherwise have been made.
Many honorable members, entering this House for the first time, who seized the opportunity afforded’ before the Parliament met to visit their electorates, particularly those who represent country electorates, saw in almost every town and village a monument to the administration of the previous Government - a brokendown post office. When honorable members announced that they would visit a town that announcement resulted in a queue of people lining up and complaining about the lack of postal and telegraphic facilities. Honorable members were shocked when they realized how tremendous was the mumble-jumble which was taking place in this organization which had been represented as a model of efficiency. The previous Government should have provided the postal facilities immediately aft.er the war which honorable members of the Opposition have stated should be provided now. Those honorable members have stated that telephones are not available for the old and the blind and the poor, but they should have been supplied, and probably could have been supplied, four or five years ago. The previous Administration failed dismally to live up to its obligations and bring to Australia the equipment necessary to discharge the functions of the Postal Department. During the last twelve months, world conditions have worsened, so that there are now great calls on all sorts of materials for war purposes and for stockpiling war equipment, but during that period there has been a tremendous increase of the services rendered to the country by the Postmaster-General’s Department.
– The honorable member had better not tell his electors that.
– The people of my electorate are beginning to realize that honorable members on this side of the House will present a good case and that the Government is alive to its responsibility and is sympathetic to the needs of the country people. When the present Administration came into office it found itself faced with a tremendous task which required huge capital expenditure. After one year of office it has performed much of the task that Labour shirked for four years after the war. Fortunately, the Postmaster-General is a man of no mean ability and great energy. I have heard many honorable members of the Opposition say how grateful they were to him for accomplishing in their electorates that which they could not get done before this Government took office.
– The honorable member “ tickles us to death “.
– The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) has provided me with so many laughs that I am pleased that I am able to reciprocate. One of the arguments put forward by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) was that the 40-hour week did not have any effect on the Postmaster-General’s Department.
– He said that it did not have any great effect.
– It is the same thing. The honorable member refuted the figures cited by the Postmaster-General when he said that the overtime bill for 1946-47 was £317,000 and that last financial year it was £1,300,000. In other words, the 40-hour week has cost the PostmasterGeneral’s Department £1,000,000 per annum. But what is an odd million pounds to a socialist who is prepared to expend hundreds of millions of pounds in purchasing the trading banks of Australia? Since June of 1949 the wages bill for the Postal Department has risen by £250,000. Since 1944-45 the cost has increased from £14,000,000 to £33,000,000. Surely that in itself is justification for the increases proposed. These increases could not be offset by normal expansion of business, although the Postmaster-General’s Department has expanded tremendously, particularly during the last twelve months. More people are applying for telephones. The mail services are improving. People generally are more alive to the use that can be made of telephones, telegrams, express delivery and other services which they did not use much before the war. The cost of handling these services has risen tremendously. The cost of handling 1,000 postal articles in 1944-45 was £8 2s., but last year it rose to £10 8s. Since then it has increased to £12 6s. The cost of handling 1,000 telephone calls rose from £13 6s. in 1944-45 to £22 2s. The cost of handling 1,000 originating telegrams has risen from £63 8s. in 1944-45 to £151 18s. These increased costs must be offset bv increased charges. The increase that has been made in the letter rate from 2$d. to 3d. represents a rise of only 25 per cent, on the amount payable twenty years ago. What other service in Australia costs only 25 per cent, more than it did twenty years ago? We must pay a tribute to the efficiency of the Postal Department for being able to keep the figure down.
– Let the honorable member be careful not to praise socialism.
– Many honorable members of the Opposition praise socialism. The general effect of this proposed increase of all charges will be to increase the department’s earnings by only 16 per cent., but the cumulative result with the addition of the increases made in 1949 will be an increase of postal earnings by about 35 per cent. That is a very moderate increase having regard to the existing economic circumstances and the increases that have taken place in wages and costs generally. When thinking of charges one must consider the services that are rendered for those charges. That principle should be applied to the consideration of the charges to be made by the Postal Department. Honorable members will realize when so considering, that for a relatively small sum an excellent service is provided. The service rendered by the department after a letter has been posted is out of all proportion to the 3d. charged.
The particular value of the service rendered by the Postal Department becomes evident when its charges are compared with overseas charges. When the new rates are in force a fourteen-word telegram may be despatched from Brisbane to Perth for 2s. A similar telegram sent from New York to San Francisco would cost 16s. 2d. T suggest that although the work done in each case is much the same, there is a great difference in the cost of the service. A trunk call from Sydney to Melbourne will cost 9s., but a trunk call over the same distance would cost lis. in South Africa, 14s. Id. in the United States of America, and 23s. 2d. in Canada. Two honorable members opposite have had an opportunity to speak on this measure, but they have put forward no logical reasons why the charges should not be increased as is proposed under the bill.
It is quite apparent that the charges of the Opposition have no substance, and that if the Government does not increase the return for the services provided the result will be ultimately worse than it will be if the charges are increased. If the charges are not increased the first result will be curtailment of services and maintenance work with a consequent detriment to the national development, and the depreciation of valuable public assets. The second result will be the dismissal of large numbers of staff. The third result will be to throw an additional burden on the taxpayers, and the fourth a stimulation of the demand for postal facilities because of their availability at rates much less than are justified by the costs incurred, or by their value to users.
Despite the pratlings of honorable members opposite which I am sure they are uttering merely for party political purposes in the hope that they will be able to refer to them later during the campaign at the general election which they are endeavouring to avoid, and looking at the matter from a sane business point of view, every honorable member should realize that the increases are fully justified. Australia is enjoying a particularly good postal and telegraph service in comparison with that of other countries, and the maintenance of that service is the responsibility of the Government. This Government acknowledges its responsibility, and is determined to ensure that the standards of the Postal Department shall be maintained and increased. However, the Government is not making any increase that is not fully justified. Therefore, the increases are just and equitable and will enable a far better service to be given to the people of Australia. The fruits of this bill will be in the enjoyment of the people at small cost of more and better facilities. These facilities will be available to all classes of people just when they want them.
– I preface my remarks with the famous phrase of that great exponent of the dramatic art, our Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) : “We must face our task boldly. We must put value back into the £1 “. That definite promise was made, not only by the Prime Minister, but also by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden), in the speeches they delivered before the last general election. Now we have heard a humble speech from the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) in which he has apologized for those remarks. I suggest that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) will be very grateful to the honorable member for Capricornia for the apologetic manner in which he excused him for being incapable, inefficient and incompetent. The honorable member for Capricornia was rather exuberant in his youthfulness, but it is no crime to be young, although he displayed his great inexperience when he asked why post offices were not built immediately after the last war. Perhaps the honorable member was not old enough in 1945 to understand the huge nature of the tasks that then confronted the Labour Government. For instance, it had to train, ex-servicemen to again bake their places in industry. “When the blight of the Liberal party covered the land, from 1930 to 1939, with the result that 800,000 unemployed, including postal mechanics, were walking the streets-
– Order ! The honorable member is now speaking about a matter that has nothing to do with this bill.
– In those days postal mechanics, who could have been profitably employed in industry, were walking the streets throughout Australia. The departmental apprentices, who should, have been completing their indentures, had them cancelled by the Postal Department during that period.
-Order! The honorable member will return to a discussion of the bill or I shall deal with him.
– As a consequence of what happened in the years that have gone, costs and prices increased. In addition to that factor, we have the increasing spiral of charges and costs. One of the most vicious opponents of the Chifley Government was the present PostmasterGeneral, who constantly complained of the cost of administration of the Postal
Department. Now we find him, ably supported by his cronies-
-Order! The honorable member must withdraw the word “ cronies “.
– I withdraw it. Honorable members who support this incompetent, inefficient and incapable PostmasterGeneral also support his subterfuge that the costs in his department have risen because of the 40-hour week. That cry has been heard throughout the years, >and it is a reflection on the judges who granted the 40-hour week to the workers. We hear the parrot cry from honorable members on the Government side that the 40-hour week has caused prices to rise. They do not believe that to be the case, and they will find that the trade union movement will insist that the 40-hour week shall be retained. In fact it will insist on a further reduction of hours in the years that lie ahead.
– Perhaps there should be “a 40-hour week for politicians also.
– It would be a good thing if the hours of work of some honorable members opposite were increased. Perhaps they would then learn something about economics and the factors involved in the development of Australia. Perhaps they would become imbued with a little patriotic fervour and would endeavour to advance Australia fair instead .of trying to pull down our living standards and to depress the workers of Australia, particularly the postal workers. ‘
-Order! I must ask when the honorable member intends to deal with the bill before the House.
– I am doing that now. The latest slug to be felt by the community is the increased postal charges. It is interesting to note that the greatest increase will fall on the working classes; that is, the increase of the postal rate for letters. Even a miserable post card which one little child might send to another little child will cost 3d. to transmit by post. Nothing is too low for the Postmaster-General. Wherever he can grab a halfpenny he grabs it. The matter is different in relation to big newspaper proprietors. We agree that publications of the Red Cross and other charitable organizations should be transmitted at a reduced rate, but the big newspaper combines take advantage of the general section of “ periodicals, booklets, Sc.” The “ &c.” covers a multitude of sir.s and the big newspaper combines which have given every assistance to the Liberal and Country parties want their rake-off. In fact they get a good rake-off through these concessions given by the Postal Department. In an attempt to cover up administrative incompetence and ineptitude the Postmaster-General criticized employees of the department who, incidentally, are paid starvation rates of wages.
– That; is a reflection upon the arbitration judge.
– As the Arbitration Court does not fix the wages and conditions of employees of the Postal Department, that interjection is further evidence of the lads of knowledge of supporters of the Government about matters that concern them. One honorable member opposite insulted those employees by saying that their union forces them to observe a darg. Supporters of the Government, never cease to talk about the Communists. Instead of uttering parrot cries, Ministers should investigate at first hand the conditions that exist in their respective departments. I have received letters from Commonwealth employees in various departments in which they state that they have never seen their respective Ministers. Apparently, the latter are intent only upon looking after their own interests and are not concerned about what is happening in their departments. Employees of the Postal Department are forced to work under most unsatisfactory conditions. They are on their feet the whole day long attending to members of the public from whom they are obliged to accept all kinds of abuse. Many of the complaints that are made by the public are justified because the department fails to provide not only facilities to which the general public are entitled but also reasonable amenities for its employees. For instance, employees at a post office in the Maroubra district the population of which, 20,000, is considerably in excess of that of Lismore, where the Government propose; to construct an up-to-date post office because it is situated in the electorate that the Postmaster-General represents, are obliged to hold their cash in boxes because no other facilities ave provided for that purpose. Of course, the claims of departmental employees cannot compete with those of the interests that the Postmaster-General represents. I shall read a. letter that I have received from one of the employees to whom I have referred. He states -
There are not enough drawers for counter officers to operate from, with the result that in busy periods an officer has to serve the public from his cash box, thus causing congestion and the danger of monetary loss to the officer concerned. There is only one door for ingress and egress, so that on social service days the congestion and queueing up Inconsiderable. There is absolutely no provision for any amenities. Only recently lockers for clothes were provided, and each member of the staff is obliged to eat lunch in the full view of the public. Chairs and a table were provided, also a small stovette, but they have been packed away for there is no lunch room to accommodate same, and the stovette has been lying on’ the floor for over twelve months.
At Maroubra Junction letters are sorted at a depot at the local fire station which is one mile from the post office, and addressees who make inquiries, or complaints, are directed to make them at the fire station. What a farcical position. On this point the writer of the letter states -
Postmen can be contacted only foi- one hour per day from 1.45 to 2.45 p.m. for inquiries relating to change of addresses, for telegrams and insufficiently addressed telegrams. Every day some disgruntled member of the .public wants to see the postman personally about their mail matter, and when you inform them that the postmen are located at the fire station which is nearly a mile away, much valuable time is wasted convincing them that this is so. and they leave the office more disgusted and disgruntled than when they came in.
Many old persons who have made such inquiries have been known to walk- back and forth between the post office and the fire station several times in the one day. The letter continues -
The people living in the Maroubra Bay area are severely penalized by having to call at Maroubra Post Office which is located at Maroubra Junction, a distance of 1 to 1$ miles from Maroubra Bay to collect registered articles, &c. which cannot be delivered sometimes because these people may be out when the postmen called, and also to pick up overweight articles and parcels. Sometimes this involves catching two buses or a bus and a tram to collect such an article, you can imagine what this costs in fares apart from the inconvenience. The solution in this case is Che erection of an official post office at Maroubra Bay and the installation nl postmen there to cater for the people living in the Bay area.
The Postal Department permits those conditions to continue in a district that has a population of over 20,000. Yet, the honorable member for Capricornia lauded that department to the skies. The residents of Matraville, which is a thickly populated industrial centre, is served by an unofficial post office which has been set up in a grocery shop. When I urged that an official post office be established in that district I was officially informed that the department was negotiating for the purchase of a block of land as a site for a new post office. All honorable members are aware of the delays that occur in such negotiations. I have no doubt that when these negotiations are completed, the Postmaster-General will complain that the Communists will not allow the workers to Mli Id a structure for the department. The residents of Matraville have practically exhausted their patience in this matter. On one occasion the Prime Minister said - i think that the Postal Department was best run by a Postmaster-Genera] who was deal” and dum)).
If the right honorable gentleman had applied that remark to the present PostmasterGeneral, he could, appropriately, have added, “ and blind “.
– Order ! The honorable member has made a personal reflection upon the PostmasterGeneral, and he must withdraw it.
– I withdraw it. These proposals will penalize the primary producers whom the Government has already harassed in many ways.
– Do any primary producers reside in the honorable member’s electorate ?
– I am concerned about the welfare of all Australians, particularly the workers and the primary producers upon whom the well-being of the nation primarily depends. Supporters of the Government can look after the interests of polo players and club men. The primary producers will be penalized by tuc
Government’s proposed wool “ grab “. Under this measure they will be obliged to pay increased postal, telephone and telegraph charges. What will they think of members of the Australian Country party who sit in “hill billy” corner in this chamber and support this measure? These proposals will severely handicap the 3inall farmer who already has to contend with losses that are caused by bush fires, drought, floods and pests.
I protest against the permanent imposition of telephone rentals. The department cannot justify its practice of charging telephone rental after the subscribers have paid sufficient under that heading to defray the cost of the telephone itself and of its installation. Under this measure the telephone rental is to be increased by 22s. 6d. to £7 a year. The rate of telephone rental should be progressively reduced from year to year until payments by subscribers exceed the total cost that the department has incurred in providing and installing telephones.
– The honorable member’s suggestion is too late by twelve months.
– The Curtin Government, which assumed office in 1941, had to contend with the blight that had settled on the country during ten years’ administration by anti-Labour governments. The Labour Government won the war, and re-established approximately 800,000 ex-service men and women in civil life. Many of those persons who had been in dead-end jobs - that is, if they had jobs at all - at the time they entered the services, had to be trained to occupy useful positions in industry, and in other avenues of employment. The Labour Government had a big responsibility to ex-service personnel in that respect, and its achievement in re-establishing them will be regarded as one of the greatest events in Australian history. That transition from a war-time to a peace-time economy could not have been accomplished by an anti-Labour government, but it was skilfully effected by a. Labour government, under the able leadership of Ben Chifley. Australia has much for which to thank him.
– Order ! The honorable member should refer to the right honorable gentleman as the Leader of the Opposition.
– I return to the revision of domestic postage rates. - The existing rate for letters and lettercards is 2 1/2d. for the first ounce, and 2d. for each additional ounce. The proposed rate is 3d. for the first ounce, and 2-£d. for each additional ounce. That increase may not seriously affect large commercial enterprises, but its impact will be felt by the unfortunate workers. The existing rate for books, periodicals and newspapers is l$d. for each 6 oz. and the Government does not propose to increase it. Is this a way in which the Government is to repay the newspapers for the assistance that it received from them during the last general election campaign? Newspaper proprietors will be granted favoured treatment at the expense, as. usual, of the poor old worker. Who was the bright boy in the Postmaster-General’s Department who thought of those discriminatory charges? Did he obtain his inspiration from Ministers, and did they, in turn, receive their instructions from the consultative council which cracks the whip over this Government, and from the Institute of Public Affairs? Was the Government told that the newspapers must not be affected by the revision of postage rates? Was it ordered to treat them gently and favorably ? I believe that it was.
– Is the honorable member referring to the federal executive of the Australian Labour party?
– No ; but I inform the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) that members of that executive are elected at a conference. Perhaps Mr. Deputy Speaker will permit me to digress a little in order to give a more detailed answer to that interjection.
– Is the honorable member authorized to make that statement about the election of members of the federal executive of the Australian Labour party?
– Members of the Labour party enjoy the right of freedom of speech, but that cannot be said of members of any other political party. The honorable member for Evans (Mr.
Osborne) would not be permitted to speak on a bill unless-
– Order ! The honorable member has answered the interjection, and I ask him to relate his remarks to this bill.
– I should like to refer, with the permission of the Chair, to the Botany post office. As honorable members are aware, Botany is the centre of one of the greatest industrial areas in Australia, and bids fair to become the Birmingham of this country. It is the most important industrial area in my electorate. I bring to the notice of the House the fact that the officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department, who are employed at the Botany post office, do not receive the rates of pay, and are not granted the conditions to which they are entitled. The Botany post office has been elevated from a grade 2 post office to a grade 3 pet office. That change, according to the view of the department, is a promotion, or an improvement of status, yet members of the staff continue to receive the rates of pay of, and to work under the conditions that are applicable to, employees in a grade 2 post office. That is to say, the department has raised the status of the Botany post office, but has not improved the wages and conditions of the staff in conformity with that change. Obviously, it is seeking to dodge paying the higher rates. The people of Botany are heartily sick of the raw deal that they are receiving from the Postmaster-General’s Department and have repeatedly made representations to me with a view to obtaining improved postal facilities, but no action has been taken to remedy that position. I bring those facts to the notice of the honorable member for Capricornia, who tendered an apologetic statement to the House on behalf of the PostmasterGeneral. The people cannot get this and. that, but private companies can get this and that. Why does not the PostmasterGeneral’s Department pay reasonable salaries and wages and provide proper,, working conditions for its employees?
The telephone exchange at Maroubra the call sign of which is FJ, is 25 years % old- V
– If that telephone ex’-‘.’ change is not satisfactory, the Chifley
Labour Government should have remedied the trouble.
– The Labour Government won the war and re-established exservicemen and women in civil life after the cessation of hostilities. Had it remained in office, it would now be rebuilding that which was pulled down by anti-Labour governments. Australia was being ruined by them, and is now in the process of being ruined by the present Government. I warn the staff of the Postmaster-General’s Department, and employees generally to watch carefully the assaults that are being made on their rates of pay and working conditions.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The debate on this bill has developed into an argument about the manner in which the Postal Department has been administered by Labour governments and by nonLabour governments. In order to view the position in proper perspective, we must study the development of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department since federation. Prom 1901 to 1941, the Labour party was in office for only a few brief periods, totalling eight years. In other words, non-Labour governments were in office for approximately 32 years. Nearly all the post offices and telephone exchanges throughout the Commonwealth were built during the first 40 years of federation. The Labour party was again in office from 1941 to 1949, and even if allowance is made for the fact that “World War II. was in progress for half that time, it must be admitted that few post offices were erected during its term of administration.
That survey of the general position reveals that the remarks by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) were not in accord with the facts. He complained that, metaphorically speaking, the present Government was rapidly pulling down the edifice constructed by the preceding Labour Government, whereas the truth is that the Labour party does not build anything. A person who takes the trouble to read inscriptions on post office buildings and on local halls in Victoria will find that the great majority of them were built before 1939, and that few, if any, were erected when the Labour party was in office from 1941 to 1949. Those few would be the exception rather than the rule. The Postal Department has been mostly in nonLabour party hands since federation, and those are always good hands. It has been proved on numerous occasions that a Labour government cannot permanently legislate satisfactorily. It may appear to legislate for a while in a satisfactory manner, but after a short space of time it saps all the vigour and vitality from the national economy. When the administration of the country reverts to the control of a non-Labour government, the national economy revives in a manner that can only be compared with the resuscitation of a swimmer who has been rescued from drowning. This Government has been in office for less than twelve months. The economy of the country, during the regime of the preceding Labour Government, was comparable with the condition of a partly drowned man who was responding to artificial resuscitation. The lifesaver who swims through- the surf to rescue a drowning man must not be handicapped by faulty equipment or by inexperienced assistants operating the reel and line, otherwise the patient may be drowned and the rescuer’s life imperilled. This is the analogy that I wish to draw. The Government cannot completely revive the economy of the country after it has suffered under a Labour administration, if its policy is obstructed by a hostile Opposition majority in the Senate.
– Does the honorable member support the bill?
– 1 am no more pleased with this bill than I was with the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1949, which was introduced by the Chifley Labour Government. The present inflationary conditions received an impetus before that Administration went out of office last December. A great wave cannot be completely prevented from reaching the shore, but its onrush can be retarded to some degree by a retaining wall or breakwater. I use that analogy to show that the Government cannot immediately turn back the wave of inflation, but it can take preventive measures to reduce its effects. It is doing so, and, if given time, it will restore our economic conditions to normal.
-Order! The honorable member’s remarks are rather wide of the bill,
– It has been said in this debate, whether rightly or wrongly, that the 40-hour week has -been a big factor in increasing costs-
– Does not the honorable member believe in the 40-hour week?
– The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) is continually grumbling. I have not said whether I consider that such a statement is right or wrong, but I believe that the people in the cities who enjoy the 40-hour week should pay for it. Telephone subscribers who live in towns and villages outside the metropolitan area of a large capital city pay an unduly high rental for the instruments, and excessive charges for calls. “When I am in Melbourne, I can ring any number within a radius of, say, 15 miles of the General Post Office for the cost of 2d., and I can speak to the other party for as long as I wish. But if I make a telephone call from Mildura, in my electorate, to Red Cliffs, which is about 10 miles away, I am charged 4d. for three minutes’ conversation, at the expiration of which, the attendant in the exchange, in accordance with her instructions, asks me whether I require an extension. Frequently, I require two extensions, so that I am charged ls. for such a call. Yet, the residents of Melbourne can speak for 20 minutes or longer to any part of the metropolitan area for a charge of 2d. Opposition members smile and say, in effect, “That is all right for us”, but the Australian Country party believes in a policy of decentralization, and has done everything possible to reduce telephone charges in the rural areas. Under this bill, certain rentals outside the metropolitan area of a large capital city have been reduced and, others will not be varied. The explanatory sheet that has been circulated by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department shows that the yearly rate for services in respect of an exchange with from one to 300 subscribers has been reduced by 5s.. whilst the rental in respect of an exchange with from 301 to 1,000 subscribers has not been increased. I compliment the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) on that decision. The preceding Labour Government did not grant such a concession, and country people have received some consideration at least. A subscriber in a densely populated area, such as the electorate of Watson, which is served by a big exchange, will pay an increased rental of £1 5s. per annum. That is a step in the right direction.
Something has been said about the need for more public telephone cabinets in Sydney and Melbourne. Labour members from metropolitan electorates know that in any city street can be seen queues of people waiting to use the public telephones. Some means should be devised to enforce the three-minute maximum time for telephone calls, and if that were done many of the present delays would be obviated. However, I am more concerned about obtaining better telephone facilities for country residents. I believe that telephone services should be used as a means of promoting decentralization, and that country residents should be able to use the telephone services for lower charges than those that apply in the cities. After all, people in the metropolitan areas can communicate with each other on the telephone for only 2d. a call, whereas people in country areas, who are separated from each other by long distances, have to pay much more for every call that they make. Whilst I realize that country people must put up with the present charges for the time being, I hope that in the very near future the charges for country telephone services will be considerably reduced. In order to demonstrate the hardship imposed upon country residents by the present high telephone charges, I point out that if a farmer happens to break a part in an agricultural implement or a country garage nian breaks a machine he has to pay a Very high charge for the trunk telephone call to a machinery agent in a capital city in order to ask him to send a part to repair his damaged machine. Such a call may cost at least 10s. However, a businessman in, say, Essendon, who requires a piece of machinery, merely makes a local telephone call to a city machinery agency, at a cost of only 2d., and the part that he requires is delivered to him in a few hours. Of course, when we realize that so many metropolitan constituencies are represented by members of the Australian Labour party, which was in office for eight years, it is not astonishing that city dwellers get all the plums. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) complained that because of the scarcity of public telephone cabinets some of his constituents have to go a distance of 1-J miles to post offices. I remind the honorable gentleman -that in the Mallee constituency, which I repreesnt, many of my constituents have to travel 15 or 20 miles to reach a post office to transact their postal business. The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) complained that some of his constituents have to make two omnibus journeys and a tram journey in order to reach a public telephone booth. In the country we should regard a trip of that nature as a very minor inconvenience.
I am uncompromisingly opposed to increasing telephone charges to country residents. City dwellers can afford to pay more for telephone facilities, and they should be called upon to pay more for them in order to assist in providing cheaper facilities for people in the country. After all, the average city dweller works only 40 hours a week, whereas’ many primary producers work anything up to 80 hours a week. Members of the Australian Labour party have found it politically expedient to oppose the legislation that is now before the Parliament to authorize the deduction of a certain amount of the proceeds of wool sales. Of course, their professions of sympathy with country people are a mere sham. Whenever a real test arises of country versus city the Labour members of this Parliament invariably support the city interests.
When the present inflationary trend is checked by the implementation of the anti-Communist legislation introduced by the present Government, the passage of which was obstructed for so long by Labour members of the Senate, the Australian Country party will use every effort to have legislation introduced to promote decentralization.
– I rise to oppose the bill. I agree with the remarks that were made by some members of the Australian Country party when they were in Opposition in this Parliament last year. I refer particularly to the observation that was made by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), on the 2nd June, 1949, which is recorded at page 495 of Hansard. The honorable gentleman stated -
I believe that the deficit of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department can be met without an increase of charges. I rose mainly to deal with increases of prices and misrepresentationa that have been made by honorable gentlemen opposite in an attempt to delude the people as to the reason for them.
I adopt the honorable gentleman’s remarks, which represent my attitude towards this measure. The previous Labour Government did increase certain postal and telephone charges, but there was a big difference in the nature of ‘the increases made by that administration and those proposed by the present Government. Those differences are so important that I shall say something about them. When the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) introduced the present legislation he made the following statement in the course of his speech : -
These inescapable extra costs have been due chiefly to increased wages as the result of arbitration awards.
However, the Minister did not state, as he should have done, that although the increase of wages came about as the result of arbitration awards, the reason why the awards were increased was to give to the workers a chance to meet the enormous increases of the cost of living that have taken place.
– Order ! The reason covering increased wages is not under discussion.
– Since the Minister has stated that the increased charges are the consequence of higher operating costs, due to alteration of the arbitration awards, am I not entitled to point out that the fundamental reason for the increase of wages is the continuing and unprecedently steep rise of the cost of living?
-The honorable member may refer to that point only insofar as it relates to the Postal Department.
– The PostmasterGeneral went on to say that the 40-hour week, increased costs of material used by the Postal Department, and sharp rises of the cost of carrying mails by rail and road were the causes of the proposed increases. I suggest to the Government that instead of tinkering with the effect of the factors mentioned by the Minister it should tackle this matter at the root by endeavouring to reduce the cost of living. The Government is certainly not justified in imposing additional charges upon a long-suffering community. The proper course is to deal with the root causes of the increased operating costs of the department.
– Does the honorable gentleman believe in reducing wages?
– No. I believe in increasing the purchasing power of wages so that it will not be necessary for the unions to approach the industrial arbitration authorities for higher wages.
– But a substantial increase of wages has just been granted in order to overcome the increased cost of living.
– That is so, but because of the failure of the present Government to restore value to the fi, the recent increase of the basic wage will inevitably be followed by a sharp increase of the cost of living. Our economic troubles cannot be overcome until the present Government is turned out of office and replaced by a Labour administration. When that happens Labour will take energetic action to obtain constitutional power to enable the Parliament to prevent further increases of the cost of living.
– Order ! Unless the honorable gentleman returns to a discussion of the bill I shall ask him to resume his seat.
– I have been led astray by the interjections of honorable members opposite. The garbled speech of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), to which we have just listened, was a characteristic utterance, but he did manage to include in it a little wisdom and common sense. One of the few remarks that he made with which I can agree was that more public telephone booths should be provided in country towns. Of course, the cities and metropolitan areas also need a great many more public telephone booths and the Government should long ago have made some real effort to provide them. Wherever one goes in the cities one sees long queues of people waiting to use the public telephones. When the Government reaps its harvest from the increased imposts upon telephone users, I hope that it will devote at least a small part of its additional revenue to the provision of more public telephone conveniences.
I emphatically disagree with the assertion made by the honorable member for Mallee that the Government is treating country telephone subscribers badly. The statements that he made in support of that assertion were completely illogical. Although he pointed out that the present Government proposes to reduce the telephone rental in certain country districts by 5s. a year, he omitted to inform the House of the important fact that the Government also proposes to increase telephone rentals in other country districts.
– The reduction will benefit only a limited number of country areas.
– That is so. The statement made by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony) shows that the rental will be reduced only in those country areas that have fewer than 300 subscribers. The honorable gentleman omitted to mention that in areas that have from 300 to 1,000 telephone subscribers no reduction will be made, and in areas that have from 1,000 to 2,000 subscribers, of which there are hundreds, the telephone rental will actually bc increased by 7s. 6d. a year.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– The honorable member for Mallee attempted to persuade country residents that the Government proposed to make special concessions for their benefit because it had decided to reduce the telephone rental charge, in certain limited instances, by 5s. a year, whereas city subscribers would be required to bear an increase of £1 15s. a year. But the honorable gentleman did not tell the full story. He very studiously refrained from saying anything about the Government’s plan to increase the call charge for country telephone subscribers. In fact, this Government, which claims that it represents country interests, intends to increase the local call charge for country subscribers from 1-^d. to 2d. a call, although the charge for metropolitan subscribers will not be altered. On the basis of an average number of four calls a day, a country telephone subscriber will be required to meet an increased charge of £3.0s. 8d. a year for call fees. As he will receive the benefit of a rental reduction of only 5s. a year, the overall increased cost of his telephone service will be £2 15s. Sd. a year. Therefore, he will pay £1 Os. 8d. a year more in increased charges than will be paid by a metropolitan subscriber.
Every political party should be consistent, and I hope that I shall never fall into the error of inconsistency to which the Government parties have become a prey. An examination of some of the speeches that were made in this House last year by supporters of the present Government, at the time when the Chifley Government dealt with post and telegraph charges, reveals that those honorable gentlemen either are inconsistent or lack courage.
– Or both !
– Perhaps that is so. In order to be consistent, some supporters of the Government would have to oppose this legislation. Unless they do so, we may reasonably believe that they lack either courage or consistency. I direct attention’ to the remarks that were made in this House on the 1st June, 1949, by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser), who is a prominent member of the Australian Country party. This is what the honorable gentleman said -
It is about time that something was shaken up by the Postmaster-General, or that the Postmaster-General himself was shaken up so that required materials, which are said to be unavailable shall be made available. It is of no use for the Government to say that there are mam-power difficulties, when it proposes to spend £200,000,000 on the unification of railway gauges.
It is about time that the present PostmasterGeneral was shaken up. It is of no use for this Government to say that there are man-power difficulties when it proposes to throw most of the men between the ages of 18 and 25 years into camps under a military training scheme that the country cannot afford.
– It cannot afford to defend itself?
– The country cannot afford to meet-
– Does not the honorable member believe in defence?
– I agree that we should defend the country, but it is absolutely ridiculous for the Government to draft most of our available man-power into military camps at a time when it is screaming for increased production.
This Government will never find a permanent solution of the problem that arises from the excessive costs that are embarrassing departments until it grapples with the real causes of the country’s difficulties.
– What solution does the honorable member suggest?
– The solution would be an immediate return to sane government.
– But the honorable member has said that he will not cooperate with the Government.
– I ‘ shall co-operate in any movement for a return to sane government, and we can secure sane government only by enabling the people to elect a new parliament. When the people have the opportunity to do so, they will ensure that the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Charles Anderson) and the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Kekwick), who are loud in their criticism of the Labour party, shall not be returned to worry us when we speak in this chamber. Our problems could be solved by means of the election of a government that would have the courage to deal with the causes of the nation’s difficulties.
– Why did the honorable member throw away the chance to have another election only a few days ago?
– I did not do so. If this Government wants to have an election, but finds that it lacks the constitutional power to bring about a double dissolution, it can arrange for an election of the House of Representatives whenever it wishes to do so merely by resigning, as it ought to do because it has proved itself to be incapable of dealing with the problems of the day.
– The honorable member must now address his remarks to the bill.
– One of the greatest problems of the day is that of finding ways and means of making the operations of the Postal Department profitable. The department will never make profits until we have a government that can reduce the expenses which are causing the present sharp prices increases.
This Government has merely tinkered with the economic problems that confront it and has failed to grapple with inflation.
– I gave a direction to the honorable member earlier in his speech,, and I again ask him to connect his remarks with the subject of the bill.
– The bill does not provide for any increase of newspaper postage rates. The present rate of 1 1/2d. for 6 oz. on a single newspaper or periodical will remain unchanged. The Government has also decided, as a special gesture to the community, that it will not increase the cost to itself of distributing Hansard. The present bulk postage rate for newspapers of 2 1/2d. for 16 oz. will not be altered. Evidently the Government -has been able to find some special reason why the newspaper magnates should be exempt from any responsibility for meeting the additional costs that are involved in its attempt to eliminate the deficit of the Postal Department.
– Another pay-off!
– Yes, it is another pay-off to the newspapers which so valiantly assisted the present Government parties both before and after the general election campaign.
Letters and letter cards will have to bear an additional charge of id. under the new scale. That new charge will have its greatest effect upon the ordinary farmers, the little wheat-growers and the small fruit producers, but members of the Australian Country party, who have the temerity to claim that they represent such people, are in complete accord with the proposal. Post cards, the sort of postal article .that an ordinary worker might send to his children or his wife or to friends at Christmas, will now bear a charge of 2£d. instead of 2d. Last year the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), who is a member of the Australian Country party, said, “ I believe that the deficit can be met without an increase of charges “. I entirely agree with that statement. But the honorable member apparently has changed his views or lacks the courage to express the same views to-day.
– The honorable member knows that the honorable member for Gippsland is in New Zealand.
– I also know that, if the honorable member were sitting in this chamber now, he would not have the courage to vote against the Government. He has never voted against the present Government, nor has the honorable member for Mallee done so.
– That is untrue.
– The honorable member has never voted against the Government.
– I have done so twice. I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Am I to be misrepresented.-
– There is no point of order. However, the honorable member for Hindmarsh must not debate that subject.
– If expenditure on new equipment and other improved facilities in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is one of the main reasons why the department is being run at a loss it still does not follow that just because a deficit occurs in one year through heavy expenditure on capital equipment an attempt should be made to compel the users of those facilities to pay increased charges year after year. D” such a system were valid then a refund should be made to the users of postal facilities in years in which the department shows a profit.
I do not agree with the aspersions cast by some Government supporters on the officers of the Postal Department. I do not know of any workers who work harder and with greater regard to their obligations to the community than do the postal employees, right from the man who delivers the letters up to the Deputy Directors of Posts and Telegraphs in the various States. So much abuse has been levelled against officers of the department that I welcome this opportunity of recording my appreciation and admiration of the way in which the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in South Australia has carried out his duties. That great officer of the Postal Department has on all occasions done everything humanly possible to meet the requirements of everybody who has made representations to him. I am sure that some honorable members opposite support that statement, particularly the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Handby) and the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), who have had special consideration from him.
I am disappointed that the Government has not made any provision in this measure to allow free telephone services to be made available to invalid pensioners. Those unfortunate people require such a free facility. I know of one bedridden invalid pensioner who relies on a bedside telephone to enable her to communicate with her friends and to hear from them. It is a tragedy that some special consideration has not been given by the Government to such cases. Arrangements should be made for telephones to be installed free of charge in the homes of such persons. I also consider that totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen should at least be granted telephone installations rent free. The Government should also consider the installation of telephones free of charge in all hospitals, whether public or private, and should allow local calls to be made from such installations free of charge. I sincerely hope that the Government will re-examine this matter with a view to giving sympathetic consideration to the points that I have made with regard to those three groups of telephone users. I suggest that if the Government is really seeking a way to meet the deficit in the Telephone Branch it should give some consideration to the introduction of a higher company tax and a tightening up of taxation laws.
– Order ‘ What has that subject to do with the bill? The honorable member knows quite well that it is not relevant.
– I shall not proceed along that line if it offends the Chair, but I thought that I was offering the Government a possible solution of the problem. One point with which I think the Minister ought to be concerned was that referred to by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) in connexion with the salaries of officers of the Telephone Branch. When the PostmasterGeneral himself was in Opposition he said that he knew of no service or company anywhere in Australia that paid such low salaries to its employees.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
-The Postal Department ls the most efficient of all our Government services. Its employees work for many hours under difficult circumstances, are always courteous and give the most efficient service. We who enjoy the benefit of the services provided by that department should sometimes reflect upon the devotion to duty of the men who, in hot weather and cold, in tempest and in storm, trudge our streets delivering mail. We never hear a complaint from those postmen but we always receive the utmost courtesy from them. Sometimes we curse because we have been called to the telephone in the middle of the night, but instead of cursing we should reflect on the fact that the telephone service is available for 24 hours a day only because willing and courteous officers man the exchanges during the long night hours while other people are asleep. We are extraordinarily fortunate in this country in having such a magnificent service.
The purpose of this measure is simply to enable the Postal Department to pay its way. It might be edifying if honorable members opposite, who have talked so much in recent months of putting value into the £1, were to reflect that during the eight years of Labour administration that ended last December, the £1 lost 10s. of its value. But in spite of that fact postal charges for the carriage of ordinary letters rose from 2d. in 1939 to only 2£d. in 1941 and have not been increased since that year. It is now proposed to raise the ordinary letter rate to 3d. Is there any other undertaking in Australia that can boast that it has raised its charges by only 50 per cent, since 1939? We know that every item that comes into the cost of living rose in price by 100 per cent, under Labour administration. There is no commodity the price of which had not doubled in 1949 compared with the 1939 price, with the one exception of postal services. The Postal Department is a business undertaking and should be allowed to conduct its affairs in a business-like manner. It should be allowed to increase its charges reasonably to meet its commitments. When it makes profits they should not be withdrawn from it, as they were during the Labour regime. During the eight years of Labour administration up to last December, for reasons that I need not go into now, the Postal Department made very substantial profits, but instead of its being allowed to retain them for use in the expansion of services, they were taken into general revenue by the Labour Government and were used for other purposes. I believe that the department should be placed under the control of a board of directors, and should be allowed to retain its own profits and to use them to accumulate reserves for future expansion. I am not criticizing the magnificent job that the Postmaster-General’s Department has done in spite of governments. Had it been able in the past to use its profits for the expansion of its own services the public would to-day be getting an even better service than it is now obtaining, hut so long as we have in power, from time to time, governments that rob the department of its profits that will not be the case. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department has always been kept upon a starvation level.
I am very glad that the Government intends to permit the Postal Department to increase its charges which, under the circumstances, are not exorbitant, so as to enable it to pay its way. The reasons for these increased charges are perfectly obvious. The necessity to pay £2,000,000 more in annual wages that has been forced upon the department since June, 1949, owing to cost of living increases, is one of those reasons. Do honorable members opposite contend that those wage increases should not be paid, or that the department should go into deficit to the extent of that £2,000,000? As a result of other decisions of the Arbitration Court in special cases an extra charge of £750,000 has been forced upon the department. When the Labour Government left office thousands of people were waiting for telephones and so the present Government had to appoint considerable additional staff to give effect to its policy of providing the people with the services that they so urgently require. During the last six months 46,831 new telephones have been installed, which is 10,000 more than were installed in the same period last year during the term of office of the previous Government. That shows the magnificent job that has been done by the department since the present Government came into office. That increase of the number of telephone installations has imposed an extra cost, for the wages of new staff, of £2,000,000. Owing to the very great prosperity of the country at the present time the Full Arbitration Court has delivered a judgment in which it stated that the prosperity of the country justified an increase of the basic wage by £1 a week. Every one is delighted to hear that, in the opinion of the court, such a substantial increase can be justified. But we cannot simply clap our hands and assume that this cost has not to be paid for. The extra cost to the Postal Department as a result of this judgment will be £4,000,000 a year or £200,000 for every increase of the basic wage by ls. We are delighted to know that the employees of the department will receive this increase, but do not let us imagine for a moment that it will still be possible to meet the expenses of the department from the same postal charges as were made previously. It is absolutely essential to raise charges if tha t higher wage is to be paid. During the last few years the postal employees, in common with other employees, have had the benefit of the 40- hour week. Such benefits cannot be enjoyed unless they are paid for. The cost of the 40-hour week to the Postal Department has been £1,000,000 a year. I do not think that any honorable member would say that the 40-hour week should be abandoned but we cannot have such privileges without paying for them.
I consider that the Postal Department should be given a new deal. It should not have to ask the Parliament every year for an increase of this or that charge and, when it makes a profit, be robbedof it. Why cannot the department be conducted in the same way as Trans- Australia Airlines, which is operated as a business undertaking, is conducted ? Why cannot its director be made managing director of a company, and its departmental heads in the various States, directors for those States? If it were a company it could be controlled by a board of directors which would enable it to be efficient in all respects, to plan for the future, to build up its reserves and to utilize them on an expansion of services. I congratulate every person employed in the department on the magnificent job that he or she has done for Australia. The people of Australia would be ungracious if they did not recognize that the additional services and privileges that have been given to the postal employees have to be paid for. A grateful public is prepared to pay for them.
.- This bill, as I had stated when I obtained leave to continue my remarks at a later stage (vide page 2430), proposes increased charges for the services rendered by the Postal Department. A bill for a similar purpose was introduced by the previous Government last year, Honorable members of the present Opposition said then that the department ought to pay its way and that although it was, in effect, a taxing instrumentality it charged people for a service rendered, not collectively, but individually to subscribers to it. Those who use the facilities the most must pay the greatest charge. That was our view then and it is our view to-day. The department should impose on those who use its services charges sufficient to meet its ordinary costs.
The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) has told the House a fairy story to the effect that this Government, in its brief term of office, has. installed an additional 10,000 telephones compared with the number installed by the last Government. The honorable member is very naive, new and immature in the political world. He was a member of the Parliament previously but apparently he did not learn much then or, if he did, he forgot it during his period in the political wilderness.
– He took part in the war.
– But after the war he was in the political wilderness for a period of time. It is public knowledge that when the war ended the essential equipment for telephone installations was not available in this country. It is also generally known that the major switch equipment and other essentials of automatic tele*phone exchanges are imported from overseas. Many of them come from Coventry and what happened to Coventry is now history. What happened in the factories that supplied such equipment is known to every body. That is the reason why large-scale telephone installation was not possible immediately after the war. Due to the far-sighted policy of the Chifley Government and the good administration of the Postal Department plans were made for supplies of essential equipment to be made available as soon as was humanly possible. Those supplies came to hand and this Government is using them. Honorable members of the Opposition are happy that the people are benefiting from the additional telephone installations. But this Government need not rest easy on what it has done because there is a long waiting list for telephone services. The honorable member for Sturt said that the Chifley Government had taken into revenue the profits made by the Postal Department. In that respect also he either does not know or has forgotten the recent history of this country. That has been the practice of all governments.
– That does not mean that it is right.
– It disproves the statement that the Chifley Government established the practice which has been in operation over a long period of years. It is a sound practice and has a great deal to recommend it. The Parliament ought to appropriate the cost of major works instead of taking it from Postal Department reserves which have been aggregated out of the department’s profits. The Chifley Government embarked upon the new practice of permitting the department to draw up a plan and to carry it out over a period of five years. I believe that that plan was followed by an earlier government but was discontinued for some reason. The practice which the honorable member for Sturt described as a departure from existing procedure was, in fact, common to all governments over a long period.
Honorable members of the Opposition do not object to increased postal charges if they are necessary but this Government gained office by fraud and deception. The case under review is one of the most marked ways in which it deceived the electors and gained some of the votes which ensured its return. When a similar bill was before the House last year the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) told a touching story about a sick cow in his electorate. By the time he had finished, honorable members were not sure whether the veterinary officer had sat up with the sick cow or the cow had sat up with the veterinary officer. He claimed that the farmer could not receive the best service from business concerns if they were hit by heavier postal charges yet he supports the proposed increases which are all bigger than those made by the previous Government and which will hit those persons who use the services of the Postal Department for domestic purposes. I refer in particular to the increased letter rate. The historic case for lower postage rates for letters is well known and the previous Government was careful not to increase those rates. It considered that that section of the Postal Department’s work might well be carried on at a rate that did not cover the cost of operation. This Government has departed from that principle by making a substantial increase of the rate charged for the postage of ordinary letters.
The general purport of the arguments put forward ‘by the present Trea surer when postal charges were being debated last year was that no inquiry had been made into the operations of the Postal Department and that no information was available to justify the increased charges which the then Government proposed. Throughout his speech the right honorable gentleman pointed out that no information was available and that there was no- evidence to justify the proposed increases. At page 1736 of Hansard of the 29th June, 1949, the right honorable gentleman is reported as follows : -
Even if the Government refuses to furnish the Parliament with a detailed report of the activities of the department, surely the Postmaster-General’s report for the 1947-48 financial year could have been made available to honorable members in order to assist them to make an Intelligent survey of the operations of the department, and assess the need for the increased charges that we are being asked to agree to.
Throughout his speech the right honorable gentleman adopted that line of argument. Honorable members of the present Opposition pointed out then that the increases were justified by the rising costs, just as this Government has stated that the cost of goods and services is rising. But honorable members opposite told the Australian people that the Government was extravagant in its practices and had no regard for efficiency or economy or for the well-being of the people. They gained electoral support because of the line of argument that they deliberately adopted. The previous Government’s policy in relation to the Postal Department has now been vindicated by the present PostmasterGeneral in his second-reading speech. In fairness to the honorable gentleman, I say that, whilst he criticized the increases in 1949, he also paid a warm tribute to the work of the postal officials. He said then that that body of men worked hard, rendered a signal service and were underpaid for the work that they were doing. He attacked the rise of postal charges which we considered at that time to be necessary. In his speech on this bill he said -
Since 1944-45, when a Labour Government was in office, despite the utmost care in
Administration and close supervision of expenditure, the Postal Department has been unable to avoid a very heavy increase in costs of providing essential postal and telecommunication services.
He then dealt with the charges that he regards as inescapable, and went on to say - 1 am sure that honorable members will agree that the relatively small percentage increase which has taken place in the Post Office rates generally during the past ten years is a tribute to the efficiency and economical manner in which the Post Office has managed its affairs.
Therefore, in the Postmaster-General’s second-reading speech we find a vindication, and not a condemnation, of the work of Labour governments during the last eight years. I say generally that the Opposition is not unfavorable to this bill. If increased charges are necessary to meet higher costs, and to provide additional services for the people, then those charges must be levied. However, the Opposition points to the inconsistency of this Government, and in fact its deliberate deception of the people in order to justify its actions. Deception of that type is a way of ensuring political oblivion, and I am sure that that is fast overtaking this Government. When in 1949 I was discussing a bill similar to this one, I made a speech which, upon a recent reading of it, I am convinced was a very good one.
– A very unusual one.
– It probably was, but I think that it was also a good one. In the course of that speech I referred to our belief that the government should make a profit on the transactions of the Postal Department but that the area in which the profit was made should not matter very much. I then suggested, and the then Opposition warmly agreed with me, that the government might make a loss on country services but recoup its losses by increasing the charges for city and metropolitan services. I believe, after having read the speech that I -made on that occasion, that this Government has followed my advice.
The Postmaster-General, in his secondreading speech, further said that the Government would reduce the cost of certain services to country areas by 5s. Therefore, it appears that our advice has been followed. Later in his speech he indicated that the Government had nullified the reduction of 5s. a year to country telephone subscribers by increasing the minimum telephone call fee from 1 1/2d to 2d. For that action the Government gives the very naive excuse that uniformity is necessary in the charges for calls. We all agree that country residents should have proper telephone and telecommunications services. We believethat they should have those services not only as ordinary amenities of life, but also as necessaries in times of trouble and sickness. In such times, telephone services are more necessary in the country than in the city. For the sake of uniformity the Government intends to increase the charge to 2d. a call for country subscribers. I assume that that conforms with the general practice of this Government which apparently works on the principle that country people are too prosperous, so it can take from them a wool tax, increase their postal charges, and so on. It says that after all it is only the farmer who suffers. I presume that this measure satisfies the Australian Country party, but it does not satisfy the principles of equity which the Opposition seeks to uphold, and I do not imagine that it will satisfy country residents either. The bill is made necessary by reason of the increased costs incurred, and on that account we accept it. It is necessary that these charges shall be levied in order to continue the vital services that the Postal Department is rendering to the people. However, I again remind the PostmasterGeneral of a statement in the speech that he made during the debate on the bill introduced in 1949 to increase postal charges. He said then that the postal employees who work hard in the department are underpaid, and that no section of the Australian community had rendered greater service at comparatively less remuneration. Now the honorable gentleman has a chance to take some action to give effect to his beliefs. Postal employees, particularly linemen, were recently given an award by the Public Service Arbitrator. That award has caused great discontent. Because of certain representations, adjustments have been made to it, but the linemen and postal workers generally are far from satisfied with the conditions under which they work and the salaries that are paid to them. I need not repeat the representations that have been made to the Postmaster-General from time to time, but I do say that they have come from all States and from almost all honorable members. The Postal “Workers Union in Western Australia has approached every honorable member in this House, and I believe in another place as well. They have stated their case and have asked for no more than justice. I ask the Postmaster-General to accord that justice to them either by approaching the Public Service Arbitrator, or by any other means of which he can avail himself, and thus ensure that their just claims shall be met. The Postmaster-General can render a great service by extending to these hardworking, capable and loyal officers the relief that they seek.
.- Whatever justification the Government may have for the increase of postal charges, some consideration should be extended to the people in the outback areas of the various States. For the benefit of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), I point out that there is a concessional rate for all first-class mail matter despatched to Tasmania. An equal concession should be extended to people in the outback areas, particularly in such areas in Western Australia. I speak of that State particularly, because I know it best. T think that all airmail matter carried north of the. 26th parallel of latitude should receive the same concession rate as is given in connexion with the mail carried to Tasmania. I put, that forward as a suggestion for the earnest consideration of the Postmaster-General. People in outback areas have not the amenities that are available in metropolitan areas, and this is a small consideration that could be extended to them to make up for their lack of amenities and in recognition of their pioneering activities and their valuable contribution to the development of that part of our country which is essential to the ultimate welfare of the nation. The area north of the 26th parallel of latitude has suffered great disability because of a lack of telegraph and telephone communications. It was left to the Chifley Government, at the time during which Senator Cameron, was Postmaster-General, to sponsor a real development plan that will give amenities to the outback people. At present, there b a line from Mullewa to Carnarvon which when completed will give to the people of the north-west an improved service in both telephone and telegraph communications. I understand that that line will cost a good deal more than £100,000, but when completed it will be of enormous value to the people. During the seasons when great cyclones batter the coast, Port Hedland, Onslow, Derby, Broome, and Wyndham are all completely cut off from communication with the southern area, and when the Mullewa-Carnarvon line is completed reasonable all-weather communications will be available. Because the standard poles have already been erected between Carnarvon and Wyndham, all that will be necessary will be to run out another line; then communications can be carried on between Carnarvon and Wyndham even during the most violent weather which characterizes the climate of this north-west coast. Whatever justification the Government might have for the increase of postal, telegraph and telephone charges, it should not penalize the people of the back country by imposing on them this extra charge. I again instance the concession granted to Tasmania for many years and I say that the people of the outback should at, least receive the same concession.
.- The strangest fact that emerges from this legislation is that when similar legislation was introduced last year, the criticism levelled at it by the honorable gentleman who is now Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) and by members of the Government, parties, was that it had been framed in a way that showed no appreciation of the responsibilities of government. Some of the most vehement critics of the then Government’s proposal were the PostmasterGeneral and other prominent members of the Government. To-day, in an outstanding speech in this House, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) clearly showed by his quotations from speeches of the Postmaster-General and other Ministers that they then believed that additional charges should not be made. To-day we see the full turn of the wheel with the PostmasterGeneral advocating a measure which he completely condemned a few months ago when it was introduced by a Labour government. That is worth pointing out to the people. Another matter is the amazing approach that the present Government parties are making to the policy that they propounded prior to the last general election which provided that they would reduce prices if elected to office. Every act of the Government since it assumed office has given an impetus to inflation and has contributed to the increases that have occurred of the costs of essential commodities and services. The public has been constantly reminded of that fact by newspaper headlines- relating to the Government’s proposals. Far from the Government putting value back into the £1, the £1 is going out backwards. Do Government supporters really believe that proposals to increase charges for services of this kind will help to reduce the cost of living?
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the bill.
– The average person has no option but to use the services that are provided by the Postal Department and any increase of the charges made in respect of them reduces the purchasingpower of the community. All the proposals that the Government has ‘ made ostensibly with the object of curbing inflation must cause wonderment among the people. This measure is further proof, if proof were needed, that the Government is completely incapable of reducing the cost of living. The silence of supporters of the Government reveals their lack of enthusiasm for these proposals. For instance, the honorable memmember for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) when in Opposition was extraordinarily long-winded and outspoken in his criticism of the Chifley Government because, according to him, it had failed to provide adequate postal and telephone services for persons who reside in country districts and to reduce the charges for those services to that section of the community. However, that honorable member spoke on this measure for only ten minutes and then collapsed like a punctured balloon. Likewise, most of his colleagues have spoken for only a few minutes on the measure.
All honorable members admit that the people as a whole have every reason to be proud of the services that the Postal Department is providing. It is significant that those who vigorously criticize all governmental enterprises as socialistic ventures commend the efficiency of the department. For instance, a charge of only 2s. is made for sending a telegram from coast to coast in this country under conditions comparable with those governing the charge made by private enterprise in the United States of America, which is 16s. 4d. The Postal Department probably provides the best example of the effectiveness of government enterprise. I should not complain about the increases proposed under this measure if the Government were prepared to assure the House that it will do full justice to departmental employees. Those employees should not be obliged to work for the pittance which they are paid to-day. They are the worst paid section of government employees, despite the fact that their duties are more multifarious and at certain seasons of the year, such as Easter and Christmas, are abnormally onerous. Although the recent increase of the basic wage will involve the department in considerable additional expenditure, nevertheless the Government should do full justice to the employees of this department not only by increasing their rates of wages so as to make them commensurate with the increase of the volume of work now being handled by the department but also by providing adequate amenities for them and by remedying complaints of the kind that the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) mentioned in the course of his speech. Evidence of the outstanding ability of officers of the Postal Department is provided by the fact that in the past governments have selected employees of that department for appointment to some of the most responsible positions in the Public Service. Bearing that fact in mind, one reads with amazement a statement that the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) made in this chamber on the 5th. December, 1946, when, as Leader of the Opposition, he was discussing the decision of the government of the day to increase the number of Ministers. After including the Postmaster-General among Ministers whose portfolios he said could be eliminated or whose work could be done by other Ministers, he added - . . But .1 have yet to learn that, to be Postmaster-General, and nothing else, is a heavy job, because, on the whole, I would think that thu Postal Department was best run by a Postmaster-General who was deal and dumb.
– Was the right honorable gentleman thinking of the present Postmaster-General when he made that statement ?
– I do not think so. The right honorable gentleman continued -
The Postal Department in this country is a business concern which, fortunately for us, has> been most admirably managed by most able nien for a long time. The PostmasterGeneralship can be regarded at the moment as a sinecure.
That was the opinion that the present Prime Minister held about the importance of the Postal Department when he was Leader of the Opposition. That is an amazing view for any one to express concerning an organization that has established an outstanding record for efficiency in the provision of essential public services. J. hear honorable members in “ hill-billy “ corner interjecting. In the opinion of the wool-growers those honorable members now occupy the position that was once occupied by the Kelly gang.
-Order ! The honorable member must withdraw that statement as it is a reflection upon certain honorable members.
– I withdraw it. Members of the Australian Country party who constantly interject not only have invariably advocated the provision of increased postal services in country districts but also have vigorously criticized what they have described as the socialistic administration of government departments, including the Postal Department. How can they remain silent when under this measure the Government proposes to filch from the man on the land a portion of the rewards of his toil ? I should like to be informed exactly of the view that the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) takes of these proposals. On the 29th June, 1949, when he was in Opposition, he pressed for the appointment of a select committee to make a thorough investigation of the Postal Department including the question of whether departmental employees were working to the maximum of their ability. On this occasion, has the right honorable gentleman, or any of his colleagues in the Australian Country party, urged the Government to arrange for such an investigation to be made in order to see whether it could obviate increasing the charges for postal, telephone and telegraph services? I ask that question because members of that party as a whole have failed to protect the interests of country residents who will be penalized under this measure.
It is all very well for supporters of the Government to justify these proposed increases on the ground that the introduction of the 40-hour week has increased the operating costs of the department. I do not accept that view. Those who have only their labour to sell are entitled to have made available to them reasonable amenities and to be given a fair share of the increased profits of industry which result from the utilization of modern inventions. Whilst members of the Australian Country party have always objected to the 40-hour week in government departments, employees of primary producers were obliged, before Labour assumed office, to work from daylight till dark for a mere pittance.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the bill.
– Whilst the proposed increased charges may be unavoidable, the necessity for making them has arisen from a number of causes, some of which the Postmaster-General mentioned in his second-reading speech. But that does not excuse the honorable gentleman and other Ministers for having made vile insinuations against the preceding Labour Government when it introduced a similar bill last year to increase postal and telephone charges. It does not relieve the Treasurer of the responsibility for appointing a select committee, in accordance with the terms of the amendment that he submitted to the bill last year, and it does not excuse members of the present Government for the statement that they made during the last general election campaign that, if returned to office, they would decrease governmental expenditure by reducing the number of public servants, and by effecting other economies. I cannot cite a better example than the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) when I say that Government supporters are the victims of their own party political propaganda. The Government is finding it impossible to reduce the number of public servants, because the requirements of administration are increasing. I should like to say, in passing, that I regard the increase of the staff of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department as essential.
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks are wide of the bill. He is touching on many political matters.
– 1 am about to conclude my speech. This bill proves conclusively that the Government has been obliged to increase the staff of that great instrumentality the Postmaster-General’s Department, and to provide additional money for its services. Above all, it shows conclusively that the Government has no prospect of putting value back into the £1, in accordance with its promise to the people during the last general election campaign.
.- The debate on this bill has been most remarkable. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Tom Burke) rose this afternoon, apparently to reply on behalf of the Opposition to the second-reading speech of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony). He made a few gestures to his colleagues to indicate that he required a copy of the bill so that he might inform his mind about the proposed increases of postal and telephone charges, and he then retired gracefully from the scene by obtaining the leave of the House to continue his speech at a later hour. His place at the table was quickly taken by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who had introduced the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1949 in this House last year. The honorable gentleman read long extracts from Hansard of the reports of the speeches that were, made by various honorable members on that occasion, and he then retired, no doubt to the Opposition party room, to refresh his mind about the re marks that he had made at that time. Probably he found that they were remarkably similar to the second -read ing speech of the Postmaster-General on the present bill.
– As a matter of fact, I did. The Postmaster-General has just brought himself up to date.
– I am prepared to believe that the Postmaster-General improved considerably on the speech that the honorable member for Melbourne made when he introduced the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1949. I fear that honorable members may lapse into the error of continuing those latent recriminations, with Government supporters saying, in effect, “ The Labour party increased postal and telephone rates last year “, and Opposition members saying, in effect, “ Members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party in the last Parliament were opposed to an increase of postal and telephone charges “. Honorable gentlemen may become so entangled in mutual recriminations that they will not know whether they are supporting or opposing this bill.
– Does the honorable member support it ?
– I definitely support it. Let there be no doubt about that. I should now like to comment on a few matters that have been discussed in the course of this debate. The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) expressed the opinion that the profits that are made from the operations of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should not be paid into Consolidated Revenue, but should be held in reserve to offset possible deficits. That suggestion contained a good deal of merit. I do not propose to discuss all the problems that would be involved in it, but Opposition speakers have pointed out that profits made by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department have been paid into Consolidated Revenue for many years, and that it would not be sound policy to upset a long-established practice. The honorable member for Melbourne, when he moved the second reading of the Post and Telegraphs Rates Bill 1949, said -
Since the Labour party assumed office, the profits of the Postal Department have been £35,914.646 for a period of some six years ended the 30th June, 1047.
The honorable gentleman proceeded to explain that those profits were substantial for two important reasons. The first was that an amount of £14,000,000 had accrued as a result of an increase of postal charges during World War II. The second was that maintenance work could not be carried out by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department during the progress of the war. Those reasons, were perfectly legitimate, but there was also a definite reason why at least some of that money, which could not be expended during those years on maintenance, could not have been used to finance some of the “post-war activities of that department. Yet, the Chifley Labour Government made no attempt to expend some of those accumulated surpluses on such works, but increased postal and telephone charges in 1949 for the purpose of offsetting increased costs. Therefore, it appears to be completely unreasonable to criticize this Government for proposing to increase postal and telephone charges to cover subsequent increases of costs, to meet which money is not available other than from ordinary sources of revenue, or from revenue derived from additional charges for the services performed by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
Other statements that have been made in the course of this debate also require an answer. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) com- plained bitterly that the existing rate of postage for books, periodicals and newspapers is not varied by the bill. The honorable gentleman, supported by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin), described that as one way in which the Government was repaying its debt to the newspapers for the support that they accorded to it during the last general election campaign. However, we find, on investigation, that the postage rate on newspapers was increased last year from 2d. per 20 oz. to 2-Jd. per 16 oz., which brought it into line with the charge made for the transmission of books and periodicals. But the point that should not be overlooked is that the great bulk of the newspapers that are published in the large cities are distributed, not through the Postal Department, but by the railways and other forms of transport. Conse quently, the allegation that the Govern ment is repaying newspapers for their support during the last general election campaign by not increasing the postage on their publications is completely without foundation, and is not relevant to this debate. Comparatively few persons have newspapers posted to their homes. The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryson), who is interjecting, disagrees with my remarks. I remind him that publications that are issued by the churches, ex-servicemen’s organizations, and trade unions, including the Australian Workers Union, with which the honorable member for Hindmarsh is associated, will derive a benefit from the fact that the existing rates of postage on periodicals is not to be increased.
The honorable member for Hindmarsh made another loose statement when be said that the Government could not submit, with justification, that the shortage of man-power prevented the improvement of postal and telephone facilities, as it proposed to call up thousands of young men for compulsory military training. Such a red herring should not have been imported into this debate. The shortage of man-power is unquestionably a problem for the Postmaster-General’s Department, but will it be made an excuse for failing to prepare the defences of this country? That statement by the honorable member for Hindmarsh was ridiculous, and should not have been permitted in a debate on this bill.
Persons who live in the country districts are very pleased with the improvements that have been made in postal services since this Government assumed office. I am continually receiving letters from constituents who ask for improved postal and telephone services, and I am delighted with the results that are being obtained. I admit that much of the progress that has been made in that respect during this year is attributable to the preparatory work undertaken by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department under the administration of the preceding Labour Government. Nevertheless, the work is proceeding, and improvements are being effected. A number of mail services have been cancelled in recent times. Contractors did not consider that the payments which they were receiving from the department were sufficient, and asked that they be increased. The department was not in a position to accede to those requests, and, consequently, some mail services were terminated. The PostmasterGeneral, as a result of representations, has recommended that those services be restored, even though the contract price had to be increased. Therefore, it is only natural that the Government should ask the Parliament to increase postal and telephone charges to offset the additional costs which are set out in the PostmasterGeneral’s second-reading speech as follows : -
These inescapable extra costs have been due chiefly to -
Increased wages as the result of Arbitration awards.
The 40-hour week.
Higher prices of materials.
Sharp rises in the costs of carriage of mails by rail and road.
Additional maintenance resulting from deferment of much of this work during the war years.
Recruitment and training of additional staff necessary to restore the services to a reasonable level of efficiency and to expand and develop facilities to meet essential public needs.
I shall briefly analyse those reasons. The statement that increased wages, as a result of arbitration awards, has increased the costs of the department does not seek to place blame upon any political party or upon the department for that position. It is simply a statement of fact. The Postmaster-General also did not blame any tribunal or any person for the introduction of the shorter working week. It is indisputable that the costs of materials and equipment have increased. I have already referred to the sharp rises of the cost of the carriage of mails by rail and road, Mail contractors found that they could not continue to give a service at the rates provided in the contracts, and, very rightly, the payments to them have been increased. The next reason for the higher costs is additional maintenance work that has resulted from the deferment of much of that activity during the war years. Is not that a very logical reason ?
Postal and telephone services are expanding in country districts, necessitating increases of staff, and it is only reasonable to expect an increase of costs in such a gigantic undertaking as the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. It is equally reasonable to suppose that the public, who are asking for improved services and better facilities, will be prepared to pay such additional costs. I shall be astonished if any kind of complaint is made against the very reasonable increases of postal and telephone charges proposed in this bill. The PostmasterGeneral is to be congratulated on the moderation of his requests.
Much has been said about the services that are rendered by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, not only by the senior officers but also by employees on the lower rungs of the ladder. Of course, complaints are frequently voiced about telephone services and mail deliveries, and 1 suppose that, in such a vast organization as the Postmaster-General’s Department, some employees do not pull their weight. People who live in country districts come to know the officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department very well, because they are frequently in contact with them, not only in office hours but also in recreation hours. I wish to pay a tribute to the high standard of efficiency in that department, which begins among the senior officers and extends through all sections to the junior officers. However, some of the employees in that department are not pulling their weight, and they are not encouraged to do so by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, who stated that he would not co-operate with this Government in any way. Until they are urged by honorable members who represent them in this Parliament to pull their weight, and they respond to that request, the public will not receive the efficient service to which it is entitled, and which it naturally expects. I believe that the increases of postal and telegraph charges proposed in this hill are moderate, and I hope that the House will pass the measure without delay.
– I have decided to participate in the debate on this bill for the purpose of replying to criticism that has been levelled by Government supporters against the preceding Labour Government. Members of the Liberal party and of the Australian Country party, when in Opposition last year, violently attacked the Post and Telegraphs Bates Bill 1949, and expressed the opinion that the proposed increases of postal and telephone charges were an unwarranted imposition. I do not include new members of the Parliament in my remarks, but I refer specifically to honorable gentlemen like the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) . Last year the department’s costs were rising because much of the material that it uses could not be obtained in Australia and it had to import material from overseas at considerable cost.
I marvel at the change of attitude displayed in this debate by many honorable members opposite who were members of the previous Parliament. When the previous Labour Administration introduced the measure to increase postal and telephone charges those honorable gentlemen resolutely opposed, the increases. By supporting this measure they not only condone what Labour did but also actually propose to go much further by increasing those charges.
I join with other honorable members who have commended the staff of the Postal Department. No one has had a better opportunity than I have had to appreciate the work carried out by the staff of that department from the DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs clown to those who occupy the humblest positions in the department. During the war the employees of the Postal Department had to perform many extraneous duties, such as the issue of petrol tickets, and to carry a lot of added burdens. Because of the war they had to carry on with reduced staffs, and that fact makes their achievement all the more creditable. When the complaint is made that additional and improved services have not been provided by the department, I think that every fair-minded person must concede that it was physically impossible for the department to provide them.
I have already referred to the astonishing change of attitude of many honorable members opposite towards postal charges, and I do not want to labour the point. I do not condemn the present Government for proposing to increase the charges because I know, from my knowledge of the finances of the department, that it is necessary to increase charges if the department is to pay its way. However, some honorable members opposite have stated that the cause of the increased costs of the department is the introduction of fewer working hours for the employees. I do not share their belief that the number of working hours of the employees of the department should not have been reduced. For many, * many years very hard manual work had to be done to erect telegraph poles, to dig trenches for telephone cables and to maintain telephone wires. In the last few years many labour-saving devices and machines of new types have been introduced which have done away with a great deal of the excessive physical labour that was formerly required, and it is only right that the employees should obtain some benefit from the introduction of those labour-saving devices. I make no apology for the fact that the postal workers enjoy a 40-hour week because they have certainly earned some improvement of their conditions of work.
I do not propose to obstruct the passage of the bill merely because the Opposition criticizes some aspects of it. I take the opportunity, however, to direct attention to the inadequacy of the rates of pay of many of the employees. I have never been very happy about the salaries paid to employees on the lower rungs of the departmental ladder. I admit that some of them were recently awarded an increase of £12 a year, but that increase seems very paltry to them. When we realize that many postal employees have to turn out for duty in all weathers in order to maintain that great public service I think that we all can sympathize with their grievance. The Postal Department has been referred to as the biggest business enterprise in Australia, and I remind honorable members opposite that it is a socialist enterprise. Indeed, no more successful instance of a socialist enterprise could be cited than that department, which is owned absolutely by the people, has a complete monopoly of postal and telephone services throughout the nation, and functions solely in the public interest. Incidentally, I have not heard honorable members opposite suggest that a board should be appointed to control that great socialist enterprise.
Adverting to the grievance felt by many of the lower-paid employees of the department, I think that honorable members will agree that it is natural and human that they should feel aggrieved when they learn that the Parliament has passed a measure to increase the salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court by £500 a year and that other highly paid officials will receive £3,500 a year. Naturally, they are discontented about the paucity of the increase granted to them. It is natural that all classes should feel that the underdog is forgotten, and that feeling naturally characterizes many of the lower paid employees of the postal department, who do so much of the donkey work that is necessary to be done if the community is to be properly served. At the moment I am thinking particularly of the letter carriers, upon whom we all depend so much, and whose whistle is music to so many housewives. Honorable members who represent country constituencies know that people in remote areas receive their mails so regularly by reason of the devotion to duty of the lower-paid employees of the service. I consider that those employees merit much more generous consideration than they have received, and I hope that my views will not pass unheeded by them.
Another section of the officials of the department about whose welfare I feel some concern consists of those who operate the non-official post offices in the country areas. I have represented a country electorate for some years and I am personally acquainted with many of the non-official postmasters and postmistresses in my electorate. I join with the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes), therefore, in paying tribute to those who conduct non-official post offices. I know that the department often has great difficulty in getting persons to accept appointment asnon-official postmasters because the financial inducement is not great and, undoubtedly, many country residents accept appointment merely because they wish to help their neighbours. When we were in office I intended, when the war had ended and things had settled down, that the whole system of non-official post offices should be reviewed. Many country residents have been conducting those offices for very long periods. Indeed, some individuals have acted as non-official postmasters for as long as 50 years, and many of them are now aged. I believe that there are a few individuals over 90 years of age.
– A non-official postmaster outside Hobart is 92 years old.
– Although I am not in the springtime of life, I consider that many of those people are so old that they cannot give the best service to the people in their areas. Furthermore, the telephone services that are provided through non-official post offices are usually not continuous services. Very often the service is discontinued at 6 p.m. on week-days, at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, and does not operate at all on Sundays. That arrangement imposes unnecessary hardship on country residents, and I think that some arrangement could be devised whereby officials would be available to attend to telephone connexions, at least for urgent calls, at night and at week-ends.
Another matter that has given me concern for some years is the conditions of the premises in which many non-official post offices are conducted. I have often wondered whether it would not be possible to make a small grant to improve them. What I have in mind is that small prefabricated structures, capable of being transported from one place to another, might be provided.
The two immediate predecessors of the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), Senator Cameron and Senator Ashley, were particularly anxious to provide telephone services for people in isolated country districts. Frankly, I am much more concerned about the needs of people who live in such areas than I am about the desirability of improving telephone communications for people who live in the large cities, where they need only to go to a street corner in. order to use a telephone. I do not know of any part of any great city where public telephone conveniences are not available. The mechanical transmission of many cross-country telephone services also needs improvement. I wish to make it clear that I am not criticizing those who operate the switchboards and maintain the lines. I am directing my remarks to the need to provide better equipment. During the previous Parliament I frequently had occasion to speak to the former member for Riverina, Mr. Langtry, on the telephone, and I was astonished that the transmission should be so bad. No doubt the unsatisfactory condition of the transmission on that line is typical of the condition of many crosscountry telephone services. One of the contributing factors to the unsatisfactory transmission is the number of small manual exchanges and switchboards through which the calls have to pass. Serious delays also occur in connecting calls, and people who live in adjoining townships often have to wait for a couple of hours before they can be connected. I do not wish to labour the points that I have made because I know that it is not possible for the postal authorities to work wonders. I realize that the department’s costs are increasing and that it is not possible for the authorities to undertake all the tasks that confront them.
The honorable member for Lawson referred to- the profit of approximately £30,000,000 that was made by the Postal Department over a number of years. When honorable members opposite were in Opposition they advocated strongly that those profits should be used to meet the rising costs of the department instead of meeting those costs by increasing charges. Of course, the fact is that the profit made by the department was not sufficient even to pay the interest and sinking fund charges on its capital. If the department was conducted as a private business all the profits that it made would be appropriated to pay interest and sinking fund charges on the capital expended by the Government upon it. Since those charges are paid by the Treasury, it follows that any profits made by the department should be paid to the Treasury.
Another point that I wish to make is that rural automatic exchanges, about which we hear so much now, were first introduced by the previous Labour Administration. I have inspected one or two of these exchanges, and no doubt other honorable members also have done so. They are amongst the most valuable communications amenities that can be provided for residents of isolated areas. They enable such persons to communicate with neighbours, and, most important of all, they maintain contact with continuously operated exchanges at all hours of the day and night. The previous Government made plans for the installation of about 500 such exchanges, and the present Government has placed orders for the delivery of 600 of them. Some resistance to the installation of rural automatic exchanges ha? developed, chiefly because non-official postmasters and postmistresses do not wish to sacrifice the additions to their incomes that they earn by operating manual exchanges. The only attention that is required for a rural automatic exchange is a weekly inspection by an expert technician. Nonofficial postmasters and postmistresses in the districts where they are in operation are not required to attend to them and, therefore, lose a part of their incomes. I once .taw a petition of protest that had been signed by all the telephone subscribers in a certain district because they had sympathy for the local postmistress, who expected to lose £40 a year as a result of the change from the manual exchange system. Such small difficulties are not always easy to overcome. In that instance I was able to point out to the postmistress the benefit that she would enjoy as the result of being freed from the responsibility of attending to the manual switchboard at inconvenient times of the day and night.
I hope that the Government will expedite as much as possible the installation of automatic telephone services in rural districts. Such services are very convenient for women folk. It is true that some of their conversations relate chiefly to social functions, the purchase of new hats and other such frivolous subjects. However, man does not live by bread alone, and such amenities make life in rural districts much more attractive than otherwise it would be. Only a few days ago I had a conversation with some residents of a country town, who told me that from Saturday at lunchtime until Monday morning each weekend their telephone service was out of operation. I hope that members of the
Government, now that they are responsible for the conduct of postal and telephone services, will retract the critical remarks that they made last year about the so-called impositions by the Labour Government upon telephone subscribers and the users of postal facilities.
Business undertakings must be made to return profits if possible. I was Treasurer long enough to learn that money cannot be found in the sky. In fact, I learned that lesson long ago, and that may be one reason why I became the Treasurer. People warn good service, and usually they are prepared to pay for it. I am not happy about the Government’s intention to increase telephone charges in rural areas where the services, particularly on trunk lines, are bad. I know that the department is doing its best to improve communications in the country, but subscribers in such places may be pardoned for objecting to the proposed increases if the service provided for them is not efficient. When I visited the western districts of New South Wales about nine months ago, I discovered that the delay in making a trunk line telephone call to Sydney was often as long as seven hours. Such telephone calls may not be of tremendous importance, but the inadequacy of the service is very irritating to the residents of those areas. I can readily imagine that they will resent, any increase of telephone charges if they are not obtaining a thoroughly efficient service.
The plain fact is that higher costs of materials and higher wages have rendered increases of postal and telephone charges inevitable. I am realistic and materialistic about such matters. However, the various factors that I have mentioned should be considered by the Government. The physical capacity of the Postal Department to improve telephone services is limited and, therefore, it should concentrate its attention upon rural districts where a person often must wait for hours before he can obtain a telephone connexion with a place only 30 or 40 miles away. Such work is of much greater urgency than is any improvement of telephone services in the cities, where most residents are within reasonable distance of public telephones. I urge the Post- master-General to give earnest attention to the wages and salaries of officers of the Postal Department in the lowest income brackets, including postmasters and postmistresses at non-official post offices. Better facilities should be provided as soon as possible in remote areas. I have no complaint to make about the service that is provided by officers of the Postal Department in those regions, but the accommodation and equipment in post offices and the telephone services are often shockingly inadequate.
– There was a faintly ironic quality about the way in which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) reproached honorable members on the Government side of the House for the remarks that he alleged they had made when the Labour Government introduced a bill last year for the purpose of increasing post and telegraph charges. That was cold tea for me. My withers are unwrung. That was one of the rare occasions, apparently, on which I did not have anything to say. However, in dealing with the present situation it is interesting to note that honorable members on both sides of the House acknowledge that the increased charges for which the bill provides are necessary. No honorable member likes to heap greater imposts upon the public, but all political parties recognize that such a course of action is unavoidable. Most of the speech that was made by the Leader of the Opposition consisted of interesting and constructive comments on certain aspects of post and telegraph services that require the attention of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Generally, I was in sympathy with the right honorable gentleman’s comments, and his suggestions will certainly be examined. Amongst the suggestions that he made was that in which he advocated that a better deal be given to non-official postmasters. He has probably forgotten, and therefore I remind him now, that such officers have already been awarded substantial increases. They are paid on the basis of work performed and, as the right honorable gentleman knows, their rates of remuneration are reviewed regularly. That practice will be continued, and increases will be granted when possible. Those officers are assured of a fair deal.
I refer now to the remarks of. the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) and other members of the Opposition who engaged in a little physical exercise and cleared their tubes by making some turbulent comments about the bill but, in the end, arrived at the conclusion that it was a necessary measure. The honorable member for Melbourne said that the proposed additional charges would accentuate inflation. It was interesting to hear him make that statement because, almost ‘in the same breath, he approved of the charges. As a commercial enterprise, the Postal Department is expected to pay its way.
– Its work has a social aspect as well.
– Yes. Its work has certain aspects that a business concern would not normally be expected to consider. However, primarily it is a business undertaking. That interpretation of its character is confirmed by a statement that was made by the honorable member for Melbourne when, as the Minister in charge of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill in this House last year, he said, “ A government enterprise ought to pay its way “.
This Government is trying to make the Postal Department pay its way and is endeavouring to pass on to the users of the services that it provides, instead of to the general body of taxpayers, the burden of the increased costs of its operations. It would prefer not to levy the additional charges, but, as I have pointed out, honorable members on both sides of the House agree that there is no alternative. Any discussion of the details of the bill can be conducted during the committee stage. I conclude by remarking that the bill is considered to he necessary by all parties and appears to have the approval of the entire House, although no honorable member likes to impose the extra charges.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- The Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), in his second-reading speech, impliedthat the Opposition supported the bill. The truth is that the Opposition does not oppose the measure. There is a difference between actively supporting it and refraining from opposing it. The bill is necessary because the Government has failed to put value back into the £1. Had it succeeded in that task, there would have been no need to increase post and telegraph charges. Unless it can put value back into the £1 in the near future, the Parliament will have to be asked again a few months hence to authorize further increases to the amount of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 a year. Instead of making the provisions of the bill operative as from the 1st December next, the Government, in the vernacular, should “ give the old people and the kids a bit of a go “ at Christmas-time. In classical English, it ought to have some consideration for old citizens and children. I suggest that the increases should take effect as from the 1st January next. Children normally send cards through the post only at the Christmas season. Why try to slay the monster of inflation at the expense of the children? Old folk want to telegraph their greetings at the same period of the year. Why ask them to pay 2s. instead of 1s. 6d. for a message?
There does not seem to be any provision in the bill to deal with the matter that was raised last year by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) with relation to the pink pages in telephone directories. He made a great song about charges that were to be levied on Doolan’s dance band, the Housewives Association and the Australian Country party. I do not know whether the Australian Country party and other bodies like it that are nearly extinct, or the dance band or the Housewives Association will have to pay more under this measure, but I do know that the honorable member finished a very interesting speech on last year’s measure by saying -
There is not the slightest doubt that this bill fits in with the framework of the Government’s socialization policy.
I do not know whether this measure fits in with the present Government’s socialization policy. Perhaps the members of the Government are semi.socializers and are half-way across the gulf between capitalism and socialism.
The various increases of charges provided for in the measure will act rather unfairly on the users of postal facilities. People who write letters are to pay £1,500,000 of this terrific increase which the Opposition deigns to allow to pass. The estimated return from the projected increase of rates on second-class mail matter will amount to £400,000 and that on printed matter, including circulars and printed papers, &c, will amount to £300,000. There is to be no increase of rates in respect of third-class reading matter, which includes books and newspapers registered for transmission at the various general post offices. Why are newspapers to be exempt from any increase of mail charges? I expect the Minister for Supply to say why the Government is protecting its newspaper friends while it is slugging every other section of the community. The bill provides for another terrific increase that will raise the cost of sending a telegram that does not exceed fourteen words, including the address and the signature, from ls. 6d. to 2s. That increase is to produce an estimated return of £1,100,000, which is to be collected from the people who use telegrams in case of necessity and for social intercourse. Surely sections of the community, such as the newspaper interests, that use postal facilities to a far greater extent than ordinary people use them, should not be exempt from increased postal charges. I am not advocating any increase of rates in respect of periodicals and books, but I see no reason why newspapers should be allowed to escape the severe increases that are being imposed on other sections of the community. Telephone charges also are to be increased. There is no provision for such increases in this bill, but they will follow as a consequence that will involve the alteration of regulations that cannot be altered until the bill becomes law. As a result of those projected increased charges people in the country districts will pay an extra £2,900,000 a year for telephone services. The Government must accept the responsibility for all that, and the answer of the country dwellers in due course will be to paraphrase the classic phrase of Alfred Deakin, “ To drag them screaming from the tart shop “. That will happen when we get the Government before its masters, the sovereign people, and they will decide this and all other issues. We shall see then what sort of a fist Government supporters make of explaining their failure to keep their promise to put value back into the £1 and their support of this measure, which is designed to drag another £6,000,000 from the public to save the Postal Department from insolvency. I say “ insolvency “ because I have no doubt that the proposed charges will be insufficient to meet the increased costs that the Postal Department will have to face when the recent £1 a week increase of the basic wage becomes operative. Probably we shall have a bill introduced concurrently with the supplementary budget, the “blood and tears” budget, that is to be introduced in February or March, to raise another £6,000,000 to meet increased Postal Department costs, and poor old dummy will have to pay up again. I hope that the people will realize that the troubles that confront this country to-day are, in the first place, attributable to capitalism, and, in the second place, to the present capitalist Government that misgoverns Australia.
.- The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has said that I stated that a similar bill that was before the Parliament last year fitted in with the socialist plan of the then Government. He should remember that on many occasions in this chamber members of the Labour party have taken a delight in pointing to the Postal Department as a socialist enterprise. They used to say what a wonderful thing the Postal Department was because it was making so much profit. It must be remembered,, however, that it made profits only while it was being administered by a nonsocialist government. It ceased to pay soon after it came under the administration of a socialist government. It is still suffering from the effects of eight years of socialist administration. As I have previously pointed out, when a government has been in power for eight years and has sapped the vitality of the economy, it is impossible to repair the damage in the short period of eleven months, as I know the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) would or should be the first to admit.
– The honorable member is only squaring off.
– I am only squaring off the argument that has been advanced by the honorable member for Melbourne and putting it in its right perspective. The honorable member for Melbourne i3 waving his hands to indicate that he would like me to sit down. Of course he would ! He does not like to hear the facts that I am putting forward. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Chifley) was prepared to listen to the honorable member for Melbourne but when I rose to speak he waved his hands at me because he did not wish me to address the House. What kind of democratic outlook is that? Is it a socialist outlook? I have just as much right to speak in this chamber as have the members of the Opposition and I intend to enjoy that right. Honorable members opposite have stressed on numerous occasions that the man on the land should have a better deal in relation to telephone facilities. I have always expressed that point of view with all the enthusiasm that I could command. Let me give two instances of how the man on the land fares in regard to telephone facilities under this Government compared with how he fared under the previous Government. When one or more persons residing within 5 miles of a telephone exchange in a country district apply for the connexion of a telephone, each applicant had to make, under Labour administration, a cash contribution of £20 towards the cost of erecting the line over the full distance, that contribution being a pro rata share of the excess over the permissible expenditure of £100 for the erection of the line. On the present basis the line would be erected for the full distance without any contribution having to be made bv the subscribers. Is not that a great thing for the man on the land? One or more applicants residing up to 10 miles from the exchange would have had to pay £140 towards the erection of the line over the full distance as a pro rata share of the excess over the permissible expenditure of £100. On the present basis, introduced by this Government, the line would be erected by the department without cost to the subscribers. If that is not a step in the right direction to give country people dwelling in isolated places telephone services at a cheaper rate, 1 do not know what is. Those improvements have been made by this Government during the last eleven months, but over the eight years of Labour administration, notwithstanding the kind of talk that we have heard to-night from honorable members opposite, the man on the land got a very poor .deal in relation to telephone facilities. It does not matter what kind of comic-opera speech the honorable member for Melbourne may make in this chamber, those facts cannot be disputed by the Opposition. There are some facts of which honorable members opposite cannot be very proud, but the man on the land will appreciate that this Government has made those conditions available, so that country-dwellers may have a good telephone service, and may benefit from the present sound administration of the Postal Department.
.- I did not intend to say anything further in relation to this bill, but I wish to correct statements in which the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) misrepresented the Labour party. He said that the Postal Department has made a profit only when it has been under the administration of non-socialist governments. That statement is contradicted by facts. I refer the honorable member to the financial year 1944-45, in which the Postal Department made a profit of £6,674,000. If that is socialization then let us have more of it. That figure proves that a socialist post office in Australia is possibly the most successful in the world. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) said in his second-reading speech -
In general, the new tariffs will still compare favorably with those in operation in other English-speaking countries. For example, the basic letter rate of 3d. will he less than the equivalent charges in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. A fourteenword telegram from Brisbane to Perth will cost 2s., whereas a similar message from New York to San Francisco costs 16s. 2d. The charge for a trunk-line call from Sydney to Melbourne will be 9s., compared with l1s. in South Africa, l4s.1d. in the United States of America and 23s. l0d. in Canada for a call over a similar distance.
That statement shows the difference between a socialist post office in Australia and private enterprise post offices in the United States and elsewhere, and indicates that the socialist post office provides cheaper services than do private enterprise post offices anywhere in the world.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Road Safety - Industrial Unrest - Im- migr ation - Alien Doc tors - Public Service - Employment of Women - Papua and New Guinea.
Motion (by Mr. Beale) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I bring to the notice of the House the appalling tragedy of our mounting road injuries and fatalities. For years the nation has shrugged its shoulders at the road accidents that have been described in the press as “ just another accident “. Complacency has reigned supreme for years, but during the last twelve months we have been gradually shaken out of that unforgivable complacency as more and more people have ridden to their deaths on our highways and in our streets. Individual fatalities do not seem to register unless somebody we know has been killed but when the statistics of years are given the tragedy of it all really does begin to register. The Australian Road Safety Council, through the Minister for Transport (Senator McLeay), has supplied to me the following figures: From June, 1939, to June, 1949, 12,978 people were killed throughout Australia on our roads; that is, 108 were killed every month, or about one every six hours. The injured in that period totalled 209,270. Many of them were permanently crippled. That represented 1,744 every month or 436 every week. During the last twelve months 501 persons were killed and 10,300 were injured in Victoria. Surely, Australia did not lose many more men than that in World War II. Night and day a ruthless, crippling, killing war of the roads goes on in this country, and who does anything about it?
What are the main causes of this tragedy of the roads? I think that they number four. The first cause is the better roads and faster vehicles. The second is the increasing purchasing power of the people which has meant that more and more people can buy motor cars with the result that there is a greater number of vehicles on the roads. The third is increased drinking of alcoholic liquor, which leads to loss of the concentration that people need in a crisis on the roads. The fourth is that this high-pressure age results in mental weariness and loss of control.
I suggest that the answer to this appalling slaughter, mainly of young lives between 18 and 30 years of age, must come from State governments, the Road Safety Council, motorists’ organizations, police departments, schools and the federal Government, all working together. I respectfully put forward the suggestions I shall now make for these authorities to consider for the reduction of this appalling death rate. I consider that a twelve-point programme is needed. Pillion-riding on motor bicycles should be restricted or completely abolished because pillion riding means that the number of possible deaths and injuries is doubled with each accident that involves a motor bicycle on which there is a pillion rider. There should be governors on motor bicycles to restrict their speed because they are causing the greater number of deaths on the road - a number that is far out of proportion to the number of machines on the roads. There should be more police patrol cars on our highways. I suggest that some of the petrol tax receipts should be given to the States as a subsidy in order that they may increase the number of their police road patrol cars, which are tragically inadequate at present. We have only just bought our first four cars in Tasmania. The position of the other States is not much better. If a lot of the petrol tax money was given to the States for police patrol work its use in that way could produce marvellous results. Stricter tests should be made before the issue of licences for any vehicle. Are licences to-day obtained too easily? Is it true that licences are sometimes obtained after a test of a person acting for some one else who could not pass such a test himself, quite unbeknown to the police officer concerned? It is amazing that people cannot vote at elections until they are 21 years of age but can obtain a licence to drive a high-powered vehicle at the age of eighteen years. It may be that licences are given to people who are too young and that they are not taken away from people soon enough. Temperaments play a big part in this matter, and I think that they should be considered before licences are issued. Many persons are temperamentally unfit to drive a vehicle. For instance, how can people who have no self-control be expected to control a high-powered vehicle? I believe that an interesting experiment is being attempted by the Miles car people throughout Australia. They have conducted tests in Hobart, but I have only seen pictures of them.
– People can have a test for nothing in Melbourne at the Australian Road Safety Council rooms. The Miles car is used there.
– That is interesting. That test gives a person an indication of what he might meet on the road. It is an excellent idea., If people could go through that test before being given a licence it would help to make sure that licences were given to people who could control themselves. Another way to prevent road accidents would be periodically to conduct road and temperament tests in order to keep drivers as fit and as uptodate as are captains of aircraft, who have to go through rigid tests after every 90 hours of flying. I know that this would entail a lot of extra work by the police, who are already overworked, but I think that there should be a move to boost the number of police traffic officers throughout the Commonwealth.
M.r. Pearce. - How can a police officer test a man’s physical ability?
– They do that at the moment. They all have the responsibility of doing so. Perhaps another group should do this kind of thing in cooperation with the police. More police arcneeded to cope with the increased traffic. More road conduct instruction should be given in the schools in order to educate our future road users. This is done in some States up to a point but only haphazardly, and because there are not enough police officers to do the work thoroughly it is not regarded very seriously. The school is an important place in which to tackle this, tragedy of road accidents. If there are not enough police officers perhaps this subject could be included in the curriculum of schools in the same way as arithmetic because it is just as important as that subject. Stricter penalties should be imposed for road offences, especially drunkenness while iri charge of a motor vehicle, and a man convicted on that charge more than twice should be deprived of the us« of the vehicle for twelve months. Punishment for road offences is meted out in a haphazard manner. More clearly visible road signs and danger signs should be set up. Too long a time elapses before danger spots and deathtraps are removed from our highways. Generally, some one has to be killed before a danger spot is recognized as such and if the danger is not removed immediately somebody else is killed there. A speed limit should be fixed and severe penalties imposed for exceeding it. The present position is fantastic. There is no uniform speed limit throughout Australia. The publicity of the Road Safety Council by means of films and over the air should be. continued. The Road Safety Council now receives £100,000 a year to carry on its work. (Extension of time granted.]
Finally, more frequent mechanical checks should be made of lights, brakes, and tyres in order to keep vehicles in readiness to meet any emergency, just as there are medical checks. The toll of death on our roads is needlessly filling our cemeteries and the number of injured is overcrowding our hospitals, as the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Dr. Nott) said la3t night. Do we believe that “Life is so precious “, or are we losing our horror of and sensitiveness to senseless slaughter as a result of war’s grim and continuing harvest? I believe that this matter is so serious as to concern every one of us and every one of those authorities I have mentioned. All -should work together to meet the menace, otherwise death will be increased instead of decreased on the highways.
– I should have liked very much to support the remarks of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) because on the Australian Road and Transport Council I have had experience of the matter he has raised. However, there is a much more serious matter to which I wish to refer and, as I remember the Standing Orders, honorable members are not allowed to refer to more than one subject on the adjournment.
I refer to the interstate dispute, on rail transport. This dispute has been going on for some considerable time. The Arbitration Court and the conciliation commissioners have given their decisions and the situation in the southern States is reaching a stage where it can no longer he ignored by tha federal Government. The latest report, received about half an hour ago from Melbourne, which I understand is correct, is as follows: -
To-day the A.C.T.U. met and gave the State Government seven days to review their attitude to the strike and if no satisfactory reply is received the disputes’ committee meeting will consider extension to other industries. The A.T?.U. meeting and the A.F.U.L.E. meeting to-day in Victoria decided to stay out.
Nobody wants to issue at this stage any provocative statement of what might be one of the most serious industrial situations that has yet occurred in Australia, but I do feel very strongly that if that report is correct constitutional government is being challenged by a body that is responsible for leading the industrial Labour movement in thi9 country.
– Does the honorable member think that this is a Communist plot?
– No. I am not saying that it is a Communist plot, but those responsible for this situation are working in with the ends that the Communists wish to achieve, particularly a Mr. Brown, who has been trying to bring about this state of affairs for a long time. The challenge is in the face of the decision of the Arbitration Court and the conciliation commissioner. Amended as the act was by the Chifley Government in order to streamline arbitration, this is a challenge of a very similar kind to that made to the Government during the coal strike last year.
– The honorable member is talking through his hat.
– Perhaps I talk more sense through my hat than the honorable member does through his mouth.
– The honorable member is being provocative.
– I rise to a point of order. The meaningless noises frequently emanating from the person of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin) are bad enough when they come from his proper place in the House, but when they come from the seat of another honorable member they are intolerable.
– The honorable member for Watson is quite out of order in interjecting while he is in a seat other than his own.
– I do not want to make any provocative statements or suggestions, but this is a most serious situation and is comparable to the general coal strike. Perhaps in some ways it is worse than that strike, in that its leaders are now, if this report is correct, the leaders of the Australian Council of Trades Unions, and one of the main leaders in the move against the court’s decision is a member of this House. It may be difficult, in the dual positions that the honorable member holds, for him to decide what he should do. But I think that every honorable member in this House will feel that our actions will give rise to a lack of respect for this House on the part of the public if we engage, as individuals, in challenges or are associated with challenges of this nature.
– Is this a State or a Federal matter?
– It is an interstate matter, if the honorable member can understand that. The railway employees, and their families, are facing a very serious economic position because of the loss of wages-. The public is suffering serious inconvenience and great hardship, and the farmers will be in a desperate position in a short space of time if they cannot move their wheat. Moreover, it will not be many days before bread will be unobtainable in many parts of Victoria, including Melbourne, because flour is not being transported. I therefore ask the Government whether it will intervene in this dispute to try to bring reason into an atmosphere which, at the present time, is apparently charged with hostility. I hope that this challenge will be withdrawn and that a state will not be reached when the Government of this country must, if it has any respect for its dignity or if it has the interests of the people at heart, accept the challenge and act accordingly. I believe that every honorable member of this House hopes that such circumstances will not arise and that reason will prevail. But the matter has reached a stage where I consider that neither the State Government nor the Australian Government can ignore it any longer.
– The honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) has raised a matter which, according to the way he has put it to the House, is of great seriousness. He informed me a few moments ago that he had received this report from Melbourne, and since then I have been trying to check whether the position as put by him to the House is correct. I am not questioning the honorable member’s good faith, but I understand that his report was received from a press source and that it is, therefore, possible that the name of the body which actually met to-day has been misreported. My information is that the nineteen unions directly involved in the strike held a meeting to-day, and it is possible that the decision referred to was one made at that meeting. That would be serious enough, hut it would be infinitely more serious if the statement made by the honorable member for Chisholm represented the official decision of the governing body of the trade union movement in Aus tralia. I find it difficult to believe that such a statement would be made officially by that body at the present time because it has seemed to me that the Australian. Council of Trade Unions has endeavoured to maintain a responsible attitudethroughout the course of this unhappy and protracted dispute. I do not desireto deal with this matter in detail at present because of a report which has reached me. That report is not yet in sn official form, but is also a press report. It is to the effect that the two conciliation commissioners who have been concerned in this case have called a compulsory conference of the parties for to-morrow, and if that is true the matter is still to that extent in the hands of the arbitration authorities.
I can only repeat the statement I said earlier to-day, that the Government is watching this position very closely indeed. It will watch with great interest what comes from to-night’s meeting of the men, and what arises from the proceedings which take place before, the conciliation commissioners to-morrow. Obviously, no government, whether State or Federal, could tolerate indefinitely a situation where a major transport service of this country is held up in wilful defiance of a decision of our arbitration authorities. Should we be able, as the Australian Government, to play any useful part in terminating this dispute or in assisting the State Government to terminate it, then our co-operation will be forthcoming.
– I take an entirely different view from that of the honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) on certain aspects of the strike mentioned by him.
– That is not surprising.
– I do not know about that. The honorable member for Chisholm is about the only honorable member on the Government side of the chamber for whom I have any respect, and I find it rather surprising that I should be in disagreement with him. However, I am in disagreement with him on one particular aspect of the matter. The honorable member said that this was a challenge against the Chifley Government’s streamlined Commonwealth
Conciliation and Arbitration Act. If we study that act we shall find that on its coming into effect the Parliament intended that the emphasis should be on conciliation rather than arbitration. It has always been intended, both by the Parliament and by the originators of the industrial powers contained in the Constitution in relation to this matter, that the main emphasis should be placed on conciliation. In this case-
– Order ! Since the statement has been made that this matter is still before the conciliation commissioners, by whom a compulsory conference has been called for to-morrow, I rule that it 13 sub judice and that the merits of the matter cannot be discussed.
– That ruling should have applied to the Minister for Labour and National Service.
– The Minister did not discuss the merits of the matter, and it was only at the end of his speech that he said that a compulsory conference had been called for to-morrow. I was not aware before that statement was made that the matter was still in the hands of the conciliation commissioners. I must prevent any discussion on the merits of this matter at this stage.
– I rise to a point of order. The Minister also made other comment at the termination of his speech when he spoke about the Government not being able to permit a continuation of tha defiance of the arbitration system. If a compulsory conference is to take place, then that comment should not have been made.
– I have given my ruling and I do not think that it is advisable to deal further with the matter.
– A very neat manoeuvre
– I do not know whether yon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, heard the last observation of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Curtin). He said, “A very neat manoeuvre “.
– And I shall repeat it - a very neat manoeuvre.
– The honorable member for Watson must withdraw his remark and apologize to the Chair.
– No reflection on the Chair was intended.
-I ask the honorable member to withdraw and apologize, and to refrain from making further comments about the matter.
– I withdraw and apologize.
– The matter that I bring to the attention of the Government now concerns a displaced person who has spent eighteen years of his life in universities and schools studying medicine, and who is now a qualified doctor in his own right. The name of this person is Vytuatas Kilikonis. As a new Australian doctor he has been living in South Australia since he arrived in Australia, and has been employed in the capacities of a laundry man at the Bedford Park sanatorium, an unskilled labourer in another location, and for six months as an ordinary process worker employed at General Motors-Holden’s Limited. This man is so completely disgusted with the treatment that he ha3 received at the hands of the Government that he has written to me and asked that I request the Government to deport him and his wife back to Germany. I propose to read to the House a letter that he has forwarded to me
– Upon what date did this man come to Australia?
– The letter will disclose that. It is dated the 26th October, 1950, and is addressed to myself. Included in it is a memorandum addressed to the Minister. The letter reads -
I ask you kindly to deport rae and my wife Tronardor Kilikonis to Germany. I give you the following reasons:
The Australian Selection Officer in Europe guaranteed me possibility to work as a doctor in New Guinea, but the Employment Officer in Bonegilla sent me to heavy physical work.
I applied on 12.1.1950 for a doctors position in New Guinea, but the Department for External Territories didn’t submit any answer. Few months later I wrote to the Department of Information, Canberra, A.C.T., but I didn’t receive any answer from there too.
On 23rd August, 19S0, I applied for a doctor’s position in the Rocket Range Hospital at Woomera, but the application was rejected, because I’m not registered with the B.M.A.
On 30th August, 1950, I applied again for doctor’s position in the Heard or Macquarie Islands, but my application was rejected too.
Therefore, I lost my confidence in Australian Immigration Authorities who do not keep their promises.
I spent 18 years at various schools and University to get doctors degree and now I’m forced to be an ordinary worker. Under these circumstances I can’t be good Australian citizen.
Since my arrival to Australia I was forced to work very hard physically. I am not used to do such work.
I worked six months in Bedford Park Sanatorium as a laundryman under very unhygienically conditions and was exposed myself to be infected with tuberculosis.
Later I worked six months at G. M. Holdens as a labourer without previous training for the job.
I worked three months at Fauldings laboratories as a labourer in basement and I had to breathe dangerous chemical dust. Two times I was poisoned with ferrum sulphuricum and digitalis dust.
These are the jobs which Australian Immigration Authorities find suitable for European doctors.
During this period I was much more abased and humbled than during five years in D.P. camps in Europe where I suffered from hunger and cold, but not humiliation.
During this .period I so spoiled my hands that I could not work now as a doctor and surgeon (temporary).
To study three years in Australian university is impossible financially.
Therefore from 15.10.1950 I discontinued the contract, because I could not work more physically.
T decided to go back to Germany where I will bc able to work in my profession.
I ask you kindly not to reject my application.
It, is useless for the members of the Government to. say that medical doctors cannot be placed in New Guinea. Already the Government has sent 26 doctors there and they are doing excellent work. If we wish to retain the goodwill of the residents and natives of New Guinea and to maintain that territory as an effective bulwark against the threat of aggression from Indonesia, the Government should show clearly that it really has the interests of those people at heart. Thousands of natives in the territory die annually from beri-beri whilst many are suffering from tuberculosis and other diseases which could be arrested if adequate numbers of trained medical men were made available for service here.
Yet, this man is working as a laundry hand in South Australia. He is being prevented from practising as a doctor, and he has been forced to ask the Government to deport him.
– “Where did he receive his training ?
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I support the remarks that the honorable member for “Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) made with respect to the increasing death-roll on roadways due to accidents. “Whilst traffic control by police is a matter for the State governments, the increasing deathroll on roads is of concern to the Australian Government if for no other reason than that the Government makes available large sums of money annually to the Road Safety Council. “Whatever measures are being taken in Australia to-day to prevent road accidents, it is clear that they are ineffective because the death-roll is increasing monthly. Two factors are involved in this problem. The first is the irresponsibility of many drivers of vehicles, particularly heavy vehicles which are frequently driven at excessive speeds; and the second is the apparent inability of the State police forces to patrol roads effectively and to prevent many serious breaches of the traffic laws. I suggest for the consideration of the Government and of the appropriate State authorities the possibility of enlisting the aid of private citizens as custodians of the traffic laws. At common law every citizen has the right to take action to prevent breaches of the law. In some circumstances, the duty is imposed upon citizens to prevent the commission of criminal acts. However, at present, it is impracticable to expect private citizens to report serious breaches of the traffic code which they may witness or to take action in respect of them because no adequate machinery exists to enable the authorities to accept and act upon such reports. Further, as any one who has attempted to report breaches of the traffic law knows, considerable waste of time is involved. Then again, all the ignominy that attaches to the common informer attaches to any private citizen who tries to see that the law is observed on the roads.
Considerable good might be done if machinery were set up to enable ordinary citizens to report serious breaches of the trafiic law and to enable the authorities to act effectively on those reports. If that were done certain requirements would have to be laid down. First, it should be provided that two credible witnesses of full age should be available to give evidence. Such persons should be ready and willing to give evidence. They should he assured that they would not be involved an undue waste of time and that expert assistance would be made available to them. If the appropriate State authorities do not take up this suggestion probably it could he implemented through the various automobile associations and the national roads organizations in each State. Those bodies could set up the requisite machinery which I have indicated. At present, in New South Wales at all events, the police seem unable to deal with breaches of traffic except speeding and parking offenses. Breaches such as failure to give way at intersections, passing another vehicle on the wrong side and accelerating while passing another vehicle are rarely dealt with. Many of those breaches occur with regrettable frequency, but they pass unnoticed. If it were made clear that the private citizen would be assisted in enforcing the observance of the traffic law it would be possible very quickly to engender a feeling of responsibility on the part of drivers generally.
.- I direct attention to a matter in respect of which the Government, if it so desires, can take immediate and direct action. I refer to a threatened stoppage of work on the part of certain female members of the Public Service. I understand that the threat has arisen as the. result of action for which it is believed the Government has been responsible. It has been reported to me that the Public Service Board has been directed to refuse to pay to female members of the Public Service who now receive the adult male wage the recent cost-of-living adjustment and the increases of wages that were recently awarded by the Public Service Arbitrator. That decision has caused a great deal of unrest among female employees in the Public Service, many of whom have already held meetings and urged their organization to arrange a stoppage of work.
– To what section does the honorable memberrefer?
– Whilst the matter affects female members of the Public Service generally, the complaint on which I base my remarks was made to me by representatives of one of the unions that cover employees in the Postal Department. As it would appear that the Public Service Board would not act upon its own initiative in such a matter, one must assume that it has been directed by the Government to refuse to pay the increases of wages to which I have referred. Honorable members will recall that the Women’s Employment Board was responsible for raising the rates of females engaged in many industries to the full male rates and that following the judgment of the High Court, which declared the regulations under which that body operated to be invalid, the Labour government of the day directed that that decision was not to be allowed to affect the rates of pay that were then being paid to female members of the Public Service. Consequently, payment of the full male rates to such females was continued. If the decision of the Public Service Board to which I have referred is not varied it will mean that female employees in the Postal Department at any rate will lose 13s. 9d. in respect of the pay that they are due to receive to-morrow, and will lose 9s. 2d. in respect of each subsequent pay. It is appropriate to recall the statement of the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in his policy speech during the last general election campaign regarding female rates of pay. I take the following extract from the joint Opposition policy speech that was issued during that campaign : -
As it was my privilege to say to you in the policy speech in 1946, the women of Australia have established an unanswerable claim to economic legal industrial and political equality.
Those words were used by the present Prime Minister. If the Public Service Board has been directed in this matter by the Prime Minister, its decision is in direct conflict with the statement that the right honorable gentleman made to the people in his policy speech not only in 1946, but also during the last general election campaign. I have been requested by one of the unions concerned to ask the Government to take immediate action to correct the position. If the Government is setting out on a policy of wage slashing and wage reduction in respect of its employees which has led to unrest and threatened stoppages in important governmental activities, it should, instead of worrying about what is happening elsewhere, give attention to affairs of this kind for which it is directly responsible. I ask the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), who is in charge of the House at the moment, to ascertain the facts. If it be found that the Public Service Board has acted without authority and the Government disapproves of the board’s decision, I urge that immediate action be taken to correct the position.
– I cannot allow certain statements that were made by the person to whom the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) referred to go unchallenged. The honorable member did not give any indication whatever of the medical qualifications of that individual. When I was medical superintendent of the Canberra Community Hospital, scores of people who alleged that they were doctors passed through my hands both as patients and as persons who offered to assist in the medical work of that institution. I was impressed by the claims of only one of those individuals. I submitted his name to the previous Government and requested that he be appointed to the hospital staff as a clinical assistant. That request was rejected.
– That individual could probably cure beri-beri.
– Any one can cure beriberi. Even dramamine, in which the honorable member so confidently places his faith, would cure beri-beri. The person whose letter the honorable member read emphasized that ho was unable to obtain an appointment as a doctor at the guided weapons testing range, because, he alleged, he was not a member of the British Medical Association. It is not neces sary for any qualified medical practitioner to be a member of that organization in order to be allowed to practice his profession. Some medical practitioners have never been members of the association and probably never will be members of it, although the great majority of medical men in their own interests and in the interests of their profession generally readily join it. The British Medical Association is a model for similar organizations. The natives and residents of New Guinea are entitled to expect that the Government will make available in the territory an adequate number of medical men to safeguard the health of the community. At the same time, however, the Government has the responsibility of appointing to its health services only men who possess qualifications of the standard that is accepted in this country. I do not desire to labour the matter. I believe that that poor, unhappy soul would feel much more contented in a concentration camp in Germany, and I recommend that the Minister accede to his request, and give him a one-way passage back to the land from which he should never have come.
.- My purpose in speaking on the motion for the adjournment is to direct the attention of the Minister for Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) to an urgent matter. Certain members of the staff of the Australian Dairy Produce Board did not receive an increase of salary in 1947 similar to that granted to other members of the Public Service who were doing - similar work. They applied for the increase of remuneration, and were practically told that they were entitled to it, but that certain regulations had to be drafted before the money could be paid to them. I raised this matter on the 13th June last, and I regret that finality has not yet been reached. I shall inform the House of the sequence of events. The previous Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), wrote a letter about the matter on the 27th January, 1949, in which hp stated -
My officers have already revised the existing Dairy Produce Export Control (Staff) Regulations fo as to bring the sauries and conditions of employment on the staff of the Australian Dairy Produce Board into line with Public Service rates and conditions.
I raised this matter as soon as I became a member of the Parliament, but no action was taken upon it, and, therefore, I wrote to the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who informed me that he would investigate the position. He subsequently sent me a communication in which he stated -
I have had inquiries made into this matter. I find that the Commonwealth Public Service Board and officers of my department are preparing a completely new set of draft regulations.
They were, I believe, the third set of regulations that had been compiled in respect of those public servants in the course of approximately two years, but the officers concerned have not yet received the increase of remuneration to which they are entitled. Such delay obviously causes almost intolerable discontent among them. They may not be many in point of numbers, but they should have been paid the increase of salary to which they are entitled when other public servants received the additional remuneration. I repeat that a Government authority expressed the opinion in 1947 that they should receive the increase, but that it was necessary to prepare certain regulations relative to the matter. Three sets of regulations have been drafted and submitted to the Commonwealth legal authorities, and the officers of the Australian Dairy Produce Board have not yet received the increase of remuneration. I hope that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture will take prompt action to ensure that those mcn receive justice. The Government has announced that it is in favour of a peace-in-industry campaign, and that it hopes to promote contentment among the workers. Therefore, it should cooperate with the Opposition in endeavouring to secure justice immediately for those officers of the Australian Dairy Produce Board.
.- I am impelled to say .a few works about the utilization of the professional services of new Australians in the light of the remarks of the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Dr. Nott). I do not think that the honorable gentleman was fair to himself or to his profession when he stated that the person to whom the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) referred should be deported to Germany.
– He wants to return to Germany.
– That is because he considers that he has not been treated fairly here. I think that his claim should be examined. Indeed, the claims of all professional persons among the new Australians should be given sympathetic consideration from time to time.
– The honorable member for Melbourne, when he was the Minister for Immigration, brought that man into Australia, and received him here.
– I brought him here, but I recall that I also listened to pleas from time to time by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) to see that all professional persons among the new Australians were fairly treated. He urged me not to allow the British Medical Association to dictate to me in the matter of employing foreign doctors. The position was that Australian doctors would not go to New Guinea, and that many white people, and the native population of that territory were left without the services of medical practitioners. Dr. Gunther, the medical officer in New Guinea, is a very good doctor. He is not a member of the British Medical Association. He came to Australia, conferred with the then Minister for External Territories (Mr. Ward), and urged that the professional qualifications of new Australians might be used to advantage in New Guinea. I co-operated with the Minister for External Territories at that time, and we sent 24 or 26 doctors to that territory. They were selected, not by the British Medical Association or by any State -medical board, but by the Commonwealth Department of Health. All of them were certified as having the qualifications necessary to enable them to function as general practitioners. I desired to provide medical attention for the people of New Guinea and I co-operated with the then Minister for External Territories in that matter. The man to whom the honorable member for Hindmarsh referred said that he tried unsuccessfully to go to New Guinea. He now says, in effect, “You will not allow me to practise as a doctor. I want to go back to Germany “. The attitude of the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale), who interjected a few minutes .ago, may be summed up in the words, “ Well, let him go back “. That is the kind of unsympathetic attitude that I expect the honorable gentleman to adopt in a matter of this sort, because he knows nothing about the circumstances. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, if he were asked as a medical practitioner in Canberra to examine the claims of that man, would do so with as much sympathy as he is capable of summoning, and would then determine to what degree his services could be utilized. I have every respect for the manner in which the Minister for Immigration is dealing with matters of this kind. I have not quarrelled with any decision which he has mia de since he succeeded me as the Minister for Immigration. I ask him to examine this case with a view co ascertaining whether he can further the interests of other professional men among the new Australians, whose services as engineers, architects, surveyors and draftsmen are being utilized to some degree in accordance with their professional abilities by the Departments of Works in the various States, the Commonwealth Department of Works and Housing, the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage, and Drainage Board in Sydney, the Metropolitan Board of Works in Melbourne, and similar organizations.
– I raised this matter at the recent conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers with a view to promoting some action along the lines recommended by the honorable gentleman.
– Exactly. The Minister and I have quite a common view on such matters, and my troubles of yesterday, and his troubles of to-day, relate to the actions of the State parliaments, because medical practitioners are registered in accordance with the provisions of State laws. Doctors may be registered under the Commonwealth law only when they wish to function in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, New Guinea or Norfolk Island. We are dependent, in all other respects, upon the goodwill of the States. I commend the Minister for what he has done, and I hope that he will consider this unfortunate man’s protests. He lived for five years in camps in Germany, and was pushed around by the Russians and the Germans. He is probably a victim of some nervous, or mental upset.
Mr. Gullett interjecting,
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) is the victim of a mental upset, and he is not alone in that respect. I believe that the honorable member for Oxley (Dr. Donald Cameron) and the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, both of whom are medical practitioners, could be prevailed upon to certify a number of Government supporters. However, I ask the Minister for Immigration to do his best in the matter to which I have referred, and ascertain whether there are other cases like it. If he can adjust those difficulties, it will redound to our credit, and to the benefit ultimately of Australia.
– in reply - In answer to the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), I do not need to say more than that as the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Holt), under whose administration the matters which they have mentioned fall, is in the House, he will take whatever action is necessary. I should imagine that the worst possible service that could have been done to any migrant has been done by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, to the person to ‘whom he referred. The honorable gentleman produced a letter, attached to which, on his own story, is a letter to the Minister for Immigration; but without giving the Minister an opportunity to peruse it, the honorable member read out this rather neurotic screed written by a person who has a grievance. I should say that that is a bad way of seeking to have something done for a person on whose behalf an honorable member makes a plea in this House. If the honorable gentleman had followed the ordinary civilized practice of placing the case before the Minister, who is remarkably humane in his treatment of these cases, he would have done better. Instead he aired the whole matter in this House and made a virulent attack on the basis of a letter written by a person whose complaint, at least prima facie, does not deserve very much consideration. That, however, does not mean that it will not receive consideration. There was not a single word in the letter to indicate what medical qualifications the writer possesses. We do not know at what medical school or ‘ university he qualified. He has said that he had studied for a period of’ eighteen years. It seems to have taken him a very long while to qualify.
– It took the Minister that long to become a King’s Counsel.
– That may be so, but not to become a barrister. When and where the man studied, we do not know. He seeks to extricate himself from the bonds of his contract with the Commonwealth and to return to Europe. If Europe is the comfortable place he apparently believes it to be, let him return by al! means. That is a matter for his own decision. I should think that he will live to regret the sort of assistance which the honorable member for Hindmarsh has rendered him in this House. He will probably curse the honorable member for a long time to come.
The honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) raised the subject of the railways dispute. As his remarks have been noted by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), I shall not say anything about them now.
The honorable ‘member for Burke (Mr. Peters) referred to certain members of the staff of the Australian Dairy Produce Board. I shall direct the attention of the appropriate Minister to that matter, which will be looked into.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) referred to a direction which, he had been informed, had been issued to the Public Service Board to refuse to pay to female members of the Public Service who now receive the full male adult wage, the most recent cost of living increases and the recent increases of wages awarded by the Public Service
Arbitrator. The honorable gentleman was kind enough to indicate that perhaps I, as the Minister in charge of the House, had not heard of it. I have not done so. Indeed I shall be extremely astonished if it is true that the Public Service Board received such a direction from the Government. I understand that the board, which has its own statutory rights and obligations, does not take directions from the Government. If it is true, as has been reported to the honorable member, that the board has been guilty of sins of omission or of commission, they will be looked into. I assure the honorable member that I have no knowledge of any such direction having been given to the board. The allegation is so much in the field of uncertainty and speculation that I can say no more about it than that it will be looked into.
The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) referred to the appalling increase of road fatalities, which has become a matter of profound national importance during the last few weeks. It is not true, as the honorable member has suggested, that the Government regards this matter with complacency and that it is doing nothing to minimize the incidence of these accidents. The National Road Safety Council, which was established by the Chifley Government, is still in existence and, although nobody pretends that it is perfect, and that it has achieved the results that we desired, it is the only federal body which is attempting to tackle this very grave national problem on an Australia-wide basis. The council receives a grant of money from the taxpayers of Australia of £100,000 annually. Mr. Paterson, who is the officer in charge of the council, is doing, his utmost to bring about a uniform code of traffic laws which should be of great assistance in reducing the incidence of road accidents. He is also attempting to formulate a uniform code of signals for users of motor vehicles. All of these measures will play an important part in the reduction of road accidents. In addition the council is attempting to educate the public, particularly the young members of the community, to the gravity of this matter, to the need for alertness on the road, and to the observance of care and consideration forother road users. Education of the public on the seriousness of this matter is, the real crux of this problem. I have sponsored the importation of road safety films from the United States of America. Some of them are extremely good, and I have arranged for their exhibition throughout Australia in an attempt to bring home to the public in a grim and dramatic way the dreadful toll of life resulting from road accidents. That work is still going on and is being paid for by the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. Having said that, it is also necessary for me to say that the prime responsibility for safety on the roads rests on the State governments, because they alone have constitutional power to deal with the matter. The honorable member for Wilmot acted rightly in raising the matter in this House. A great many of his proposals for reducing accidents are already being tried. It is true that we are losing in deaths in road accidents throughout Australia a greater number of the youth of this country than welost during the whole of World War II. That is an intolerable situation. The Commonwealth is doing its part and it will continue to do so, but fundamentally the problem falls within the province of the State governments.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Thefollowingpaperswere pre sented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Civil Aviation - S. N. Kiek.
Works and Housing - A. C. Brayne.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for -
Department of the Interior purposes -
Meekatharra, Western Australia.
Postal purposes - Perth, Western Australia.
House adjourned at 11.18 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 November 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1950/19501115_reps_19_210/>.