22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– In asking the Prime Minister a question, I should like to say, first of all, that his return after his strenuous odyssey is welcome. My question relates to the statement that the right honorable gentleman proposes to make on Tuesday night next. As he knows, J shall probably ^desire to speak immediately after him. Therefore, will he try to arrange for the House to have available as early as possible before he makes his statement any documentary material that has not been made public in Australia - for instance, the report of the committee representing the eighteen powers which was made after his mission to Cairo?
– I am indebted to the Leader of the Opposition for his welcome, and, if I may say so, Mr. Speaker, I am glad to find myself addressing you as Speaker of this House, and I should like to give you my retrospective congratulations. “With reference to the matter referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, 1 propose to have in his hands the full text of what I shall say on Tuesday night by, I hope, early on Tuesday afternoon, so that he will have an opportunity to examine it. I propose also to have available for the House copies of the report that he mentioned. It was printed to a limited extent in London. I do not know whether we have enough copies for immediate circulation, but I know that work is being done to provide them. There may be one or two other documents relative to this matter, circulation of which among honorable members would be useful. As it is my desire to have the best informed discussion possible on this matter, I shall do all I can in those ways.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Will the” purchase by Qantas Empire Airways Limited of American Boeing aircraft, fitted with Pratt and Whitney engines, involve an expenditure of about 50,000,000 dollars?
Will the maintenance of these aircraft involve a further annual expenditure of about 3,000,000 dollars? Would a material saving of dollar exchange have been made, both in capital cost and recurring maintenance charges, if Qantas had selected the alternative British Rolls-Royce “ Conway “ engines?
– It is not easy to give a concise reply to that question, giving figures of dollar expenditure and that sort of thing. In respect of aircraft engines the Government must seek the advice and. more or less, take the advice of its technical advisers, who are the best people that can be got. As to this particular purchase, three engines were considered. One was the .175, one was the Rolls-Royce “ Conway “ and the other was the J 57, the last of which was the only engine which had been in production and in use over a long period. Although it was of a somewhat smaller thrust than the 18,000 lb. of the “ Conway By-pass “, it had been used, so that it had that great advantage over the J75, whilst the “ Conway “ has not yet been put into production and used with any degree of satisfaction by airlines, although one or two are flying and have given satisfaction on the test field. We had to give, if we could, consideration to safety first, and there was little doubt that the J57 was the correct choice. Also, we have had a most satisfactory conversation with the Boeing people in regard to replacement of that particular motor. If, in the course of the next few years, the “ Conway “ or any other engine should develop, we are covered with a very satisfactory arrangement on a trade-in basis with the Boeing company.
– Is the Minister for Health aware that doctors in New South Wales have been systematically increasing medical fees, and that hospital fees also have been considerably increased since the Government introduced its national health scheme some years ago? Does the Minister know that the increases to which I have referred are causing great hardship among working people, especially those in receipt of wages somewhere near the basic wage level? ls it the intention of the Government to increase the present rate of subsidy in both instances, or must the people continue to bear the cost of the increases themselves?
– The level of hospital fees in New South Wales is a matter entirely within the competence of the Government of New South Wales.
– Directing a question to the Postmaster-General 1 remind him that many months ago, in a speech in this House, 1 asked him to make investigations with a view to substituting a general news service for the all-sports news service now broadcast from western Victorian regional stations 3WV and 3WL each Monday morning. Subsequent correspondence revealed that it was generally appreciated that the change would be of benefit, but the fact that it entailed a further day’s pay for the regional journalist at overtime rates was holding up the action I advocated. The honorable member for Wimmera is also interested in this matter. As this small amount is holding up this necessary service to a large number of people I ask the Minister whether a full investigation has been made and with what result.
– As the honorable member for Mallee has stated, this is a matter which he submitted to me, both personally and through speeches in this House, some considerable time ago. As he said, the honorable member for Wimmera is also interested in it, and has had correspondence with me about it. As a result, I made some investigations, and the first information which 1 received was to the effect that because of certain payments of overtime being involved it had not been considered necessary to give this service to which the honorable member has referred. However, I am glad to be able to inform the honorable member for Mallee and. incidentally, the honorable member for Wimmera, that as a result of further investigations it has been decided to provide the news service on Monday mornings commencing from next Monday. The service will be of ten minutes duration. As the two stations involved - I think they are 3WV and 3WL - have a coverage which includes a portion of Victoria and a portion of South
Australia, it has been decided that the first six minutes of the ten minute period shall be devoted to Victorian news and that the remaining four minutes shall be devoted to South Australian news. I repeat that the service is expected to commence next Monday.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Immigration, ls it a fact that Canada, which has been pursuing a vigorous immigration policy, has been able to curb inflation to a greater extent than Australia? Is it true also that in 1956-57 Canada will endeavour to obtain between 175,000 and 200,000 immigrants, which is a much higher target than that set by the Australian Government? If those are facts, will the Minister study the policy of the Canadian Government with a view to ascertaining whether any part of that policy, particularly in relation to the absorption of immigrants, could be adopted by his department, with beneficial effects on the economic and immigration policy of Australia?
– I have no precise information about recent price movements in Canada, but 1 gather that there has been a strong inflationary pressure there which has had to be met in various ways. Canada has the great good fortune to enjoy a substantial degree of investment and also a considerable flow of tourist traffic from the United States of America, its neighbour. Those factors assist Canada to finance its import requirements. Australia is not so well placed in that regard. 1 have tried to get some information about the immigration programme of Canada for the present year, but I have not been able to get precise figures. One reason for that is that the Canadian Governmen uses a rather different method of statistical determination. It classifies people who enter Canada for more than 12 months, noi as permanent arrivals, as we do, but as either immigrants or visitors. So the Canadian figures are not precisely comparable with ours. It is true that Canada has pursued a vigorous immigration policy and that it is Australia’s strongest competitor in certain fields of recruitment. The honorable gentleman asked whether we would study Canadian methods to see whether we could adopt some of them, with beneficial results to Australia. There is an exchange of officers between the two countries - each country studying the methods of the other. I have no doubt there are things which we can learn from Canada, but I am equally sure there is much in our programme which the Canadians could, with benefit, apply to i heir programme.
– Has the attention of ihe Minister for Labour and National Service been drawn to the threat of an Australiawide industrial stoppage on 15th November? If so, can he give the House any further information about the possibility of such a grave disruption of the public convenience and the Australian economy?
– At this stage, I have only a press report of the alleged decision. If the report is correct, it is a deplorable decision, which, I think, will be regretted, and even condemned, by many tens of thousands of the unionists who are likely to be affected by it. 1 think honorable members are aware that there was a strong division of opinion at the trades union conference which originally made the decision by the narrow margin of six votes. lt is clear that there have been equally strong divisions of opinion in the discussion of the matter by the interstate executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I understand that the decision has yet to receive the approval of the majority of the trades and labour councils of the various States. It is difficult to see what those who have participated in the decision can hope to gain from it. It can achieve nothing, and it must cost those whom they claim to represent, and the country, a great deal. The loss of wages alone as the result of a oneday stoppage could be as much as £10,000,000, quite apart from the loss of production involved. The date could hardly have been selected by chance. I doubt whether, as a people, we are as immature and irresponsible industrially as that decision would suggest, but if by any unhappy chance we are, it seems rather silly to be publicly advertising that fact during a period when the spotlight of world attention will be upon us. I hope that there is enough good sense in the various trades and labour councils to quash this recommendation quite speedily.
– Can the
Prime Minister say whether the Treasury has made available the funds necessary to meet the added salary commitments arising out of the reclassification of offices in the Prime Minister’s Department recommended by the Public Service Board and published in the “ Commonwealth Gazette “ of 6th September, 1956? If the Treasury has taken the necessary action to meet this commitment, can the right honorable gentleman say why it has not yet made available the funds necessary to meet salary increases due to officers of the House of Representatives, this Parliament’s own employees, under the reclassification recommended by the Public Service Board on 20th December, 1955, and accepted by Mr. Speaker on 5th January, 1956?
– I gather from the honorable member’s question that he thinks that some preference has been shown to my department by the Treasury in my absence, which I think singularly generous on the part of the Treasury. I used to know something about the position of House officers, and at that time certain technical matters, with which I was then familiar, were being discussed. I will find out the present position as soon as may be, and will then elaborate my answer to the honorable member.
– I ask the Minister for Customs and Excise whether duties recently imposed on certain chemicals, namely T.M.T.D. and Ziram will add seriously to the cost of spraying operations in apple and pear orchards. If this is so, in view of the added burden that this would impose upon apple and pear exporters in a very competitive world market, will the Minister have the matter reexamined?
– It is true that two chemicals of the thiocarbamyl type, the names of which 1 find it difficult to recall precisely, have recently been subject to a dumping duty in accordance with the terms of the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act. That act is applicable when goods have been sold to an Australian importer at a price less than the fair market value in the country of export and it is established that this will act to the detriment of an Australian industry. At a recent Tariff Board inquiry uncontradicted evidence established that those conditions did apply in respect of these chemicals. In the circumstances, I felt obliged to give effect to the intention of the act. A dumping duty has been applied but it has, of course, had the regrettable effect of increasing the cost of these fungicides to fruit-growers. Before the act is applied it is the duty of my department to determine the fair market value of the commodity in. the country of export, in this case England. That was quickly done, but a further careful inquiry is being made and 1 am confident that the fair market value will be found to be lower than was at first thought. As a result, the dumping duty will doubtless be reduced, but I am afraid that, for the time being at any rate, a dumping duty of some kind will certainly remain on these commodities.
– At the furniture trade convention in Brisbane this week a statement was made to the effect that on 1st July, a cut of 37£ per cent, had been made in the allocation for imported mosquito nets, and that this would result in severe shortages in Brisbane within three months. Will the Minister review this matter and restore the quota to its previous level, so that the people of Brisbane, who suffer considerable discomfort during the summer months from mosquitoes blown in from the coastal swamps and the islands in Moreton Bay, may be assured of adequate supplies of these essential articles?
– The matter to which the honorable member refers is one for the Minister for Trade. He is not at present in the House, but I shall direct his attention to the matter and I am sure that he will give it consideration.
– My question is directed to the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. I refer to the need for funds for industrial research, particularly for the purpose of increasing production for export, with particular emphasis on rural activities. How does the amount expended on- activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia compare with amounts expended for similar purposes in other countries? ls it a fact that in some countries about £15,000,000 is being spent on research in connexion with certain fibres, compared with only about £2,000,000 being spent on similar research in Australia? Further - and this is a separate question - what contribution is being made by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization or this Government towards the training of research officers for the future, as other countries are doing?
– I cannot give the honorable member a precise answer, but I can answer him in approximate and general terms. It is understandable that 1 have made comparisons in the past between what other countries have done in the field of research and what we have been able to do in Australia. In many cases L have looked with envious and wide open eyes at the amount of money and effort being expended in research in some other countries. The amount spent per head of population on research in New Zealand, and South Africa is, roughly speaking, the same as is spent in Australia. About £5,000,000 a year is allocated from our budget for research by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, lt is difficult to make a precise comparison with the amounts spent in the United Kingdom, because research in that country is done by a number of governmental institutions and comes under various headings, but the amount spent per head is very much greater than it is in Australia. There is also a vast amount spent by private industry in Great Britain on research. Speaking from memory. I think it is towards £200,000,000 a year. Tn Canada a much greater amount per head of population is spent on research than we spend here, and again it comes under separate headings. In the United States of America the figures are completely astronomical, when compared with similar figures in Australia, even when they are taken on the basis of population.
A general answer to the honorable member’s question would be that in Great Britain and Canada the amount spent per head of population on research, governmentally and non-governmentally, is a very great deal more than it is in Australia, and in the United States of America it is vastly more. I’ have tried for a number of years, although, 1 am afraid, relatively ineffectively, to awaken Australian industry, particularly secondary industry, to the need for the establishment of private industrial research organizations, with which the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization would cooperate. As I say, the results have been most disappointing. The simple fact must be deduced that Australian industry in general is not in the least research-minded, and all efforts to stimulate private industrial research in general, and with some notable exceptions, have failed lamentably.
As to the second part of the honorable member’s question, I cannot give a precise answer, except to say that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization does grant studentships - I think they are largely post-graduate science studentships - both in Australia and overseas. Speaking from memory, about twenty a year arc granted in Australia, and about ten a year overseas, largely in the United Kingdom.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. I preface it by saying that, during the Prime Minister’s extraordinarily long absence from Australia, the Treasurer advised me that the abortive Royal Commission on Espionage had cost £136,000. This sum does not include the original amount of £5,000 paid to Vladimir Petrov by the Commonwealth Government. 1 therefore ask the Prime Minister whether any additional sums of money have been paid to Mr. or Mrs. Petrov and, if so, what are the amounts and the reason for such subsequent payments. Have Mr. and Mrs. Petrov also been provided with accommodation, maintenance, transport and clothing since they sought and received asylum in this country? If so, is the present arrangement to continue indefinitely and what has been the approximate cost to date? Are Mr. and Mrs. Petrov still in the employ of the Commonwealth? If so, in what capacity are they employed, at what salary and to whom are they directly responsible?
– I am. not at all surprised to find that, long; as my absence has been, the honorable member for East Sydney is still deeply worried about the Petrov inquiry and the report made in respect of it. I do not suppose that he really expects me to carry around in my head those mathematical matters into which he inquires, but 1 will look into them.
– 1 ask the Minister for the Army whether he has any information to give the House on the search being conducted in the Brisbane suburb of Inala for abandoned United States Army bomb dumps. Further, can the Minister give an assurance that every possible precaution will be taken to avoid fatalities similar to that which occurred some years ago when two young children lost their lives through playing with an unexploded bomb?
– I assure the honorable member for Moreton that the Army would be very happy to co-operate in any way that would save lives. We have, of course, quite a number of men who are very expert in bomb disposal. 1 will inquire into this matter to see what can be done. I mention for the honorable member’s information - and I think this should be taken to heart by members of the public - that there are a few isolated spots in Australia where bombs were dumped, particularly during the period when the Americans were in Queensland. Though every effort was made to clear those areas, from time to time bombs have been found. It is necessary for publicity to be given to this matter in those areas so that parents will be warned to instruct their children on the dangers of bombs that might be found in undergrowth or other places. A good deal of co-operation is necessary from the parents of children on this matter, but ! assure the honorable member that I will have the area he mentioned investigated. Disposal men are available if any bombs are found.
– Now that the Prime Minister is back in Australia, will he have a good look at our defences, which have been very much criticized in many quarters, including his own followers in the budget debate?
– Order! Reference to the budget debate is out of order.
– As 1 understand the Government has invited General Douglas MacArthur to Australia, will the right honorable gentleman seek his expert advice on the state of our defences and what should be done to strengthen them? Will he also remind the general of his promise to me to visit Newcastle and the coal-fields district when next he came to Australia and that he said he would come back to Australia? The people of the Newcastle district-
– Order! The honorable member will direct his question to the Prime Minister and not make a speech.
– Very well, Mr. Speaker. Since the people of Newcastle, like many other Australians, thank General Douglas MacArthur for having helped to save Australia from Japanese invasion-
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– I shall, no doubt, quite shortly be discussing some of these matters with my colleague, the Minister for Defence. As to the particular point about General MacArthur, I do not know as yet enough about his itinerary, or anything of that kind, to be able to make a promise about a visit to the honorable member’s electorate.
– I address a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. I understand that the Australian Wheat Board has compiled a list of the quantities of wheat sold from each of the Australian wheat pools from 1940 to 1954-55 (a) for local consumption, (b) for stock feed, and (c) for export, together with the average prices realized from the sales made for each purpose from each pool, and also the difference - less or more - between receipts from aggregate local sales and sales at average export prices for the respective pools. Will the Minister secure and make available for the information of honorable members a copy of this list, and if it is not available, will he have one prepared?
– The Australian Wheat Board prepares most comprehensive statements each month and annually containing information on many of the matters referred to by the honorable member. When I receive the next monthly report from the board 1 shall see that a copy is presented to the honorable gentleman. I think he will be satisfied with the information in it. If not, perhaps he will be good enough to ask me for the additional information that he requires.
Assent to the following bills reported: -
Customs Tariff Bill (No. 2) 1956.
Excise Tariff Bill (No. 2) 1956.
Customs Tariff (Canadian Preference) Bill 1956.
Customs Tariff (Federation of Rhodesia and
Nyasaland Preference) Bill 1956. Customs Tariff Bill (No. 3) 1956.
Debate resumed from 19th September (vide page 690), on motion by Mr. Davidson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Postal Department is like the curate’s egg - it is good in parts and bad in parts. 1 intend to deal with the bad parts in the first part of my speech, which will automatically leave the better parts for the latter part of my speech. Over the years, I have noticed that people like a happy ending, particularly in literature, and with all the troubles and trials of to-day, that can be understood. However, it is an angle that authors frequently overlook.
My main complaint so far as the Postal Department is concerned is of its lack of reality in respect of post office buildings throughout Australia. For instance, the Melbourne post office, which I saw first about 50 years ago and which I saw again a few years ago, appeared to have had nothing done to it in the intervening period. A huge sum of money has been spent, of course, on the Sydney General Post Office, but the Brisbane General Post Office to-day is as it was many years ago. The department does not seem to realize that with the aid of intensive mechanization and the manufacture of mechanized equipment Australia is growing and will continue to make very rapid progress. The town of Innisfail, which is located in my electorate, has three sugar mills, five saw mills, an excellent port, and thousands of immigrants. Well over 1,000 immigrants have been brought to the district during the last couple of years. To-day, the Postal Department, although its business is increasing, instead of making a proper survey and building a suitable structure, is erecting shacks which are entirely unsuitable in the tropical conditions of this town. The district stretching from Cairns to Tully, in the centre of which Innisfail is located, comprises some of the richest land in north Queensland, lt supplies to a cannery in Cairns the great bulk of the pineapples processed there. Postal Department officers have apparently failed to appreciate the progress that is being made and the need for a first-class post office building in Innisfail. The Innisfail court house, built by the State Government, is an outstanding structure, and the shire hall, built by the local authority, is also an imposing edifice. The court house is located on one of the main corners, with the shire hall a little farther up the street, but opposite the court house is the wooden building occupied by the Postal Department, together with the additional shacks provided because of the extra work entailed by the progress of this town. In far north Queensland, Innisfail is second in size only to Cairns. With the continuing progress of the district, in a few years it will probably rival Cairns in importance. In spite of this, these deplorable shacks have been built by the Postal Department.
The financial angle of the department’s activities has already been dealt with very effectively by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) and many other speakers, so it is quite unnecessary for me to emphasize that aspect, beyond saying that the Postal Department, by collecting additional charges and paying money into Consolidated Revenue, has become a taxing medium. This wonderful department, which needs an opportunity for expansion and progress, should not be made a taxing medium, lt applies the old system of taxing as has been applied by the .present Government throughout its term of office. The imposing of additional charges automatically adds to the inflation which the Government informs us it is trying to defeat. It is proposed that these additional charges be imposed without a knowledge of the department’s true position, and without knowing whether or not there was a deficit last year.
Again, the earnings of the Postal Department, which should be devoted entirely to the requirements of the department, are paid into Consolidated Revenue and used for other purposes.
I remember that many years ago postal deliveries were made in the north-east of Victoria by a postman who rode to the snow area, put on snow shoes, and proceeded to serve the little towns on the Bogong High Plains. No doubt, that kind of service has been displaced now by motor cars and probably by aeroplanes. In small isolated areas in the far north-west of Queensland and the Northern Territory, the postal worker delivered the mail by camel and by pack-horse. Even now, the population is reckoned, not in terms of so many people to the square mile, but in terms of so many square miles to the person. The work done by postal employees has been magnificent. A lot of those men, in the early days, put up with hardships that would have made an epic in themselves if any one had written about them. 1 know that those conditions have been altered to a considerable extent by the use of aeroplanes and motor cars. But outside the aeroplane delivery area, those mcn are still doing a magnificent job in delivering the mails to various parts of the outback.
Very few people realize the ramifications of the Postal Department. That department is very much like the education departments of the States, which control the schools. People have not the faintest idea of the ramifications of those services. The work of the Postal Department is terrific. It is a very difficult department to operate.
Before I leave the subject of the isolated areas, I want to stress that telephones are an urgent necessity to these people in the outback for several reasons. The first is to enable assistance to be summoned in the case of an accident or emergency, and the second is for business purposes. But the most important reason of all is to enable the womenfolk who are pioneering with their menfolk in that country to have a contact with the outside world.
I represent one of those very large isolated areas, and I must say that the Postal Department has been very fair and has done quite a lot in my electorate. I have told the department that I am keener that the people of my area should have this contact by telephone with the outside world than I am that telephone facilities should be improved in the towns. Unless the residents of cities and large towns know about these people and their conditions, they can not realize what a telephone means to them - principally to womenfolk whom it provides with contact with the outside world. To a great extent it kills the loneliness which they have to put up with when they live in those areas. “For about eight years I was Minister for Public Instruction in the Queensland Government. The Queensland Department of Public Instruction conducts a system of teaching by correspondence. Lessons are posted to students who do the work set and post it back to the correspondence school. The facilities of the Postmaster-General’s Department are essential to this educational service, and the department does a magnificent job in assisting in the provision of educational facilities for children in isolated areas throughout Queensland. Every child that cannot attend a school receives the benefit of this correspondence instruction, which has enabled many whose education would otherwise have been entirely neglected to attain high qualifications and fill important posts in Australia and elsewhere. With the growth of the immigration programme and the influx of new Australians into this country, a system of instructing immigrants by post has been developed. Those in charge of the training of new Australians have found that instruction by correspondence is one of the best methods of training them. The teachers are specially selected and the lessons are carefully prepared.
Prior to World War II., the Queensland Correspondence School, with the assistance of the Postmaster-General’s Department, also instructed many children and some adults in New Guinea by post. This would have been absolutely impossible without the co-operation of the department. Students in Indonesia also received by post from the Queensland Department of Public Instruction, teaching of a higher standard than they could obtain locally. Correspondence instruction was extended also to Hong Kong and, prior to (ho accession of the Communists to power in China, to various places throughout China, and also to Japan. Only the magnificent service provided by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department enabled Australians and others who lived in these places
I have mentioned, far from their homeland, and children in outback parts of Australia itself, to obtain the education to which they were entitled. I was closely associated with the work of instruction by correspondence. To me it was a fascinating field of endeavour, and those associated with it can be justly proud of what has been achieved. Many letters were received from people living in the eastern areas I have mentioned thanking the Queensland Department of Public Instruction for the service that had been provided with the assistance of the postal authorities, and pointing out what it meant to them and their children to receive it.
Unfortunately the postal services are now being treated as revenue producers, and the revenue they earn is not being put back into them. Throughout Australia there are many places in which post offices remain as they were 3D or 40 years .ago. This is astonishing in a country where private enterprise and State and Federal governments are developing various activities and constructing many fine buildings. Surely the finest possible postal buildings should be constructed and the best possible facilities and amenities should be provided for the employees to enable them to give customers prompt and efficient service. I recently visited Mount Isa, where the department has constructed a very fine post office building, which is less than half as big as it should be to give the service required. The congestion was so great that it was impossible to send a telegram or complete any similar business in the morning business hours. One had to wait until lunch-time to obtain reasonable service. The department evidently did not realize how the area served by that post office has developed and how the postal business has grown. The post office building is only about half the size required to meet the demands made upon it by the people in the town and the surrounding district. As a consequence, money will be wasted because another construction team and a supply of materials will have to be provided later to enlarge the building. Much money would have been saved if the department had first made a survey of the district to ascertain how prosperous it was and how much the population was increasing, and had then built a post office large enough to meet not only present needs but also the requirements of the next fifteen or twenty years at least.
As one travels about Australia one finds places which are completely static and in which very fine post office buildings have been constructed, whereas some rapidly growing town nearby is neglected because the roistmasterGeneral’s Department does not keep abreast of development or understand the necessity to provide up-to-date facilities in developing areas: Every one in the community avails himself of the postal services in some way. They are essential to all sections of the people, in all walks of life. If the services are to be efficient, the necessary facilities and amenities must first be provided for the employees so that they may work under reasonable conditions. They should not be forced to work,, as they do in Innisfail, in the tropics, in- small shacks where working conditions are uncomfortable. Such conditions, make the employees unhappy, and the congestion and inadequate facilities in small buildings prevent customers from obtaining prompt and efficient service. t have mentioned some of the principal matters to which I think attention should be directed. The Postmaster-General’s Department is one of the finest organizations controlled by the Commonwealth. Control of this department gives an opportunity for the use of imagination by those in charge of it. lt gives them an opportunity to show vision. It would be, indeed, a fascinating department to control,, because a man. in control of it would have the opportunity to do things that he would know would redound to his credit long after he had passed beyond this vale of tears. The new Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) had a very difficult job to step into, because this is a very difficult department to control. Any new Minister taking up a new activity is faced with problems with which he has not been faced before, even if he has been in charge of another department previously. But anybody who has not previously had the experience of serving in the Cabinet and controlling, a department has a mighty big job ahead of. him in controlling the Postal
Department, and I think that in those circumstances the Postmaster-General has acquitted himself very well indeed.
In conclusion, I wish to emphasize several points. The first is that the method by which the finances of the Postal Department have been managed is altogether wrong. The revenue of the department should be used solely to bring the services provided by it to the Australian people up to a standard equal to that of any similar department anywhere in the world. When the department makes a profit,, that surplus should be set aside for use on improving the department’s services, lt should not be diverted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund and used for other purposes, such as defence. I say that because the direct benefit gained by the public from the expenditure of profits of the Postal Department on defence activities would” bear absolutely no comparison with the benefits they would derive from the expenditure of that money on the improvement of postal and allied services. In fact,, in the light of that comparison, to spend postal profits on defence activities would probably be literally to throw the money away while at the same time depriving the people of services that they require. ‘
Under the present system of finance, the Postmaster-General’s Department is being used as simply another avenue of taxation. In that way, the whole of the intention, the idea, of the Postal Department is being prostituted. Because of its crass stupidity in financial matters, the Government, which claims that it is doing its best to combat inflation, is taking the absolutely inflationary action of using postal and allied charges as a means of taxation. No department can escape the impact of this aspect of the Government’s policy, which is adding to the costs borne by the community. For instance, businesses which use huge numbers of postage stamps will pass their increased postage costs on to the consumers of their product or the users of the services they supply. The same applies to people who use cablegrams and all the various services provided by the department. So, the Government is not only wrongly using the revenue earned by the Postal Department for purposes other than that for which the revenue was intended, but it is also using the department as another taxing authority, and thereby increasing inflation. And, apparently, the Government never learns from experience, because we meet this kind of problem in every session of the Parliament. The Government, it seems, will never wake up to the fact that by its methods it is increasing, instead of decreasing, inflation.
– This debate is taking a rather interesting course. Most of the criticisms of the measure seem to be directed against the proposed increases of postal and telegraph charges. That is reasonable enough, but so far we have dealt only with the effects and not the cause, as evidenced by the approach of the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce), in his passing reference to inflation. In my view not enough thought is being given to the basic causes. As to the bill before us, although the favourite has bolted and the stable door has been locked, it might be of advantage to examine some of the varied activities of the Postal Department in respect of which charges are to be increased by the measure. The bill seeks authority to increase charges in order to permit the Postal Department to finance its activities and carry out maintenance work. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) explained, when introducing the bill, that no increase in charges had been made during the last five years. This is in itself an achievement, and no doubt the loss of £6,250,000 on the trading activities of the department last year demanded the taking of some action to bring about a more favorable financial result. Cost of living adjustments, marginal rates adjustments, the recent basic wage increase, and increases of the costs of materials used by the department, as well as the general trend of rising overhead costs, are claimed to have made serious inroads into the department’s revenue. The department is not alone in this experience, because private enterprise is similarly afflicted. In addition, private enterprise is obliged to pay heavy income tax, pay-roll tax, interest on advances and other impositions. The difference between the Postmaster-General’s Department and a private business is, of course, that the department is a hybrid organization. On the one hand it is a public utility which has to provide a public service, whilst on the other hand it is required to operate as a business undertaking. Argument may easily arise as to the actual definition of the department, whether it be a public utility or a business undertaking, but the PostmasterGeneral himself in his second-reading speech has been pleased to refer to it as the largest business in Australia. Consequently, if it be agreed that the department is a business, then, as far as possible, normal business practice should apply to its commercial activities - and the cardinal principle of business practice so applied means that the department should pay its own way.
Last year, the department lost £6,250,000 on its activities. The question arises whether that loss was due solely to increases of costs, or to administrative difficulties, or to the Government’s making demand on the department to provide services to the public at a loss. Possibly the overall departmental loss was incurred as a result of a combination of all three causes. On the score of management it is well to bear in mind that the Postmaster-General is the ministerial head responsible to this Parliament for the working of the department. The departmental administration is under the control of the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs and his deputy directors in the various States. These gentlemen are obliged to accept a degree of responsibility which would not appeal to the average individual. I think it is fair to say that a private enterprise engaged in an undertaking of similar magnitude carrying out a similar volume of business would hesitate to expect so much from one chairman of directors and six deputy directors.
When the Commonwealth took over the postal, telegraph and telephone services from the six States in 1901, there were 10,000 permanent officers in the organization. To-day, there are 78,000 people on the department’s staff as well as 15,000 non-official postmasters, mail contractors and other associated staff members. Revenue in 1956 was, in round figures, £79,300,000. In 1911, the year for which the first annual report was submitted, the revenue was £3,900,000. So the revenue has expanded from about £4,000,000 to about £79,000,000 in 45 years. That is expansion in any man’s language! Naturally, administrative techniques have undergone many changes in the last 45 years, but the basis of administrative approach is still the same. Consequently, I seriously doubt whether this government business utility, launched in 1901, is geared to handle the rapidly changing conditions of this year of grace, 1956. Frankly, I believe that the organization has grown so large that it is beyond the capacity of seven or eight men to handle it, however capable they may be. I suggest that the time is opportune to divide and separate some of the branches of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
This bill is concerned primarily with increases of costs of the department, which are to be passed on to the general public, but. under present arrangements, due to a lack of modern accountancy methods, it is difficult to determine what the actual working costs are and the extent to which, within the structure of the department, one branch affects another. This aspect of the matter was commented upon by the Public Accounts Committee in 1954, in a report presented to the Parliament by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland). If honorable members have not read that report recently, I suggest that they do so now, when this bill is before the House.
In the report, the Public Accounts Committee made certain recommendations in relation to accountancy, cost procedure and depreciation, and raised the question of the actual capital invested in the department’s activities. The committee suggested that the Auditor-General should undertake the auditing of the department’s commercial accounts. Two year’s later, the AuditorGeneral, in his annual report for the year ended 30th June, 1956, stated that those matters were still subject to discussion and that he was unable to furnish a certificate on the statements of account and the balance-sheet before presentation to the Parliament. In my view, that is not necessarily an adverse report on the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, because the Treasury has been involved in the discussions. From our experience, we can say readily that that alone is sufficient to occasion delay. I wish to point out that the workings of the department are so complex and involved that it would be difficult to comply with the requests made by the Public Accounts Committee.
The absence of a modern accountancy system is only one of the reasons why there is a lack of knowledge of costs within the department. I believe that the main reason for that lack of knowledge of costs is that the department has grown to such an extent that it has become unwieldy and cumbersome. Management would be easier if there were some separation of the various functions of the department. As a concrete example, 1 suggest that the time has come to consider treating the telephone branch as a completely separate entity. That suggestion, no doubt, will be strongly resisted within the department, but 1 am sure that if it were adopted it would result in improved services, lower costs and better financial returns. Consequently, the department’s officers would be able to enjoy better working conditions.
It is not difficult to visualize a separate telephone department. One requirement should be that it be as free as posible from governmental interference - that it have as much autonomy as possible. It could be run by a board, to which the Government had the right to nominate some members. In fact, a separate telephone department could be run on the same lines as Trans-Australia Airlines. If the telephone department were free to conduct its own affairs, it would be possible for it to raise its own finance, in the same way as do some State instrumentalities such as water boards and electricity undertakings. That would relieve the Commonwealth of the burden of financial responsibility for telephone services. In certain parts of the United States of America, the telephone department is separated from the postal and telegraphic departments.
– That is so in every pan of the United States of America, is not it?
– I do not think so. I believe there are difficulties in some States which do not permit that to be done. However, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) may be right. But I do not think we should become hide-bound. I do not think we should follow blindly the example of, say. America. T believe that we should apply Australian methods to Australian conditions and .pro j! ;ms, and that we should treat the practice.-, of other countries merely as a guide.
T expect that one of the ..>!jections raised to the proposed separation will be that it would deprive the Postmaster-General’s Department of a profit-making organization and that, as a result, other services would suffer. I do not think that that argument could be sustained, for the very good reason that if the other services were continued as. public utilities, the Government, having a self-supporting telephone department, would be in a much stronger position to assist them. In substantiation of that claim, I refer to the present budget allocations, which provide for the appropriation from revenue during the forthcoming year of £20,100,000 for telephone exchange services and £5,450,000 for trunk-line services, a total of about £25,500,000. By comparison, only £900,000 is provided for telegraph and miscellaneous services.
It is estimated that the revenue of the telephone branch this year will be £51,550,000 and that the combined revenue of the telegraph, postal and miscellaneous services will be in the vicinity of £39,150,000. In the last year for which a report is available - that is, 1955 - the telephone branch showed a profit of £2,900,000. So it is quite capable of standing on its own feet. If it were separated from the other branches of the department and permitted to raise its own finance, as it should be able to do, some of the money now appropriated from revenue for the telephone branch would be able to find its way to other branches. That would be to the benefit, not only of those other branches, but also of the departmental officers and the public generally.
Despite the objections that may be raised to these suggestions, I think it will be admitted that some separation is required in an organization which, it is estimated - here there is some doubt in the mind of the Public Accounts Committee - has fixed assets of a capital value of £285,000,000 and which will spend £121,650,000 this year, although it expects a revenue during the year of only £90,700,000. I suggest that an organization of that magnitude is prone to expect too much from its administration and its staff generally.
The problem of costs is a continuous one for all business undertakings, and I sympathize with the Postmaster-General and his officers in their present difficulties. I wish to refer to the suggested fee of £10 for the installation of new telephones. It would obviously be unfair to impose this charge upon people who have been on the department’s waiting list for some time, unable to obtain a service because of the department’s inability to provide it. In my division of Mitchell many constituents have been waiting for years for a telephone service, and the new charge is indeed a strange reward for their patience, especially as they have applied again and again without avail. 1 ask the Postmaster-General to consider waiving the charge where an application has been made, say, six months before the date on which the proposed fee will come into effect. That might be a fair and reasonable proposition. 1 turn now to the annual report for 1955, which the Postmaster-General tabled on l-6th May last. I trust that he will forgive my curiosity, but 1 have been attracted by certain comments that he made on page 16 of the report under the heading, “ Shared services “. He said -
Duplex services, which now total 51,026, involve the sharing of one line by two subscribers, each of whom has a separate exchange number. Extensive use of another type of shared service is made in the United States of America, where twothirds of the residential subscribers share parly lines, half of these with more .than one subscriber. In the United Kingdom, nearly 1,000,000 subscribers have shared services.
A little later, on 11th July, that genial knight, Sir Giles Chippindall, the DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs, made an announcement in Brisbane on the sharing of telephones. He said that in future no secrecy between parties sharing lines would be observed, and that even with duplex phones each subscriber could listen to the other’s conversation. I do not know why this was decided.
– That is not correct.
– It was reported in the Sydney press, and not refuted. As a private member of this Parliament, I can only rely on what appears in the press. The central office of the department is in Melbourne. I do not know why this announcement was made in Brisbane, though obviously it was not one which would commend itself to the rather prim and prosaic outlook of the Melbourne people. A city which does not tolerate Sunday newspapers and sabbath transport is hardly likely to accept the sharing of party telephone lines. Moreover, it was then winter in Melbourne when, naturally enough, the people of that city withdraw into an even greater conservatism, and a round-the-fire atmosphere. Brisbane, on the other hand, is a matey little city which, in July, responds not only to the sunlight but to the financial current which flows from Surfers Paradise as a result of the winter hibernation in that centre of rich southern merchants.
– And -to such statements as that made toy Sir Giles Chippindall.
– That is so. However, what affects Brisbane in the world of telephones must affect Melbourne also. If there is to toe no .discrimination in this matter, Toorak, in common with Spring Hill, may expect to share these party lines. The Sydney press of 15th July reported a senior engineer of the Sydney telephone branch as saying that the proposed system would have the advantage over the present duplex system of permitting subscribers to break in and ask their neighbours to hang up while they made an urgent call.
– What about the telephones used by starting-price operators?
– That presents a problem which immediately comes to the mind of the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts). One wonders how many urgent calls would be made on Saturday afternoons by people anxious to invest half a crown each way on the favourite. All sorts of interesting situations could arise, but I do not think that they would be readily accepted by the Australian people. Although in scattered country areas local conditions may make the provision of party lines necessary, I am confident that they will not be ‘welcomed in , the more closely populated centres.
– The matter is under: consideration. The department has not decided to institute a sharing system. :’
– I know that the matter is under close consideration. That is why 1 am making these observations. All too frequently Parliament is presented with a fait accompli, and one has not an opportunity to comment. On the day when I am asked to share an open line, and my constituents can no longer speak to me in confidence over the telephone, I will have no alternative but to institute a pony express and take a course in smoke signals. Last July, Sir Giles Chippindall said that the department had been forced to consider these matters because the Commonwealth Government had reduced the money allocated for the telephone branch. This may be so, but I hope that, in view of the Minister’s interjection, the proposal, having been duly considered, has now been discarded. I believe that the Australian people will not accept -this eavesdropping economy, and will regard it as an invasion of the privacy of their homes.
Having said that, I wish to place on record my appreciation of the courtesy that has been extended to me at all times by the Postmaster-General (Mt. Davidson) and the officers of his department. The task of attempting to meet the expanding needs of the Mitchell ‘electorate has not been easy, and undoubtedly I have placed some strain on the Christian outlook of departmental officers by making almost daily requests of them. I must also pay a tribute to the postmasters and postmistresses in my own division, especially those unofficial postmasters and postmistresses who, from a sense of public duty, continue to provide, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice, a service for their little .communities.
Complaints are sometimes made about the postal services, but I wonder whether the average member of the community realizes how versatile his postmaster, and his assistants, have to be. They are required not only to meet the normal demands of their own department, but to act as agents for the Department of Social Services, the Repatriation Department, the Commonwealth Bank and other government bodies. When extraordinary circumstances arise, as they did during the war, they are obliged to study regulations, and handle such things as petrol, clothing, food and other rationing coupons. The community is indeed indebted to the Postal Department for the services which it renders.
This brings me to my final observation, which relates to the Postmaster-General’s second-reading comment that the users of Postal Department facilities - in this case the members of the general public - should be required to bear a larger proportion of the proposed increase of costs. I wonder whether the Postmaster-General has also considered the desirability of asking the departments that use the Postal Department as their agent to toe the line and make contributions for the services they enjoy. 1 refer to the Department of Social Services, the Department of Repatriation and the Department of Customs and Excise, and to the Treasury, which sells tax stamps through the post offices.
The imposition of increased charges is always a matter for debate. It certainly places added burdens on the community, and makes the conduct of the nation’s affairs more difficult. Having regard to the inflationary forces in operation in Australia at present, we must admit that the increases are inevitable. When one considers, also, the complex organization of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, it seems inevitable that it will be only a matter of time before the Postmaster-General brings the postal pitcher back to the financial well.
.- Last night, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) made certain points concerning comparative prices of postal services in Australia, the United States of America and other countries, which he felt reflected credit upon the Government. The comparison that he made, or apparently believed that he was making, could also have been made in respect of the period when a Labour government occupied the treasury bench. I should like to assure him, however, that although he arrived at his figures by a literal translation of exchange rates between Australia and the United States, what he said was really entirely meaningless. By the same line of reasoning I can tell honorable members from my own experience that a steak in the United States costs 3 dollars, which is the equivalent of about 32s., whereas I c?n get a steak in a restaurant here for 7s. The important point is, of course, that in the United States a typist, for instance, may earn 90 dollars a week, and the 3 dollar:, does not represent the same proportion ot her income as 32s. would represent of a typist’s income in this country. Therefore, within the framework of the American economy, which has nothing whatever to do with the artificial exchange rate between the two countries, for the purposes of which the Australian £1 is very greatly under, valued, the postal services of the United States are not more expensive than the postal services of Australia - and, what is more, they are incomparably more efficient
I believe the Postal Department in Aus tralia is to be congratulated on the great improvement that has been made in interstate trunk-line calls, for which the waiting time has been greatly reduced. It is possible, however, to obtain a coast-to-coast telephone connexion in the United States much more quickly than I can obtain connexion for my regular call to my family in Perth from Canberra.
This Government has made many decisions as to the method of handling its overseas funds, such as the decision to end petrol rationing, which meant that the amount spent on importations of petro’ immediately increased from £48,000,000 to £120.000,000. Whether such decisions were right or wrong, they resulted in a vast volume of competitive purchasing, which has prevented the importation of a greatdeal of important capital equipment, includ-ing equipment for the postal services Rationing may often be imposed in a disguised form. When the Government im posed a sales tax of 30 per cent, on motor cars, it reduced, whether consciously or not. the consumption of petrol, because fewer motor cars were purchased. When the Government makes a decision as a result of which certain goods may be imported freely, consequential limitations must be imposed on the importation of other commodities. In this way the installation of telephones is being rationed by the imposition of a charge of £10 for a telephone installation. I do not know what the Government really thinks about that decision, but it is an acknowledgment of defeat. It is an acknowledgment that it such a charge were not imposed, the demand for telephones would exceed the capacity of the department to supply them
The demand is being reduced in an inequitable way, not on the basis of need, but on the basis of capacity to pay. The erection of this further hurdle of £10 makes it so much more difficult to pay for a telephone installation, and many people who have been seeking a telephone installation will be driven off.
I suppose that the increased cost for postal services that are provided for in this measure are inevitable. There is no way of immunizing the department, which is the largest employer in the Commonwealth, from rising costs, or from a rising basic wage, and the general inflationary situation that exists must ultimately be reflected in increased post office charges. There are, however, one or two things that I believe need to be said. I refer, first, to what I can only call deceptions in our present mail system. I do not use that term with any sense of strong moral censure. As an illustration, I can tell honorable members that if a letter to Tasmania is posted in Melbourne with a 3-£d. stamp, although it is not intended to be consigned by air mail it goes by air mail. If a 64-d. stamp is used, the letter goes by air mail in the same way. On that route no additional benefit is derived from the additional payment. Firstclass mail deliveries across Bass Strait are always made by air mail.
I think it is time we decided that all firstclass mail matter shall go by air. We arrived almost at that position during the war. In the operation of our postal services it should be axiomatic that first-class mail will travel by the quickest means. In the days when railways were being built in this country, and Cobb and Company coaches were still being used, every one would have thought it absurd to provide for a special postage rate for mail sent by train because that was a faster method. When the railway system was established, the mails were transferred from coaches to trains as a matter of course. Now that we have a well-developed system of air routes, first-class matter should be transferred, as a matter of course, from surface to air mails without extra charge. If certain extra costs must consequently be met, they should be covered in the prices of stamps, but a person should not be charged almost double to send an article by air mail instead of by surface mail. 1 think the Government will, sooner or later, have to decide to send all first-class matter by air mail.
There are one or two minor comments on our postal services that I should like to make. There has been, in Western Australia at any rate, a very marked deterioration in the standard of post office buildings. Nev post offices are being built in new suburbs. Those suburbs frequently have high housing standards, and because of the current economy campaign in the Postal Department the new post offices that are built are often converted Army huts. These disgraceful buildings are set down in new shopping centres. Post office buildings should reflect the prestige of the Commonwealth Government. I have a dread of temporary buildings in Australia. We have a whole series of them here in Canberra, such as the woolsheds behind the Hotel Kurrajong. They will be temporary buildings for the next 50 years. As a teacher I taught in a temporary building that had been temporary for 45 years. I deplore the fact that in some of our finest suburbs we are now putting up temporary post offices in the form of converted Army huts, which will probably be temporary and inadequate for the next 50 years. It is time we recognized that this service of communications is one that justifies a proper expenditure on buildings. If it be true that the Government has now solved the housing problem in Australia and that unemployment is beginning in the building industry, the labour so freed might well be occupied in building more adequate post offices in the newer suburbs.
The honorable member for Capricornia might have taken his comparison of rates further. One respect in which the rates charged in this country are disgracefully excessive is the charge for radioing a ship in Australian waters. If one wishes to send a message from Fremantle to a ship at sea coming from Colombo in order to make arrangements with friends, it goes through Radio Sydney to the ship. When a telegram is’ handed to the radio operators on a ship at sea, the excessive rates are calculated and the operators apologize for them. They say that these are the rates charged by the Australian Government and are nothing like those charged in the United Kingdom.
The only other point I wish to mention concerns Australian stamps. I cannot understand how the same artists who design such wretched stamps for Australia can design such excellent stamps for Papua. The stamps printed for Papua are invariably beautiful and something of which to be proud, but the unimaginative, poor stamps produced by the Postal Department for Australian use lack artistry and imagination and are really most surprising. For some strange reason, stamps seem to be a very great means of earning dollars. 1 understand that the State of Liechtenstein obtains much revenue by constantly altering its stamp designs. Though 1 do not suggest that that should be a major motive for our Postal Department, nevertheless the acknowledgement that this hobby of philately does exist would be highly profitable to Australia.
The stamp designing department was so unalert as to miss the centenary of selfgovernment in Australia and unimaginative in relation to the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games are to be held here. Foreign stamps - and I mention Polish stamps - of various denominations can be seen with magnificent representations of all the different Olympic sports. Yet the great artistry of the Australian Postal Department can reach only five circles on one stamp, and that is palmed out as our Olympic commemoration in the year in which this country, and not overseas countries which are producing beautiful stamps, is host for the Olympic Games.
It is high time the Postmaster-General became much more alert to the inadequacies of the stamp-designing department. The collection of a real philatelist shows that no country, however insignificant, has such poor and unattractive stamps as the Commonwealth of Australia. We have, for instance, magnificent collections of wild flowers. On the postage stamps of Ceylon, representations of the flowers of that country are used as a matter of course. But I have never seen a kangaroo paw or a waratah on a stamp in Australia.
– Or wattle.
– Sometimes little bits of wattle waving around the Queen’s head are shown in the corner of a stamp. Many countries use their stamps as a weapon to attract tourists and as a means to convey something of the history of the country to the outside world. But we never even think of that idea! lt would be worth suggesting to the stamp-designing department that it improve the quality of the stamps that we produce.
.- - The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) is one to whom all honorable members in this House listen with very great interest. He is one member of the Opposition who always makes speeches which show that he has given very much thought to the subject before the Chair. I agree with his contention that increases of postal rates are inevitable, but I suppose that he, as a good member of the Opposition, will vote against this bill when the time comes. He mentioned the designs of our stamps. Although some of them do call for much criticism, I have been reliably informed that the designs of our stamps have won world-wide recognition and first prizes in competitions throughout the world. However, to a lar,ge extent, I agree with some of the observations of the honorable member for Fremantle, and I hope to deal with them during the course of my speech.
This bill authorizes the increased postal and telegraph charges that were described in the budget speech of the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) on 30th August, 1956. I feel sure that the increased charges which are proposed had the fullest consideration by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) himself, by Cabinet and by departmental officers before these recommendations were accepted. I wonder, however, whether the increased charges will achieve the results anticipated or whether a different approach - that of decreasing rather than increasing charges - would, in the long run, give larger receipts. I shall deal with that point later in my speech.
I should like to review briefly some of the history of postal charges. Prior to 1902, a bill had been passed through the House which related to the post and telegraph department and the construction and maintenance of telegraphic and telephonic lines. One clause of that bill provided for regulations to be made by the GovernorGeneral, and the Postmaster-General proposed to frame . regulations in relation to post and telegraph rates. But the House at that time deemed it advisable that the rates should be embodied in a bill, and that legislation was ultimately passed. The act of 1902 secured uniformity throughout the Commonwealth of rates charged for the conveyance of newspapers by post and for the transmission of telegrams, but it did not alter the charges made in individual States for the transmission of letters, postcards, parcels and packets. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and honorable members are aware, uniform rates now exist and have existed in all States since the Postal Rates Act. of 1910, which was proclaimed on 1st May, 1911. Since then, the act has been amended several times, and increased charges were made in the years 1913, 1918, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1930, 193L 1940, 1941, 1949, 1950 and 1951, which was the last year in which rates were increased.
As 1 said, the rates have been increased during all those years, but so too have the efficiency and scope of the services supplied by the Postmaster-General’s Department. I feel, however, that the advances in scope and efficiency that I have mentioned have been much more noticeable in city areas than in rural areas which depend to a much greater degree on these services. I want to take this opportunity to bring to the attention of the PostmasterGeneral some of the difficulties experienced in my electorate. I am sure that similar conditions exist in all country electorates throughout the Commonwealth. Let us consider postal services in rural areas. Although 1 could mention many instances of greatly improved services in country areas, I also could give examples to show that people in some places are receiving service which is not as good as it was 25 years, or even 40 years, ago. I shall cite one case to illustrate my point. I have in my hand an advertisement calling for tenders for the renewal of a mail contract on less favorable conditions than those which apply at present. Under the alternative tender, the people on this mail route will receive the daily papers a day later man they now receive them. That is not an isolated case. I could mention many more. I think it was the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr: Luchetti)’ who said last night that the people of Penrith were com plaining that they could not get a second mail service during the day; yet, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) said that, in his electorate, the residents of many places would be pleased to get two deliveries a week. I am sure that that is the case with many other country electorates, as it is with mine.
In respect of telephone services in the country, the report of the PostmasterGeneral for 1954-55, which is the latest to be printed and which was made available to honorable members in May last, shows that record progress has been made. Over 77,000 telephone exchange lines and 111,569 telephones - the greatest number ever - were added during the year, compared with 64,359 lines and 93,007 telephones in 1953-54. Those figures indicate remarkable progress, but they are poor consolation to many country dwellers Who have been waiting for years for telephones, as they are to those who find that their telephone services are very much worse now than during the preceding 40 years.
Many subscribers have lost their services because of the retirement of elderly postmasters and postmistresses, whom it seems to be impossible to replace. Nobody wants to undertake the work of these small country exchanges because it involves being tied to home. The staffing of these exchanges is a great problem. In addition, the remuneration is far too low. The result is that many subscribers in country areas are receiving very poor service. In some cases a subscriber is selected and his premises are connected to the trunk line. He has to take all messages for the other subscribers, and, in addition, he takes messages from them and telephones them to the town to which the trunk line is connected. A typical case of this kind - I have no doubt that honorable members could speak of many such cases in their electorates - is the Brimpaen exchange. For the information of honorable members, Brimpaen is a little community right at the foot of the Grampian Mountains, in. Victoria. I may say that it is one of the most beautiful places in Australia. The subscribers to the Brimpaen exchange have lost their telephonic communication because of the retirement of their postmistress. More than 30 subscribers have to rely on the kindness of one of their number, who has had the trunk line connected to his premises. All emergency calls are handled by him. There are many emergencies which crop up in the country, and at Brimpaen there is very great danger of bushfires breaking out during the summer. I know that the Forestry Department of the Victorian Government is concerned that it has no telephonic communication with the area. With the hot weather coming, and the lush growth of grass during the recent good season, the bushfire danger is very real. Others who are experiencing difficulty in that region are the officers of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, who daily need reports on the levels of streams.
I believe that the solution of this problem, and of many others, is the erection of rural automatic exchanges. I have been informed, however, that the rural automatic exchange committee in each State allocates to individual areas a given number of rural automatic exchanges and that no matter how urgent it is for a place within the area to have a rural automatic exchange, that can only be done if another locality is deleted from the programme. People in country areas who have erected private telephone lines and maintained them for periods as long as 40 years must continue to maintain them, with very little hope of getting a rural automatic exchange at an early date. In this connexion, I refer to another small community in my electorate, known as Dimboola East. Residents of the area erected telephone lines more than 40 years ago. The lines are now falling down and the subscribers are required to put them in good order, which seems an awful waste, because they are on the main road and, ultimately, lines will be going through to join Dimboola to Warracknabeal. These people want a rural automatic exchange at some time in the” future, but for the present, they would be content if the subscribers could be connected to, say, five or six party lines to Dimboola which eventually could be used for trunk lines between the other two towns to which I have referred.
I am certain that the people in the cities do not appreciate the difficulties that primary producers are experiencing because of inefficient service and, in some instances, no service at all. As honorable members know, the number of rural workers has decreased considerably, so that many farms to-day are being worked by the farmer alone. A telephone is essential for him, particularly in an emergency, or if his farming plant breaks down and he requires parts to be sent out from the town. A telephone is essential also in case of sickness, accidents, bushfires and floods. It must be obvious to all honorable members thai our overseas balance of payments problem can, in large measure, be solved by increased primary production for export. If we are to attract people to the land, we must give them the amenities that people in the cities enjoy. In my opinion, telephone and postal services are high in the order of priority in this regard. It would be of great financial benefit to the Government if it were to provide such facilities, particular!) telephones.
In these days, when we feel that we must tighten our belts, the Governmenshould concentrate on spending its money on services that will show it the bes return for the money spent. For thai reason, I stress the wisdom of developing the telephone branch of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I say that, because if one examines the earnings and expenditure of the several branches of the department, it will be seen that the telephone branch is the only one which makes a profit. Let us consider the commercial results, which I take from the 1954-55 report of the department, in order to see the source of every £1 earned and the way in which each £1 is spent. The postal section earned 7s. 3d., made up as follows: - Postages, private boxes and bags, 6s. 7d.. money order commission and postal note poundage, 3d., and miscellaneous, 5d. Expenditure on these services was 7s. 10d.. so that there was a loss of 7d. The telegraph section earned ls. 6d., but cost ls. 8id. The telephone section, however, earned lis. 3d. and cost only 10s. 6d. As the relevant figures are of great interest, with the concurrence of the House I shall incorporate them in “ Hansard “. They are -
Putting it in another way. the postal section earned £26,799,704. but the loss was £2,353,668. The telegraph section earned £5.440,000, in round figures, and lost £800,000. But the telephone section earned £41,707,000 and made a profit of £2,904,538. I hope that these figures will convince the Postmsater-General that it is good policy to spend money on the tele phone branch, which does show a profit. I indicated earlier my belief that a different approach should be made to the rates problem from that which has been made. I have a very grave feeling that there will be a considerable falling off in demand for the services of the department, particularly in the postage of letters. Although large amounts of revenue are received from the postage of mail for lotteries, “ Gold Words “, “ Find the Ball “ and similar competitions, by far the greatest value of stamps is used by business houses. I feel sure that they will cut down on the posting of advertisements and, in addition, will save postage costs by, say, sending their invoices when they send statements, and sending receipts with the next statement. This may seem only chicken feed, but if all the big firms, such as Myer Emporium Limited, David Jones Limited, and Farmer and Company Limited, adopted such practices they would make tremendous savings, with consequent loss to the Postal Department. I have prepared figures to show how the ordinary citizen could save money, but 1 shall not weary the House with those figures, except to say that if the ordinary citizen, who usually receives monthly accounts which he pays by cheque, decided to carry money in his pocket and pay for things as he gets them, he would save business people the expense of sending statements and receipts to him. In addition, he would save the postage on his cheques, and stamp duty, which in Victoria is to be increased from 2d. to 3d. He would also save the cost to business people of many duty stamps at the increased rate of 3d. This procedure would result in great loss to the Postal Department. In small businesses the adoption of this course may not make a big difference, but its combined effect in the instance of big firms such as those I have mentioned could upset the estimating of the department. We shall soon know whether added revenue is obtained from the increased charges proposed in the bill, but I seriously suggest that if the increased revenue is not up to expectations the Postmaster-General try reducing fees with a view to obtaining the desired result.
I do not know the exact policy of the department in relation to staffing, but I should like to tell the House of two experiences I had recently which illustrate that the staffing position needs careful scrutiny by the department. A couple of months ago I had occasion to see a senior officer at the General Post Office in Spencer-street, Melbourne. Coming down in the lift from the fourth floor, I was accompanied by five or six men. Two of them were obviously postal officers, and they did not seem to think that they needed to talk quietly. After saying, “ Good day “, and exchanging niceties, one, in his normal voice, said to the other, “ Could you do with any staff? “ The other replied, “ Why? Have you got too many? “ The first officer, pulling his face, and throwing his hands in the air said, “ Have I!”, indicating that he just did not know what to do with the staff that he had on his hands. A fortnight later I was speaking to another senior official of the department, and he told me that he had a request for 29 officers from his territory to be sent to Melbourne to assist in staffing installations for the Olympic Games. I was assured by the Postmaster^ General, when I mentioned these matters to him, that overall the staff is below strength, but these experiences indicate a great need for a better balancing of staff.
The bill proposes two increases of rates which I regard as particularly steep. I refer to the increases to be applied to telegrams and registered articles. For telegrams of twelve words, the increase to 2s. 9d., within a radius of 15 miles, and to 3s. outside that radius, is such that I am sure that there will be a decided falling off in the use of these means of communication. As the telegram service is so much more essential for country people, I believe that the rate should be the same for all distances, because the persons sending telegrams within a radius of 15 miles usually live in the city and have other means of communication. I predict that these increases in charges, particularly for telegraph users, will result in persons writing more letters and sending fewer telegrams. The charge for registered articles represents an increase of 66 per cent, on the present rate, and of 400 per cent, on the rate of 3d. which applied in 1948. I can see no justification at all for this increase. One would feel better about it if there were an alternative method of sending small sums of money, but such a . facility does not exist, at least with any protection for the user. Postal notes are no longer a safe method of sending small sums of money. Originally, if one had retained a note of the number of a postal note which became lost, it could be traced through the department and recompense was made to the sender, but to-day no such facilities exist. I suggest that the department should examine this matter and try to restore confidence in the use of postal notes. 1 appreciate, like my friend the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), that large costs are involved in the installation of telephones, and that in certain circumstances the payment of a £10 installation fee may be justified, but 1 appeal to the Minister to amend the bill to relieve from payment of this amount all those persons who, before 30th August, the night the budget was presented, applied for tele.phones which they have been unable to get. J appeal to the Minister to instruct the department to be long-sighted in planning the development programme, particularly in regard to new exchanges, and, to ensure that all relevant data is to hand to ensure that a new exchange, when installed, will serve the public for a long time. In Horsham, Victoria, where I live, we have a typical example of the lack of foresight which I seek to avoid. About three years ago, the old magneto exchange was replaced by a common battery exchange, which had a capacity of approximately 1,800 lines, of which 1,500 were wired. We have reached the stage, in about three years, where all these 1,500 lines have been taken up. People cannot get telephones there. The 300 lines that are awaiting completion will not get any attention, I believe mainly through the work being done for the Olympic Games, until after the Olympic Games have been concluded and those lines will serve for only a matter of a year or two. In other words, a new exchange has been put in which will become quite inadequate to serve the needs of the community in a very short time.
It may appear to honorable members that I have been unduly critical of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Such is not the case. I have tried to offer suggestions to improve the already excellent service. We all realize that the Postal Department enters into the daily life of every member of the community more, perhaps, than any other service. The welfare of the people, the success of commerce and industry and the -development of the nation are influenced by the way in which the department does its job. The ‘ department welcomes requests for information about its activities and invites inspection of its many interesting services. I recommend honorable members and the public to take advantage of this welcome which the Postmaster-General’s
Department will give to them. The Postal Department cannot possibly operate effectively without the friendly co-operation and understanding of the people whom it exists to serve.
I am sure that there is no complacency on the part of the controlling officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department, who realize the need for constant study of practices and procedures, an intensive analysis of costs, and continuous attention to their service standards. The aim of the Postal Department is to provide, operate and maintain postal and telecommunication services which will meet the needs of the community in the most effective and economical way. The provision of services that are in keeping with Australia’s increasing population and expanding industry is a major task. The full resources of the organization and the skill of its staff are constantly directed towards the achievement of this objective, within the scope of available labour and material. I urge the Postmaster-General and the Government always to make all these services available to the community at the lowest possible rate.
.- At the outset of my contribution to this debate, I want to take this very early opportunity to pay my tribute to all those who are employed in the postal services of Australia. It was regrettable, I think, that only just recently, after a magnificent record of service, the employees of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department found it necessary to take certain action to bring to the notice of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) and this Government the irritations that they now seem to have to contend with in the department. The very fine record of those who are employed in this service is a lasting monument to them. I am not attacking the Postmaster-General on this particular matter, but the very fact that those employees of this all-important service to the community have given long and honorable service to Australia must be an indication to the Government and to the Minister that they have real grievances which must be rectified at the very earliest opportunity. I ask again the PostmasterGeneral to make every effort to restore the good feeling that existed among the employees of his department.
Looking back over the history of the Postal Department, one remembers the great agitation throughout Australia many years ago for the introduction of Id. postage. Before federation, postage rates varied in the several States. Even in earlier days - the old coach days - uniform postage rates did not exist. The great agitation in Australia was for Id. postage. We saw the day when Id. did become the uniform fee for postage in Australia. We have moved on from those days. The new rates proposed in this bill - and there is very little doubt that it will be passed - are an increase to 400 per cent, on the Id. postage of those earlier days. ( do not think that it is sufficient for any of us to rise in our places in this House and satisfy ourselves by saying that circumstances are such that these increases are essential. The Postmaster-General, in his second-reading speech, indicated why these increased charges have come about. I read, once more, for the benefit of the House, the reason that he has given. He said -
Cost of living adjustments alone have since July, 1951, when the present rates were fixed, added almost £12,000,000 annually to the wages bill of the Post Office. Marginal adjustments in 1954 and 1955 and the recent basic wage increase have added a further £6,000,000 a year.
Lel us take that statement. We on this side of the House have continually reminded the Government - and I think even Government members must admit the fact, if they are completely honest in their approach to wages - that the workers’ wages are continually chasing the cost of living. Despite all the increases, all the marginal allowances, and all the quarterly adjustments to the basic wage, wages are always chasing the cost of living, and never catch up to it. The Minister went on to say -
These levels of expenditure were increased still more by consequent higher costs of materials which the department uses in enormous quantities.
He continued -
Stores, freights, motor vehicles, canvas and the 101 items needed to operate the largest business in Australia-
And these are the words of which we must take cognizance - all rose in price over the period.
We have continually confronted the Government with its failure to control prices. When T make these statements, I am not attempting to make political capital. J have always said that had the Governmencontinued Commonwealth prices control we would not be confronted to-day with such a serious problem of inflation.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Had Commonwealth prices control been continued after 1948, the continual increases of postal charges that have taken place would not have been as great. The Postmaster-General has taken the trouble to try to explain why the increased charges now proposed are necessary. I sincerely believe that until steps are taken to control costs and prices we shall continually be called upon to consider measures such as this, because, as prices and costs continue to spiral upward, charges will be increased.
An honorable member who spoke in thi> debate earlier to-day pointed out that there is a very grave danger that continually increasing charges will seriously diminish the revenue of the Postmaster-General’s Department, because the people have only a certain amount to spend weekly, yearly, or over whatever period they budget for. The increase of the basic postal charge from 3id. to 4d. an ounce for letters may mean that some people who ordinarily post six or seven letters a week will post only two or three because they cannot afford any more at the increased rates. So postage revenue may be reduced People may send fewer telegrams because they feel they cannot afford to send as man> as before at the increased charges, and telegraph revenue may be seriously reduced. The telephone installation fee of £10 may cause many persons who desire to have telephones installed to abandon their installation applications, with consequent adverse effects upon telephone revenues. The Government’s’ present proposals may seriously diminish the revenue of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department instead of increasing it. We are now reaching a stage at which the community cannot stand further increases of charges.
The Postmaster-General stated that all possible efforts are being made by the department to keep down costs, and he added -
I hope I shall now be permitted to mention a matter associated with the techniques to which the Minister referred - the Tress telegraph system. I do not know what stage has been reached in the consideration of this system by the department.
– It is still under consideration. No decision to install it has been made.
– The Minister says that no decision has been made, but some persons in very high positions in the telegraph branch of the department say the system will be of no use in Australia. Mr. W. J. Holland, who I understand is telegraph supervisor in Brisbane, visited the United States of America and took advantage of every facility afforded him to examine the Tress system. I understand that, on his return, he was ready to report to the Postmaster-General that it should not be installed. I do not know whether the Minister has yet heard his views. Mr. Holland has had very long experience in the telegraph services in Australia and has reached the rank of supervisor. He takes a prominent part in postal affairs and in public matters outside the department. He visited North America in charge of a team of athletes, and he will take a very prominent part in the Olympic Games in Melbourne. He is a practical man, and his view is that the installation of the Tress system in Australia would be a costly failure. Mr. Joseph Kehoe, who I understand is general secretary of the American Communications Association, and an authority on this subject, has informed members of the Australian Third Division Telegraphists and Postal Clerks Union that the Tress system would not be of advantage in Australia.
– Is it in use in England or in Europe?
– I understand that it is not used by postal authorities anywhere in the world.
– The Western Union Telegraph Company in the United States uses it.
– That is a monopoly.
– 1 understand that, generally speaking, the Tress system is not accepted by . postal organizations throughout the world.
– Except in the United States.
– 1 am willing to be corrected, lt may be in use in some country, but, generally speaking, it is not accepted.
We in Australia have reached a stage at which postage charges are continually increasing. When the Labour Government went out of office the basic postage charge was lid. an oz. for letters. This Government increased it to 3d., and later 3±d., and now proposes to raise it to 4d. Charges for telegrams also have been increased, and are to be increased again. Telephone installations will cost much more because a £10 installation fee will be charged. Charges for calls made by country subscribers are to be increased, and I look to members of the Australian Country party to try to prevent that increase and to oppose the bill when the House votes upon it.
– Rentals in country areas will not be increased.
– No, but charges for calls are to be increased. City and suburban subscribers have amenities that country people lack, and it is up to members of the Australian Country party to protect country subscribers from increased charges for calls. I have no desire to make political capital out of this matter. Some honorable members on the Government side seem to think that everything said by Opposition members is intended only for political “gain. I do not seek any political advantage by expressing my views on this matter. I ask the Postmaster-General to think seriously before taking action to increase postal charges and so raise costs again. The installation of the Tress telegraph system would cost millions of pounds, and we should not incur that expense if the system is proved to be of no great advantage. We should not install it only to find after experience that it has been a costly mistake.
– That will not happen, of course.
– I hope it will not happen, because every increase of cost in the running of the Postmaster-General’s
Department has to be borne by the general public, and I think that we have reached the stage to-day where we cannot go much further. If the Government makes any more increases of charges the public will cut its use of postal services, revenue will decrease and the Government will not obtain from the increases the result that it hopes to obtain.
Another matter to which 1 should like to refer is the practice of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department of taking over properties in the various capital cities. I do not mind so much its acquisition of properties generally, especially when it really requires them, but in most instances these properties are acquired at great cost in the heart of a city. Again, this is not a criticism of the Minister, because I believe that some of these arrangements were made before he became Postmaster-General. I refer to two particular buildings in South Australia which have been taken over by the department at a very great cost to it. In each case neither building, although both were purchased more than two years ago, has been put to use by the department. There are hundreds of citizens in South Australia who are desirous of using these buildings, and who become aggravated and agitated as they see them held unused by the Postmaster-General’s Department year in, year out. In South Australia, our aim is to use parkland for the benefit of the people. I wonder whether the Minister, who came to South Australia and examined the situation-for which I expressed my appreciation this afternoon - will see whether areas being held, and not used, by the Postmaster-General’s Department could be made available for Use by sporting bodies, and whether the activities that the department” intends eventually to carry out on these areas could be transferred to some other less valuable area.
I travel between Adelaide and Canberra by rail, and 1 have noticed that at the Ballarat railway station there is only one public telephone, which is completely inadequate to serve the number of people who require the use of a telephone at that point. That telephone connects with two networks, one of them manual and the other automatic. To get on to the manual system it is necessary to dial “ F “, but the information notice in the telephone box does not say so. The result is that many people are held up for five or ten minutes, while trying to discover how to gain connexion with a manual exchange, and eventually have to ask the station master or some other person for the information. There is a definite lack there, and I ask the Postmaster-General’ to have something done about it.
To-day, 1 regret, we find complete carelessness on the part of the Government, which has been on the treasury bench since 1949 and complains about the impact of increased costs which, it says, have, forced it to levy higher postal, telegraph and telephone charges. The Government must take the responsibility for the necessity for those increases. I get back to what I said before, that unless the Government takes some definite and effective steps to control inflation in Australia we will experience a period of drastic recession. It is not too late now to do something effective. Whilst the Postmaster-General claims that wages are one of the causes leading to those increases, I will never believe that wages are the cause of increases of the cost of living.
– They contribute.
– They contribute to higher costs because there is no control! at the other end.
– It is all right for the honorable member to say, “ Rubbish “. It is not rubbish, because every thinking person in Australia knows that wages are continually chasing prices, and unless we reach the stage where prices are controlled on a Commonwealth basis, then, periodically, we will witness this same situation of continually increasing charges for all government services. Sooner or later this Government, or some other government, will have to stand up to the responsibility of introducing some system which will remedy the situation that confronts us to-day.
.- A few moments ago the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) said something about the Australian Country party, and also said that he did not want to introduce party politics into this debate. My mind immediately went to that old song, “ Frankie and Johnnie “. Honorable members will recall that Frankie and Johnnie were lovers, and that Frankie went down to the bar room. The bartender said, “ Don’t want to cause you no trouble, don’t want to tell you no lie “, and then proceeded to tell Frankie that Johnnie was playing round with Nellie Bly. Having sowed the suspicion in her mind he left it to grow, with the result that next day Johnnie was on his way to the graveyard and Frankie was on her way to the electric chair. That is the kind of technique used by the honorable member for Adelaide. Sow the seeds and then leave them to grow. 1 was interested to hear the honorable member refer to the days of Id. postage. I took the opportunity, during the suspension of the sitting for luncheon, to study the position that applied in those days. I found that the nigger in the woodpile all the time in the achievement of uniform postage rates was the very State from which the honorable member for Adelaide hails - South Australia. If my memory serves me aright, .it was about 1910 or 1911 that we enjoyed that cheap rate of postage - Id. per 4-oz. I can remember that, many years after that, working men in this country were receiving only something like £2 2s. a week in wages. The honorable gentleman from Adelaide said that here we are in this day and age pushing up the postage rates by 400 per cent. And there he .stopped. This is the old, old style of members of the Labour party with propaganda. They do not tell the whole story, but leave an inference in the minds of the listeners. They talk about increased costs, but never about increased wages. The honorable member for Adelaide said that postage rates had gone up by 400 per cent., but he did not mention that in the same period the basic wage has gone up by something like 600 per cent. By applying the law of relativity we soon find that in this day and age we are living at a much better standard than previously. If the members of the Labour party want to continue to make charges against the Government because of increased costs I recall to their minds the statement made by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) that we were getting nearer to a twenty-hour working week than a 40-hour working week.
– Hear, hear!
– I hear an Opposition member say, “ Hear, hear! “ I think that any responsible man or woman will agree that if we seek improved amenities within our lifetime we must be prepared to pay for them. The whole of the present problem could be obviated if the leaders of socialism in this country endeavoured to inculcate in the minds of the people who follow them that rather than go chasing after more money all the time they would benefit themselves more by doing a little more work and increasing production. No sane person in this country expects any man or woman to work flat out, but workers are expected to give at least a reasonable amount of work in return for their wages. If we want to enjoy a higher stand:ird of living, and if we have any sense of responsibility and self-respect, we must at least be prepared to work for it.
– Nobody denies that. The postal employees are working well, and making profits for the people of Australia. They are great fellows when they are overseas fighting to keep you people in luxury.
– Yes, the;/ are, but I take the honorable gentleman’s mind back to the days when this Government first took office. There was a wages case before the Full Court of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and it was admitted before Mr. Justice Dunphy and the other judges that men were working for 29 hours a week and being paid for 40 hours a week. Will the honorable member for Adelaide, or any other member of the Labour party, come out and say plainly, without any degree of shame, that men who are working only 29 hours or 33 hours a week should receive pay for 40 hours a week? It is no wonder that the Labour movement is in such a chaotic state when it has for leaders men such as those who are voicing their opinions here now. Nobody is asking men to bullock or go flat out, but we are asking that they shall give at least a reasonable return for what they receive. When that day comes, we shall be able to enjoy to the full greater amenities than are available now.
A lot has been said about increases of telephone charges. I understand that it is proposed to charge £10 for the installation of a new telephone. That would be a good investment for a subscriber, because the cost of installing a telephone is in the vicinity of £250. We find that most of the objections raised to this proposal come from honorable members who live in or round the cities and big towns. It is quite evident that they have not been taking an interest in what has been going on in country districts. For many a long year, when it has been found necessary to build new lines in country districts, subscribers have voluntarily assisted the Postal Department to clear tracks, cart poles, dig holes and do other work necessary to expedite the construction of the lines. Any honorable member who represents a country electorate knows that that has been going on for a long lime. If we stop to think, we realize just what it means to have a telephone on a property. If we are honest, we must admit that when a man sells a house or a property with a telephone installed, he charges the purchaser more than £10 for the telephone. I guarantee that at least £50 is added to the selling price of a property because a telephone is installed.
– What rot!
– That is done almost every day of the week, as the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) knows. I am quite prepared to accept that an installation fee of £10 will be a very sound investment for people who want a telephone for practical purposes.
– The Government is making telephone services exclusive to the wealthy people.
– What was that?
– Order! The honorable member for Canning will address his remarks to the Chair.
– I was trying to find out what the honorable member said. Although members of the Opposition have’ criticized the Postal Department for the proposed charges, they have not said one word about the benefits that will flow from them.
– What are the benefits?
– If the honorable member will take the trouble to read the second-reading speech made by the PostmasterGeneral, he will see the benefits set out in black and white. I refer, for in stance, to the fact that subscribers who live close to a city will enjoy a reduction of thecharge made for calls to the city. 1 do not think it can be said that even the membersof the Labour party in this Parliament are opposed to the development and progress of this country. If we want progress, somebody must pay for it. Our telephone services are making great progress. If we make a call from Brisbane to Perth, we can almost hear the equipment ticking away, and then, almost immediately, we get an answer from the other end. That is dueto the new switching gear.
– Do not kid yourself.
– 1 am not surprised: at that remark, coming from the honorable member for Herbert. I speak from practical experience, but the honorable member for Herbert just sits there, and, using that big, bull-frog voice of his, comes in with a splurge of words now and again. Everybody who uses the telephone services knows that, due to the installation of this new switching gear, long-distance services haveimproved vastly during the last few months. The multi-metering system which is being introduced will enable a subscriber living outside a city to make a call to a city subscriber by dialling a number. That willavoid much waste of time. I understand’ that although the multi-metering system is in operation in some places, the final tests have still to be made. When it has been perfected, it will enable subscribers connected to exchanges outside the capital cities to get through to numbers in the cities with the minimum loss of time. If we want those things, we must pay for them. That raises the old, old question: What are we going to pay with? The only thing that we can pay with is increased productivity.
During question time this morning, a question was directed to the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Harold Holt) in which it was suggested that the Minister should have a look at the Canadian immigration policy and also that he should compare the economic situation in Canada with the economic situation here. I am indebted to my friend, the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), for this piece of information, which, I understand, was supplied to him some time ago.
– What has this got to do with the bill?
– It has a lot to do with it, as my friend from Grayndler will see in due course. In Canada, the working week varies from 40 to 44 and 48 hours, according to the province concerned. During the last week, members of the Labour party here have been supporting a 20-hour week. A reduction of the working week probably would not be so bad if people worked during the hours for which they were paid. I say to the members of the Opposition with all the sincerity at my command that they would be much better advised to go out amongst the people and advocate that a little more attention be paid to productivity than to indulge in the stupid rot of urging a shorter and shorter working week and less and less work. I hear Opposition members yapping away now, but I cannot understand what they are saying, because too many of them are speaking at once.
The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) referred last night to the size of the areas served by the automatic telephone networks of the various cities. I agree that the sooner the department can increase the size of those areas, the better it will be. But, whatever is done, there will always be some people on one side of the fence - I do not mean politically - and some on the other side. There will always be, as it were, a fence separating the automatic network and the suburban and rural networks. I support the idea of increasing the areas covered by automatic networks as soon as that can be done, but I hope that before any definite move is made in that direction in Melbourne and Sydney, the department will give serious consideration to extending the areas covered by the automatic networks in other capital cities. I believe that the areas served by the automatic networks in Melbourne and Sydney are within a radius of 15 miles from the centre of the cities, and that in other capital cities the radius is 10 miles. It must be remembered ‘ that those other capital cities are developing just as quickly, comparatively, as are Melbourne and Sydney. I have nothing against the proposal put up by the honorable member for Mackellar, and I think he was quite right in putting it up, but, speaking as one who comes from a smaller capital city, I suggest that the matter be looked at very seriously, with a view to giving some advantage to the smaller cities either before or concurrently with an extension of the automatic telephone network areas of the two major capital cities.
Some criticism has been made of the work done by the department in connexion with rural automatic exchanges. If I remember rightly, the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) claimed, last night, that the number of rural automatic exchanges in operation was not as great as had been claimed by the department. This is not a party matter. Until quite recently most of the rural automatic exchange equipment had to come from overseas, and any one with a modicum of common sense will realize that between 1945 and 1949, for a variety of reasons, ii was most difficult to obtain. If honorable members opposite want to play party politics on this matter they should not, at any rate, charge the Government with having done practically nothing to provide rural automatic exchanges. Inquiries at the Postal Department reveal that though in December. 1949, only 192 rural automatic exchanges were in operation, at June, 1956, the number was 874. The increase between 1955 and 1956 was 94.
– Where are they?
– They are scattered throughout this continent and all of us. especially honorable members who represent country electorates, are forever clamouring at the door of the present PostmasterGeneral, as we did at the door of his predecessor, for more and more of them. We all freely admit that the sooner these exchanges are widely established throughout the country areas the better will be the telephone service enjoyed by the people.
I am glad that the honorable member foi Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence) this morning raised the question of the issuing of stamps. I recommend that honorable members look at an advertisement in this morning’s Melbourne “ Age “ on the subject of Olympic stamps. Two coloured stamps are to be brought out. One is to be made in London and the other in Switzerland. I shall not attempt to pronounce the name of the Swiss organization, but it could easily be confused with that of a well-known brandy - cognac.
The honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) criticized the PostmasterGeneral, though perhaps not severely, for holding properties in capital cities, and failing to use them. That is happening in every capital city.
– And in other places also.
– If the department did not look ahead and make long-range plans to meet the rapid expansion that we are hoping will flow from our immigration and national development schemes, we would wake up one fine morning and discover that we had not the property that we needed. We should then be in a very sorry state indeed. The department has for some time been holding a site in Perth with a view to installing on it new automatic equipment for that city.
– For how long does the honorable member think that the department should hold these properties without using them?
– lt is the old, old, story. The use of a property depends upon the availability of equipment, and upon how soon it can be installed. People like the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Edmonds) continually advocate that those whom they claim support them should work less and less and less. This can only mean that it will take longer and longer to get this equipment.
The honorable member for Adelaide referred to the holding by the department of parkland in Adelaide. I know that this is a very burning question and is causing the Lord Mayor of that city some concern. 1 can say with certainty that the PostmasterGeneral is at present earnestly considering the subject with a view to contacting the Lord Mayor of that city and putting a proposition before him.
– What rubbish. The Lord Mayor is here, in the House.
– That does not prevent the Postmaster-General from turning I his matter over in his mind. Unlike the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) he has more to think of than the next joke that he is going to crack in this chamber. If the people of Australia want to enjoy the amenities enjoyed in other countries they must be prepared to pay for them. But if the Labour party continues to- advocate shorter hours we shall never solve our difficulties.
The honorable member for Adelaide also brought up the question of prices control. What he said is probably quite correct tohis way of thinking, but when the referendum on Commonwealth prices control was defeated, there was no need for the Government with which the honorable member was associated immediately to abandon prices control which, strangely enough, Labour supporters now seem to advocate. However, they will not admit that price control, brings in its train wage-pegging. 1 remember an occasion when I was. amember of the Opposition and the Labour Government refused to support a motion for the removal of wage-pegging merely because the then member for Reid, Mr. J. T. Lang, had proposed it. Where is the sincerity in that policy?
– He was a Lang agent.
– The honorable member himself was a Langite at one time or another.
– I. was not.
– I have just given an example of the lack of sincerity of the Labour party. If we want improved amenities we must pay for them. Postal charges have not been increased since 1951.
– Who put them up then?
– This Government did, but I remind the honorable member that before doing so the Arbitration Court added a prosperity loading of £1 to the basic wage and shortly afterwards increased it by another 10s. Any one who criticizes Postal Department losses cannot also criticize the imposition of such higher charges as are necessary to square the ledger. We all admit that many of the department’s capital works are paid for out of Consolidated Revenue though they should be paid for out of loan money.
– We admit nothing of the sort.
– I am not surprised’ that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) will not admit that; he will’ admit only what suits him. This is the- only Government since, federation to vacate tine .loan field completely and leave it for the exclusive use of the States. If we are Co develop as we hope we shall, we must finance, capital works out of Consolidated Revenue. Therefore, those honorable members opposite who have so trenchantly criticized this measure would be performing a- greater service for those whom they claim to represent - and I have never admitted that they do actually represent them - if they indulged in a little sane thinking and tried to see where this country was going. They should abandon the tactics that Labour has adopted in the last few years in both this Parliament and the State parliaments. If they did that, they would be helping far more effectively the people whom they claim to represent in Parliament. It is all very well for the honorable member for East Sydney to attempt to interject, but he knows that during the last few days certain actions have been taken- by groups of people in this country, and he has been a very staunch supporter of those actions, and people may read in the papers that certain advocates for the working man are going to make various demands because a particular gentleman has made a certain statement.
I support this legislation. I do not deny that it will be difficult to convince the people that the proposed measures will result in sound financial functioning of the Postal Department, but I believe that if we do not make up the deficiency in this way we will have to make it up by increased taxes. We cannot have it both ways. We must all realize that the deficits that have occurred in various business undertakings, particularly those of the States, must be made up, and that if they are not made up by increased taxes then the charges for the various services must be increased.
The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) made mention of the charges that prevail in the United States of America, but he did not tell us of the conditions in the United Kingdom, nor did he compare those conditions with those in Australia. In any case, that would not be a fair comparison either, because this country could contain the British Isles many times over, and still have plenty of room to spare. The honorable member for Fremantle also suggested that all our mail should be sent by air-mail. I agree that that is a worthy objective, but who will pay the airlines for carrying those mails? If we do not raise the money by increased postage rates, we will have to raise it in some other way. The only thing that we get free in. this country is the air that we breathe, and the Australian Labour party will have to wake up to. the fact that if we want extra facilities and amenities we will have to pay for them, and that the only way we can pay for them is by doing a little bit more work.
– I propose to follow the example of the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) by making, no comment at all on the bill before us. However, I do not propose to range quite as widely or irrelevantly as he has, under your benign chairmanship, Mr. Speaker, or as did the Minister who has among his less pleasant duties that of being one of the leaders of the honorable member for Canning. In attributing the increases proposed in this bill and in the papers that the Minister has tabled to the reduction of the standard working hours in Australia to 40, the honorable member compared the position in this country with that in Canada. In actual fact, the average number of hours worked each week in Australia is greater than the average number of hours a week worked in the United States of America or in Canada. If the honorable member looks at the figures issued by the Internationa; Labour Organization, he will see that the average number worked a week in the United States of America is 40 and in Canada 41. He will not find, either in the figures of the International Labour Organization or in our own Statistician’s figures, the average hours worked a week in Australia. The standard number of hours in this country is 40, but the average number of hours, worked is considerably more. While this Government has been in power it has become increasingly necessary for people to work overtime and to work at week-ends in order to supplement the basic wage that is payable for the standard number of hours.
– As a matter of fact, the Government has smashed the 40-hour week.
– It is about time honorable members on the Government side became a little more frank and honest in regard to the standard hours. Would they have the courage, when supporting the candidature of persons nominated by their parties in State elections, to advocate that the standard hours under State awards - a matter which is entirely within the province of State parliaments - should be increased from 40 to 44, or even to 48, which was the number obtaining at one time between the two world wars? Of course, they would not. Would they have the courage, when “seeking election to this Parliament, to say that if they were returned to office they would ask the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to increase the number of standard hours under Commonwealth awards to 44? The reduction of the standard hours to 40, which was effected about a decade ago, is one of the causes to which every economic ill of this country is ascribed; yet it is one economic ill that Government supporters have not the courage to cure.
The honorable member for Canning, who, 1 see, has beaten a hasty retreat, also referred, perhaps more properly, to the prices referendum. He criticized the Chifley Government for abandoning its war-time power over prices immediately the people declined, in the 1948 referendum, to grant the Commonwealth Parliament permanent power to control prices. The Government’s attempt in 1948 to gain such power was defeated - and the honorable member played his scurrilous part in achieving that result by alleging that the State governments could manage prices control better than the Commonwealth Government; that is, that we could manage the economy of this country better by dividing it into six States and a few territories than by treating it as one whole. As in all their economic predictions, the supporters of the Government have been proved false and dishonest. v I should be glad if the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) who is seeking to interject, would keep his distance, because with regard to him I prefer to adopt the apartheid of his native land. In all these economic matters the Government has been hoist with its own petard. It advocated a “ No “ vote on prices, and now it finds, to its sorrow, that it cannot control prices. It advocated a “ No “ vote on industrial powers in 1946, and now it finds to its sorrow that it cannot co-ordinate industrial conditions in Australia.
Let me now direct my remarks more closely to the bill before us than did the previous speaker. I propose to deal with the matters listed in the papers which the Postmaster-General tabled, but upon which he did not touch in his second-reading speech. I refer to the matters of telephone rentals and installation charges. I should have thought that these were the least justifiable of all the increases that the Minister has proposed. There may be a case, considering the state of the economy after six and a half years of Liberal-Australian Country party coalition government, for increasing postal or telegraph charges, because the postal and telegraph services have been conducted at a loss. But the telephone services are not and have not been conducted at a loss. Let me make some remarks about the last three years for which we have detailed figures. The PostmasterGeneral’s annual report for 1952-53, which was tabled on 13th April, 1954, informed us that 10s. lOd. of every £1 of Postal Department revenue came from the telephone service, and that of every £1 expenditure by the department in that year only 10s. was attributable to that service. In the 1953-54 annual report, which was tabled on 1st June, 1955, we were informed that the respective figures for the telephone service were lis. Id. and 10s. 2d. The annual report for 1954-55, which was tabled on 16th May last, told us that the respective figures were lis. 3d. and 10s. 6d. We do not know what the figures are for 1955-56 because we cannot expect, if the Postmaster-General follows his previous form, to receive the report, which he is obliged to present to Parliament on each year’s activities, until towards the end of the succeeding financial year. In other words, we will get it during the session that will be in progress about next Easter. It is pretty plain, however, that unless there has been a very great deterioration in the finances of the telephone branch, that branch is being conducted at a very considerable profit, indeed at a profit which enabled the department until last year to write off the losses that it suffered in its postal and telegraphic services.
My complaint about the telephone services is not that they have not been conducted at a profit, but that there are not enough of them. It is plain that the waiting list for telephone installations has been increasing every year. Sufficient plans are not being made to cope with current applications, let alone to overtake the arrears of applications, and the cause of all that is not a shortage of men or materials but a shortage of finance. In other words, the telephone section of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is grossly undercapitalized.
Let me give the figures. The report for 1952-53, to which I have referred, shows that the number of applicants waiting for the installation of a telephone was 59,739. By 30th June, 1954, the number had risen to 65,190 and by the end of June, 1955, it had risen to 67,630. In answer to a question I asked on 23rd May last, the PostmasterGeneral agreed that the figure had gone up since then.
I came closest to agreement with the remarks of the honorable member for Canning when he referred to the position in the country. If by “ country “ he means the outer suburbs, he would be correct. The position in regard to applications for telephones is that the number awaiting installation in the country is gradually decreasing and is now only about 18,000. A few years ago it was 20,000. It is coming down slowly and in the course of the next three decades we might expect it to be overcome at the present rate. But in the cities the position is different. For the three years to which I referred the figures for metropolitan deferred applications are 44,761, 46,827 and 49,761 respectively. I believe that the number is now well over 52.000.
– For the whole of Australia?
– Yes, that is the number of outstanding metropolitan applications in Australia. Nearly all of them, it is true, are in Sydney and Melbourne, because they arc the metropolises which are spreading most rapidly. If one goes to the scoreboards which the department displays to its shame in the general post offices in capital cities, one finds that in the outer suburbs the number is greatest and in the inner suburbs it is practically negligible. This morning I learned that the scoreboard on the sixth floor of the .General Post Office in Sydney showed that some of the inner suburbs had a negligible waiting list. Vaucluse had one person waiting for a telephone to be installed; Rose Bay had twelve. To go to slightly less exclusive suburbs, one finds that Cremorne had two and Mosman had six. But the bigger scores are attributable to the outer suburbs. Let me give those over 1,000: Bankstown had 1,309, Ryde 1,359, Miranda 2,264 and Carramar 1,131. They are all in the outer suburbs of Sydney.
One wonders what steps are being taken to overcome this appalling waiting list, because it is’ not only a large one but indeed an increasing one. To show how it is increasing, I shall give the figures at the end of the last three financial years in respect of the Liverpool exchange, which has been in my electorate throughout that time. At 30th June, 1954, there were 368 people waiting for a telephone in the exchange area; at 30th June, 1 955. there were 407, and to-day there are 483.
Take the Carramar exchange, which Serves the electorate of Reid and part of the electorate of Blaxland as well as my own electorate. At the first date the number waiting for a telephone was 352, a year ago it was 657, and to-day, as I said, it is 1,131. I take the Pendle Hill exchange, which has been in my electorate since the last redistribution and which was formerly in the electorate of my friend, the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler). A year ago, the number of people waiting for telephones to be connected was 289, and now it is 448. I believe that every honorable member representing an outer suburban electorate could show similar figures of increasing waiting periods and increasing numbers of applicants.
– Does not that show an improvement in the standard of living?
– Indeed it does, but the pity of it is that the Government, by deliberate economic and financial policy, is preventing the standard of living from improving still further. Like all the Government’s economic controls, 4this burden falls hardest on the man in the small business or in the growing business. It makes the heart sick to interview the people who come to all of us representatives of the outer suburbs and explain that they have been waiting for telephones for years. They are skilled tradesmen, often in business on their own account, but they cannot make the income of which they are capable. or the contribution to the community of which they are capable, unless they can get a telephone.
Take the very simple case of people like plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, plasterers and so on, who are engaged in the building industry. A builder whose housing project has reached the stage where he needs the services of a person in any of those callings would very naturally prefer to ring a man who is on the telephone and not to write to a man who is not on the telephone or wait for him to ring on a public telephone at seven or eight o’clock at night. One will find people in all the outer suburbs who were at the war, acquired a trade, set up in business and are unable to be of maximum use or to support their families to the proper extent because they are unable to get a telephone. A telephone is the normal economic requirement of any man in business on his own.
I mentioned that the department seems to have no plan to overcome the shortage. The shortage is getting worse; the number of applications is increasing. In the courteous letters which the PostmasterGeneral or his directors in the States send to us, we find the phrase being repeated again and again, “ lt is not anticipated that relief can be afforded within twelve months “, or “ This particular area awaits relief on a major cable project which is at present under consideration “. If the department is asked when it anticipates the project will be put in hand or when it anticipates the plans will be completed, it is unable to say.
I referred to the case of the Pendle Hill exchange, which was formerly in the electorate of Mitchell and is now in my electorate. In February last I was told by the director in Sydney that, except in the shopping centre, relief in that area depended on a major cable project in 1957-58. That is not in the estimates which the committee will consider in a few weeks in your absence, Mr. Speaker, but in the estimates for the following financial year. In the same letter I was told that, in respect of the Carramar exchange where 1.131 people are waiting, for telephones, it is expected that 130 of them will receive telephones within one year - that is, by February, 1957 - that another 130 will receive telephones within two years - that is. by February, 1958 - and that the rest must await a major cable relief in 1958-59. That is not in this year’s estimates nor in next year’s estimates but in the following year’s estimates. I realize that this position occurs with every public work in Australia which takes more than one financial year to complete. We have honorable members here who have the gall to criticize State .governments for uncompleted public works. If one wants to see uncompleted public works in any part of Australia, one should go to the nearest telephone exchange where there will be found not only an uncompleted public work, but also an unplanned public work. I have found again and again in my electorate, which before the last distribution was the most populous in Australia
– And now is the most popular.
– i thank the honorable member. Next to his electorate, it is the most popular. I have found again and again that when an exchange project has been completed, there has been an undiminished waiting list because, in the meantime, more applicants have put in applications which cannot be satisfied. As I understand it, the Postal Department is unable, in any part of Australia, to guarantee that everybody who wants a telephone will have it by a particular date.
– The department is trying to force people to accept duplex telephones.
– More than that, lt is also trying to force people on to the opencircuit system - the system which lends so much colour to country life and which has done so much to break down the isolation of the outback, because it is only necessary to pick up the telephone to be able to listen to neighbours conversing. 1 am told that the duplex system, which we are having installed in the outer suburbs - and I thank the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who represents an inner area, for his solicitude in this matter - will provide, in the outer suburbs, the same kind of service that people enjoy in the country, where everybody who wishes to do so can listen in and participate. The amendment of this state of affairs does not require an act of Parliament; it could be done by regulations which, admittedly, we could disallow, or by ministerial instructions, which do not have to come before us at all. 1 hope that the Minister will offer some hope that, during the course of this Parliament, in the next two years at least, a plan will be embarked upon so that applicants for telephones may see the end of the road.
The Postal Department has one advantage which no other business in Australia has. It is the biggest business in Australia, hut it does not have to pay pay-roll tax, as do all State and private businesses. It has one advantage also over the State and municipal public businesses, because it does not have to pay interest on its capital. Admittedly, it is receiving no larger capital investment this year than it received in 1951-52, although it is receiving a slightly larger amount than it received in the intervening years. But at least the department gets its capital investment from Consolidated Revenue - from taxation - which means that the biggest business in Australia is able to be capitalized without having to pay interest on the money put into it. That is a very great advantage. But it has two disadvantages compared with private businesses. The first is that, like all public businesses in Australia, it suffers from this system of annual budgeting. The department never knows when a job will be completed if it takes more than one financial year to complete, whereas private businesses can budget over a longer period if it is necessary to take a longer time to carry out a construction project.
It also has the disadvantage, compared with private businesses in Australia, of having its investment strictly controlled and limited. We have heard much from the Government about its aversion to capital issues control, but this Government has exercised, and continues to exercise, the two forms of that control which it possesses under the Constitution. First, it strictly limits the capital which is raised by the small man through the banking system to build his house or buy stock for his business, or in any way to expand his business. The small man has to do that through the banking system, and through the banking system this Government has exercised the most rigorous capital control over the small man. Secondly, the Government, in regard to this greatest business of all, and in regard to other public businesses in Australia - municipal, county council, State government, and Commonwealth - has exercised control over the amount of capital which will be invested. In relation to municipal and county council businesses the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) decides how much money they will be allowed to raise each year on the loan market, and in relation to State government businesses he finds the money for them, and even if he finds it out of taxation, he charges them interest on it. In regard to Commonwealth businesses he finds it out of taxation, but the amount that is found each year is rigorously controlled. It has, for the last four years, until this year, been fixed at the static sum of £400,000,000 for municipal, county, State and Commonwealth investing, and we find the result in the Postmaster-General’s Department.
It is true to say, although for different reasons, as many honorable members on the Government side have said, that if the telephones in this country were run as they arc in the United States of America, by a private company, we should have a better service. The reason why we would have a better service is not that the private company would use its money better than does the Postmaster-General’s Department, but that it would get more money. The telephone branch is profitable. It is a necessary business in this country. Since private business is not limited by capital issues control in Australia, although it is in most civilized countries, any company which was conducting telephone services could sell shares or issue debentures completely without hindrance, control or guidance from the Government. But since the telephone business of the Postmaster-General’s Department - the biggest business in Australia - is run by the Government, the amount of investment in it is strictly limited year after year. As long as that policy continues, people in the outer parts of the cities - that is, people who have settled in those areas since the war and who need all public services, including telephones - will continue to suffer the deprivations, the loss of income and inconvenience that they at present suffer. Until we change this policy there will be no way out of their problem. After a decade, they may get telephones, but their neighbours, who have come later, will still be without them. lt is no consolation to be told that only six other countries have more telephones per head - or perhaps it would be more accurate to say fewer people per telephone - than Australia. After all, few countries have an area as large as that of Australia, and no other industrial country is so thinly populated. Not only are our rural communities widely dispersed, but so too are our city communities. We shall certainly continue to need a much higher ratio of telephones than elsewhere. The only way in which we can attain that higher ratio is by greater capital investment in Australia’s biggest business.
.- I listened with considerable interest to the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). Of course, I never have a great deal of regard for the opinions of budding lawyers on financial matters, but nevertheless, the honorable member gave us some food for thought concerning expenditure by this Government on postal services, particularly telephone services. It is interesting to note that, in the last year that the Labour government was in office, the total amount spent on such services was £12,500,000. In the current financial year the Government is providing £30,500,000 for expenditure on capital works for the Postal Department. Since the Australian Labour party was last in government, the present Government has provided no less a sum than £21 1,000,000 for capital works for the Postal Department, lt is very easy for members of the Opposition to suggest that there are in the community unlimited funds for these purposes. The States suggest that there should be unlimited funds for their purposes, and they want the Commonwealth to make available large sums for local authorities. That is so much nonsense, because any sensible person knows perfectly well that the resources within the community which can be used by a government for capital projects are limited. May I make reference to the number of telephones which have been installed during the period that we have been in office? In the last year of the Labour administration, 46.000 new subscribers were connected by telephone, while in the year ended 30th June last no fewer than 80,000 new subscribers were connected. That is an improvement of almost 100 per cent, on the performance of the Australian Labour party when it was in government.
– We were recovering from a war.
– I would say that the process of recovery could have been hastened quite considerably if the Labour government had produced efficiency after having been four years in office after the war. I believe that our performance is a clear indication to the Australian people that we have done the very best that is possible, and there would be grave doubts in their minds, despite comments that have been made in this debate, about whether the Australian Labour party, if it had been in office, would have achieved a performance in any way comparable with ours. This morning the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), made a comparison of the efficiency of the Australian postal services with those of the United States of America. He suggested that services in the United States were immeasurably more efficient than ours. I believe that it is correct to say that that statement is wrong. Any country which has been represented at international conferences on postal services has always been prepared to acknowledge the efficiency of the Australian postal services and the ability of the technical staff employed in the Postal Department.
– Why does the Government not pay them a decent wage?
– The honorable member for East Sydney does not like the truth, and he will try to draw me off the track. It was an official of the Postal Department in Australia who was responsible for one of the finest improvements in mail handling processes in recent years. What he has done in Australia has been accepted as an improvement by postal departments in other countries. I believe that in that way we have contributed to the efficiency of the services of other countries and that no reflection can be cast upon technicians in the Australian Postal Department. In relation to the efficiency of the American system, 1 suppose that one can have certain kinds of efficiency at certain prices. It is very interesting to note - I am sorry that the honorable member for Fremantle is not present, because I am sure that he would be interested - that the loss of the United States Postal Department last year was no less than 500,000,000 dollars. One can have efficiency if one is prepared to pay the price, but I can imagine the comments that would come from the Opposition if we recorded, on Postal Department activities, a deficit in any way comparable with the loss suffered in the United States. lt was not my intention to take part in this debate until I listened last night to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). After hearing him, I felt that one should perhaps endeavour to put the record straight in relation to some of his comments, particularly on the hearings and reports of the Public Accounts Committee. lt is interesting to note that, when the report to which the honorable gentleman referred was issued, he was a member of the committee. There was no dissentient report from him, or from any other member, so it must be accepted that the conclusions in the report were the conclusions of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, and that the statements therein were his assessment of the evidence which was placed before the committee. It is my intention to show that some of the statements which he made were misleading; that, as he was a member of the Public Accounts Committee and gave approval to that particular report, he has now completely changed his views on Postal Department finance; and also that, if he were speaking last night on behalf of the Australian Labour party, that party has completely changed its views on that subject. I shall make reasonably frequent references to this report of the Public Accounts Committee.
– It is one of the best reports that has yet been presented to the Parliament.
– I thank the honorable member for Mitchell. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports last night quoted paragraph 386 of the report, which appears at page 40, and reads -
The Department stated that the Government was aware of the losses in the individual categories of mail when it considered rates. The principle adopted by successive governments was that of treating the Post Office results as a whole; the charges for the individual services of branches might be determined “ irrespective of their financial position, so long as the objective of a satisfactory overall result was obtained “.
I suggest to the House that there is no redundancy in that statement, lt makes quite clear that the policy of the Australian Labour party in 1949, when it introduced amendments of postal charges, was exactly the same as the views of the present Government are to-day and as they were in 1951. Accepting that as being the view of the Australian Labour party in 1949, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who agreed that that was his party’s view as well as his own, now attacks this principle because there have been losses on postal and telegraph services but a profit on telephone services. He now says that each of these sections should be self-supporting, and he goes even further and says that within those sections the different categories should be self-supporting. The honorable gentleman, by his expression, conveys that 1 am making an incorrect statement, but I think that I represent his views correctly when I say - paraphrasing his remarks - that last night he said that the letter rate should not subsidize bulk mail.
– The honorable member is right there.
– That, surely, is clear proof that he said that within these sections individual categories also should be selfsupporting. If you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, think that that is not a correct interpretation of what he said, I suggest that you listen further. The honorable member also said, or implied, that city telephones should not subsidize country telephones. The Public Accounts Committee’s report, to which I have already referred, states in paragraph 383, at page 40 -
The history of bulk newspaper rates was one of low rates to facilitate the dissemination of information, particularly over long distances; the charges would not even cover rail and other conveyance costs, quite apart from the Department’s handling costs.
That was quite a deliberate statement to the Public Accounts Committee in relation to the letter rate and mail handling.
In connexion with the other aspect, concerning telephones, 1 refer honorable members to paragraphs 181 and 182, at page 21 of this report. At paragraph 181, we find a statement from the department which was accepted by the Public Accounts Committee. The paragraph reads as follows: -
The relationship of rents to capital costs is a theoretical one, but that is all. The Department said that -
In accordance with government policy, concession rates are applied to telephone services in country districts in the interests of decentralization, the maintenance of people on the land ana the development of primary production.’ To supply services in rural areas on the basis of the charges corresponding with the costs would give rise to widespread dissatisfaction and could impose real hardship on a section of the community, almost wholly devoted to primary production.
That is the situation accepted by the Labour party and by this Government, but it was denounced by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports in the speech which he made to the House last night. Paragraph 182 of the report reads as follows: -
Paragraph 183 reads -
Paragraph 184 reads -
The rental scale, in principle, is designed to meet this situation, but the steps and divisions in it are arbitrary
So I feel that there can be no real reason to argue about this problem. The report officially indicates, on evidence from the Postmaster-General’s Department, that this has been the accepted practice since 1910. We come to 1956, and apparently the Labour party is doing a somersault. I feel that the Director-General made this position quite clear in a statement which was quoted in paragraph 43 at page 10 of the report and which reads as follows: -
The Director-General informed the committee that in the past governments had been interested mainly in the overall results of the finances of the post office. They had not fixed charges for services so that each branch would be self-supporting.
That is a position with which I am completely satisfied. If the honorable member for Melbourne Ports wants to carry to a final conclusion the view that he expressed last night, I believe that he must go even a little further because when the Public Accounts Committee took evidence from the Postal Department it was discovered, in relation to particular services such as the postal service, that there was a loss in one State and a profit in another State. If one is to accept the principle advanced by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that each category must pay its way, then the losses must be overtaken in the States in which they are incurred; and in the States in which a profit is made, the charges must be reduced so that a balanced situation may result. That is the suggestion which is inherent in the proposal of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports.
I now want to deal with another matter to which the honorable member for Melbourne Ports referred last night, lt concerns interest charges. I appreciate that the problem relating to interest charged to government departments for moneys which have been made available to them for capital works purposes is not an easy one to solve. But there are different approaches to this problem in relation to different organizations. If we consider the Postal Department we find that up to 1954 the total amount that had been provided from loan funds was approximately £45,000,000 and that the amount provided from Consolidated Revenue Fund was £193,000,000. Interest was charged on the money that was provided from loan funds. The actual interest which had been paid by the Treasury was debited to and paid by the Postal Department. But sinking fund payments were provided and when we made this inspection, only £16,000,000 was outstanding as loan moneys. The only interest being debited to the Postal Department was charged on that £16,000,000, and the interest is charged on a lesser sum as each year passes.
I believe that if we are to arrive at the real cost of a service we must take interest into consideration. There may be those who disagree with me, but I refer them to the position of the Joint Coal Board and the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. Those organizations have received money out of revenue for capital purposes, and interest is actually being charged to them. I feel that this principle, if it is the established principle of the Government, should be carried into the Postal Department and into any other business undertaking the capital works of which are provided from revenue. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports does not agree with me in this matter. But he will agree that the committee referred to this problem, and asked the Treasury to give particular consideration to it. To my knowledge, nothing definite has been agreed upon in relation to it. I consider that it is important that we, as the Commonwealth Parliament, should establish a principle in relation to this problem. 1 feel that a bill of this nature which imposes additional charges contains an element of unpleasantness. That is always so when a bill imposes additional taxation or additional charges for services which are to be rendered by a Commonwealth department. But I do feel that the majority of members in this House and the majority of the public will take a realistic view of this matter, particularly those who use what we might call near-city trunk services and who benefit quite considerably on a percentage basis from the charges which are made to them. All those people who make longdistance trunk-line calls will benefit from the reduction in the charge. Of course, there are those who feel that there is some doubt as to the justification for the increased charge for telegrams. We all know that the telegram section of the Postal Department is losing money. It is not profitable business to send telegrams because it is so much easier and little more costly to make a trunkline call, perhaps because it may be done very quickly, or to use the airmail service. Airmail services have been developed to such an extent that people can send a much longer message and with not a great deal of delay. Consequently, people move towards airmail services and away from the sending of telegrams. lt seems to me that the increase in charges for telegrams could bring into operation the law of diminishing returns. The higher the rate for sending telegrams is made, the fewer people will actually send telegrams. There was clear evidence of that after the increases in 1951. In 1950-51 the PostmasterGeneral’s Department transmitted 37,000,000 telegrams, but in 1951-52 it transmitted only 29,000,000 - a very substantial reduction. Following the increase of telegraph charges under this bill, revenue will decline again. Whether the telegraph services can be conducted profitably on that basis I do not know.
Taken overall, the bill indicates a very realistic approach to postal problems. It is the responsibility of the Government, and of the Parliament collectively, to see that this Commonwealth business undertaking in conducted efficiently - I believe it maintains a high degree of efficiency - and also, if not at a profit, at least at a very small loss. I support the bill and commend it to honorable members.
.- The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) has given this matter a good deal of thought, but I think his comments about the speech made last evening by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) were less than fair. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports followed in this debate another Queenslander - the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) - who said that the Postmaster-General’s Department was a business undertaking, not a profitmaking enterprise, and who suggested that those who use the services provided should be called upon to pay for them. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports developed that theme and pointed out, I think quite soundly - I hope to amplify some of his comments later - that that was not the principle upon which the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) had based the charges that will be imposed under this measure. So the bill, apart from being unrealistic, does not apply the principles which Opposition members, in their innocence, believed were stated by the honorable member for Capricornia, speaking as an official Government spokesman. We assumed that if the principles enunciated by him were to be followed we should examine the bill in that light and give the Government the benefit of our constructive criticism and helpful suggestions. We do not base our criticisms on the fanciful grounds on which the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) seemed to think we base them, and we do not oppose measures just because we want things cheaply and do not want to work for them.
Opposition members would support the increased charges if they were sure that the most generally used services of the Postmaster-General’s Department, for which the ordinary person will foot the bill when these additional imposts are added to first-class letter postage rates and telephone charges, were provided for the community at less than cost. The Australian
Labour party believes fundamentally that the things enjoyed by the community must be paid for. That is part of our philosophy and fundamental to our outlook. Opposition members would probably support the bill quite heartily if they thought the wages, salaries and working conditions of postal workers would be improved as a result of the increased charges. They would support it also if the increased charges would enable the department to undertake great capital works which could not be financed by other means - for instance, the telephone developments that the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) pointed out were necessary. Opposition members would support this measure if the general charges arrived at were based equitably throughout the whole postal service. Finally, they would support it if they were convinced also that postal services generally would be improved by the expenditure of any additional revenue obtained.
The Postmaster-General has paid the House the compliment of remaining at the table during almost every minute of this debate, and on behalf of Opposition members I thank him for his diligence and courtesy. He said in his second-reading speech that the purpose of the bill was to adjust certain post and telegraph charges in order to provide additional revenue. He said also that additional payments had to be made to contractors who carried mail by rail, road, air and sea. I shall discuss air mails more particularly later. The Minister stated also that there has been a marked growth in business with consequent expansion of revenue. He was faithful to the men who conduct the services, and said that constant and unremitting attention has been given by officers at all levels to efficiency and maximum output. When we examine the Minister’s speech, we find that it did not answer in advance any of the criticisms offered by the Opposition.
The letter and telephone services are the fundamental services provided by the department, and are most used by the community. Let us examine the bill from the stand-point that general charges should be related to the services supplied. The muchquoted report on the Postmaster-General’s Department made by the Public Accounts Committee in 1954 gives us some illuminating information. At this juncture, I should like to say that I think the PostmasterGen :ral could produce his annual report a little more promptly. The report shows that the profit on the letter and post card services, which are most used by the community, was £3,000,000 in 1953-54. The postage charge for letters is to be raised by a id. an ounce. That is indefensible. In 1953-54, the carriage of commercial papers in their letter form showed a profit of £650,000 and in packet form, a loss of £100,000. Printed papers in letter form showed a profit of £300,000, and in packet form a loss of £230,000. lt is obvious that the letter delivery service, which is handling the smallest article in the postal service, is being conducted efficiently, and that there is no need to increase the letter postage charge. In fact, one could make a pretty strong case for a reduction of the rate.
I think it is reasonable to take serious objection to the basis upon which the proposed charges have been assessed. If the Postmaster-General’s Department is attempting to distribute parcels throughout Australia at quite unprofitable charges, it must either increase the charges or go out of this kind of business. After all, other means for the carriage of this matter are available, notably the socialized railways system and the Commonwealth’s own airline, which could probably handle this business without undue strain. There must be something wrong with a department that has so lopsided an attitude to internal finances. We object to the increase of charges. We think that if the Postal Department has to adjust its finances, obviously it should have an internal examination of its working and apportion the necessary adjustment of charges in the most equitable way, and in directions in which they could be most fairly distributed. After all, if the Postal Department is to be used as a taxing medium, or as a means of subsidizing the distribution of commercial information, or for the decentralization of telephone systems, or anything else, its costs should be fairly spread over the whole community, and not simply borne by people who use the mails for ordinary letters. The same comment would apply to telephone charges. Last year the telephone branch made a profit of something like £2,900,000. We on this side of the House have been rather critical of the immense profits of some big business enterprises in this country and, I think, rightly so, when the making of these huge profits is followed by an increase of the prices of their products. When a government institution whose services are the very backbone of the nation’s communications system makes a profit of almost £3,000,000 and then raises its charges to the people, I think it is time for us to utter a very loud protest. That is what I am doing now, not as a telephone subscriber, but as a representative of many other telephone subscribers. There would be no quarrel with an increase of telephone charges if the telephone services were running at a loss, because it would then be reasonable to expect the subscribers to foot the bill. But that is not the case. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) announced in the budget speech that the Government intended to impose an installation fee of £10 in respect of each new telephone. He gave as the reason for that imposition the high installation costs and the heavy capital charge against the community resulting from the installation of telephones. Admittedly, the installation of telephones is an expensive as well as a very technical operation. There is no general complaint about the technical efficiency of postal workers in that respect. 1 think that the
Treasurer said that the average cost of installing a telephone was £250. A cursory examination of the figures shows that something upwards of 1,500,000 telephones have been installed in Australia since the service began, and that something upwards of £300,000,000 has been invested in Postal Department capital works. The Government is building post offices all over the country. One and a half million times £250 produces a figure that of itself destroys the Treasurer’s contention, even allowing for present day inflated costs. In any event, if it was not necessary over the last few years to charge an installation fee, it is not necessary now. It will be an unfair tax levied on people who have been waiting for years to have telephones installed.
The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) claimed in this chamber recently that his electorate has the Australian record of 4.000 people waiting for telephones. I do not know whether he is proud of the record, but it is certainly not his fault. Four thousand times £10 means that a special tax of £40,000 will be levied on the electors of Hughes. I think, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that even your electors in the division of Wimmera, well heeled though they may be, would object to footing such a bill.
A point on which we would support the Minister, if we thought that there was any true basis for his claim, is in connexion with the wages element of increased costs. If he proposed- to increase wages and improve conditions, we would be with him, but he has no intention to do that. We have had an instance recently of how the postal workers feel about their wages. Postal workers are probably as loyal in meeting their responsibility to the nation as is any other group in the community. They have shown over the years their reliability and integrity, and have faithfully carried out their duties. Over the last few weeks they have been bringing to the notice of the PostmasterGeneral some aspects of their work with which they are dissatisfied. We in this House generally are impressed with the Postmaster-General’s bearing. He answers questions asked here, and deals with inquiries and representations put to him by honorable members, in a manner becoming an officer and a gentleman. However, postal workers have told me that they are very disappointed with the provocative stand taken by the Postmaster-General in dealing with their complaints recently. We know that that is not his true nature, and that a more friendly approach would perhaps have achieved more.
– He paraded them.
– Yes, and that is not the way to handle postal workers. It will not do. As to the need for the proposed increases of charges, I personally would be quite happy to pay an extra half penny on postage for my letters, or an extra £1 on my telephone bill, if I thought that the problem would be solved that way. But’ I do not think that it would. One of the big complaints of the postal workers is the disparity between State and Federal award wages, so that postal workers receive about £1 a week less than is received by people working in comparable jobs under State awards. They are dissatisfied with the amenities in country post offices and line depots, and with the wage rates generally. They claim that these are not worthy of Australian workers. They resent the abolition of penalty rates which took place some years ago.
Australian workers do not want money for nothing. They do not want a 20-hour week, a 30-hour week or a 40-hour week unless the economy can support such conditions. But they want wage justice. The mailman who delivers letters receives from £12 to £13 a week. His average annual salary is, I think, about £758. He has to keep smiling on the job, and blow his whistle. He must not break the regulations, and at the same time, apparently, he must not obey them if he is to do his job properly. That puts him in a very awkward situation. A mail officer receives between £13 and £14 a week, as does a lineman. Most of these people are good workers, as is admitted by the Postmaster-General, but they have a take-home wage that is less than the basic wage after the deduction of taxes and superannuation contributions. That is not good enough. As far as I, personally, am concerned if it is necessary to raise postal rates to give them better conditions, we on this side of the House would be in agreement with that. It is basic to our whole principle and our whole attitude that the Commonwealth Public Service should set a standard for the workers in conditions, hours and wages. If the Government will not stand up for the good standards that the Australian worker is entitled to enjoy, how can we expect private industry to do it? When this Parliament is dealing with conditions and hours of work it has a responsibility to be the leader, and not traipse unwillingly along behind some other employer, and in a provocative fashion throw out challenges to the trade union movement, the unity of which is really one of the mainsprings of our national strength. I am speaking on behalf of the Opposition when I say that when it comes to a question of justice as between workers and employers, we are on the side of the workers, including the postal workers.
I have raised the matter of disparities in postal rates for various kinds of mail, including industrial goods and commercial papers. There is something odd about this. Large firms which post out great bundles of advertising material at sale times apparently enjoy the advantage of bulk postage rates. That is to say, they are subsidized, in effect, by every person who posts an ordinary letter or has a telephone installed in his home. That is not good. In the face of rising profits, if there is one group in the community that can afford to carry on its work without dipping into the pockets of the rest of the community through official means, it is these large business undertakings, particularly the newspapers in this country. I have no objection to special privileges being given to people who live in remote places, and I am prepared to support applications of that kind. It is a part of the duty of Australians generally to support national development, in whatever direction it is required.
The Minister has shown a good deal of consideration when we have approached him with suggestions relating to individual and local matters, so I am going to suggest now that there be instituted an extra postal service. It is obvious that it does not cost 4d. to handle a letter that has to go from point A to point B in one district. The cost of handling such a letter probably would be Id. or 2d. I suggest that, for the encouragement of postal business - which, surely, is a part of our objective - there be instituted a local delivery fee. If I had 100 letters to send to constituents in Brunswick or Coburg, it would be good business on the part of the Postal Department to encourage me to take them to a post office for distribution through the post. After all, the postman has to go on his rounds.
In Melbourne, there are many free newspapers. The average charge for delivery is 3s. 6d. a 100 or 30s. a 1,000, through private channels, but the Postal Department would charge £16, a 1,000. We have reached the stage when, particularly in closely built-up areas, it is cheaper for a person who wants 300 or 400 letters delivered to hire a taxi to take him round the district, so that he can deliver the letters himself, than it is for him to send them through the post. I believe that the Postal Department should encourage people to use its resources. If it can provide extra services without placing an undue burden on its resources or causing administrative confusion, it should try to do so. I suggest that that can be done in respect of local deliveries. In my electorate there are over 200 organizations - kindergartens, mothers’ clubs, progress associations and so on - each with hundreds of members whom it wishes to contact frequently. The system that is developing is the system of personal delivery of letters.
I believe that the Postal Department could deliver letters of that kind for much less than 4d. There ought to be instituted something like a 2d. post. It would not cause administrative difficulties. A postage stamp of a distinctive colour could be used. No great problems would arise, because postal workers are pretty adept at detecting letters that are overweight or incorrectly stamped. I know from personal experience that it would be of great assistance to many organizations if there were available a means to contact members at a cost much lower than the present postal charge. Such a system would be of great assistance to members of the Liberal party. They can afford to post circulars at election times, but we cannot.
I have been puzzled by the charges made for the carriage of air mail. It may well be that my mind was a little hazy when I looked into this matter late last night. My arithmetic may be at fault. I read that the carriage of internal airmails cost £895,988. That sum was paid to the airlines of Australia for the transport of airmail in Australia. Then I saw that, for that sum, a total weight of 1,855,660 lb. was carried. The cost to the Postal Department for the carriage of airmails is just under 10s. per lb. It seems to me that the time has come when a readjustment of the charge should be made. During the last ten years, air transport has become accepted by the community. I understand that the payments to the airlines are based on a charge of .05d. per lb.-mile. If we look into the matter, we see that the charge for carrying a letter from Melbourne to Sydney is something like 2s. Id. per lb. But it costs only 9id. per lb. to send a parcel bv air freight from Melbourne to Sydney by Trans-Australia Airlines. So the Postal Department, for some reason, is paying the airlines much more to carry airmails than it would need to pay if mails were sent by air freight. There is no reason why the carriage of a letter should cost more than the carriage of a packet of books, a piano, or a race-horse.
My friend the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) points out that in the case of airmail some of the money goes to Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. There, perhaps, is the rub. I understand that over the last few years that airline has been reaping the benefit of our airmail services. We are paying a private airline to carry airmails, although we have an airline of our own. That is not the kind of thing that managers of private businesses would advocate to their boards of directors. If they did, they would soon be in real trouble. The excuse that they believed in fair competition would not wash with their superiors. I do not think that we are in a position to subsidize Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited, or any other airline. The time has come when the rate charged by the airlines for the carriage of airmails should be adjusted. We can send a parcel from Cairns to Perth for 4s. 5d. per lb., so there is no reason why we should be paying almost 10s. per lb. for the carriage of airmails. If we on this side of the House entered into a contract with the Postmaster-General to carry airmails for about £400,000 a year, we should still make a few hundreds of thousands of pounds profit, I think. I am open to correction there, because I have been able to make only a cursory examination of the matter, in the absence of last year’s report.
We are a little despondent about the failure of the Postal Department to expand its capital works activities. The argument of the Postmaster-General that it is necessary for the department to raise extra money would be sound all right to us if we could be certain that all the postal works that have been neglected for years could, and would, be undertaken as a result of the extra impost. But we are certain that that will not be the case. There has been no radical alteration of the Governments’ attitude to public works. Therefore, we have no cause for optimism or any reason to believe that the next financial year will produce different results. We know that in twelve months’ time we shall be receiving from the Postmaster-General the same kind of letters, phrased in the same courteous fashion and signed in the same fair, round hand, that we received twelve months ago. The Government’s attitude to capital works is discouraging, but 1 shall not deal with that matter in detail now, because it was dealt with in the budget debate and will be dealt with again later by honorable members on this side.
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) said that the Government had to increase postal charges to meet rising costs. The Postmaster-General himself said that the cost of all factors involved in postal services had risen and, therefore, that it was necessary for the department to increase its charges. Where do we stand? Is this the Government of the country, or is it not? Is it the role of the Government to stand in a corner, as it were, remote and unfriended, and, after everybody else has put his price up, to say, “ Please do not do it, boys, because if you do we shall have to follow suit “? That is not good enough. In dealing with prices and costs, the Government must adopt the attitude that it is going to be the master of its own house, or the captain of the ship. Year after year, this Government and the State governments, the authorities responsible for the provision of the public services required by the community - services which are written into the cost of every article used in the community - have said plaintively, apologetically and almost pathetically, “ We have got to increase our charges in order to meet the effects of inflation “. If necessary the Government should be sufficiently courageous to bring down the price of government ser vices and thus attempt to beat inflation, but apparently that does not fit in with the latest mathematical and economic formula. It is supposed to be the captain of the ship, but it is acting more like the crew. I have before me a copy of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ dated 1 946. It contains a cartoon portraying the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) as St. George, or some other mythical hero, riding his charger at the dragon of high taxation and inflation. He was going to kill the dragon ten or eleven years ago, and no doubt in ten or eleven years time he will be just as far from doing so, as he is to-day. Obviously, the Government’s policies of the last six or seven years have not worked, and it is time that something else was tried. After all, if the Government can carry out a big wage-fixing experiment on the workers of Australia, it can just as readily carry out an economic experiment on the letters, telegrams, and telephones of this country. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) and the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) made some telling points. The honorable member for Melbourne told us how, over the years, Labour had ploughed millions and millions of pounds back into the Postal Department.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I had great hopes for the sagacity of the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) because he paid a warm and sincere compliment to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) for the way in which he had attacked the problems confronting him when he accepted his portfolio. The honorable member’s sagacity on that point was outstanding, but it diminished until, in the end, there was no sense in what he was saying. He finished by making an extraordinary reference to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in which he described him as a “ mythical “ figure chasing inflation. The Prime Minister has indeed chased inflation, and very successfully too. If he had not, and the Postal Department had been left in the hands of Labour, postal charges would to-day be many times greater than they are. The proposed increases are fragmentary compared with what they would have been if Labour had remained in office. 1 wish to refer to two outstanding features of this bill, but first, I pay a compliment to the Postmaster-General on his secondreading speech, and to that army of postal officers who are doing such an efficient job. As the honorable member for Wills has said, the letter carrying and telephone services are the principal activities of the department. It is extraordinary to witness the degree of faith displayed by people who put a letter in a receiving box, confident that it will reach the addressee. That extraordinary faith is displayed by the public millions of times during the course of a year. The efficiency that characterizes the Postal Department at all levels, right up to the top administrators, is quite outstanding. The Postmaster-General is also to be congratulated upon the fact that though the volume of traffic handled has increased by about 34 per cent, in the last few years, the increase in staff over the same period has been held at 10 per cent. That is an example of greater productivity accompanied by greater efficiency, and a clamping down on cost increases. One cannot believe that if Labour had remained in government, there would have been cither a 34 per cent, increase in business or such a comparatively low increase in staff. The position would probably have been reversed. The stultification of development in this country would have prevented an increase in postal business of more than about 10 per cent., and Labour’s policy of sponsoring inefficiency would probably have resulted in a staff increase approaching 34 per cent.
The achievement of the department is remarkable. Such tremendous development as has occurred was not foreseeable, it has been a feature not only of the telephone section, but every facet of the Postal Department’s activities. There is, for instance, the need to provide for overseas cabling networks. A whole host of houses has sprung up in the outer suburbs of the major capital cities, and in the rural cities also. The people who have come to live in them feel that they are rightly entitled to the services that are offered to an innercity dweller. They require that mail shall be delivered to their homes, that they shall have telephones and so on. There has been, in consequence, a tremendous drain upon the resources of the department, but its engineers have been equal to the task and have met the new demand by improving mechanical means of sorting, and so on. I repeat that the achievement is remarkable. The department is to be complimented upon the way in which it has gone about the task of meeting the changed circumstances.
I find, however, that I am not in agreement with the following passage in the Minister’s second-reading speech: -
The bill, therefore, continues generally the policy which has been in force over many years of providing communication services in country areas on favorable terms to aid decentralization of industry and of population.
I feel that postal services should be directed to fulfilling demand and not regarded as something which can shape geographical dispositions. Decentralization ought not to be pursued for its own sake. The department’s purpose should be to satisfy demand wherever it occurs. It ought not, by creating a more favorable service in one area, attempt to encourage decentralization. In this respect, my major criticism of the department relates to the radius of the network service in the capital cities. I speak more particularly, of course, of Melbourne. The policy of providing a service which will encourage decentralization of industry and population has resulted in the maintenance of what I regard as a rather pernicious system - the 15-mile network radius, lt has had an extraordinary effect. It was adopted before the war as one that would encompass all the closely settled urban areas. It was thought that beyond the 15-mile radius one might expect to find settlements, in the form of towns, villages and larger urban centres. The department made a break between the capital city and the satellite or ancillary cities round about it. One might describe it as a kind of green belt between the capital city and the ancillary cities. Since that radius was fixed at 15 miles for Melbourne and Sydney, and 10 miles for Newcastle, there has been an extraordinary growth which could not have been foreseen. If one goes to the artificial 15-mile radius line, one finds that it does not offer any demarcation between the major capital cities and the ancillary or satellite towns and settlements.
Great industrial expansion has taken place in certain areas, and I give the House the illustration of the town of Dandenong.
The development that has taken place in that area in post-war years has been quite remarkable and dramatic. Even four or five years ago no one could have looked down the main street of that town and foreseen that in five years it would become a thriving centre of commerce and industry. However, that is what has happened, and I suggest to the Postmaster-General that it is time to review the arbitrary boundary of the area included in the radius of 15 miles, because some extraordinary results have flowed from this artificial demarkation The most serious, of course, is the difference in the prices of calls made from inside and outside the boundary. I compliment the Minister and his staff upon their rationalization of trunk-line charges, and upon the decision to reduce from 8d. to 6d. the charge for a call made from within the area between the 15 and 20 mile boundaries. That is indeed a major contribution towards alleviating the present hardships, and I know that it has met with a great deal of warm approval. Of course the rationalization of the trunk-line structure applies not only to the 15 and 20 mile division but also to the whole system, but I deal with this particular division because it affects the Dandenong area.
In Dandenong the 15-mile boundary, when considered in terms of the Prince’s Highway, or Dandenong-road as it is also called, is at Chandler-road. On the corner or. those two thoroughfares is a public telephone booth. Until about five or six months ago it was often found that a person could go to that public telephone booth, which is about 11 miles from Dandenong, and make a call on the city network in less time than it would have taken to make the call through the manual exchange in Dandenong. There was also the advantage that, although the call on the manual exchange cost more, it was terminated at the end of three minutes, whereas the call from the public booth could be extended almost ad infinitum, and need not be terminated until, perhaps, another person beat on the door of the telephone cabinet and demanded the right to use it.
When these difficulties were brought to the notice of the Postmaster-General, he was kind and courteous enough to ask his director-general and the deputy director for Victoria to go out and see the people in
Dandenong and investigate the position. As a result of a very warm conference that took place between representatives of the local chamber of commerce, the shire council and other interested parties, a great improvement was noticed in the telephone service. We must compliment the people who have operated the manual exchange. They have worked under great difficulties and have done a very good job. However, since the conference to which I have referred the service has improved tremendously. The time lost in making telephone galls has been drastically reduced. Even now, however, much time is taken up in dialling the exchange and waiting for the exchange to contact the required number and ring back to the caller. There is, of course, even a delay on local calls.
I suggest to the Postmaster-General that one of two things should be done. He should either extend the overall radius or extend the 15-mile boundary in particular areas where such action is warranted. I suggest that Dandenong is one such area. Tremendous industrial development has taken place there. In that district are located the plant of General MotorsHolden’s Limited, the establishments of H. J. Heinz Company Proprietary Limited, the International Harvester Company of Australia Proprietary Limited, and a host of light engineering and manufacturing plants. Of no less importance are the establishments of Westminster Carpets Proprietary Limited and a bacon factory. All these industries are being carried on under extreme difficulties. The area is going ahead like wildfire. The number of applications for telephone services is very great. The Postal Department has given an undertaking that within a short time an automatic exchange will replace the present manual exchange. Although this major improvement will reduce wasted time, the telephone users in the area will still be at a great disadvantage as regards the cost of calls, when compared with people located inside the metropolitan network.
The boundary of the network lies at a point situated just outside the area of major industrial development, but within the network are some other areas in which there is great potential industrial development. I think any honorable member who has visited Dandenong will agree that it is quite likely to become the motor car centre of Australia. Already in the district there are the establishments of the International Harvester Company of Australia Proprietary Limited and General Motors-Holden’s Limited, which are outside the 15-mile radius. On the other hand, Rootes Limited has recently purchased a site inside the network for the assembly and manufacture of motor cars. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that somewhere in the district a giant finishing and trimming plant will be established, to which the three companies that I have mentioned will send their chassis for completion. If that happens, the number of telephone calls between the trimming plant and its customers will be tremendous. Even at the proposed rate of 6d. for a call, telephone charges will have a material effect on the development of industry in the Dandenong area.
Apart from the industrial development, residential development has been quite spectacular. At the time the artificial radius of 15 miles was selected, the startling growth of this district could not possibly have been foreseen, and to retain that radius now is a rather short-sighted policy. I ask the Postmaster-General to consider seriously a differential extension of the network, or, alternatively, an increase in the whole radius, in order to ease the burdens of people in the Dandenong area and to encourage industrial development and population in a district where such development can take place without imposing any tremendous drain on our capital works programme. If we pursue decentralization as an aim in itself, we must of necessity increase the volume of public works that will have to be carried out in order to cope with residential and industrial growth.
I have one further comment to make. I wish to express my disappointment at the fact that the cost of telegrams is to be increased to such an extent. It is hoped that additional revenue of £250,000 will be received from this source, but I believe that this hope will not be realized. I feel, as the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) has said, that we have reached the dreadful position in which Malthus found himself some years ago. I know that Malthus has been discredited to a great extent, and that his thinkings are no longer fashionable, but he has given us a term that is still widely used. I refer to the law of diminishing returns. If ever there was an example which justified the assertions of the long-since-departed gentleman, I suggest that it could be our telegraph service. We are reaching the position where it will cost infinitely less to make a trunk-line call from point A to point B than it will to send a telegram between places that lie between those points, and, of course, in the case of a telegram one cannot be certain that the person to whom it is addressed will receive it when it arrives at its destination.
The Postmaster-General knows better than any one else in Australia the great number of people who are seeking to have telephone services installed. I feel that in the foreseeable future the volume of telegrams will decline because of the facility to make a telephone call. I consider it is a mistake to increase the cost of telegraph services at this stage to the extent that they are to be increased. Those increases are expected to realize an additional £250,000 a year, but I personally doubt whether they will do so. I feel that the volume of telegrams sent will drop quite markedly. However, the PostmasterGeneral has informed the House that the yield for a full year from the increases in postal charges will be about £7,250,000. Of that £7,250,000, only £250,000 is expected to be raised from increased telegram charges. Telephone services are expected to produce an additional £3,150,000.
Presumably the figure of £3,150,000 was arrived at by assuming that the volume of trunk-line calls would be maintained despite the reduced charges for those calls. I suggest to the Postmaster-General that that is not the case. 1 anticipate that, while there may be quite a marked reduction in the volume of telegrams despatched, the volume of trunk-line calls in the smaller mileage divisions will be quite dramatically greater and that the figure of £3,150,000 will, in fact, be considerably exceeded. If that is so, it may even approach the £250,000 which it is desired to obtain from increased telegram charges. The Postmaster-General is resolved to give effect to the decision to increase telegraphic charges to this level, but I hope that, if it appears that the revenue from telephone services will be greater than the estimate at this stage, consideration will be given immediately to reducing the cost of telegrams. 1 emphasize the point, which is, of course, well known to the PostmasterGeneral, that these charges are, in fact, imposed by regulation and, therefore, can be reduced at any time, subject to the rules being observed.
.- The bill is further evidence that this Government is responsible for increasing costs. These increases in postal charges are, of course, in the form of indirect taxation. This Government was elected on the promise to reduce that kind of taxation. Therefore, we have evidence here of another violation by this Government of its promises. It is another one to add to the long list of broken promises.
If we look at the second-reading speeches made from time to time by PostmastersGeneral in which reasons are given for increasing charges, we will find that they are very similar. The cost structure is always used as the reason. On the previous occasion when these rates were increased, the Minister said that, as a consequence of increased charges, cost of material, rail freights and similar factors, it was inescapable that the expenditure of the Postal Department would exceed revenue by a considerable amount, despite the increased tariff enacted in the previous year.
All those speeches have the same trend; the rates have to be increased because of increased costs. In his second-reading speech on this bill, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) said -
As honorable members will recall, it is now more than five years since Parliament approved a variation in the charges. During this period there have been progressive increases in costs due to factors which lie entirely outside the department’s control. Nevertheless, the tar. fis have not been raised, except thai in 1955 the public telephone fee of 2d., which had been in force for many years, was increased to 3d. Cost of living adjustments alone have since July, 1951, when the present rales were fixed, added almost £12.000.000 annually to the wages bill of the post office. Marginal adjustments in 1954 and 1955 and the recent basic wage increase have added a further £6,000,000 a year.
The Postmaster-General then said that the cost of materials used by the department in large quantities, stores, freights, motor vehicles, and canvas, had increased. The Government from time to time is dealing with the effect instead of the cause. If it did the right thing about these matters, it would deal with the cost structure and prevent the need for these rates to be increased. The Government is baulking the position at every turn and, unless it deals with this matter in a real way, I should not be surprised to hear in the next budget the same story of the need to increase postal rates because the cost of living is still rising. It is time the Government made an attempt to attack the cause, instead of just, fiddling with the effect from time to time.
In a second-reading speech on postal charges a few years ago, the former PostmasterGeneral, the honorable member fo Richmond (Mr. Anthony) said that, since 1912, in accordance with the express wish of the Parliament, the Postal Department had prepared its balance-sheets on a commercial basis which took 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 did not receive full cash payments. I still believe that those adjustments have not been made. The Postal Department is still performing, free of charge, many services for other departments. Those services should not be piled on to it. If any one uses the postal services, he should pay the same rate as any one else. However, I shall produce some evidence to show thai what was promised in 1951 has not been fulfilled.
In the past, the Postal Department has paid very well. With the exception of 1930-31, it showed substantial profits over a period of twenty years. In 1944-45, ii showed a profit of £6,674,000. That was at the end of the war. The greatest peacetime profit was £3,625,000 in 1938-39. At later periods, a profit of £2,000,000 has been made.
Over a period of years, the Postal Department has shown an accumulated profit of £63,000,000. That is revealed in the last annual report of the department. Rates should not be increased from time to time simply because of a loss in one year. I tried to get the figures for the financial year 1955-56. because I believe that in debating these matters we should have a true balance-sheet. I do not know how we can accept the whole budget as a true statement of our accounts when the PostmasterGeneral’s Department admits that it has not been able to give us its final figures. 1 asked the Postmaster-General for information on this subject and he replied to the effect that the trading results of the postal, telephone and telegraph services for .1955-56 were not yet known. He suggested that, with an undertaking which operates on such a vast scale, many end-of-the-year adjustments, including adjustments overseas, cannot be made straight away. I appreciate the difficulty but it seems that we are debating the annual budget at the wrong time of the year, because we have not before us complete balance-sheets from all of the departments. In 1954-55, the last period for which figures are available, the postal branch incurred a loss of approximately £1,800,000, the telephone branch earned a profit of £2,904,000, and the telegraph branch showed a loss of £ 1 ,200,000. Since the department almost balanced its books during that year, and as the figures for 1955-56 are not yet available, why has the Postmaster-General found it necessary to increase postal charges?
According to the second-reading speech of the Postmaster-General, it is intended to increase postage rates by a total of £2,750.000, telephone rates by £4,200,000, and telegraph charges by £300,000, making a total, for a full year, of £7,250,000. I cannot understand why telephone users should be socked, since the telephone branch earned such a good profit in the last year for which figures are available. Why should they be asked to pay an additional £4,200,000? As has been mentioned by previous speakers during the debate, the proposed surcharge of £10 for each new telephone installation has come as a shock to the community. I do not think that this provision should apply to the 60,000 or 70.000 applicants for telephones who have been waiting for installations for long periods and who have, in many cases, suffered loss of business because they have not been able to use this convenient means of communication. In my electorate there is a nurseryman who has been waiting for a telephone for ten years. The success of his business depends, to a great degree, on country orders. Having suffered the disadvantage of being without a telephone for ten years he will have to pay an additional £10 when eventually one is installed. That is a most unfair penalty. Perhaps the Postmaster-General said to himself, in deciding on this new charge, “ This is a nice easy way to get £750,000 “. In my opinion, it is not a proper way to increase revenue.
Let us consider the way in which this charge will affect people who urgently need a telephone service, such as invalid pensioners. In metropolitan areas, the new rates will mean that people who want telephones will have to pay rental of £12 per annum, in addition to the £10 installation fee. All honorable members, I am sure, know of invalid pensioners who, because of their health, must keep in contact with a doctor or some other person who can look after them. If they wish to have a telephone installed, they will be obliged to pay no less than £16. How can they afford to do that? The Postal Department grants concessions, it is true, but unfortunately, they are not granted to the people who should have the benefit of them. I shall refer to this matter later in my remarks.
The new rates for telegrams mean that a telegram of twelve words, sent within a 15-mile radius, will cost 2s. 9d. instead of 2s. 3d. That charge will be doubled if it is sent urgently. The rate for each word is to be increased from 2d. to 3d., which means that a telegram consisting of the minimum number of words and sent at the ordinary rate, will cost 2s. 9d., within a 15-mile radius, and outside that radius, 3s. Such a telegram, if sent at the urgent rate, will cost 5s. 6d. within the 15-mile radius, or 6s. beyond it. My experience has been that most telegrams contain approximately twenty words. It is necessary to pa for the address, which accounts for at least six words, and for the signature, usually of one word. The text of the average telegram contains approximately thirteen words. Such a telegram, within a 15-mile radius, will cost 4s. 9d. at the ordinary rate, and 9s. 6d. at the urgent rate. Fancy it costing 9s. 6d. to send a telegram of twenty words from one suburb to another, or a distance of perhaps only 1 or 2 miles! Of course, if it is sent “reply paid”, bang will go £1.
These increased charges will not balance the budget. In my opinion, people will not use the services as much as they did previously because it is becoming too expensive to do so. Postal services are being priced beyond their reach. In many instances, it will be cheaper for people to take a taxi rather than send a telegram. If the services become much more expensive, perhaps helicopters will begin to compete with the Postal Department!
Some of the concessions granted by the department - though not to invalid pensioners - involve a loss of revenue because it is necessary to have staff of the Postal Department engaged on work for other departments. For instance, one of the biggest tasks of the Postal Department is to handle social services payments. The wages involved are paid by the Postal Department. In addition, it attends to electoral matters, particularly in country districts.
– The department is paid for those services.
– I know that the department is paid for handling electoral matters, hut it is not paid for the advice that it gives concerning electorates and the distribution of enrolment claims. In addition, it handles matters on behalf of the Department of Immigration, and the Commonwealth Employment Service, and in connexion with national service. It also accepts repayments on war service homes, a service that is growing rapidly. There is a great deal of work involved in all these things, and that work costs the department a large sum of money.
We all know that the Postal Department carries letters for servicemen for Id., and that it permits them to send telegrams at the rate of fourteen words for 6d., and to make telephone calls for half the ordinary rates. I am not opposed to concessions for servicemen, but why should the Postal Department be the only instrumentality to make them? Do the drapers, the grocers, the butchers and the other people with whom they have to deal give them concessions? They certainly do not! In my opinion, concessions for servicemen should be paid for by the Department of Defence, not by the Postal Department. Incidentally, the cost of these concessions should not be borne by the Postal Department when most of the department’s employees on the lower ranges of salaries are the lowest paid workers in the community. Why should these concessions be carried, in effect, by postal employees, who. are on low wages? I do not mind servicemen receiving concessions, because they earn them, but let the Department of Defence pay the cost, and not the Postal Department. I refer also to the reciprocal arrangements in respect of telephone and telegraph circuits. The Postal Department supplies circuits to railway departments. A reciprocal agreement exists, but railways departments have very few circuits, and these would be used by the Postal Department for only about two hours annually. In return, the Postal Department supplies thousands of circuits, supervises them and makes technical arrangements, at a high annual cost. Under another arrangement the telegraph branch is debited with the cost of the use of trunkline circuits for the transmission of telegrams. This amount is credited to the telephone branch. But when other branches within the Postal Department use the telegraph circuits, the telegraph branch provides them free of charge. This costs the telegraph branch almost £200,000 a year.
The press is given concessions in respect not only of telegrams but also of postage, as mentioned by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). The application of the bulk postage rate resulted in the very heavy loss of £2,500,000. The press pays 2id. per 8 oz. for the transmission of newspapers in bulk, whereas the ordinary citizen posting similar newspapers has to pay 2id. for every paper he despatches. For telegrams, the press pays ls. 3d. for 24 words, and id. for each additional word, which represents a substantial concession, and telephone circuits are also provided cheaply for the transmission of press messages. This renders a service to the press, but why should the press, above everybody else, obtain a concession? Does the press give any concessions to the PostmasterGeneral? Does he benefit in cheap rates for advertising matter?
– The press barons support the Government parties at election time.
– Yes, the Government does get that kind of pay-off; I suppose it is taken into consideration. Why should the Postal Department show a loss in continuing to give cheap rates to the press, when there is no reciprocity? A special rate of 2d. per 12 oz. is applied to the transmission by post of “ Hansard “. That is the cheapest rate of magazine postage in the Commonwealth. Why should that concession continue, when the Postal Department is suffering a loss? Every one else has to pay double the cost of postage that is applied to “ Hansard “. One increase, which 1 strongly condemn, is in the rate for postcards from 3d. to 4d.
– They are not filthy postcards?
– They, too, will suffer the same increase. It does not seem much when we read the schedule, but the Government is being unfair because this rate will apply to Christmas cards. We know that at that time there is an increase of millions in the number of postal articles, and an extra Id. on cards will result in a great increase in revenue.
– We shall have to deliver them by hand.
– Yes. It will sock the poor people at Christmas-time and will result in the department taking a mean advantage of the season of the year.
I referred some time ago to increases in the cost of public telephone calls; those charges will remain the same. I believe that the imposition of that increase was an instance of being penny wise and pound foolish, because the cost of maintenance of public telephones is very heavy. The coin receptacles contain very delicate apparatus, and the use of additional coins results in the apparatus being put out of order very frequently. The insertion of a penny which is not exactly flat can throw it out of order. Instead of increasing the charge and altering the apparatus to enable the collection of the extra Id., the Government should have reduced the charge by Id. and the reduction would have been offset by the savings in maintenance costs.
Over the years post office buildings everywhere have deteriorated, and the department has not kept pace with growing demands. A number of the post offices in my electorate should have been replaced long ago. The Postal Department, a number of years ago, bought at Mortlake an old, last-century, weatherboard building in the heart of the main street. The district has progressed considerably, but that building is still there and used for post office purposes, and there is no sign that the people are to get an up-to-date post office. The department occupies a rented building and pays highly for it. It should examine carefully the buildings it occupies and not continue to use old shacks in the middle of a modern and progressive district. A modern post office should be provided at Mortdale, saving the rental paid on this building, which is most unsatisfactory for the purpose, does not contain any amenities for the staff, and is too restricted for public use. I have mentioned previously the Bankstown post office, located in a municipality which is almost the biggest in Australia. Bankstown contains over 140,000 people. I think that there is only one larger municipality in the country.
– Is the honorable member referring to Newcastle?
– No, Bankstown is even bigger than Newcastle. It has a post office which was built in 1922, when the population was only 10,000. I concede that many sub-offices have been built in the locality, but Bankstown is a very important centre and should have a good central post office. At present the staff, in order to conduct its business on days when social services payments are made, has to transfer some of its activities to, a hall several hundred yards away. It is not good for security reasons to have the activities of the office separated in this way. I hope that the provision of a suitable post office at Bankstown will be attended to. Another instance is to be found at Penshurst, where the Commonwealth Bank some time ago erected a very modern building. Prior to that, it occupied an old prefabricated shanty, which was shifted in front of a building that was intended to be a post office, and so we have this old, second-hand building, located in the main street, and there is no sign of any attempt to modernize it. I have previously directed the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to the Sydney mail branch. A £4,000,000 building was to be erected for the use of this branch. The branch at the General Post Office has to handle over 100 per cent, more traffic than was handled when it was first erected. The staff there has had to sacrifice its amenities, cloakrooms, &c, in order to include all the things that were needed for its work. I understand, now, that even this £4,000,000 plan is at a standstill. I believe that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has acquired a second-hand building in Giles-street, Redfern, at a cost of £115,000, and that it is to be used instead of the modern £4,000,000 building. Some honorable members have spoken about temporary buildings. These temporary buildings remain temporary for 45 and 50 years.
Those are a few matters in my own electorate which I think should be attended to, and I hope that they will be taken into the reckoning in the spending of this increased revenue of £7,000,000. I hope, too, that the employees of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department will be taken into the reckoning in relation to this increased revenue. Only last week, in Sydney, for the first time in history, federal servants went on strike against the conditions that they had to suffer. There was resentment throughout the whole of the Postal Department because of those conditions which lag behind those of employees in outside industries. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) well knows of instances in Tasmania where the State wage is £1 6s. a week more than the Postal Department’s rate. Under those conditions, one must excuse men for being angry. If one looks throughout the Commonwealth, one will find that there is a great discontent among postal workers.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Most people will gladly pay for service. I think that I am as reasonable as most people are, and I do not complain at having to pay for the service that 1 receive from the Postal Department. Consequently, I support this bill, even though it will mean an addition to the expenditure of each and every one of us. Even if my words do not meet the approval of the Australian Labour party, they will meet with the approval of the Australian Country party. We willingly pay for the courteous and efficient service that we have received for many years from the Postal Department.
Before I proceed to discuss the bill, I should like to speak on one or two of the matters that were raised by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa). He is particularly well informed on this subject. I understand that he was associated with the Postal Department in earlier days, and 1 do not doubt that he was a very good servant. I can imagine him behind the counter, justifying the things which in this House he has criticized. He criticized the fact that the Postal Department is providing services for other departments. That has been a bone of contention for a number of years. 1 know that the Postal Department is providing services for other departments, including the Department of Social Services, the Department of Labour and National Service, the Department of the Interior, and the Meteorological Branch. We feel that those services should be paid for, and the fact of the matter is that this bill provides that they shall be paid for.
The bill provides that the principal act. which states that meteorological and electoral services shall be provided by the Postmaster-General’s Department, shall be amended by omitting Part 6. Consequently, meteorological services and electoral services will now be charged to the department responsible for them. Practically all departments, in future, will pay for services which the Postal Department provides for them. The rate of commission for those various services will be subject to close and continuous review in order to ensure that the Postal Department is adequately recompensed. I understand that the Department of Labour and National Service, which, in the past, has benefited from the free services of the Postal Department, will shortly meet its own costs in that connexion. So whilst the honorable member for Banks may have had reason for complaint before, there is now every reason for his supporting this bill because the anomalies - as I think they were - are being corrected.
The honorable member for Banks also complained that there was resentment among the employees of the Postal Department throughout Australia at their working conditions, and he said that this resentment led to the recent strike. The facts are very well known to people. There was not very much resentment at all. What resentment there might have been was fanned, or spurred on by certain members of this House who set out deliberately to agitate-
– A shocking statement.
– lt is a true statement. They set out to agitate these people to break the law as they did. But as wiser counsels’ prevailed, and the employees of the Postal Department are now back in their jobs, I Jo not think that that situation calls for any comment in this House at this time. I am pleased indeed that the excellent record of service which has been given by members of the Postal Department has suffered so little blemish because their strike was so short-lived. We are very pleased with the service and courtesy which every one who deals with this department receives ;ind we are willing to pay for it.
One does meet the man who says, “ I cannot get any service from the telephone girls. I ring and ring and ring and they will not answer “. But one often finds that it is the manner in which the approach is made to the exchange that produces the type of service that is given. The man who complains that he gets discourtesy from the telephonist is usually discourteous himself. The man who complains that he is spoken to rudely by the man behind the counter usually blusters in and demands this, that and the other thing. I am not now speaking personally; I am speaking from knowledge gained in my visits to post offices and from the conversations of other people. I consider that people who, in their approach to the staff of the Postal Department, show reasonable consideration, are treated with the greatest courtesy. Of course, there is the odd person here and there who is not courteous. But what happens in an ordinary business when a customer is spoken to harshly by a salesman? The customer complains a bit, but continues to do business with the firm. But anybody who considers that he has been spoken to harshly by an employee of the Postal Department feels that he has a perfect right to criticize because it is a government department. I suggest that that is not a fair attitude.
We have many public services in this country, such as gas supplies, water supplies, electricity supplies and the railways, but the Postmaster-General’s Department stands out head and shoulders above the others for the service that it gives to the people. Its costs are well within reason.
In New South Wales, over the past few years, we have had the experience of costs going up because the railways have been running at a loss, and the people who have been socked most of all are those living in the country. 1 consider that there could be an adjustment of the proposed postal rates, but 1 shall explain that matter later. These are modest increases, which are in keeping with the times and the costs thai the department has to bear.
The honorable member for Banks has complained that the person who is suffering financial loss because he cannot get a telephone for his business is now to be socked £10 for the installation of an instrument. I. can only suggest that if a telephone is so urgently necessary for his business he will willingly pay the £10, because he will receive incalculable benefits for it. It is not reasonable to suggest that all the people who now have outstanding applications for telephones should receive installations on the old terms. Every honorable member knows that if no contract has been signed one cannot hold the supplier of an article to the price ruling when the application was made. That would be contrary to all business practice. It would certainly be very nice for any one who applied for a telephone three years ago, and who has not yet received it, to have it installed on the terms ruling three years ago, but there is no logical reason why the Postmaster-General’s Department should be expected to install telephones on the terms ruling when they were applied for. However, I understand that where a firm application has been made and accepted, and the first six months’ rental has been paid, the £10 installation fee will not be charged.
We have been told that the number of people awaiting telephones is gradually increasing, but Opposition members do not point out that a tremendous number of telephones has been installed during the period in which the waiting list has increased. The increasing number of applications for services seems to me to bear out the contention of the Australian Country party and the Government that Australia to-day enjoys prosperity such as we have not witnessed for many years. As a result, people who in their wildest dreams some years ago would not have thought of installing telephones now find it quite easy to meet the cost. They appreciate the benefits of telephones, and they want them. Good luck to them. It is reasonable and sensible that they should have these benefits which modern science has made possible and which a beneficent government is anxious to give them to the best of its ability to cope with the demand. But there is a limit to the number of telephones that can be installed, and there is inevitably a waiting list, on which priority is given to people in genuine need.
There has been a big expansion of automatic exchanges in country districts. In outback areas many part-time exchanges are conducted at unofficial post offices. In the old days a family was quite prepared to attend to the switchboard and handle the mail unceasingly, but, as transport has improved, families, especially those with young children, have found it possible to spend a week-end in town now and again and to go away for holidays. Unfortunately, someone else is obliged to attend to the exchange and the mail in their absence. Many of the older people who conduct these unofficial post offices are now getting a little tired of the extra work, which is probably a heavier burden to them if their children have married and moved away, and they wish to give it up. Every time one of these unofficial post offices with a telephone exchange closes, the subscribers connected to that exchange must either obtain a rural automatic exchange or have their telephones connected to the closest town exchange. This problem has increased in intensity over the last few years, and I have continually urged that small country exchanges should not be established, and that subscribers should be given continuous service from the nearest town exchange. If this is not possible, country telephone services can function successfully only by the installation of rural automatic exchanges. I urge the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) to do all he can to expedite the installation of rural automatic exchanges. Sometimes there is a fly in the ointment. Subscribers already connected to nearby town exchanges naturally resent having to pay a local-call fee as well as a trunk-line fee for town calls if their services are transferred to a rural automatic exchange. That problem merits earnest consideration, because it will continue to arise in the future. It is unfair to people who built their own lines and maintained them for many years to make them pay more merely because they must be transferred to a rural automatic exchange which has been installed for the benefit of some one else.
The honorable member for Banks discussed concession postage rates. I want to point out that concession rates on newspapers are not for the benefit of the newspaper companies. They are for the ultimate benefit of the man on the land, who pays both ways. If he posts a letter from the country to the city he pays postage on it. If he receives in the country a parcel posted in the city the postage on it is added to his costs. This should not be forgotten. One important purpose of the members of the Australian Country party in this House is to emphasize that all these costs are met ultimately by people in country towns and on the land, more especially by those on the land. When I hear complaints about increased postal charges hitting the workers I ask myself whether this claim that the worker bears all these costs is not being overdone.
Mr. Curtin interjecting,
– Perhaps the honorable member was not in the House when I pointed out that the latest figures show that wages have increased more than two and a half times and represent more than 50 per cent, of the national income, whereas the net income from farming has fallen to only 10 per cent, of the national income. It is not the worker that always carries these burdens. I admit that Opposition members have the right to say in this House that they believe otherwise, but I am putting in a word for the man on the land who carries these burdens to a marked degree.
Unfortunately, although concessions have been made to telephone subscribers connected to exchanges adjacent to the metropolitan telephone networks, country subscribers have not received similar benefits. The charge for a trunk-line call beyond 5 miles and up to 10 miles is to be reduced from 5d. to 3d. for three minutes, and beyond 10 miles and up to 15 miles from 7d. to 6d. for three minutes. People who live adjacent to country towns and business people in country towns who find it necessary to telephone customers in the surrounding district are not to receive similar concessions. The trunk-line charge for calls beyond 30 miles and up to 35 miles between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. is to be increased from ls. 5d. to ls. 6d. for three minutes, and charges for calls over longer distances all are to be increased. The local-call fee paid by subscribers in country districts is to be increased from 2id. to 3d. Admittedly, rentals in country districts are lower than in the cities. But city people can make -calls of indefinite duration to a much greater number of people for the local-call charge whereas country subscribers who make ;trunk-line calls to people more than 5 miles away must pay a unit charge for every three minutes. Their requirements must be borne in mind.
Although country people will willingly pay for the excellent service they receive from the Postmaster-General’s Department, I should not be a true representative of a country electorate if I did not point out that continuing anomalies are revealed in a comparison of costs in rural districts and in metropolitan areas. These anomalies must be adjusted. Men in rural districts, on whom rests so much of the responsibility of maintaining our balance of trade with overseas countries, deserve to have their interests looked after, because if it were not for them the nation would be in a much worse position in respect of its balance of payments than it is now. So it is a legitimate plea that the Australian Country party advances on behalf of those people, whose needs should be considered at all times.
The Postmaster-General’s Department is continually extending and improving services, as instanced by information contained in a letter that I received to-day, which reads -
You will be interested to learn that the GulargamboneBaradine road mail service is to be deviated twice weekly as from the 1st October, for the benefit of IS householders comprising 55 adults in the Barwon soldier settlement.
In its policy of continually improving its services the Postal Department does such things as deviate its mail runs so as to serve the greatest number of people possible. The department, and the contractors who do that work, are doing a very good job, and for that reason I have no complaints about the increases of postal and telegraph charges. However, I do have complaints about anomalies to which careful consideration should be given. I am, unfortunately, forced to complain very bitterly about some features of the capital works programme of the department. About ten years ago, there was an agitation for the construction of a new post office in the town of Narromine, in New South Wales.
– Where is that?
– I am sorry that the honorable gentleman’s knowledge of geography is so meagre that he does not know where Narromine is. lt happens to be a very important town in New South Wales, which was the site of a big air field during the war, and I did not expect to find anybody in this House who did not know where it was. About ten years ago, the Narromine post office being in a very bad state, the local residents persuaded a citizen who had a very nice block in the centre of the town to sell it to the department to permit the erection of a two-story post office building. Minister after Minister - I am not criticizing individual Ministers, but merely stating the facts - has had this matter on his platter, and on many occasions Narromine has been told that the department would go ahead with the new post office. A couple of years ago, when we thought that a new post office was about to be built, we found that instead of a post office being planned in conformity with the other buildings, the old plans had been scrapped, and it was proposed to erect a single-story building which would be flanked by the existing twostory buildings on the adjacent corner blocks - in other words the new single-story post office would have produced a lopsided effect. That was overcome, and I was delighted to find that on the estimates for departmental works, published last year, the Narromine post office was twelfth on the priority list. The works with priority over it were to cost £434,000.
I received only to-day a copy of a civil works priority list for 1956-57, and I have found that the Narromine post office is now 30th on the list, and that other public works with priority over it are to cost £1,250,000. I would not be doing justice to my electorate if I did not bring that matter to the personal notice of the Postmaster-General, and ask him to give the Narromine post office the priority on that list to which it is entitled. No. 1 on the priority list of New South Wales works is the erection of an automatic exchange at Redfern, at an estimated cost of £459,000. That project has been brought up from thirteenth on the list to first on the list. Almost £500,000 is to be expended in the City of Sydney on a project that is to take precedence over a badly needed new post office in a town in one of the most productive areas of New South Wales. If we expect to continue to get a good level of production from people in country districts in New South Wales, we have to give them a fair go in respect of public utilities. Fourth on the list is a project for acoustic treatment and complete fitting out for trunk equipment installation at the Dalley trunk exchange, which is to cost £46,000. But there is one item in the list that really rocked me. lt is a project for the installation of airconditioning at the Newtown exchange.
– And about time, too!
– The people of Narromine also think that it is about time they had a new post office. They have struggled over the years in one of the hottest districts of New South Wales without any of the amenities enjoyed by the people of Newtown, yet this Newtown project, which was not on the last list, is now on the current list, as a new work, with priority over the Narromine post office, although post offices in country districts are falling about the shoulders of the staffs that work in them. The Opposition, which claims to stick up for the workers, is now criticizing the building of a new post office in an important country town, and the provision of decent working conditions for postal workers at Narromine. I make my plea on behalf of the people, and the postal staff, of Narromine.
There are also two other towns in my electorate which require early consideration in respect of new departmental works. One is Cassilis, which, I understand, has the oldest post office in the Commonwealth. It certainly has the oldest post office in New South Wales. Although that building has been renovated, Cassilis is on the list for a new post office, and rightly so. But that project has been pushed down the list. Mudgee, another progressive town in my electorate, is overdue for a telephone exchange and trunk-line equipment. I ask the Postmaster-General to keep those projects on the list, with the priority that they enjoyed last year, but not for too long. I would rather see them taken off the list of proposed works, and shown on a list of new works under construction.
– 1 rise to give full support to the people of Narromine in respect of the construction of an air-conditioned post office. I think they badly need one, and I am sure that the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes), who represents that district in this House, is failing in his duty. I was very interested indeed to hear the honorable member attacking honorable members on this side of the House for supporting the provision for air-conditioned post offices. He criticized the erection of an airconditioned post office in Newtown.
– I did not! I objected to the priority given to that project.
– 1 am supporting the erection of an air-conditioned post office in Narromine, because I have asked the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) to establish one in Maroubra, and I hope that that post office will be built in the very near future, and will be air-conditioned as well as being provided with a rest room for age pensioners to use while they are waiting for the payment of their pensions, plus a clock tower. I am hoping, more particularly, that it is air-conditioned for the comfort of the men who do their daily toil within its walls. They are the first consideration.
I was interested in the Minister’s speech, various points of which attracted my attention. One was the claim of the Minister that expenditure had been increased as a result of higher costs of materials, marginal adjustments in 1954-55, and the recent basic wage increase which, he said, had added a further £6.000,000 a year to costs. Well, I think that the Minister views the increases of costs in the Postal Department in a very jaundiced manner. I believe that the increased costs are the result of the huge salaries paid to the tall poppies in the postal service. The schedules to the Estimates show that the tall poppies have not received any modest increase of salaries. They had quite a big bite at the cherry, at the same time refusing the claims of men who were working for less than the basic wage. Let us have a look at some of them. In the central office in Melbourne - it is worth while to bear in mind that there are directors in all of the capital cities - there is a director-general, whose salary is £5,500 a year. Assisting him in the central office in Melbourne is one deputy directorgeneral, whose salary last year was £4,400. This year he had an increase of £374, bringing his salary up to £4,774 a year.
But that is not all. We find that those two gentlemen are not capable of doing the work themselves. They must have assistance, so they have appointed eight assistant directors-general and directors. Their salaries - the taxpayers should take note of this - amounted to £27,858 for the year 1956-57. Compared with the previous year, that is an increase of £2,452. Shared between eight assistant directors-general and directors, that is somewhere in the vicinity of £300 a year. The demand of the postal workers in the strike which finished last week was for £2 a week - a paltry £100 a year.
These eight assistant directors-general and directors needed some assistance, so it was necessary to appoint 36 controllers and assistant heads of branches, at a cost to the taxpayers and the people who are required to pay post office charges of £73,198 last year. Their salaries were increased this year to the tune of £6,417. Those people are in the central office. What their duties are, no one knows. But one thing is certain - they are never modest when it comes to increasing their salaries. That is in sharp contrast with their attitude to members of the postal workers union when they applied for an increase in wages. They issued all sorts of threats to the postal workers. There were threats of dismissal and of cutting off superannuation benefits. These men issued all sorts of dire threats to the rank-and-file employees for what they were pleased to call their audacity in asking for an increase of wages. It was a request by people who claimed that they were getting 26s. a week under the basic wage. That will astonish most of the people listening to this debate. I am sure that the truth about the claims of the employees of the Postal Department has never been told by the press.
Let us have a look at the DirectorGeneral - this noble knight, this bureaucrat of bureaucrats, this untouchable. He sits in his office in all his glory. The office has wall-to-wall carpet and is tastefully decorated in pastel shades, with airconditioning and all the necessary requisites. He is so powerful that the Minister has to wait cap in hand, cooling his heels, until he is called into the august presence of the allpowerful. His salary is £5,500 a year, with allowances. That is very much more than the Minister receives. Of course, this bureaucrat knows that. During the recent strike, when negotiations had to be conducted with the postal workers, the Minister had to fly to Melbourne to be ushered into the presence of the great bureaucrat The centre of the dispute was in Sydney, and both the bureaucrat and the Minister should have been in Sydney - not flying all over the country at the nation’s expense. Members of the Australian Country party howl at these allegations; nevertheless the) are true. It cost the taxpayers of Australia thousands of pounds to fly the Minister backwards and forwards from the august presence of this great one, the DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs. I suggest to the Minister that when he is adjudicating on a strike he should be on the spot, so that he can see for himself jus what is going on. If he does so, he will be better fitted to adjudicate.
I pause to consider the state of the postal services in the electorate of KingsfordSmith. They are, to say the least, hopeless. The primitive conditions under which the very efficient and loyal servants of the department work must surely try their long-suffering patience. Let us take the Maroubra Junction post office. That is a classic example of the buildings in the district. This building was constructed 30 years ago, when the district had a population of 4,000. The population has grown to 24,000, but no attempt has been made to alleviate the congestion. The post office at Maroubra Junction has an area of 40 feet by 30 feet. In that area - I ask honorable members to note this - twelve men and two women are employed. All postal business, except letter sorting, is transacted there. In addition to ordinary postal business, pensions are paid. The turnover of this office is £50,000 a month. About £600,000 a year is handled by these people in this primitive post office. We can imagine the congestion in the space available. It contains the steel lockers in which the employees hang their clothes. This area of 40 feet by 30 feet contains also the toilet facilities for both sexes. This is in the atomic age! One can hardly visualize such conditions in these modern days. I pay full tribute to the postmaster and his staff for the wonderful job that they are doing under such primitive and shocking conditions. I often wonder for how long this state of affairs will last.
As I have said before, the letter sorting is not done within the confines of the post office. It was done in what the department is pleased to call a depot - a building which used to be the Maroubra fire station. The department was evicted from the fire station and another place had to be found. It is at least half a mile away from the post office and causes much inconvenience to older residents who may wish to see the postman on special business. I. make a strong appeal to the Postmaster-General to give his personal attention to this matter as I feel sure that the strong representations that I have made regularly to his department have been falling on deaf ears. I now extend to him a warm invitation to make a personal investigation of this building on his next visit to Sydney, I can guarantee him a very cordial welcome from the member - for the district, and the very hospitable and kindly residents of the area. All over the division of Kingsford-Smith there is a public clamour for more up-to-date facilities - for public telephones, for letter receivers, for private post boxes, and for private telephones, by the hundred. The PostmasterGeneral says that the department wants more revenue. It should give a little attention to the provision of revenue-producing facilities, which are in great demand.
More consideration must be given to the needs of the employees in the various branches of the service. Many are labouring, in all weathers, under shocking conditions such as would not be tolerated except in a government department. That is a shocking commentary on the efficiency of the Postmaster-General, the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs and all the superfluous assistant director-generals, officers and inspectors in the department. These people should do the jobs for which they are so well paid, and ensure that the poor working conditions of the men are alleviated. Attention should! also be given to the provision of better facilities and equipment in the unofficial post offices, where postal work is carried out under great difficulties. If this were done, revenue-producing facilities could be extended to all parts of the district and those who labour in these unofficial post officeswould have the benefit of a reasonably comfortable working atmosphere.
I have studied the proposed charges with interest. As my friend the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) has said, noone would mind paying a little more if he knew that it was being spent properly, andon improved facilities. But on investigation, we find that the additional revenue is not to be spent in providing telephones and similar facilities for those who are awaiting them. I would point out that the additional sum of £595,333 allocated for telephone exchanges next year, will not even meet increases in wages and costs of materials. Therefore, it is plain that next year even fewer new telephone installations will be provided than were provided last year. I object to the favoured treatment that is given to certain people by this Government. Instances of this occur from week to week. Indeed, in the seven yearsduring which this Government has been in office it has done little more than grant favours to its wealthy supporters. 1 will give the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) who is trying to laugh this off, some examples of the way in which the proposed1 charges have been drawn up so as to exclude certain groups of business people. The charges are not to apply to registered newspapers, periodicals and books. TheGovernment, after going to great lengths to impress the public with its cost problem, immediately sets about exempting newspapers from the proposed increase. Thegeneral public will wonder why this hasbeen done. These newspapers are monopolies. The Government has to keep them on side because it knows that it is galloping towards destruction and that the newspapersmay be able to halt its progress. The payoff is complete exemption from the new postal charges to be imposed upon other sections of the community.
Recently the postal workers struck against oppressive conditions and starvation’ rates of pay. The Postal Department is- notorious for this. During the strike, which has now terminated, we witnessed the press, in all its viciousness and bitterness, venting its spleen on the postal workers. All sorts of statements, both false and rash, were made. We read that Public Service cheques could not be delivered, and that pensioners’ cheques would not reach their destination in time. This deception was encouraged, though the president of the Postal Workers Union informed me, at a strike meeting in the Leichhardt Stadium, which I was privileged to attend last Sunday, that not one such cheque had remained undelivered. During the dispute the PostmasterGeneral made arrogant, provocative and splenetic attacks on the men in his department. He impugned their loyalty to the nation, though many of them had fought and bled on the battlefields of World War I. and World War II. in defence of their native land. They were then told that they would return to a new world, but that new world has been destroyed by the very people who promised it. At the strike meeting which I was privileged to attend, various speakers displayed hostility to the Postmaster-General for having impugned their loyalty to the nation. One speaker said, “ Though not reflecting on those men who could not go to World War I. or World War II., I would like to ask all men in this huge concourse of 4,000 postal workers who saw active service in either of the two world wars to stand up “. He said that he was thrilled when 90 per cent, of that huge gathering rose to their feet, giving the lie direct to the Postmaster-General, who had made a vicious, vitriolic attack on these loyal men of the Postal Department. The Minister should apologize for his statement to those loyal men who fought and bled on the battlefields.
I suggest, in conclusion, that the PostmasterGeneral should retract some of his arrogant and provocative statements, and do the right thing by the postal workers when he meets their representatives in conference. I can assure him that I know hundreds of men belonging to the Postal Workers Union who are finding it very difficult to make ends meet, and he should consider these matters when he is negotiating with their representatives. It has been stated that an extra £7,000,000 in revenue will be received in the forthcoming year because of the increased charges provided for in this bill, and 1 suggest that the Government might show a little generosity and set aside £2,000,000 from that increased revenue for settlement of the claims of the postal workers, and that it should grant them an all-round increase of at least £2 a week. Perhaps we should skim something from the top level of the economy to enable us to obtain the necessary money. Wage injustice appears to be a creeping paralysis affecting the whole of Australia to-day, and I suggest that a determined move should be made to skim a little of the cream from the milk of our economy, and give it to those people who are most in need.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Fairhall; adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron) read a first time.
– by leave - 1 move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Since this Government came into office six and a half years ago, it has kept under constant review the benefits provided for ex-service men and women who suffer from war disabilities. In every budget that has been introduced since that time, increases - some of them considerable - have been made to pensions and allowances payable under the Repatriation Act. Other rates have also been increased, while new benefits, such as the payment of a remarriage gratuity to a war widow, and the setting up of the disabled members’ and widows’ training scheme have been established, and eligibility for some benefits has been widened.
The present budget provides particularly for further benefits to totally and permanently incapacitated members and war widows, by way of increased allowances to children who qualify for assistance under the soldiers’ children education scheme. It also provides for increases in training allowances under the rehabilitation training scheme.
Many people are apt to think of repatriation in terms of war pension only, but this is only part of the story. To alleviate suffering as far as possible, and to restore to health the ex-service men and women so that they may resume their normal life in the community, is all part of the repatriation plan. To this end, a high standard of medical treatment has been provided in repatriation hospitals and through the local medical officer scheme. Where specialist treatment is recommended, it is made available; also, the repatriation artificial limb factories in the capital cities provide a ready and highly skilled service to those who need it.
Perhaps the shortest summary of what this Government has done for ex-service men and women can be found in a comparison between the amount provided for war and service pensions in 1949 and at the present time. Within that time, the total amount provided for war and service pensions has risen from £20.500,000 to an estimated expenditure for the current financial year of £50,283,000, which is well over two and a half times the amount provided when this Government took office.
Present Government policy has been to pay particular attention to the needs of those who have suffered most: the totally and permanently incapacitated members and their families and the war widows and their children. At the same time, it has recognized the claims of the less seriously incapacitated. The result has been to provide an overall balanced scheme of compensation.
To refresh the memory of honorable members. I should like to give a few brief details of increases over recent years in repatriation benefits before proceeding to detail the benefits covered by this year’s budget. Over the past six and a half years, the special rate pension for total and permanent incapacity has risen from £5 6s. a week to £9 15s. The general rate pension has risen from £2 15s. a week to £4 15s. Over the same period, the war widow’s pension has increased by 30s. a week and domestic allowance by £1 7s. a week. The combined pension and domestic allowance payable to a war widow is now £6 4s. 6d. compared with £3 7s. 6d. a week. Increases over the same period in the rates of allowances under the soldiers’ children educa tion scheme have also substantially increased the family incomes of war widowsand totally and permanently incapacitated, members, all of whose children from the age of twelve years upwards are eligible for these allowances and for other forms of assistance so long as they are pursuing a course of education or training under thesupervision of the Soldiers’ Children Education Board in the State where they reside. Provided a child has the ability to pursue the course, educational assistance is granted right up to the completion of a university degree or diploma.
This Government reduced from thirteen years to twelve years the age at which payment of allowances commences and alsoprovided for the continuation of the domestic allowance payable to a widow for solong as she has a child undergoing education and training and not in receipt of the adult wage. Previously, domestic allowance ceased when the youngest child attained the age of sixteen years, and wasnot restored unless the widow became unemployable or until she reached the age of 50 years.
Under this Government, sympathetic consideration has been given to the servicepensioner and he has benefited, first, by the increase in the rate of service pension from £2 2s. 6d. in 1949 to £4 at the present time; secondly, by the easing of the means test and, thirdly, by the repeal last year of section 91 A which, since 1948, had1 imposed, in addition to the ordinary meanstest, a further limit or “ ceiling “ on the amount of service, age or invalid pensionwhich could be received in addition to a war pension. In addition, pensions payableto wives and children of service pensioners have been increased.
The bill now before the House extends to certain categories of service pensioners certain increases being provided this year under the Social Services Act, that is, a service pensioner classified as permanently unemployable who has more than one child under sixteen years of age is to receive 10s. a week, additional pension for each child except the first. This is in line with the Government’s policy of helping, in particular, the family unit. As there are now no ceiling limits, apart from the social services means test, service pensioners eligible for the increase of 10s. in respect of a second or subsequent child, which 1 have just mentioned, will receive that increase in full. This bill also amends the definition of “ income “ as it applies to the means test in relation to service pensions. The amendment provides that the allowance of £120 per annum paid for the recreational transport of a seriously disabled member or for the maintenance of amotor vehicle provided for such a member and the amount of a decoration allowance are not to be taken into account as income when applying the means test.
I should like to draw the attention of honorable members to one particular provision included in this bill. Clauses 1 1 and 12 of the bill not only give the increase in service pension, whichI mentioned earlier in my speech, but they also provide that, in the application of the means test to service pension, the income of the pensioner will, in future, be assessed on an annual basis instead of a fortnightly basis as at present. The remaining provisions of the bill can be more conveniently explained, where necessary, at the committee stage. 1 now give to the House the full details of the increases in the rates of allowances payable under the soldiers’ children education scheme and of the increased margins in allowed incomes provided in this year’s budget, and explain to honorable members just what those increases will achieve both in assisting immediately the family group and in securing the future of the children who come under the scheme. I refer to the children of members whose deaths were due to war service, of members who are totally and permanently incapacitated or blinded, or who are in receipt of the maximum rate of pension under the Second Schedule for tuberculosis and are likely to remain on that rate of pension for three years.
As I have said earlier, these allowances become payable when the child reaches the age of twelve years, but I would point out to honorable members that, prior to that age, eligible children, from the time they commence school, receive valuable assistance by way of reimbursement for the cost of books, fares and equipment.
Allowances are paid in four groups according to age and the stage of education which the child has reached. Where it is necessary for the child tolive away from home, a higher rate is payable. The increases in the weekly rates provided in this year’s budget are as follows: -
Group A - 12-14 years:
At home - from11s. 6d. to 16s. 6d an increase of 5s. a week.
Away from home - from £2 to £2 15s., an increase of 15s. a week.
Group B - 14-16 years:
At home - from 15s. to £1 5s., an increase of 10s. a week.
Away from home - from £2 to £2 1 5s., an increase of 15s. a week.
Group C - 16-18 years:
At home - from £2 to £2 15s., an increase of 15s. a week.
Away from home - from £3 5s. to £4 5s., an increase of £1 a week.
Group D - Professional:
At home - from £2 12s. 6d. to £3 15s., an increase of £1 2s. 6d. a week.
Away from home - from £4 2s. 6d. to £5 10s., an increase of £1 7s. 6d. a week.
In addition to the allowances paid to a child under Group D, the Repatriation Commission meets the cost of all fees, books, materials, equipment, and fares. Not only are substantial increases being given in the rates of allowances under the scheme, but the margins of allowed income are being raised. The present margins range from £1 18s. 6d. to £1 a week for the “at home “ rates and from £1 15s. to £1 2s. 6d. a week for the “ away from home “ rates. Not only did these margins apply inconsistently, but generally they had the defect that the margin becameless as the child grew older. In the future, to overcome these defects, there will be a flat rate margin of £2 a week in all cases.
Assistance to apprentices, which was once a feature of the scheme, has in recent years declined. Because of the substantial rises in the wages of apprentices, few allowances have been payable within the allowed income limits. The position has been reviewed and, in the future, the same allowed income limits will apply to apprentices as apply to professional students, namely, £5 15s. a week for an apprentice living at home, and £7 10s. a week for one living away from home. The amount of assistance will, of course, vary according to the wages paid in a particular trade or calling.
On the average, it will mean that the approximate rates of allowances in the first year of apprenticeship will be £1 a week for the child living at home, and £2 a week for the child living away from home, these amounts diminishing in succeeding years as the wages of the apprentice rise. The overall effect will be that such an apprentice living at home will have a guaranteed minimum income of £5 1 5s. a week and the one living away a guaranteed minimum income of £7 10s. a week.
These concessions to apprentices will have two important results: They will encourage children to undertake callings leading to the higher skills, thus giving them a higher standard of living and greater economic security; and they will bring apprentices, as a body, back to active participation in the soldiers’ children education scheme, where they will have the advantage of the guidance and assistance of the soldiers’ children education boards. The boards, which are established in every State, are representative of all phases of education - primary, secondary, professional and technical; and of organizations which have a special interest in the welfare of children of deceased and incapacitated exservicemen, and I should like to record the thanks of the Government and all who are concerned with the administration of the scheme for the good work which these boards continue to do. The increases in education allowances and margins will operate from 1st January, 1957.
This budget also provides for increases in the training allowances payable to trainees under the rehabilitation schemes. For an unmarried trainee the rate is being increased by 12s. to £6 12s. a week, while for the married trainee with one or more children, it is being increased by 16s. to £8 16s. a week, and in the case of a married trainee without children, by 15s. to £8 6s. a week.
This Government is proud of what it has done to honour the obligations of the nation to those who have suffered and also to those who have died in the defence of their country and to their dependants. This is what the Government promised on assuming office and it has been faithful to that promise.
I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Stated briefly, the purpose of the billis to amend the Social Services Act to give effect to the Government’s decision, announced by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in his budget speech, to pay higher pensions to widows and invalids who have two or more children under sixteen years of age, and to ensure that a widow who loses her class A pension when between the ages of 45 and 50 years will not have to wait until she reaches the age of 50 to qualify for a class B pension. The bill includes a minor alteration to the arrangement for the pre-natal payment of maternity allowances in certain circumstances, and it excludes certain repatriation allowances from the definition of “ income “ for all pensions and benefits which are subject to a means test.
It is not my purpose or province to discuss in this second-reading speech the principles or the implications of the Government’s financial policy. These matters have been dealt with adequately by the Treasurer in his budget speech. He clearly outlined the basic problems of financial policy and emphasized that, in an economy dominated by strong pressures on its resources, it is the manifest duty of responsible government, as well as of all public authorities, to keep the demands upon our resources within the limits of reason and justice. I have no doubt that my colleague, from his long experience and great wisdom, and after a critical examination of our economic circumstances, has been forced to the conclusion that such a policy is not only necessary but also imperative if our economy is to be maintained on a sound and progressive basis.
Any system of social services which is not firmly backed by a sound economy is bound to prove both inadequate and dangerous in time of stress, especially when it is called upon to meet the expanding needs of a rapidly increasing population. It is important to make provision, not only for our immediate commitments, but also for those of the future. We naturally desire that the improvements which have been made in our social services system during the last few years will remain both permanent and progressive, but it is often forgotten that they, by their very nature, demand substantial additions to our annual expenditure from the National Welfare Fund - up no less than nearly £12,000,000 this year - *aid although our current revenues may unprecedented sufficiently buoyant to stand that additional expenditure, they are peculiarly vulnerable to the vagaries of our seasons and the excesses and abuses of industrial unrest. Prudence and a sense of responsibility demand that we should take appropriate steps to defend our proud position.
The Government is striving by every means in its power to maintain the high level of prosperity which has been enjoyed for so long through bountiful seasons and sound government leadership. It is only the continuation of this prosperity that enables us to support the social services system which has been so successfully built up .during the last few years, and add to it still further as our diligence and strength permit. Thanks to wise budgeting on the part of this Government in the past, it has been able not only to maintain the value of the pension above what it was in 1949, but also to liberalize the means test in a wide variety of very substantial ways and to broaden the general scheme of social services to an unprecedented extent.
I do not intend for one moment to belittle the attempts to expand social services during the Labour administration of 1941-49. Sufficient it is for me to say that the socialist Government met with the difficulties which are inherent in and inseparable from socialism, and little progress could be made. The acceleration came when the present Government was elected to office nearly seven years ago and the progress has been continuous with an increasing momentum.
The. Government’s record in social services has been given so often in this House that I am reluctant to go over it again, but memories are short, and I regret to say that there are those who are not above taking advantage of that situation to gain their own political ends. In these sad circumstances I am compelled to say again that the Menzies Government has brought down seven budgets. In five of them a general increase in pensions was made. The aggregate of these increases is £1 17s. 6d. a week. This represents an advance of 88.2 per cent, on the pension of 42s. 6d. a week paid when the socialists were in office.
In 1954, which was the only year, prior to this, in which the Government made no general increase in pensions, substantial liberalizations were made in the means test. In that year the permissible income was raised from £2 to £3 10s. a week. But there had been a rise of 10s. a week in the previous year; so that the full rise in the permissible income has been from 30s. a week to £3 10s. a week for a single person, or from £3 a week to £7 a week tor a married couple. This represents an increase of 133 per cent, since December, 1949.
In the same period the Government has also raised the property limit by 133 per cent., that is, from £750 to £1,750 for a single person and £3,500 for a married couple. It has doubled the property exemption - which is the amount, of course, that does not affect the pension - and that now stands at £200 for a single person and £400 for a married couple.
The Government has also entirely disregarded income derived from property for the purposes of pension assessments; it has abolished the means test for blind persons; it has abolished the means test which was imposed on the parents of claimants for invalid pensions; and it has abolished the special ceilings which limited the amounts that could be paid to ex-servicemen by way of civil pension in addition to a war pension. Certain interests under wills have been excluded from the property means test and the exemption of the surrender values of life insurance policies has been raised from £200 to £750. The Government has also made a concession to pensioners who own a motor car by disregarding its value in the pension assessment. These are some of the milestones on the road to social progress which have been passed, for the first time, in the space of a few short years.
One of the most important advances was the introduction of discretionary power which enables the Director-General of Social Services to disregard the value of property in special circumstances. That discretionary power has been exercised freely in cases where pensioners are unable to obtain possession of their homes, under punitive and stupid State laws; and also where, through ill health or other circumstances, they have had to vacate their homes for long periods. This concession has been a great boon to elderly people.
Increases and concessions of a similar kind have also been made in respect of widows’ pensions. In addition, the Government has made improvements in other social services benefits. Child endowment has been introduced for the first child in every family. The rates of unemployment and sickness benefits have been doubled. Rehabilitation benefits have been increased and the field of eligibility for treatment and training has been extended to include additional categories of disabled persons.
One of the most creditable of all the Government’s many achievements in social services was the introduction of the Pensioner Medical Service, under which qualified pensioners are provided with free medical and pharmaceutical benefits. Such pensioners may obtain the services of a general practitioner of their own choice without having to draw on their pension moneys. This has relieved them of the financial worries associated with sickness, and has in that way added considerably to the real value of their pensions.
It is greatly to the Government’s credit that it has made the first really positive contribution towards solving the chief problem of elderly people, that is the anguishing problem of accommodation. Honorable members are aware that, under the Aged Persons Homes Act passed in November, 1954, the Government provides churches and other eligible organizations with financial assistance on a £l-for-£l basis towards the erection, purchase or extension of approved homes for aged persons. In these homes they will live under conditions approaching as near as possible normal domestic life and, in the case of married couples, with proper regard to the companionship of husband and wife. This is one of the finest pieces of social legislation ever passed by any Commonwealth government, and I must seize this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor in the office of Minister for Social Services. I am happy to say that some of the State governments are following this splendid example, but I regret to say that the oldest State in the Commonwealth, the State which has the most virulent form of socialism, the State where the lack of accommodation can only be described as a social reproach of the most grievous kind, refuses to be a party to this most laudable purpose. I refer, of course, to New South Wales. Up to 7th September of this year 140 Commonwealth grants have been made, representing a total of £1,623,395. These grants provide additional accommodation continuously for a great many elderly people under conditions which are close to the state of perfection and, as applications are granted from time to time, the extreme scarcity of homes for the aged will steadily but surely disappear.
The many improvements I have mentioned have, consequentially, added large sums to our annual expenditure on social services. What I have to say now is said for the purposes of mathematical accuracy and for no other purpose. In 1949-50- that significant year when the last budget of the socialist government was presented - the total expenditure on Commonwealth health and social services benefits reached £92,800,000. Last year it was £215,263,000. This year it will be £227,320,000, and an aging and increasing population must accentuate that position. If one cares to add repatriation pensions and benefits amounting to £65,280,000. which have to be found by precisely the same people in precisely the same way, one will find the total expenditure on health, social services and repatriation benefits and services is £292,600,000, or 26.1 per cent, of the national expenditure.
The increasing cost of social services benefits for the current year, apart altogether from the cost of the increases and concessions made under this bill, is explained by two particular factors. In the first place, last year’s general increase of 10s. a week in age, invalid and widows’ pensions was paid for only portion of the year 1955-56. The cost of this increase for the full year 1956-57 will be £15,000,000. which is £5,000,000 greater than in 1955-56.
Secondly, the number of age pensioners is expected to increase materially. The rate of increase since 1940 is worthy of particular notice. Between 1940 and 1950 they increased at the average rate of 6,200 a year. Between 1950 and 1956 the average increase was 18,500 a year. During the past twelve months the increase has been over 20,000. This is due partly to the Government’s liberalizations of the means test, but a significant factor is that the number of persons in the pension age group is increasing at a faster rate than the total population. Even if the rate of increase of age pensions were to remain stable at 20,000 a year, the cost of these pensions would, at the present average annual pension rate of £200, continue to increase at the rate of £4,000,000 a year.
To those of us who look for further easements of the pensions means test, I think it is of interest to note the marked increase in the percentage of pensioners to persons of pensionable age in Australia during recent years. Taking the census years and going back to 1911 we find that there was very little change up to the census year 1933, the percentage of pensioners to persons of pensionable age being 32.3 per cent, in 1911 and 33.2 per cent, in 1933. By the census year 1947 this had risen to 37.9 per cent. Since then there has been a considerable rise to 42.6 per cent, in 1954, and 45 per cent, at the present time.
Thus, the increase in the percentage of pensioners to persons of pensionable age has been much greater during the nine years since 1947 than it was during the whole of the preceding 36 years. The reason lies largely in the extensive widening of both the income and property means tests made by this Government of broad, human sympathies, in the short space of time since 1949.
It is a matter for some reflection, when considering the question of the means test, that at the present time 45 people out of every 100 of pensionable age are receiving the pension. There are, no doubt, others who have some entitlement but have not yet exercised it, and it would, I believe, be a fair assumption to say that the present means test brings within the pension field about half of the people who have reached pensionable age. A means test under which that is possible could never be described as parsimonious.
I can assure the House that it would be easier and much more pleasurable for me, in introducing my first legislative measure in this Parliament, to come before honorable members and offer higher pensions and benefits with a generous hand. 1 confess that I am not unmoved by the many sincere and eloquent pleas made on behalf of age and invalid pensioners. But I have been caused by my own experience to approach my task with a deep sense of responsibility to defend the entire social services scheme against the inflationary forces that would destroy it, and 1 conceive that to be my first and primary duty. It is unfortunate that many people to-day speak somewhat extravagantly as to the plight of pensioners and seek to give the impression that all of the 452,000 age pensioners and all of the 85,000 invalid pensioners are suffering great physical hardship. That, providentially, is not the true position. lt will be interesting to honorable members - and I refer to intelligent honorable members - to learn that a recent survey made in Victoria has shown that 44 per cent, of age pensioners own their own homes, that 50 per cent, have assets exceeding £50, and that 32 per cent, are in the group over £50 and up to £200, which is the maximum exemption for a single person. Admittedly, quite a large percentage have little, if any, income apart from their pensions, and their problem, together with the problem of those who are living alone, is one which the Government has constantly in mind. There are people in many organizations - and 1 am happy to say in my own department - who are devoting themselves to the relief of distress of this kind, and I need not remind the compassionate of our duty to those who are less fortunate in their circumstances.
I am reluctantly compelled to make some reference to the matter of the comparative value of the pension because of the persistent and spurious claims by honorable members opposite that pensioners are worse off to-day than they were under a socialist administration. It is common knowledge that the best yardstick we have for measuring changes in prices, which reflect the cost of living, is the C series retail price index. For many years, it was used as the basis for adjusting wages to meet changes in living costs. More particularly, I would remind honorable members, it was adopted by the Parliament in 1940 as the measure for similar adjustments in the maximum rate of age and invalid pensions, and it so remained until the relevant provisions were removed by the socialist government under legislation introduced, strangely enough, by the present Leader of the Opposition.
I am aware that the C series index relates to the pattern of expenditure of wageearner households exclusively, and it would be much better if we could devise and use an index based on the expenditure of pensioners, but, until that is done, we are required to use the C series index when calculations of the kind, with all their obvious faults and frailties, are being made.
The latest C series retail price index number issued for the June quarter of 1956 is 2,528. The corresponding index number for the September quarter of 1949, which was the last issued before the socialists were defeated, was 1,428. By simply taking the ratio of 2,528 to 1,428 and applying it to the pension of £2 2s. 6d. paid when the socialists were last in office, we get the result of £3 15s. 3d. Thus, on the C series index, the amount of pension now required to give the same purchasing value as 42s. 6d. had in 1949 is £3 15s. 3d. The present pension rate, shorn of all other additional benefits, of £4 a week is 4s. 9d. greater than that paid by the socialists in 1949. The calculation is unimportant except that, to honest and honorable men, it defeats the spurious figures which have been advanced, and I have no doubt will be advanced again, to get a more palatable political answer regardless of the facts of the case.
I have already indicated that the provisions of this bill lift the maximum rate of widows’ pensions in cases where the widows have two or more children. As honorable members know, a widow with one or more children under sixteen, known as a class A widow, at present may receive a pension of £4 5s. a week. Ever since these pensions were introduced in 1942, there has been no distinction between the rate payable to a widow with one child and that payable to a widow with several children. The Government feels that this should be corrected and, to that end, this bill raises the maximum rate of the class A pension by 10s. a week for each additional child under sixteen years after the first. For example, where there are three children under the age of sixteen, the maximum pension will rise from £4 5s. to £5 5s. a week; where there are five children, it will rise to £6 5s. a week, and so on, increasing by 1 0s. for each additional child under the age of sixteen years. The means test will apply to the new maximum rate of pension in these cases. So far as the property means test is concerned, a widow may have assets up to £1,750, apart from her home, furniture and personal effects, without any effect on the pension.
With regard to income, the act at present allows the widow to have earnings or other income up to £3 10s. a week, plus 10s. a week for each child under sixteen years. The additional pension of 10s. for each child after the first will not affect the additional permissible income of 10s. already allowed in respect of each dependent child. Consequently, a widow with three children will be permitted to have income of £5 a week in addition to a pension of £5 5s. a total of £10 5s. a week. Similarly, a widow with five children will be permitted to have income of £6 a week in addition to a pension of £6 5s. a week, a total of £12 5s. a week. I should mention that income derived from property is entirely disregarded in applying the income means test. The following table, which with the concurrence of honorable members 1 shall incorporate in “ Hansard “, gives the overall weekly totals which may be received: -
The bill also raises the maximum rate of an invalid pension by 10s. a week for each additional child under sixteen after the first. The first child is already provided for by a child’s allowance of 1 ls. 6d. a week which is generally paid to the mother. At the present time, in a family where the husband is an invalid the amounts payable are, subject to the means test, a pension of £4, a wife’s allowance of 35s. and a child’s allowance of lis. 6d., a total of £6 6s. 6d. a week. At present these rates apply regardless of the size of the family. The amendment made by the bill will add 10s. to the husband’s pension for each additional child under sixteen years after the first. In many cases this will mean quite a substantial addition to the pension. For example, where there are three children under sixteen, the maximum pension will become £5 instead of £4 a week, making a total of £7 6s. 6d. a week inclusive of the wife’s allowance and the allowance for the first child. Adding child endowment of 25s., the total Commonwealth payments in that case will be £8 lis. 6d. a week. Where there are five children, the pension will rise to £6 a week, making the total pension and allowances £8 6s. 6d. a week, plus child endowment of £2 5s., a total of £10 lis. 6d. a week.
There will be no limit to these increases for children. They will be paid on the basis of children under sixteen years who are in the custody, care and control of the invalid pensioner. This will be a great boon to large families. For example, where there are seven children under sixteen years the pension will rise to £7 a week. Adding the wife’s allowance of 35s. and the allowance of lis. 6d. for the first child, the total pension and allowances will be £9 6s. 6d. a week. Child endowment of £3 5s. will bring the total Commonwealth payments to £12 lis. 6d. a week in such a case. The means test will apply to the new maximum rate of pension, but I should mention that, under a specific amendment made by the bill, the additional pension of 10s. for each child after the first will not affect the additional permissible income of the same amount already allowed in respect of each dependent child under sixteen years. The following table, which with the concurrence of honorable members I shall have incorporated in “ Hansard “ also, illustrates the overall weekly totals which may be received: -
The increased pension rates will be paid also to widows who are invalids and have the care of children under sixteen years of age. There will also be cases of spinsters receiving invalid pensions, on whom has fallen the grave responsibility of the custody and care of children of deceased relatives. In these cases too, the increased pension rates will be paid.
The higher rates of pensions for children under sixteen years of age will be paid also to age pensioners who are permanently incapacitated for work. There will be no need, therefore, for a permanently incapacitated age pensioner who has the custody and care of children under sixteen years of age to transfer to the invalid pension in order to obtain the increase.
Before leaving the subject of invalid pensions, I should explain the position of the blind. As honorable members know, this Government has made it possible for blind persons to receive pensions of £4 a week entirely free of the means test. Where a blind pensioner has one or more children under sixteen years of age the allowance of lis. 6d. for the first child is also paid. This will continue. But I should make it clear that the normal means test will apply in the assessment of the additional pension for children after the first. In no case will a blind pensioner with children under sixteen years of age receive less than £4 lis. 6d. a week, irrespective of his income and property. But when it comes to determining the amount of additional pension in respect of children after the first child, there will be no distinction between’ blind and other invalid pensioners.
A further important concession is made by the bill to class A widows. As honorable members know, these are widows who have one or more children under sixteen years of age. At present the class A pension ceases when the widow’s youngest, or only, child reaches sixteen years of age unless she is over 50 years of age and is eligible for a class B pension at, of course, the lower rate. There is an exception where the child is undergoing full-time education at a school or university, is dependent on the widow, and is not in employment. In such circumstances the class A pension may be continued until the child reaches eighteen years of age. Where the youngest child does not continue with full-time education the class A pension ceases, and the widow has to wait until she is 50 years of age to qualify for a class B pension. She is thus compelled to seek employment at a difficult time of life after many years of dependence on the class .A pension. Mer experience during these years has been limited, as a rule, to home duties and the care of her children. The Government has decided that a concession should be made to a widow between 45 and 50 years of age in such circumstances, and the proposed amendment will enable her, subject to the appropriate means test, to transfer directly from the class A pension to the class B pension without any break in the continuity of payment, except that the class B rate of pension will apply.
The bill also provides for a higher portion of the maternity allowance to be paid to an expectant mother by way of prenatal payment. At present the amount of £5 may be paid on account of the allowance within four weeks prior to the expected date of birth. This will be increased to £10, which will enable the mother to apply a greater portion of the allowance, if she so desires, towards the purchase of the layette before entering hospital. The bill further provides for certain allowances payable to ex-servicemen to be excluded from “ income “ for the purposes of the means test. These allowances are a decoration allowance, a recreation transport allowance and an allowance paid for running a gift car.
The increased rates of widows’ pensions and invalid pensions provided for in the bill will benefit about 10,500 widows and 6,000 invalids. The increases will become payable on the first fortnightly pension pay-day after the bill receives the Royal Assent. So far as is possible, the increases will be paid on that day to all pensioners who are entitled to .receive them. Where, for any reason, this is not practicable, the increase will be made retrospective from the appropriate pay-day.
The estimated cost of the increases and concessions made by the bill is £750,000 for a full year. The cost for 1956-57 will be £550,000.
In view of the mounting cost of our social and health benefits and services, which will this year exceed £227,000,000. it is imperative that the funds available for improvements should be applied wisely and with due regard for those who have the greatest need in the community. I submit that the Government has made the right decision in giving the highest priority to widows and invalids with children to support. It is worth noting that this bill introduces to civil pensions, for the first time in our social history, the principle of granting additional pension in proportion to the number of the pensioner’s dependent children. This will not only bring relief to those most in need of assistance, but also will be yet another important step forward in the development of our social services.
I can assure honorable members that the Government is determined that its tasks in social services will not end with this bill. Our policy is now, as it has been in the past, one of progressive development. It is a policy which has already yielded the most positive results and given us a greatly improved system of social services. The Government is firmly resolved to continue with this policy, and will review the position each year with the ultimate object of bringing a full measure of social justice to every deserving section of our’ people, consistent with the capacity and the willingness of the rest of the community to pay for it.
I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Thompson) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 12th September (vide page 420), on motion by Mr. McMahon -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition views this bill, the long title of which is, “ A bill to amend the Canned Fruits Export Control Act “ with some mixed feelings. The bill proposes to do two things. First, it proposes to amend the existing act so as to provide that the representatives of the producers of canned pineapples and canned pineapple juice shall be elected by the producers themselves. The second proposal is to extend the term of office of members of the Canned Fruits Export Control Board from two years to three years. The Opposition has no objection to the second aim of the bill, because we think that persons who are appointed to a board of this description should have at least sufficient time as members of that board to have the opportunity to acquaint themselves fully with the principles on which the board operates, and be able to gain the experience and give the service, which will come from three years’ membership. We, however, are somewhat doubtful about the proposal contained in clause 3, which provides for the deletion of paragraph (e) of section 4 (2.) of the principal act and the insertion in its stead of the following paragraph: -
Our suspicion in regard to this clause stems from the statements made by the Minister himself in his second-reading speech. He pointed out that in 1933 the principal act was amended so as to provide representation for the producers of canned pineapples and canned pineapple juice. He pointed out also that at that time pineapple production in Queensland, the State principally concerned, was controlled by the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing. He said that that body nominated a person to be its representative on the Australian Canned Fruits Board and that the nominee was appointed. Then he added -
The committee itself has since become the largest producer of canned pineapples, but there has been some development of independent pineapple canneries outside its jurisdiction.
That statement requires careful consideration by the House, it is admitted by the Minister that the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing is now the largest producer of canned pineapple and canned pineapple juice in Queensland, but, because some outside interests - one puts the emphasis on the word “ some “ - independent of the committee are how functioning, it is proposed that the representative of the industry on the Australian Canned Fruits Board shall be elected by the industry itself. I should like the Minister to tell us whether that means that a number of small independent producers will be in a position to reject the person nominated by the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing - the body which is admittedly the largest producer of canned pineapple products in Queensland. On that matter, the Opposition would like a good deal more, information than was given by the Minister in his somewhat brief second-reading speech.
At an appropriate time, the Opposition proposes to move an amendment designed to provide for representation on the Australian Canned Fruits Board of the employees of the canned fruits industry. I point out that the board came into existence in 1926 as a result of the chaotic conditions that then existed in the industry, particularly in relation to exports. At the conclusion of World War I., a great part of the big trade in canned fruits that we had built up with Great Britain was suddenly lost to us. I regret to say that it was lost mainly because of the inefficient and somewhat careless methods, not of the whole of the canned fruits industry in Australia, but of some members of it. Thereafter, very strict government control was exercised over the grades of fruit .which were exported. In 1926, the Australian Canned Fruits Board was established with the object of substituting orderly marketing for the confusion and chaos that then existed in Australia and Great Britain. At that stage, we were rapidly losing our market for canned fruits in Great Britain to the United States of America.
One has to pay tribute to the excellent work that has been done by the board, but in order to explain why we shall move our amendment later, I stress the fact that during that period, because of strong competition from the United States of America, the employees of the industry had to submit to depressed working conditions. If the Minister so desires, 1 can refer him to a series of arbitration awards affecting the food-processing industry. The depressed condition of our market for canned fruits in Great Britain at that time led to a depressing of the working conditions of the men and women engaged in the canned fruits industry here. Subsequently, conditions improved, but the conditions that have obtained for the last fifteen years are likely to alter substantially from now onwards. In the near future, we may encounter much more severe competition from the United States, the greatest canned fruits producer in the world, than has been the case during the last fifteen years. In that time, our canned fruits have been sold to Great Britain mostly on a governmenttogovernment basis, and there has been no difficulty in disposing of our products there. But now we have reverted to a merchanttomerchant basis of trading, and during the last two years Great Britain has admitted at least token shipments of American canned fruits, worth a fairly substantial number of dollars. So it is quite possible that in the very near future there will be a recurrence of the conditions that prevailed in the industry before World War IT.
In the meantime, the industry has developed substantially. In a debate of this kind it is not desirable to cite many figures because sometimes figures are hard to follow. Let me say briefly that during the calendar year 1954 we exported to Great Britain no less than 1,476,000 cases of canned fruits, each containing two dozen cans. That quantity constituted practically one-half of the canned fruits that came into Great Britain during that year. The growth of the industry on both the processing side and the fruit production side has been of great benefit to Australia. Our exports of canned fruits are worth millions of pounds, and the industry is a great sterling currency earner. Some idea of the growth of the industry can be gleaned from the facts that for the five-year period from 1926 to 1930« the total production of canned fruits of all description in Australia was 1, 493,000’ cases, whilst production for the year 1954 alone was 6,942,000 cases. I think that was a record. Production last year was not quite so good, because the industry is subject to seasonal conditions, in the same way as many other primary industries, but even then 5,861,000 cases were produced, each case containing two dozen cans. So the importance of the industry can easily be seen.
Now I come to a point that should be stressed. The bill makes no provision for the representation of employees on the Australian Canned Fruits Board, although the employees are likely to be affected, and have been affected in the past, by a change of marketing conditions overseas. I do not propose to develop that point at length now, because I shall have an opportunity to do so fully in committee. But I stress something which I believe should be understood by all sections of the community. If we desire employees to appreciate the difficulties connected with the financing of an industry and the marketing of its products, they must be given an opportunity to understand the nature of the problems with which the industry is faced. The only way in which they can gain an understanding of the problems facing the industry, especially on the export side, is by studying them in co-partnership with management. Representation is given to three groups of employers: It is given to the proprietary canning companies, all of which are doing a good job; to the cooperative canneries, most of which are situated in the country districts and also doing good work; and to the pineapple and pineapple juice canneries. However, nothing could be achieved without the very loyal co-operation of the employees in the industry. The figures reveal the enormous growth of production in recent years, lt is one of the few industries in which labour costs have shown a tendency to decline, and those who are likely to suffer if there is any deterioration in marketing conditions are entitled to representation on the board. 1 therefore wish to make it quite clear that, at the appropriate stage, I shall move an amendment along those lines.
.- My colleague, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey), has given the House a wonderful resume of the canned fruit industry in Australia, and has pointed out both its importance and efficiency. 1 concur with every word that he has said, and I shall not repeat any of the points that he has emphasized. When one thinks of the question of controlling Australian exports, it is worth remembering that one of the most efficient authorities in this field is the Australian Canned Fruits Board. I wish to direct the attention of this Parliament, of the public, of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) in particular, and of departmental officers in general, to the fact that this board has a very small membership indeed. At present, it numbers only four, and though it is sometimes said that in a multitude of counsels there is wisdom, there appears to have been much wisdom without a multitude of counsels during the long period for which this organization has controlled the export of canned fruits. One wonders, therefore, why the Minister should bring down this amending legislation seeking to change an organization that is already very efficient.
The Minister said, in his second-reading speech, that he had brought down the bill at the request of the industry and the board. But a Minister is not justified in bringing down such legislation merely because a particular authority asks him to do so. Rather is it his function to analyse the request and decide himself, with the help of information from various sources, whether the right course is being adopted. lt might well be that he would then make an entirely different decision. I grant that the Minister may have a more intimate knowledge of the facts than I, as a member of Her Majesty’s Opposition, can have at the moment, but what is the arrangement which the Minister seeks to alter?
The authority consists of four members. One is appointed by the Government, as its representative. Another represents the proprietary canneries, which are no doubt an important factor in the industry. A third represents the co-operative canneries and a fourth represents the pineapple canners.
However, that fourth representative is not elected to the board but comes to it as the nominee of an authority created by a State act and controlling the marketing of pineapples grown in Australia. The Minister has told us that it is this representation which is to be altered by the bill. He is to be replaced by a member elected by the pinapple canneries of Queensland.
Why is the change necessary? The present representative comes from the Queensland Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing which controls, to a large degree, all marketing operations in that State. In actual fact, though not by virtue of election, the present member represents the major portion of the canning industry of Queensland. Of course, I speak subject to correction. The Minister has himself said that the committee has become the largest producer of canned pineapples in Queensland. Why not allow it to continue to nominate a representative to sit on the Australian Canned Fruits Board? On the Minister’s own admission, the committee is the largest producer of canned pineapples in that State. Under the circumstances, I must ask myself what is behind this move to alter the present arrangement, it is true, as the Minister has told us, that there are also proprietary canneries in Queensland. It may be that though the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing runs one or more canneries, a much larger number may be controlled by proprietary interests. If the method of election is altered in Queensland, and the proprietary canneries are in the majority, the representative appointed to the Australian Canned Fruits Board will be a representative of proprietary interests controlling the largest number of canneries, not a true representative of the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing, which is in reality canning the largest quantity of pineapples in Queensland.
I want to know more from the Minister about this set-up before 1 shall be satisfied. If that alteration took place, and the representative of the largest pineapple canning interest in Queensland were removed from the board in favour of the representative of the proprietary canneries, the position would be entirely changed. There would be one Commonwealth Government representative, one representative each of proprietary canners and co-operative canners of fruit other than pineapples, and one representative of proprietary interests in the Queensland pineapple industry. There would be on the board two proprietary representatives, one co-operative representative and one government nominee. The composition of the board would be changed so that proprietary interests instead of co-operative interests would be in the majority. That appears to me, as an ardent supporter of co-operation, as is every other member of the Australian Labour party, to be a most undesirable state of affairs. It would result in the equilibrium of the board being upset, and the balance of power that has obtained for many years being shifted.
– Would not the committee of direction representative be the equivalent of a government nominee?
– No. The committee of direction, as the honorable member knows, is an organization set up in Queensland by vote of the producers in the respective industries from which they come. They are, by majority vote, appointed by growers in Queensland, and in that sense they are truly co-operative, whereas the proprietary canneries are privately-owned and, in some instances, are actually owned by persons who are associated with the production of other fruits, whose interests are already amply represented on the board. Unless the Minister can give me more adequate information about this proposal than 1 already have - and I admit that at present I am working, to some extent, in the dark - I shall not be satisfied that the proposed change is necessary.
I see no reason to quibble with the other amendment, which proposes to change the term of office of members of the board. The other matter that I wish to deal with is that which has been raised by my colleague111 e honorable member for Bendigo (MClarey). He has been associated for a long time with the employees’ union in the canned- fruits industry. The members of the Food Preservers Union of Australia have a record of co-operation with employers and ot assistance to the industry that is probably unsurpassed by any other group of employees in Australia. In view of their knowledge of the industry, those people should have a representative on the Australian Canned Fruits Board. I see that the Minister is expressing disapproval of that suggestion. He may put up some case against it, but it will not convince me, because I am already convinced to the contrary. 1 remind him that for many years he and others who sit behind him have told the people at election times that if we wish to deal with the menace of communism we must have workers’ representatives ondirectorates and other bodies such as thai mentioned in this bill. Here is an opportunity to follow that practice, and if the Minister does not accept it, it will be obvious that he has simply mouthed meaningless nothings when he has told the people that it is necessary to gain the cooperationof workers and to use their knowledge of particular industries.
I point out to the Minister that when the Labour government was in office, on’ every occasion when an act dealing with export control came to this Parliament for amendment or alteration the Government ensured that a representative of the employees was appointed to the instrumentality concerned. It is now seven years since the Labour government left office, but on nooccasion during a debate on primary industry has the Minister or his predecessor been able to say that the employees’ representatives on these instrumentalities had done other than very good service to the industry and to the unions that they represented. The appointment of an employees’ representative on the Australian Wheat Board has been an undoubted success. The same remark applies to the Australian Dairy Produce Board, and to the Australian Meat Board. It also applies to the AustralianEgg Board, and probably to others that 1 have overlooked. I happen to know that because of their inside knowledge of the industry these representatives have been invaluable in promoting industrial harmony, and their activities have resulted in the various industries functioning more efficiently than they would otherwise have done.
I say to the Minister, with a full sense of responsibility, that unless he accepts the very desirable amendment that will bemoved by the honorable member for Bendigo, all his talk about the menace of communism and the desirability of employees and business interests getting together ismeaningless. It will be apparent that the-
Minister and his colleagues have been talking a lot of humbug and that they have never at any time meant what they said. It will demonstrate fully that they have been trotting out these bogys merely for the purpose of defeating a party that has proved more effective than theirs, and which would give the employees’ representatives a voice in the management of different industries, thus doing good service to the country as a whole.
I shall say no more on this matter. I know that the intentions of the Minister are good, but he will demonstrate his good intentions more clearly if, when my colleague moves his amendment, he agrees to grant to the employees representation on the Australian Canned Fruits Board.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 3 -
Section four of the Principal Act is amended - (a) by omitting paragraph (e) of sub-section (2.) and inserting in its stead the following paragraph: - “ (d) one member elected to represent canneries engaged in the production of canned pineapples or canned pineapple juice.”; and
.- I move -
That, in paragraph (a), the following new paragraph be inserted: - “ (e) One member elected by members of the Food Preservers Union of Australia to represent employees in the canned fruit industry.’ “
It may be that the Minister intends to accept my amendment. If so, there is no need for me to speak on the matter.
– It will not be accepted.
– The Minister has indicated that he does not propose to accept the amendment. I agree with the excellent statement that has been made by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) on the question of representation of employees on the Australian Canned Fruits Board. I commend this amendment to the committee because, first, the employees in the industry have suffered in the past because of bad trading conditions overseas. Secondly, there is a possibility that trading conditions in the industry will deteriorate in the near future. Thirdly, the co-operation that has existed during the last 30 years between the organized employees in the industry and the processors indicates the capacity and willingness of the employees to cooperate in helping to solve the undoubted problems of the industry. I shall give an indication to the Minister of how employees have co-operated in the past. From 1922 until 192S working conditions in the canned fruits industry were depressed, because the general condition of the industry itself was chaotic. The members of this union were among the first to suffer the 10 per cent. cut imposed by the Arbitration Court in 1931 because of the almost complete collapse of our markets for canned fruits in Great Britain and other places. That collapse was caused, firstly, by falling prices and, secondly, by the dumping on the English market of huge quantities of canned peaches, apricots and pears by American processors. The only thing that helped the industry was the depreciation of the Australian £1 compared with the English £1 in 1931. The industry was able to get on its feet as a consequence of the adverse exchange rate.
From that time onwards, it was necessary for the industry, if it was to survive, to introduce every labour-saving device possible. The union and the employees cooperated in every way in the introduction of those labour-saving devices because they wanted the industry to be saved. They agreed to, and assisted in, the introduction of such things as the pear-processing machine, the peach-cutting machine, the apricot-splitting machine and a number of other machines. Those machines have almost entirely eliminated the use of manual labour. Previously every pear, peach and apricot had to be handled and individually prepared for processing. The result has been that production has increased tremendously.
I draw the attention of the Minister for Primary Industry to a statement made in the last report of the Australian Canned Fruits Board, which indicates some of the difficulties that the industry will have to face in the future. After dealing extensively with the fact that the system of sales to the British Ministry of Food had been departed from and merchant-to-merchant trading was taking place, the report said -
Prior to World War II., the U.S.A. was the major supplier of canned deciduous fruits to the British market. Currency restrictions, in conjunction with import licensing by the British Authorities, have virtually excluded supplies from this source in recent years. Naturally, American fruit canning interests are anxious to resume trading with the United Kingdom, -which constituted their principal overseas market in the pre-war period.
The report pointed out that in 1954, 2,500,000 dollars worth of canned apricots and peaches were admitted into the United Kingdom. In February, 1955, a further provision was made involving 3,000,000 dollars, which permitted choice-grade fruits, mainly Californian canned pears, to come into the market.
Employees can be threatened by adverse trading conditions and by the loss of markets. This is a board that deals with marketing and whatever is done by it may be to the good or to the evil of the industry. As the employees are vitally concerned, I submit that they are entitled to representation on this board so that their knowledge of the industry will be recognized, and the industry will have a chance of getting all the information available not only to management but also to the employees.
– I desire to tell the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) immediately that the Government will not accept the amendment. First, let me put it to him in terms of principles. The basic principle on which he put forward the suggestion is that, because employment can be threatened by the loss of markets, the employees are entitled to have a representative on the board. In reverse, that means that before any action is taken by the trade union movement, it should always seek to have in the closest co-operation with it a representative of management, a representative of primary industry and a representative of those likely to be affected by union action, particularly by strike action proposed by the Australian Council of Trades Unions.
– Will the Minister give the trade union movement representation in the Associated Chambers of Commerce and the Associated Chambers of Manufactures? The principle applies both ways.
– If the honorable member’s suggestion works one way, then it should work in exactly the reverse direction. If it does, then before any action is taken by the Australian Council of Trades Unions which might prejudice employment or markets, it would be appropriate for that body to consult the representatives of all the other organizations likely to be affected before a decision is made.
There are two other reasons why the Government will not accept the amendment. The first is that up to the present moment the trade union movement itself has not asked for such an amendment. It is simple for the Opposition at the last minute to ask us to adopt this proposal, but the simple fact is that this law has been on the statutebook for many years and during that period we have not had any suggestions of this nature from the trade union movement itself. The second reason is that neither the industry nor the board has asked for such an amendment to be made permitting trade union representation. For those reasons, and taking into consideration the basic principle mentioned by the honorable member for Bendigo, which in theory sounds ;i very good principle but which in practice would be quite inappropriate, the Government states quite emphatically that it will not accept the amendment proposed by the honorable member.
I mention one other aspect. Since this Government has been in office it has thought that fundamentally these boards should bc composed of producer representatives. As far as it lies within our capacity, that principle will be followed in this and in subsequent legislation.
.- I regret that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) has summarily rejected what we consider to be a very good suggestion, lt was offered in good faith and was based on the experience of the precedents which I mentioned earlier of employee representatives on other authorities. The argument of the Minister that, applying the same logic, the Trades Hall council should give representation to Associated Chambers of Manufactures or Associated Chambers of Commerce will not stand. There is no basis of comparison; there is no parallel. lt is noteworthy that the Minister suggested that the employers, either in industry as manufacturers, or in commerce, as importers, should be given representation on trades hall councils. How could an authority that is purely and simply an employees’ organization embrace as a member the representative of an employers’ organization? Conversely, how could a chamber of commerce or a chamber of manufactures take in its arms representatives of the employees? It does not make sense. But this instrumentality is very different indeed. In the first place, the Australian Canned Fruits Board is an authority vested by the Parliament with very great powers which vitally affect employees and, indeed, the people. Let us examine its authority. Section 19 of the Act deals with the particular powers of the board. It reads -
The Board shall, with respect to any canned fruits placed under its control, have full authority to make such arrangements and give such directions as it thinks fit for the following matters: -
The handling, marketing and storage of the canned fruits;
The shipment of the canned fruits on such terms and in such quantities as it thinks fit;
The sale and disposal of canned fruits on such terms as it thinks fit;
The insurance against loss of any such canned fruits either in the Commonwealth or in transit from the Commonwealth and until disposed of; and
All such matters as are necessary for the due discharge of its functions in handling, distributing and disposing of the canned fruits.
Further, the board is vested by the Parliament of this country with very great financial authority. In certain circumstances, it may give financial guarantees, through the Commonwealth Bank, in respect of fruit that is sent to markets on the other side of the world, pending realization. Surely, in those circumstances, and in view of the necessity to secure the better management of the industry, the employees are entitled to representation on the board. The canners would have an absolute majority on the authority, so what possible harm could be done by giving the employees representation? After all, this Parliament is discussing the relative merits of certain proposals and whether they are likely to do harm or good - a consideration that applies to all legislation. In this instance, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has proposed something which could do only good. Surely, the Government should disregard all other considerations and say, “ We accept the proposal because it can do only good “.
Can the Minister for Primary Industry indicate any possible way in which the proposal could be harmful? Can the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) do so? I suggest that acceptance of the proposal could do no harm. The one employee representative on the authority could be outvoted by the four other members. All he would have would be a voice; but he could add his contribution to the discussions and he could listen to the contributions of his fellow members. He might be able to convince them that a certain line of action that they proposed to take was unwise and not likely to assist the industry, and, on the other hand, he could endeavour to convince them that something he wanted done would benefit the industry. They, for their part, could accept his views or try to persuade him that he was wrong. In the ultimate, the majority representation of the proprietary and co-operative interests, plus the support of the government chairman, would be dominant.
Does the Government propose to deprive these people of representation, when they could contribute so much to the success of the board? I know of instances in which representatives on export control boards have helped substantially, because of their knowledge of handling methods and their relations with the employees of the industry who, after all, do all the hard and dirty work from the time the product leaves the cannery until it is safely stowed away in a ship. If those men are not co-operative, substantial damage can be done to cargoes of the kind we are discussing. If there are representatives on the instrumentality who can influence the attitude of those workers, it is of great assistance. I do not think there is anything more I can say about the matter, except that I am sorry that the Minister is so stubbornly opposed to a proposal which, if accepted, could do only good. After all, this Parliament should always do what is right.
During my speech at the second-reading stage, I sought the reason why it is now proposed to take a line of action which, in some circumstances, would deprive the largest pineapple cannery of representation.
– I wanted to give that explanation to the honorable member, but unfortunately Mr. Speaker was a little too quick for me. Is the honorable member now speaking to the amendment or to some earlier clause?
– 1 am speaking generally now, but I should like to have the matter cleared up. Perhaps the Minister will say that there is no possibility of the interests in Queensland being overwhelmed by the proprietary vote; perhaps he will say that the method of election will prevent that from happening. It may be that the matter is covered by the method of election. I do not know whether individual canneries or growers have the right to vote. The Minister may perhaps explain that matter. He may be able to explain the whole situation. If he says that this change in the method of selection of representatives will still ensure that the largest pineapple handling canneries in Queensland will continue to have representation, why is it proposed to alter the system, since provision already exists for such representation? Why the desire on the part of somebody to adopt another method of selection? Why waste the time of this Parliament? If the Minister proposes to say that whatever method of election is adopted, the representative of the largest canneries in Queensland is certain to be elected, why alter the system, since those canneries already have representation? I hope that the Minister will be able to tell tell us what this proposal really means.
– Dealing only with the point last mentioned by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), 1 inform him that, historically, the proposal to make the change was suggested by the representative on the Australian Canned Fruits Board of the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing. In other words, the representative of the very organization that he is suggesting might be deprived of representation said, “I believe that it is a sound move to have the member elected rather than selected by the committee of direction itself”; and he still gives the proposal his unqualified support.
There are two other reasons why the act is being amended, to provide for election by the pineapple people themselves, rathe than for selection by the committee. The first reason is that the industry itself suggested the change, and the second is that the board also suggested it. Therefore, after careful consideration, the Government in its wisdom thought that, as these interests had agreed, it was wise that we as a government should say, “ Yes, we will amend the law”. In other words, there were three sets of opinions expressed, the first being that of the representatives of the committee of direction on the board, the second that of the industry itself, and the third, that of the canners. The final reason I give is that it would seem extraordinarily inconsistent if representatives of all other interests were elected rather than selected, but in the case of the pineapple canners the representative was selected and noi elected. We are making the amendment also to bring consistency into the act. Because of those considerations, I believe there is an overwhelmingly good reason to accept the proposal, and the Government, and I personally, are not prepared to accept any amendment of it.
.- I did not intend to take part in this debate, but the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) appealed to me to give judgment. With one voice the honorable member said. “ Why alter this method of election? Why alter the composition of the board? “ Bui immediately before that he had spoken to an amendment to alter the composition o! the board by adding a trade union representative. So with one breath the honorable member said one thing, and with the next breath he said exactly the opposite. I can see no reason on earth why the remarks of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr McMahon) should not be applied to trade union councils. If a manufacturer’s representative, intimately associated with production, were elected to each trade union council his views might add greatly to the value of the council’s deliberations. In fact, they might bring a certain amount of sense to situations in which it was needed.
Question put -
That the amendment (Mr. Clarey’s) be agreed to.
The committee divided.
Ayes . . 26
Noes . . . . 37
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of the bill - by leave - taken as a whole and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed (vide page 751).
– As we resume the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, I think it is a fortunate circumstance that the House thoroughly understands that opposition to this bill by my friends on the other side of the House is a matter of duty. Otherwise, we would find ourselves hard put to explain the sort of arguments which have been presented by them to the House today. I am certain in my own mind that the Australian Labour party, which, in its own time, has found itself in a similar kind of situation where changes in postal rates were not only justified but also necessary, fully understands and approves of what the Government proposes in this bill. However, we have listened to appeals to put the Postal Department on a sound business basis, and then we have heard bitter complaints at the steps which have been necessary to bring about this situation. We have heard all sorts of demands and exhortations to cut the costs of operation of the Postal Department, some of these, incidentally, from persons who, within the week, have made it their business to try to increase the actual costs of operation of that department. But, despite all of these things, it is something of which the Australian people might well be proud that Australia stands sixth among the nations in the number of telephones per 1,000 head of population. When we consider the 3,000,000 square miles spread of this country, and the distribution of its population of 9,000,000, and realize the problems of telephone services particularly which come from that set of circumstances, I think it will be appreciated that a very good job indeed has been done with postal development in this country.
Despite all of these circumstances, the fact remains that the costs of operation of the Postal Department in all its branches compare more than favorably with those of more advanced countries. If there is a shortage of telephone facilities in this country - and nobody, of course, denies it - we are not alone in that circumstance because I notice that in America and England, both countries which are more fortunately circumstanced than we are, a similar shortage of telephone facilities exists. It has become something of a national sport in Australia in recent years to demand that the Government shall make greater provision, particularly of finance, for all aspects of national development, including, of course, in the present context, development of the services of the Postal Department. We all appreciate that the mere provision of more money does not provide additional effort, which is what we really need in an economy that is already fully extended as to employment. Of course, the devastating fact is that the Government, of itself, has no money. It has, for contribution to the great task of national development, only funds which it can take out of the pockets of the Australian taxpayer. So if we may paraphrase this demand - that the Government must provide more money - in terms of some realistic appreciation of the position, we may say that we, the taxpayers, must provide more money if we demand a more rapid rate of national development. Of course, if we are prepared to take that stand, there is some hope that, in cooperation, we shall see a vast improvement in the rate of national development in all its phases.
However, the bill before the House seeks, with complete justification I suggest, to move in the general direction of providing more funds for postal development. Surrounded as we are on every hand by rising costs of wages and materials, the astounding thing to me is that it has been possible for postal charges to be held at their present reasonable levels for so long.
This afternoon, we listened to a statement from the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), who is not exactly inexperienced in matters associated with the Postal Department. First of all, he suggested that it was time that department began to recover from other departments the cost of services which it rendered to them. I can assure the honorable gentleman, as the Minister in charge of the Meteorological Branch in recent times, that we have found ourselves obliged to find another £750,000 in order to compensate the Postal Department for the charges involved in telephone and other postal services for the meteorological section of the Department of the Interior. Nobody complained particularly about that. It is all a charge on the public purse. But this bill will allow us to segregate departmental costs and to do that which some people have requested should be done. I am sure that the Postmaster-General’s Department appreciates such a move to bring the statement of postal accounts closer to a sound business basis. But it must be clearly understood that the conditions under which the Postal Department operates do not allow its financial affairs to be stated as precisely or in the same form as those of any other business undertaking. The main point is that the Postal Department will recover from one department the cost of a service that it renders.
The honorable member for Banks went on to point out that, in his opinion, the increased charges proposed in the bill constituted an increase in taxation. This is an inversion of reasoning if ever I saw one. In plain fact, the increased cost of postal services which we now seek to pass on to those who use those services will, in fact, save a drain on the general taxpayers. The honorable member for Banks was at some pains to read lengthy extracts from the second-reading speech of the PostmasterGeneral on this bill, including the reference to the fact that cost of living adjustments had, in recent years, added £12,000,000 per annum to Postal Department’s operating costs. Then he made the interesting suggestion that the Government should deal with rising costs. I would be particularly interested to know what formula the honorable gentleman could present under which we might deal with rising costs which come from this particular source alone - the cost of living and things which go with it. The statement falls rather oddly from the honorable member, who, within the last week, has advocated steps which would increase, by an appreciable amount, the cost of wages and salaries within the Postal Department. Of course, increases of wages have been reflected in the cost of the multitude of materials which the Postmaster-General uses in the supply of services. The two basic metals which are used by the Postal Department are copper, for all manner of cables, and lead, for a similar purpose. The price of copper has risen by 69 per cent, in the last five years. The cost of lead has increased by no less than 136 per cent, in the same period.
Now, I wish to refer particularly to those people in country areas who are called upon to provide so much of their own telephone services. Those people will be well aware of the tremendous increase in recent years of the cost of providing telephone services. The cost of all manner of equipment which goes into the installation of our telephone services has increased vastly. We have had complaints about the proposal to charge an installation fee of £10 for a telephone. But, after all, this is surely a constructive, a reasonable and, if I may say so, an overdue movement in terms of time, designed to put the affairs of the Postal Department back onto a sound business basis.
If we look at the cost of providing a telephone service in this country, we shall see some justification for this move. It is popularly misunderstood that a telephone service is something which arrives when, one fine morning, a telephone mechanic comes along, screws an instrument on to the wall, hands one a handset and says, “ You are in business “. But one should examine the details of the cost of the engineering service which lies behind the simple telephone service in one’s home.
The cost of the average instrument is £8, and that is the least of the cost. Work done on the average home increases the bill by £17. In the exchange service, there lies available to every user of an individual telephone service technical equipment which costs £90. If one adds to this list the cost of cables, either overhead or underground, plus the ancillary units that go into it, and which are valued at £140, the cost of installing a telephone, business or domestic, will be found to be about £250.
– 1 have taken my figures from the people who perform this sort of service, and I should hope that they are slightly better informed than the honorable member; otherwise, I would fear for the future of the postal service. The average cost of installation of a domestic or business telephone is about £250. Of course, this figure attracts to itself interest and depreciation at rates which are well known.
When one looks at the cost of operation of telephone services in this country, one sees some of the reasons why a tremendous amount of money has had to be paid from Consolidated Revenue in order to keep this service expanding. The average maintenance cost of a domestic telephone is approximately £15 a year and the average revenue received from the home telephone is about £20 a year. That is particularly true of the city and near city areas. In view of the fact that the Postal Department installs each service at a cost of £250, spends £15 a year maintaining it and draws an average income from it of about £20, there is reasonable justification for the installation charge which is now proposed.
The honorable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr. Curtin) gave us a long dissertation and urged the Postmaster-General to carry on with the extension of these services because they were revenue-earning. But, on the figures that I have given to the House, it may well be that, with the installation of every one of the 86,000 telephones for which applications are outstanding at present, the department may go deeper into the red unless the move is made to counteract that tendency by way of an installation charge.
I simply point out that it is the ambition and hope of any government to see that the people of this country have the widest possible use of the convenience of a telephone in the home. How well that policy has borne fruit is demonstrated, as I pointed out earlier, by the fact that Australia is sixth among the most advanced countries in terms of the use of telephones.
– That is proportionately?
– Yes. The point is that we must ask, “ What is the justification for providing this service to homes at public expense? “ I believe the day has come when we have to look at these financial considerations with extreme care. Having done that, I must compliment the PostmasterGeneral on proceeding with this realistic proposal for an installation charge for every new telephone. The Government is well aware of the difficulties being faced by those who, for business reasons, or even for private reasons such as the protection of health, are awaiting the installation of telephones. But there must be some realistic appreciation of the tremendous problem that faces the Postmaster-General’s Department at this time. I do not think any one doubts that during World War II. and for a few years afterwards very little was done to expand the telephone services in this country - for obvious reasons. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) in his address to the House this afternoon quite rightly made the point that the most of the outstanding applications were from people living in outer suburbs of the cities. To that I would add country towns. It could hardly be otherwise, Mr. Speaker, because it is the rapidly developing outer suburbs of the cities, and in the rapidly expanding country towns, that one finds the greatest need for new services and the greatest difficulty confronting the department in providing them.
A telephone service is not like a water service which is provided merely by running a pipe along the street and tapping off at will as more people demand service from it. Individual cable is provided for every telephone user. In times past, telephone cables were laid in the streets of the outer city suburbs and the country towns; they were quite rightly and properly intended to meet the current requirements and those of the foreseeable future. The result is that, in an era of rapid expansion such as we have known in the last ten years, the existing cables become inadequate. That is why so many of the people who come to members of Parliament for assistance in this vexing problem present a Postal Department chit with a statement in the following terms: - “ We are unable to give you a telephone because engineering services are not available “. That means that cable is not available. We all have had contact with people who are so anxious to have a telephone installed that because a cable has been connected to a house perhaps 100 yards down the street, they offer to pay for the necessary additional cable. But it is not as easy as that. One cannot merely extend a cable. It may be necessary to lay miles of cable to provide one or two additional services, and, if we are not to find ourselves at some future time in a situation similar to that in which we are at the present time, the new cable installations must be adequate for estimated future requirements. So the installation of a telephone in one more home in most of these areas which are rapidly expanding becomes a major engineering undertaking in terms of cost, and supplies of material and man-power. It may well be that services cannot be expanded to any great extent, even when the cables are down, until new post office and telephone exchange buildings are provided. Unfortunately, it is my responsibility as Minister for the Interior to provide land and buildings for the expansion of postal services. I can assure the House that, almost daily, some new requisition for the acquisition of an additional piece of property for the expansion and development of the postal services passes across my desk.
I repeat that the Postmaster-General’s Department is doing a wonderful job. J think it is appreciated also that when such a multitude of jobs are clamouring for the department’s attention it must have a system of priorities. I think a lot of people would endorse the view that it would be a very good thing if we could begin in the remote country areas and so provide telephone services first for the people, who have the greatest need, and then work towards the cities where circumstances are much more convenient. But unfortunately the Postal Department must be conducted as a business. For an equivalent expenditure of money, and an equivalent amount of labour and material, 50 times as many city people as country people can be given telephone services. Inevitably such a situation is loaded in favour of the residents of the cities. It is most unfortunate that many country people who have spent a lot of money on constructing lengthy telephone lines for their own use are unable to obtain telephone services because space is not available on exchanges.
In the last few years the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has incurred colossal costs in repairing flood damage alone. My own electorate, which encompasses most of the Hunter Valley has been grievously hit on a number of occasions during the last six years, and I have some appreciation of the tremendous costs involved in the unproductive work of repairing flood damage which does not add anything new but merely restores something that existed previously. Tens of thousands of pounds have been spent, and hundreds of thousands of man-hours have been diverted from new work into the restoration of flood-damage services. In many instances, these services are still operating only on a temporary basis and will have to be erected to a permanent basis when it is possible for the department to do the job. It is unfortunately a fact that something like three-fifths of the manpower of the department is engaged not on the installation of new services, but on the maintenance of existing services. Since man-power is not unlimited, we can obtain from that fact some appreciation of the difficulties that face my honorable colleague the Postmaster-General in providing services at the rate required.
During the six years that I have been a member of the Parliament I have been approached time after time, as every other honorable member has been, by people who feel aggrieved because they think that their application for a telephone has been overlooked and some one else has been given priority over them. I have some little technical background, and I have made it my business to examine the technical considerations behind all these problems. 1 am bound to say that in the last six years I have never found an instance of a telephone being installed out of the priority order. I do not think I could use my time better than by congratulating the district telephone officers throughout Australia on their monumental patience in handling what seems to them a tremendously difficult and painful situation. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department is particularly anxious to give service, and the people may rest assured that if the engineering facilities are available they will receive service. Unfortunately, if engineering supplies such as cable and telephone equipment are not available, no temporary arrangement can be made. There must be a period of patient waiting until facilities in tremendous demand throughout Australia can be provided.
As I pointed out, I believe that Opposition members appreciate this position well, and in their heart of hearts offer no objection to what is being done. I do not particularly like the idea of making comparisons, because, if they seek to equate what is being done currently with what has been done in the past when conditions were totally different, they are unfair. So it is not with any idea of trying to suggest that this Government has done better than the Labour Government did that I shall mention a few comparative figures. In the last three years of the Labour Government’s term £25,000,000 was spent on the expansion of the telephone system. During the last three years the present Government has devoted £86,000,000 to the same purpose.
– I thought the Minister was not going to make comparisons.
– I thought I had qualified my comparisons by pointing out that they are not made against comparable backgrounds. The figures are merely given to show that, comparably, we have done as much as, and may well have done a little more than, the Labour party was able to do when it was in office. So there is no ground for the sort of criticism that has been coming across this chamber to-day. In the last year of the Labour government 46,000 telephones were installed in Australia, against 80,000 telephones which have been installed in this last year. The point is that the Postal Department has had available to it a reasonable and fair share of the national resources, and I think we have to keep some balance between all the factors in the Australian scene which are competing for money for development.
The increased charges which the House is debating are not unreasonable. They are the first increases of charges in five years. The new letter postage rate is only double that which operated before the war, yet hardly one of any of the other costs that touch on business or domestic affairs has not gone up by that much, or by much more than that. As I say, the remarkable thing is that postal charges have been held down as low as they have been held.
– The Minister has not referred to the capital of £100,000,000.
– I have given the reason why £100,000,000 of capital had to be fed into this system. It was because sufficient revenue was not coming in and costs of installations were increasing. These costs had to be met.
– Does the Minister mean that they were met out of taxes?
– Well, where else does one get funds? I think that most costs have trebled since the years before the war, yet postal rates at the most have increased only twofold, and, in the case of telephone charges, I am particularly grateful to see that it has been found possible to reduce the cost of those trunk-line calls which are used most frequently by country people. Whereas city people have available to them all the required services within a reasonable range, people who live outside the immediate compass of country towns, on stations and farms, find that almost every call they make is at least a short distance trunk-line call. So I am glad to know that in one case the unit fee for short distance trunk-line calls has been reduced from 5d. to 3d. and in the other case from 8d. to 6d. I believe that this is a major indication of the Government’s appreciation of the difficulties that face our rural producers. In this particular case the general benefit will go where it will do the most good.
We had some complaint this afternoon from a member of the Opposition on the ground that because rates of postage for newspapers are not to be increased this means, inevitably, that a benefit is to be conferred on the city press. If the honorable gentleman cares to come with me to any country town, and stand in the press room of a local newspaper at publication time, he will find that the whole machinery of publication of a country newspaper is geared to meet the mail time-table. When the first batch of newspapers comes off the press, with the ink still wet, it does not go into the bag to be delivered by the boy. or go to the stationer’s shop - it goes into the mail bags and is sent immediately to the post office because, in country areas where people depend for their local intelligence on the local newspapers, there is no more valuable service than the distribution by post of newspapers. For that reason again, the great benefit from low rates of postage will go where it will do the most good - to the man on the land.
I should think that nobody will deny that in the last few years there has been great emphasis on the introduction into country areas of rural automatic telephone exchanges. Whereas 192 of these valuable installations were in operation when we came into office, to-day there are 900 rural automatic exchanges operating throughout Australia. Honorable members who represent rural electorates are particularly well aware, and, in some cases, particularly painfully aware, that one of the great problems in country towns is to find people who have the time to take away from their ordinary affairs on a farm, or in other business, to look after the local telephone exchange. There is often a great danger that when a telephone officer in charge of a rural exchange finally lays down his duties the area will be left entirely without a telephone service. It is in the light of these circum stances that the installation of rural automatic telephone exchanges is rendering such a magnificent service to country areas. So, once again, I am pleased to see that the Government is paying great attention to increasing the number of rural automatic exchanges as rapidly as time and the availability of equipment will permit.
I believe that this is a sound bill, which holds the balance firmly and fairly between the users of the telephone services and the taxpayers, who, as the Leader of the Opposition has drawn to my attention, have provided so much of the sinews in relation to expenditure by the postal and allied services. I believe, also, that the increases in rates proposed are completely inescapable, and that they are completely fair. Those increments are being made only after the most strenuous efforts have been put forth to improve the efficiency of the postal administration. So much so, that the figures show that there has been a 20 per cent, improvement in output per manhour in the telephone branch. This gives some idea of the efforts made to cut costs to a minimum within the service before it was ultimately found necessary to increase charges to the users of telephone services. In general, I believe that the overall outcome of this measure will be the rendering of a beneficial service to the increasing numbers of people in the cities and in the country throughout Australia who are joining the advance towards general participation in the use of the modern facilities offered by the Postal Department.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– This bill, because of the principle contained in it, should, in my view, have attracted much more attention than the merely superficial approach to it made by the Minister for Works and Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall). What he has done, in point of fact, is to indicate more clearly to the people of Australia that this Government has not yet attempted to put any brake on costs whose increase has resulted from its own activities and the activities of the departments it controls. The bill is designed to increase postal and allied charges so as to raise an additional £7,250,000 in a year. And this, at a time when this Government is holding to a policy of wage freezing! It is strange, to say the least, that the Government is at this time giving the tail of inflation another twist in a way proposed in this measure. This £7,250,000 is to come, in the main, from increases in telephone rentals and trunk line charges, telegram charges and other charges which have a direct impact on prices. I suggest that the measure throws into strong relief the incapacity of the Government to handle the problem of inflation or else it demonstrates - and I am not sure that this is not the right answer - its “ don’t care “ attitude as regards its own business undertakings. We say definitely that there is no need for these increases at present, at the very time when the Government is urging the rest of the community to a policy of frugality in respect of wages and prices. Yet the Government is increasing costs to the community by £7,250,000, the greater proportion of which will fall on the business community. I repeat that there is no need for those increases. In 1949, the Labour Government handed over to the present Government a great public utility, in the Postmaster-General’s Department, which was in a flourishing state. I shall quote from the 40th Annual Report of the Postmaster-General, which was for the 1949-50 year of operations, and was presented to this Parliament by the then PostmasterGeneral, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), who had taken over from the Labour Postmaster-General half-way through that year. I quote from pages 32 and 33 of that report. This is what the then Minister had to say -
The year 1949-50 was the third of the initial three-year programme for the rehabilitation of Post Office Services. This programme comprised the more urgent capital works, including Building and Sites, necessary to overtake arrears and to improve and expand services. Although progress was hampered by difficulties in obtaining adequate supplies of essential materials and trained staff, the results achieved have been gratifying and the Department has made substantial strides in its endeavours to restore the communication services to a higher standard of efficiency and to reduce the heavy arrears of work which accumulated during the war. Expenditure on New Works during the year was £16,567,381. . . . The total expenditure on the programme for the three years amounted to £37,325,918, of which £32,589,639 was for Telephone and Telegraph Works, £3,241,863 for Buildings and £1,394,416 for acquisitions of buildings and sites for Post Office purposes. Although record progress has been made in providing new postal and telecommunication facilities, particularly telephones, the demand has continued at so high a level that only small inroads have been made into arrears.
When we hear honorable members opposite talk of the £30,000,000 proposed to be spent during the next twelve months by this Government on works for the Postal Department, we should pause and recall the condition in which Labour left the department when it was defeated in 1949. When Labour took office in 1941, the stores of the department had run down. It is on record that in 1941 the Postal Department had less than £1,000,000 worth of stores on hand. I think the exact figure is £904,750. We should keep that in mind. It is a fact that Labour, in office, proved more capable of handling this huge undertaking than this Government has done. The facts speak for themselves.
Between 1941 and 1949, the Postal Department accumulated profits of more than £36,000,000. They constitute the great bulk of the profits of £63,000,000 accumulated during 43 years, as shown in the annual report of the Postmaster-General for the year ended on 30th June, 1955. Of the accumulated profits of £63,000,000, the huge sum of £36,000,000 was amassed by Labour in eight years. But Labour did more than that during that time. Despite the difficulties caused by the war and the fact that a government of the same kidney as this Government had allowed the stores of the Postal Department to run down until less than £1,000,000 worth of equipment was on hand, Labour left the department with stores to the value of £10,905,956 at the end of 1949.
– That could have been due to bad buying.
– I shall deal with that point in a minute. The report of the Postmaster-General for 1955-56 is not available. I contend thai before the Parliament should be asked to agree to increased postal charges, it should have before it the accounts of the Postal Department for 1955-56, so that honorable members can know where we are. Every Minister and every other honorable member opposite mouths the platitude that the urgent need is to keep prices down. This Government, if it is sincere when it says that the present inflationary trend is causing it much disquiet, should not give impetus to rising costs and prices by increasing postal charges at a time when the Postal Department has to its credit accumulated profits to the tune of £63,000,000. The Government is twisting the tail of inflation by increasing the charges made by this organization. What better example could the Government have set than to say that, as the department had that money standing to its credit, it would maintain charges at their present level for the next twelve months? I know that the Minister is new to his job. No doubt he is accepting the advice of his departmental heads.
– He is doing a good job.
– I put it to the honorable member that the employees of the department comprise a section of the community whose wages are not based on the capacity of the economy to pay them.
– I have said that the Minister is doing a good job. Do not misunderstand me.
– Labour, when in office from 1941 to 1949, kept postal rates down and also maintained administrative costs at the minimum level. But what happened after Labour went out of office in 1949? One of the first acts of this Government, in 1950, was to increase postal charges, and the upward trend continued. Now, after six and a half years of maladministration on the part of this Government, postal rates have been doubled and telephone and telegraph charges have been almost trebled. That is a tragedy. The increased charges will aggravate inflation. I referred just now to the type of advice that the Minister is undoubtedly receiving from his departmental heads.
– The Minister is capable of thinking for himself.
– I hope that the Minister is capable of making up his own mind. I have an idea that that is why his predecessor was removed from office. We have not yet heard the full story of that.
Let us look at how top-level administrative costs in the Postal Department have soared since this Government came into power. In 1949, the staff in the central office of the department in Melbourne consisted of one director-general, one deputy director-general, eight assistant directorsgeneral and others. The combined salaries of the administrative heads amounted to £55,901 in that year. In 1954-55 - the last year for which we have the figures - the combined salaries of the administrative heads in the central office had risen to £117,747. We must bear in mind that every time a new office is created in the higher ranks, a staff must be recruited to go with it; otherwise the office will not look very important. In 1949, the combined salaries of the clerks at the central office amounted to £36,598. In that year, the combined salaries of the administrative officers in the central office came to £92,505, but in June, 1955, the figure had risen to £512,196.
One might have expected that, with such a great increase of expenditure on administration in the central office, administrative costs at the States level would fall. Let us see what happened. In 1949, the New South Wales branch had one deputy director, ten heads of branches and 22 assistant heads of branches. Their combined salaries in that year amounted to £38,884. But that was not good enough for this Government. Reclassifications had to be made. To-day, the head of the New South Wales branch is no longer a deputy director. He is a director. Under him there are four assistant directors and 48 heads of branches and assistant heads of branches. Their combined salaries amount to £119,803. As the number of senior officers rises, so does the number of clerks. Taking the clerical staff into account, the present expenditure on administrative salaries in the New South Wales branch of the department is at the rate of £1,218,144 a year.
It may be said that New South Wales is a large State and, therefore, that it was necessary to have assistant directors. Surely the same thing would not apply in Tasmania. The salaries of these people have certainly not been assessed on the principle of capacity of industry to pay, which Government supporters would like to have applied to the wages of the workers. In 1949-50 we had in Tasmania one deputy director, ten heads of branches and nine assistants. The total cost of employing them was £16,862. Now there are one director. three assistant directors, eighteen heads of branches, and the total cost per annum is £37,878. That is the cost of administration at the top level alone. The total cost of clerks employed in that State was £64,207 in 1949, but to-day it is £167,178. One would not mind so much if every one were treated in the same way. In the last week or two we have had trouble on our hands in Sydney, and we are going to have it all over Australia because of this disparity in the treatment of employees on different levels.
I should like to refer to the rather important group known as “ postal officers “. In 1949, under a Labour government, there were in New South Wales 2,712 postal officers, with an average salary of £382 per annum. The basic wage was £6 7s. a week, or £330 per annum, in that State so their margin was the miserable sum of £1 a week. To-day the cost of living in New South Wales is £13 3s. According to the last report of the Postmaster-General 2,850 postal officers are now employed, and their salary averages £708 per annum. It will be seen that their margin has been reduced to 1 2s, 6d. a week, and will fall still further at the end of this month when the basic wage in New South Wales will be increased by another 10s. I remind honorable members that the federal basic wage is pegged, so the great majority of postal workers in New South Wales will have the magnificent margin of 2s. 6d. a week, or 5d. for each day of their working week. Is it any wonder that there is trouble and unrest. I emphasize that the granting of the £2 a week wage increase sought by the postal workers would no more than restore the purchasing power of their wages to the level which obtained in 1949. when Labour was in office.
I was surprised to hear the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) speak as he did about the imposition of a £10 installation fee in respect of telephones. I have before me a letter that I think helped him to make up his mind. He wrote to me on the 12th July, and, as he signed the letter, I presume that he knew what it was all about. He told me that in the area in respect of which my inquiry was made there were on hand 1 ,004 applications, all of which were entitled to early attention. He added that the necessary exchange equipment and cable plant was available, and that a group comprising on the average twelve men were installing twenty services a week. That is the important part to note, and it is in writing. On the Minister’s own admission those men will bring in to the department additional revenue of £200 a week. Will the Minister be equally prepared to admit that as a reason why something should be done about the wages of postal employees?
Let us take the matter a stage further. I have worked out that the average salary of the 6,388 technicians in New South Wales will be £873 a year. This provides a classic example of what is happening. The average pay is £16 15s. lid. a week, but each will be earning for the department £16 13s. 4d. a week. Therefore, the cost of installing every telephone service will be met by the subscriber. On the other hand, we are told that for each service £250 worth of equipment must be provided. Therefore, telephone applicants in metropolitan areas, in addition to the cost of telephone calls, are to pay £12 a year for the use of £250 worth of equipment. I have never seen such an unbalanced approach to an economy. I warn Government supporters that if they continue to treat the great bulk of public servants and postal employees as they are doing, there will be nothing but discontent. The margins of 700 men have been whittled away. They have not had an increase in the last ten years. The cost of living is rising every day, but top-level salaries have been doubled and trebled, new officers have been appointed, and reclassifications have been made. All this must lead to discontent.
This is a real picture and not something conjured out of the air. My comments, based on the department’s own figures, show where this great undertaking is heading. 1 hope that the Postmaster-General will have the courage to think for himself, but I am afraid that if he does, and this Government is re-elected, he will get the same short shrift from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that his predecessor received - probably because he was beginning to face up to what was going on.
Some highly paid public servants in the Postal Department have created great benefits for themselves while depressing the wages and conditions of the majority of employees, who have rendered such great service to the public. This group has misled the Postmaster-General into aggravating inflation and increasing charges at a time when costs should be forced down, even at the expense of the £60,000,000 of reserve funds held by the department. I am convinced that the highly paid servants in the top bracket of this, and perhaps all sections of the Public Service, have done more to distort the national economy than we - because of the way in which these matters have been dealt with, and because of the absence of proper information - can possibly realize.
Let us consider now the number of motor vehicles used by the department. In 1944, when Labour was in office, the department was using 3,827 motor vehicles. At 30th June, 1955, the department had 6,627 motor vehicles, and 3d. a gallon excise imposed by this Government was paid on every gallon of petrol used by them. Honorable members can see the weakness of the Government’s approach to this problem. It is building up its own costs and foisting them on to the people.
I am convinced that it is time we questioned the manner in which the Public Service Board and the Government have been able, by reclassification and other means, to elevate top public servants to security and power without regard to the national economy. This Parliament should insist upon the appointment of a royal commission with very wide powers to inquire into matters associated with the top bracket of public servants, their powers, the method of appointment by the Public Service Board and, above all, the way in which matters are prepared for this Parliament when new charges are to be imposed on the public purse, such as those I have been discussing. I know that this means a complete review of the powers and functions of the Public Service Board, but I believe that to be long overdue, because the board must take its share of responsibility for keeping down the wages and conditions of the lower bracket of workers in government departments. At the same time, it is permitting all sorts of reclassifications and similar reviews to take place for the advantage of the top bracket of public servants, who have been assisting in heading the nation farther along the road of damaging inflation, as I have shown in the examples I have cited.
When this Government took office, the Postmaster-General’s Department was showing a profit of £45,000,000 better than it had when the Labour government took office. It had a three-year plan for the department which it received from the Labour government, and the organization of the department was a credit to Australia. The report of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for the year 1949-50 contained this statement by the PostmasterGeneral of the time, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) -
As far as the nation’s overall resources and economy will permit, therefore, the rehabilitation programme will be continued and expanded to meet the needs of Australia’s rapidly increasing population and expanding primary and secondary industries. Extensive orders placed both locally and overseas for the specialised plant and equipment used by the Department are now being fulfilled, and the policy of forward-ordering will be maintained to ensure the availability of materials essential to the orderly and economical development of the programme.
This Government took over a balanced programme for the department from the Labour government in 1949. There was no need for increased costs. Every time another telephone was installed, more revenue flowed back to the department. That was an illustration of what a Labour government could do with what this Government has described as a “ socialized industry “. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall) stands condemned for his contribution to the debate. He made no effort to approach the problem from the point of view of its effect on the national economy. This Government has imposed additional costs totalling £7,250,000 on the public of Australia, principally the business community, and the extra costs will be passed on at a time when this Government urges everybody to keep prices down.
If ever there was a time when a government should review its policy, this is it. The Government should look at the top bracket of the Public Service. Even at this late hour, it should set an example to the people of Australia by stopping further rises in costs. Is that not a simple proposition? Is it too much to ask? The PostmasterGeneral’s Department was handed over to this Government with big profits, valuable equipment and a great future. Unless the Government is prepared to set an example by keeping down costs, its talk about stopping price rises amounts to a series of catch-cries, and it is without sincerity.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Question put -
That the bill be agreed to.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. F. Adermann.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Davidson) - by leave - proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- I wish to say a few words in connexion with this bill which I did not have the opportunity to say earlier.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a third time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
House adjourned at 11.17 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The Attorney-General has furnished the following replies to the honorable member’s questions: -
d asked the Prime Minister upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. It is not possible to isolate the amount of time devoted by an officer of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization to assisting Mr. Vladimir Petrov in the preparation of his book, as distinct from the time devoted by the officer to the obtaining of valuable intelligence for the democracies from both Mr. and Mrs. Petrov; for the two processes, as explained to the honorable member in answering an earlier question, went on together. The important thing is that the Commonwealth’s duty to ensure that the information available from Mr. and Mrs. Petrov should be safeguarded, was fully carried out. I can, therefore, assure the honorable member that the time so spent (much of it outside normal office hours) was most profitable for the democracies.
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Why are fruit drinks which are sold by the bottle in school tuckshops and workshop canteens subject to a sales tax of 121 per cent, whilst similar drinks sold by the glass in shops and milk bars are exempt from such tax?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Cordials consisting of not less than 25 per cent, by volume of Australian fruit juice are specifically exempted from sales tax by item 36 (3) in the First Schedule to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act. There is no provision for exemption of bottled fruit drinks with a smaller content of fruit juice, whether they are sold in school tuckshops, workshop canteens, milk bars, theatres or elsewhere. Furthermore there is no specific provision for exemption of drinks prepared in milk bars, &c, by the mere addition of fruit juice cordial to water. However, the mixing of water and cordial in these cases does not constitute manufacture as defined in the law, and liability for tax does not, therefore, arise on such drinks. This, of course, would apply equally to drinks similarly prepared in school tuckshops. workshop canteens, or in private homes.
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice) -
– The Minister for the
Navy has furnished the following replies to the honorable member’s questions: -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
Is he yet in a position to state the extent of the theft from stores located at the Naval air station at Nowra which was revealed some months ago?
– The Minister for the Navy has furnished the following reply: -
No. The matter is in the hands of the civil police, whose investigations have not yet been completed.
y asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Further increases in sums of £26 in the allowable deductions on account of dependants would cost slightly less than the amount indicated above. For instance, if the allowable deductions for all dependants were simultaneously increased by £52, the annual cost to revenue would be about £30,000,000.”
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 September 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560920_reps_22_hor12/>.