23rd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Postmaster-Gen eral aware that in past years new telephone directories have been delivered to subscribers in South Australia by placing the directories either in letter-boxes, if the boxes are large enough, on front verandahs, or in other places protected from the weather? Why is it that this year the directories are thrown over front fences or left on lawns or garden paths? Does not the Minister agree that telephone subscribers pay rates high enough to entitle them to have the directories delivered in such a manner as to ensure that they will be received in good condition, not in a wind-torn or a wet condition?
– I am not aware of the local practice in all areas of distributing telephone directories, but I know that this work is let out on contract to various people who tender for it. I shall find out for the honorable member what is the position this year in Adelaide and advise him. I assure him that everything is done to ensure that directories are received in proper condition for use by the subscriber.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Social Services by saying that I understand that if new Australian women become widows before they are naturalized, they are not eligible for a widow’s pension. I refer specifically to those unfortunate souls in these circumstances who have young children. Will the Minister consider, as a matter of urgency, the plight of these people, with a view to bringing them within the ambit of the Social Services Act so that they may receive the widow’s pension?
– I shall be very glad to give consideration to the honorable member’s suggestion. It will receive the kind of consideration that is given to all proposals made by him or by any honorable member from either side of the House. There are, of course, residential qualifications governing the granting of the social service benefits which are available to Australian citizens, but, in addition, provision is made for the payment of special benefits under special circumstances.
– Can the Minister for Labour and National Service ascertain whether it is a fact that, since the Victorian building trades unions and employers jettisoned arbitration in favour of collective bargaining, production has increased and become cheaper, loss of time, due to industrial disputes, has decreased from 68 per cent, of the Australian total in the industry to 3 per cent, of the Australian total, and the accident rate in the industry has considerably diminished?
– I will obtain the figures requested by the honorable member as to the effects of collective bargaining between the building trades unions and the employers. I should point out to the honorable member that it was only on Sunday night last that the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr. Monk, made it clear that A.C.T.U. policy favoured arbitration so far as the basic wage and margins are concerned, but that his, organization treated the basic wage as the. minimum to which a worker is entitled. As well the A.C.T.U. wanted collective’ bargaining with employers for payments over and above the basic wage.
– My question which is directed to you, Mr. Speaker, relates to the measuring that is proceeding in King’s Hall. Is it intended to relay the floor to King’s Hall and replace the present timber, which is Australia’s finest hardwood, Western Australian jarrah? If so, has expert opinion been obtained as to whether replacement of the existing floor is necessary?
– I thank the honorable member for his question. I can assure him that his suggestion will be brought to the notice of the appropriate authority.
– I address my question to the Minister for Trade. On 26th and 27th August last I asked the Minister questions relating to the Government’s trade policy in relation to mainland China. May I say that his replies were most evasive and contradictory. Will the Minister advise me why the Government will not publish a list of the goods and materials that may be exported to mainland China, seeing that the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America both publish these lists? In fact, the Department of Trade, in its publication “ Overseas Trading “, recently published a copy of the list issued by the United Kingdom Government. Why does the Minister continue to evade that portion of my previous question dealing with Labour’s policy of trade with all nations? Is it not a fact that to-day, after six years of violent criticism by the Liberal and Australian Country Parties, there is little difference between the trade policies of this Government and of the Labour Party? If this latter portion of my question is correct, would it not be correct also to say that Labour’s trade policy is no more Communist-inspired than is that of the Government?
– The Government’s trade policy on this matter is quite clear. I have informed the honorable member for Newcastle, and other honorable members on various occasions, that there has never been any obstruction to the sale to mainland China of a range of goods, including foodstuffs, wool and other items which clearly have no military significance. For reasons that I would hope would be obvious to the honorable member, permission is not granted for the export and sale to mainland China of goods which could have a military character or which come broadly within the category of strategic materials. What are strategic materials cannot be stated firmly and permanently, and for that reason there is in operation a system under which items can be referred to the Department of External Affairs to ascertain whether in the existing circumstances it is appropriate, within the Government’s policy, to grant approval to export. That is the procedure to be adopted. If any one wishes to discover whether he can sell a certain item to mainland China he merely makes application for permission to sell and he will receive a prompt decision from the Government.
The honorable member has stated Labour’s policy of trading freely with all countries, but apparently he is quarrelling with the restrictions that the Government has placed on the export of strategic items to mainland China. The only construction that I can place on his statement as to the difference between the Government’s policy and the Labour Party’s policy is that the Labour Party would sell strategic goods to mainland China. We make it clear that in the present circumstances we will not.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister, who is the acting Treasurer, been directed to a recent statement by the chairman of the National Bank of Australasia Limited to the effect that owing to the rise in the price of wool there may be further inflationary pressures? Will the right honorable gentleman say whether it is a fact that for some years past the fall in the price of wool and the rise of internal costs have tended to place, not only the producers of wool, but also the producers of other primary products, in a position of inferiority to those engaged in the secondary industries and commercial activities of this community? If his attention has been directed to the statement to which I have referred, and even if it has not. will he inform the House whether there is any substance in the suggestion that has been made?
– I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you would not permit me to make a comprehensive statement at question time on the condition of the economy. I have not actually read the full text of the circular to which the honorable member refers, but I am constantly conscious that there are some inflationary pressures and that they must be watched very carefully. We do watch them carefully, as also does the central bank in the discharge of its own responsibilities in relation to the monetary system. If, in effect, I am being asked whether I feel apprehensive about the improvement in the price of wool, I want to say at once that I am delighted with it.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Has his attention been drawn to a statement made recently by Mr. P. D. Day criticizing the administration of the Department of Territories? ls it a fact that before making his views public, Mr. Day submitted them in writing to the Public Service Board? Could it possibly be true that criticism expressed by Government members of the Department of Territories could have been based on information supplied, either directly or indirectly, by Mr. Day? Will the Prime Minister confirm the view that, no matter what the white settlers and planters may say, the policies followed by the Minister for Territories and his department have been extremely beneficial to the native populations of the Territories, both as to their present welfare and their future development?
– I am not familiar with the views of Mr. Day - is it? - nor, indeed, am I vastly concerned about them. There have been some criticisms of the policy pursued by my colleague, the Minister for Territories. All I can say is that he has pursued policies which have the warm approval of the Government, and that he himself enjoys my complete confidence.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has the High Court of Australia now delivered its reserved judgment in the Hursey case? If so, will the Minister indicate the impact of this judgment on Australia’s industrial law? In particular, does the Minister anticipate that any amending legislation will become necessary? Is it true that a consequence of the court’s decision will be that the fruits of the award of damages to the Hurseys will now be dissipated in costs to be paid to the Waterside Workers Federation?
– The High Court did hand down a unanimous judgment this morning in the Hursey case. I think the judgment was delivered by Mr. Justice Fullagar, and it was agreed to by the other justices. The political levy was declared to be valid and within the competence of the federation to impose. Picketing and refusal to work with the Hurseys were declared to be unlawful and contrary to section 44 of the Stevedoring Industry Act. Lastly, after June, 1958, the criterion for preference in employment is registration with the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority and not membership of the union. As to the political implications, naturally I shall have the judgment studied carefully, and any recommendations will then be examined by the Government. As to the last part of the question, there has been some reduction of damages. I do not know what the effect of that is, but I shall find out and let the honorable gentleman know.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question without notice. I desire to know whether it is a fact that the honorable member for Warringah, who is Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament, and a former Professor of Public Administration at the University of Sydney, recently declared that “bureaucracy has defeated democracy” and that Ministers are seldom able to comprehend the contents of the spate of papers submerging them. If so, is it the intention of the Prime Minister to make any reply to this statement by a senior supporter of the Government - a statement which, if it is true, reveals a most disturbing situation?
– The literary style of the question does not suggest to me that it makes a literal quotation of a remark made by the honorable member for Warringah. But I may say that whatever the honorable member has to say, either in his capacity as a private member or in his capacity as chairman of a committee, will always engage my closest attention.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Has the Government received any up-to-date reports on the development of hovercraft in the United States of America and the United Kingdom? Is any government department studying the implications of this development for Australia, where, in many important areas, roads are either inadequate or non-existent, and, in any case, are extremely expensive to construct? As far as the Government is aware, are designs being prepared for hovercraft which could carry loads of 100 tons or more?
– The Government, of course, and its expert advisers also, are very interested in this possible development. As the honorable member knows, it is in a highly experimental stage. Up to the present, experiments have been made only in relation to journeys which I might describe as horizontal - journeys made close above a relatively flat surface - because of the mechanical and scientific principles involved. I do not expect that, overnight or in the next year or two, something of practical and flexible use will Necessarily emerge. But we are deeply interested in this matter. We are keeping closely in touch with developments, and we will, I assure the honorable member, be astute enough to take whatever advantage may be taken as the experiments proceed and as the flexibility of use of the craft improves. But at the moment, 1 repeat, this development is in its very, very early and experimental stage.
– I address my question to the Minister for Supply. I ask the Minister whether it is a fact that the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, which represents some 25,000 waterside workers, is very much concerned that the Government take early action to check ships entering Australian ports and to determine the existence of radiation hazards and the need to institute positive action for the protection of the members of the union. Is the Minister aware that the south coast branch of the federation, in New South Wales, which is responsible for the handling of cargoes at Port Kembla, a port which is entered by many ships which have passed through northern waters, is demanding this kind of action in the interests of the health of the local waterside workers, and of the local population as well as of the Australian population generally? Will the Minister institute action to deal with the position outlineda position which is causing grave public concern?
– From information in my possession, I consider that there is no reason for concern on the part of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia or, indeed, the Australian public, but I shall have a look at the contents of the honorable member’s question, closely examine it, and let him have a detailed reply.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Trade, is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Newcastle. What was the Labour Opposition’s attitude to the Japanese Trade Agreement?
– If I remember correctly, the Opposition spoke violently against the Japanese Trade Agreement, but failed to vote against it.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Trade a question without notice supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Newcastle.
– Order! The asking of a second supplementary question is not in order.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Territories been drawn to the fact that a disease known as kuru is alleged to have been responsible for a high proportion of deaths among the inhabitants of the eastern highlands of New Guinea? Will the Minister say what steps are being taken to eradicate this disease, and what research has been carried out into its cause?
– Three or four years ago it came under the notice of the Health Department of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea that a previously unknown disease was causing death among a fairly restricted community in the highlands - the Fore people. As a result of that, both in the Territory Health Department and with the aid of visiting scientists, a long series of investigations has commenced. This disease known as kuru has got many features which have engaged the close scientific attention of scientists both in this country, in Europe and the United States of
America. We have had, investigations made by an eminent American scientist. A team from the University of Adelaide has already carried out a great deal of. basic investigation work. The medical school of the Australian National. University has also interested, itself in it, and quite a considerable body of research, both of scientific interest and directed towards the curing of the disease, is at present going on. I think it would be a misrepresentation to suggest that the disease is causing death to a large number of people. It is a disease which is present in a restricted community and has not been found anywhere else.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question supplementary to one directed to him a few moments ago. In view of the remarkable progress in the development of a large hovercraft, would the Australian National Line investigate its possibilities in Australia for coastal use, and particularly between the mainland and Tasmania, carrying light cargo, stock and passengers?
– I must repeat that this novel craft is in the very, very early experimental stages. It proceeds, so far as I understand those things, which is not I admit very far, by creating a cushion of air below it by a series of what laymen like myself call “ jets “. Some experiments have been conducted, enabling an experimental craft to proceed over a stretch of water at a short distance above the surface. But it is in its very early experimental stages. Nothing could be more unwise than to imagine that because somebody has succeeded in doing that in an experimental way we may at once proceed to apply the principle to large craft crossing the not always very smooth waters of Bass Strait, in order to transport cattle and heavy commodities. We are not unaware of this experimental work, but it would be in vain to ask me to direct any instrumentality of the Commonwealth to construct one for some normal commercial purpose while the whole thing is in an early stage.
– You could ask the Minister for Defence about it.
– As the honorable member for Werriwa rightly interjects, I will keep in the closest contact with my colleague, the Minister for Defence, who understands those things better than I do.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister for Social Services, by saying that all honorable members know of people in necessitous circumstances, particularly new Australians, for whom no provision is made in the Social Services Act. Will the Minister consider amending the act to give him a power of discretion to grant pensions in certain necessitous cases not now provided for in the act?
– My reply to the honorable member for Griffith is precisely the same as my reply to the honorable member for Moreton: I will be glad to consider the suggestion he now makes.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister in his capacity as acting Treasurer. Is the right honorable gentleman aware of the upsurge in private ownership of home units and the extreme importance of this factor in relieving the housing shortage, particularly as home ownership is most desirable? If the right honorable gentleman is aware of this condition, does he agree with the narrow interpretation placed on section 72 (1.) of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Act by the Commissioner of Taxation, which means that the deduction of rates and land taxes payable annually is not allowed in assessing income tax for the owner of the home unit in tha same way as it is allowed for any owner of an ordinary dwelling?
– I am very well aware of the increase in the construction of homes for private ownership. Indeed, this is a development of which we are very proud; it has been of great social importance. The second part of the honorable member’s question relates to some interpretation given by the Commissioner of Taxation. I am sure that the honorable member will forgive me when I say that I am not familiar with that; but I will find out about it and will then advise him further.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Air. Will the Minister for Air examine the case of Mr. Ben Hope, an ex-airman who is now a tuberculosis patient in Hollywood Repatriation Hospital? His entitlement to a war pension depends on confirmation that in November, 1944, when returning from Maylands to Parafield after leave, he was in a Dutch DC2 aircraft which flew outside Australian territorial limits. To support his claim, this man is now trying to locate by newspaper advertisement one or more of his Royal Australian Air Force fellow passengers on that flight. I ask the Minister whether he can assist in this regard.
– I read in the press a few days ago of the inquiries being made by this ex-member of the Royal Australian Air Force. I have asked my department whether it has any information which could assist him. As he was not a member of an aircrew, and as it was an allied aircraft and not one of our own in which he flew, it is extremely unlikely that any record will be discovered in the department. However, as I .>aid, inquiries are being made, and it any thing does emerge I will infor;n th-j honorable member for Stirling.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Trade. Has the Chinese Communist Government given an assurance that Australian wool, which is classified as a non-strategic material, will not be used in the manufacture of military clothing for the red Chinese army?
– The Government has no communication with the Chinese Communist Government.
– I address a question to the Minister for Health. It arises from an intimation that the Minister gave to the House yesterday to the effect that the medical profession had carefully examined the extent of X-rays used in examinations for tuberculosis and had reached the conclusion that the radiation arising from this source was completely harmless and could not give rise to any diseases. Is it a fact that the maximum radiation which could be expected in Australia as a result of fall-out from past atomic tests, or, indeed, a continuation of tests at their past level, would be only a small fraction of the radiation which, in its examination in the case of X-rays, the medical profession has declared to be entirely harmless?
– What the National Radiation Advisory Committee has stated - and the committee has, as the honorable member knows, just produced its second annual report - is that of the manmade radiation to which we are subject, the greatest component, by far, is that resulting from X-rays. The committee stated in its report that this amount of radiation was about equivalent to the natural background radiation. But it went on to say that this was no reason why we should deprive ourselves of the immense advantages of X-rays in the diagnostic and therapeutic fields. It suggests that what should be done is that the use of X-rays should be subject to proper controls, techniques and supervise n and so on. The committee also pointed out that the amount of radiation from atomic fall-out, to which the honorable gentleman has referred, is a small fraction of 1 per cent, of the amount resulting from X-rays. As the Prime Minister made plain in a statement not long ago, the committee’s remarks on this subject were vastly reassuring.
– T ask the
Minister for Territories whether it is a fact that the taxpayers’ association of Papua and New Guinea supported a boycott policy in respect of last Saturday’s Legislative Council elections. Was the boycott organized on the grounds that the Legislative Council was a mockery of democratic government, that demands for reconstitution of the council and better representation of taxpayers were ignored, and that requests for an independent inquiry into Territory finances were refused? Can the Minister say whether the boycott policy won support last Saturday? Did any taxpayers’ association candidates succeed? Are any of the successful candidates pledged to resign? Are the results such as to vindicate the Minister’s administration?
– I think the honorable member should address his inquiries to the taxpayers’ association. I am not in a position to expound its policies or to explain its points of view. The election was held, and two candidates who, I understand from their public announcements, were nominees of the taxpayers’ association appear at present likely to be returned. What the meaning of that result is is again something which each honorable member can interpret for himself. But two of the three members who have been returned, I understand - and again I have learned this by hearsay or from statements published in the newspapers - are pledged to attend the first meeting of the council and then immediately resign. But I have no personal knowledge of that; it is something I have read, and apparently the honorable member has read, in the local newspapers.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Trade been directed to a statement by the honorable member for Yarra in the House yesterday that there is unlimited transfer of licences between the various categories, and that if a few pounds can be paid to the right people a transfer can easily be obtained from one category to another? Will the Minister state the policy of the Government in this matter, and will he invite the honorable member for Yarra to give him specific instances of any payment of money, or bribery, in connexion with import licensing?
– My attention has been directed to the report of a statement along those lines by the honorable member for Yarra in this chamber yesterday. It is well known that no transactions in import licences or quotas are dealt with at the political level. All decisions are made by officials in conformity with policies defined by the Government and by the Department of Trade. So, the allegations made by the honorable member for Yarra are scurrilous, defamatory allegations against honest officials of the Commonwealth Public Service.
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. Is the Minister entitled to use the words “ defamatory “ and “ scurrilous “ in reference to a statement made in this chamber by a member of this House?
– I wish to speak to the point of order. I was referring to a statement by the honorable member for Yarra that any one who pays a few pounds can secure the transfer of a quota. It is well known that any transaction of this kind is decided by an official. I say therefore, that it is a scurrilous and defamatory allegation against honest Australians.
Mn. SPEAKER. - The Minister is in order.
– I think that the honorable member for Yarra has descended to an unusually low level in this House in trying to gain political advantage by attacking public servants.
– He could not go as low as the Minister has gone.
– Order! I warn the honorable member for East Sydney in particular, and other honorable members, that interjections are out of order.
– The facts of the matter are these: There are very few transfers of licences or quotas. The policy under which a transfer can be secured is clearly defined and can be stated. Indeed, the whole administrative practice of import licensing is conducted in conformity with policies which are explainable in respect of every transaction and, being publicly explainable, they are defensible. There is a careful scrutiny. After the first official decision has been made, opportunity exists and often is availed of to appeal to the senior officials of the Department of Trade. There is an import licence advisory committee which advises the Government on its policies. There is a series of appeal boards upon each of which sits a distinguished Australian business man to guide the policy and the administrative practice. Indeed, these boards have authority to recommend the reversal of a decision, a circumstance which sometimes happens, but very infrequently. In short, there is a complete line of check upon all decisions within the import licensing field.
Then of course, the whole business world is .concerned with this matter and it is incredible that any corruption could occur without any protest by .the business world. I have said in this House before, and I say now, that if anyone feels that he can reveal facts that indicate even the ‘suspicion of improper -practices, advantage will instantly be taken of such information. However, notwithstanding that I have said that, not infrequently, in this House, no member of the Opposition has ever done more than level a general -smear at Australian public servants.
– I should like -to ask a question supplementary to one which has just ‘been answered. The Minister for Trade tried, by general statement, to clear the whole department - every .possible official - without any personal (knowledge of the facts, simply because ;there is a system which should, if it were carried out in every case, prevent these actions (from occurring. I suggest to the right honorable gentleman that what -is needed in a case such as this is not a general denial, -because he cannot, himself, be possessed of the information, but a proper parliamentary or judicial inquiry.
– What is needed is a charge, with evidence, not a general smear. You produce .one, and I will have .it investigated. Make a specific charge against a specific -person with evidence by some credible witness.
– Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. This is question time, not a time for debate. I ask the right honorable member to direct his question to the Minister. Interjections must cease.
– I suggest that the Minister, cannot, by these attacks when criticisms are made, clear the people concerned without an -inquiry. He must seek an inquiry.
– I cannot identify anything -in the nature of .a question within the right honorable gentleman’s observations, but I take leave to confirm what the Prime Minister has said and what I, myself, have said on earlier occasions, that if any charge is made with prima facie evidence to support it, then immediate investigation will be made at a level which ds warranted by the charge and the prima facie evidence. It is not good enough when a supporter of the right honorable gentleman has got himself and his party into a mess, that the right honorable gentleman should now proceed to imply that there are grounds for a judicial inquiry when he, -himself, -has no evidence or the slightest knowledge or understanding of anything improper.
– I ask the Minister for Trade: Is it not a fact that “the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ has *been advertising B category licences for sale? Is there not a ban on the sale of B class licences in the Commonwealth? Furthermore, is it not a fact within the ‘knowledge of the department -that several people in the city of Sydney “hold B class licences for importing goods to the tune of £100,000 and are living on the income from those licences by selling them to firms in necessitous circumstances desirous of importing goods under B class licences?
– There is -not, and has not been any evidence of -sale of any licences. I have said previously in this House that if any evidence of an attempt to sell a licence was discovered, the licence itself would be cancelled -immediately. That statement stands.
– Was not the advertisement for the sale of a licence?
– If the right honorable gentleman who interjects had read the advertisement, I am sure he would know that it is not an advertisement to sell a licence.
– What is it?
– There are people in this country - and they are not confined to only one side of politics - who -have traditionally earned their living as -importers. Many of them who are importers in a general sense are prepared to import goods for -which there is a marketing opportunity. The B class licence category covers a broad spectrum of goods and it is not improper for a person with an historic trading record and who becomes possessed, within the Government’s policies, of a B category licence, to indicate by advertisement or otherwise that he is prepared to import the kind of goods for which there is a market in this country. That is all there is to .it.
– As the radio reception experienced by residents in the western portion of the Wide Bay division, particularly at Gayndah and Mundubbera, is bad, will the Postmaster-General have investigations made with a view to raising the standard of reception to a proper level?
– About six months ago officials of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board carried out an inspection of the Monto, Eidsvold and Callide areas to see what broadcast reception was like there and whether an improvement was necessary. I am not sure whether the areas ofGayndah and Mundubbera, referred to by the honorable member, were included in that inspection. If they were not, I shall certainly make some arrangements to see that an inspection, as requested by the honorable member, is carried out.
Motion (by Mr. Downer) agreed to -
ThatGovernment business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
. - I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1953, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to this House the results of its investigations, namely: - Construction of a new Government Printing Office at Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.
The proposal provides for the construction of a steel-framed, brick-faced industrial type building of one story and an adjoining administrative block of two stories, at anestimated cost of £2,800,000. The building will provide accommodation for the Government Printer and his staff. The committee has stated, in its summary of conclusions, that there is an urgent need for the new building, that the proposed site should be adopted, that the layout has been well planned and that the design will create an effective impression of extensive proportions with appropriate dignity.
When the House concurs in this resolution, the detailed planning necessary for carrying out this work can proceed.
.- I have read the Public Works Committee’s report and I commend the motion seeking the approval of the House for the erection of a new Government Printing Office. The report says that in spite of the improvements which have been made in the Printing Office over the last 30 years, it is now regarded as completely inadequate. The language used by the committee describes the state of most of the present buildings as “ decrepit and obsolescent “. The committee might have used the words “ decrepit and obsolescent “, perhaps, in regard to some of the Government’s thinking about this and other matters.
However, we are making some progress and I hope that the building will be constructed at an early date. It is all right for the House to pass a resolution that the work ought to be done. The Minister for Works (Mr. Freeth) should have told the House - and I hope he will at the close of the debate - whether he has arranged with the Treasury to have the work commenced forthwith. If the buildings are obsolescent and decrepit, the work ought to be started immediately. 1 hope that it will be given considerable priority. I want to see the proposed new bridges erected in Canberra at the earliest possible moment, as well as the Priming Office, even before the lakes plan is proceeded with, because these are very urgent matters.
I want to impress upon the Minister the necessity for doing in Canberra all the printing for which the Commonwealth Parliament pays. I do not favour the idea of a great deal of work being done in the capital cities. Quite a number of journals issued by government departments are printed in Sydney and Melbourne, and the staffs associated with those publications have removed themselves from Canberra to those cities so that they can be on the spot where the job is being done. Quite a number of people try to avoid coming to Canberra; quite a number try to leave Canberra as soon after their arrival as they possibly can. lt is the duty of the Government, not only to pass a resolution of the kind now before us - the scheme is of considerable magnitude because £2,800,000 is big money in anybody’s language - but also to give an assurance that early action will be taken in the matter because Canberra is growing very rapidly.
I should like to see the act amended to permit members of Parliament to place orders with the Government Printing Office in Canberra for any printing work that they want to have done, as is the case in New South Wales and Queensland. I should like to see bodies associated in some way or other with the Government having the right to use the facilities of the Government Printing Office in Canberra instead of being required to send their printing work to Sydney or Melbourne.
– What about the country printers?
– The honorable member wants the printing done in the country areas.
– The honorable member for Mallee wants decentralization, but I do not want country printers. I do not want any kind of printer, I want big jobs to be done by the best possible printers who are available. There has been too much farming out of work from Canberra to other places. I need mention not only the general work of government departments, but also electoral rolls. All work of that character should be done in the National Capital. I hope the Minister will take some steps to bring about this very much needed reform.
.- In view of the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) I wish to make clear the purpose of the interjection that I made during his speech. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition had said that he desired-
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. Are not all interjections disorderly? ls the honorable member for Mallee in order in explaining what he meant when he did a disorderly act?
– I think that, on appropriate occasions, the Standing Orders can be relaxed. The honorable member for Mallee is in order.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition had said that he desired the Government Printing Office in Canberra to do private printing work for members of Parliament. That is only a blow against private enterprise. There was an interjection, whether disorderly or not, from the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) to the effect that I wanted printing to be done in the country areas. That is quite true, because I believe that members representing country electorates should have their printing work done in their electorates. We must decentralize as many industries as we can. For that reason I asked a question yesterday of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on that very subject.
Let us consider the position in my electorate. In most cases the newspaper offices have up-to-date machinery, despite the assertion of the honorable member for Scullin as to the terrible things that country printers do. They have up-to-date machinery and can do a job well. If I want any printing done, I shall not go to the Government Printing Office in Canberra to have it done. I shall go to a printing office in my electorate because I believe that private enterprise should be encouraged. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke about printing work other than for the Government being done in Canberra, but that is only another form of centralization such as he has fostered in Melbourne. When I came to Canberra over thirteen years ago the population was about 15,000. To-day it has risen to approximately 40,000, and it has been predicted that in a few years it will rise to 75,000 or perhaps 100,000. This country is in dire need of some practical application of the oft-heard plea for decentralization, not subsidized centralization.
– The honorable member would not last long in the Scullin electorate.
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Scullin to cease interjecting, and I ask the honorable member for Mallee to direct his remarks to the subject before the House.
– I know that I would not last long in the Scullin electorate because my policy is one not of centralization in a place such as the Scullin electorate, but of decentralization all over the country in order that our people and industries may be protected against atomic blasts, and further, to encourage greater stability and progress in Australia.
– The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) who represents a dried fruits industrial area has a deserved reputation for raising current problems. If I interpret his remarks correctly, he has suggested that “ Hansard “ and other Government documents be printed at Patchewollock or some other place in his electorate. This matter has been brought before the Parliament very promptly, and, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has stated, we hope that the work will proceed quickly.
It is true that for many years conditions at the Government Printing Office in Canberra have caused considerable anxiety to members of the printing unions engaged there, and on many occasions at their request I have made representations to the Treasurer who is responsible for the administration of the Government Printing Office. I am delighted to know that the Public Works Committee, having had the benefit of the views expressed by members of the printing unions, has adopted a plan for a single-story type of building with provision for natural lighting. T am certain that the health of those who are employed in the very intricate profession of modern printing will benefit.
The committee has recommended a form of air-conditioning within the building. [ realize, as the report itself has shown, that there are difficulties in installing a satisfactory type of air-conditioning plant in a building of that character. However, in this climate it is important to have an airconditioning plant, not only from the viewpoint of the health of employees but also from the viewpoint of the excellence of the work carried out in these modern days of printing. The closest consideration should be given to the question of providing airconditioning in the proposed building.
Far from centralizing printing in Canberra, the decision to replace the existing printing office with a modern large building capable of handling much more of the Government’s work, is an act of decentralization - taking work away from the electorate of Melbourne and from other city electorates.
.- I am sorry indeed to hear that some members of the Opposition are experiencing trouble in having their private printing done. I suggest that if they care to get in touch with some of the printers in the Wide Bay electorate they will receive every satisfaction, no matter how complicated the printing job may be.
.- I join with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) in the statements that they have made on this very important recommendation of the Public Works Committee. I congratulate the committee most heartily on the courageous step that it has taken and the courageous suggestion that it has made. The committee has decided that the proposed new printing office shall be a spacious building covering an area of over ten acres, the estimated cost being more than £2,000,000. Nothing less than the proposed new building is worthy of the men who have been doing the printing for this Parliament in the past in that dog kennel in which they have been housed. J raised this matter before the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory entered Parliament, but I am delighted to say that he has kept up constant pressure on the Government with regard to it. When this building is erected it could possibly be a memorial to the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, who has devoted so much time to his advocacy of it. If any workers have been labouring under cramped conditions and using old-fashioned methods they are the employees of the Government Printing Office in Canberra. We in this Parliament see evidence of their work every day, quite apart from the speeches that they print for us - and they must give the printing office employees ulcers, or at least mine would, if not those of other honorable members.
I am sure that the employees of the printing office will look forward to this project with enthusiasm. Up till now their working conditions have bordered on the impossible, and officers of the Department of Labour and National Service probably would have condemned the place if it had not been the only Government Printing Office in Canberra. The building would have been condemned long ago if it had been situated anywhere else. The printing office does a terrific volume of work and the employees have done a magnificent job in coping with that work, in particular the daily “ Hansard “. I still marvel at the way they can turn out “ Hansard “ every morning for us at about 10.30, with all the preceding day’s debates in it.
– Do you have all your printing done there?
– All my speeches are printed there. They cost me many pounds. Like the honorable member for Melbourne and the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, I hope that the Government will give the new printing office top priority. In my opinion a new printing office for Canberra is far more important than a new bridge over the Molonglo River, which will cost £3,000,000 or £4,000,000. At present, employees of the printing office are working under primitive conditions and a new building for them should receive priority over a new bridge. I hope that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) will do his best to speed this very excellent project.
– I support the motion proposed by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth). I congratulate the bi-partisan Public Works Committee on the comprehensive and imaginative report that it has brought down. When Canberra has a worthy printing office it will be able to afford the standard of working conditions and book production which are not obtainable at present. The Commonwealth publishes hundreds of periodicals each year and the printing of most of them has to be let out, or is let out, to private printers. It is not let out to private printers in the country towns, because the Government, like the Australian Country Party, has all its printing done in the State capitals. Journals such as “ Land “ and “ Country Life “ are printed in the State capitals, a fact which promotes centralization in our continent.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) gave a reply yesterday to a question in which I had asked him what periodicals were published by various Commonwealth departments and instrumentalities and which of them were printed by the Government Printer. Excluding statutory reports and publications by the Statistician, there were 190 periodicals, of which only 65 were printed by the Government Printer. I shall quote the figures for six departments to indicate to honorable members the extent to which the Government Printer is not able to carry out or is not permitted to carry out the Government’s own printing orders. The Department of Civil Aviation has only one of its nine periodicals published by the Government Printer. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has only one of its eighteen periodicals published by the Government Printer. The Department of the Interior - the Minister’s own department - has only eight of its 33 periodicals published by him. The Department of National Development has only one of its six periodicals published by the Government Printer. The Postmaster-General’s Department has none of its 32 periodicals printed by the Government Printer.
– Nor its annual report.
– These figures exclude annual reports under statute. The Department of Primary Industry has only eleven of its 26 publications published by the Government Printer. When the recommendations in the committee’s report have been carried out we will have proper conditions of employment and book production in Canberra, and the Government will no longer have an excuse for failing to produce its proliferating and multitudinous journals in its own printing office. I would hope that it will not be long before the printing office in Canberra is able to produce a national newspaper under the auspices of some responsible body like the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
– I, like other honorable members, do not rise to oppose the motion. I support it. I think that for a long time the employees of the Government Printer in Canberra, have been working under very difficult’ conditions. I am delighted to know that they are to have a modern building. But what worries me, as a printer, is that the. building will cost £2,800,000. In other words, the building for the Government Printer is to cost approximately threequarters as much as the new Administrative Building in Canberra. Frankly I have not gone into the matter in any detail, but that is a tremendous amount of money to spend on a printing factory.
I agree with the committee’s recommendations that the building should be, if possible, a one-floor building because such a building offers advantages in lighting and in other ways and is infinitely more desirable for a printing office than a multi-story building. I am a little surprised that the Public Works Committee sought evidence with regard to the building only from government employees. I feel that the committee: should have called evidence - for its own satisfaction anyhow - from some of the private firms that have been running printing establishments for a long time. Nearly £3,000,000 is a tremendous amount of money to spend on a printing office. 1 know that the Government Printer has a big job to do in Canberra, but I do not think the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) realizes what is involved in the printing industry. For instance, if the Government Printer is to have sufficient linotype machines to be able to produce immediately the electoral rolls that are required before an election - particularly when a government decides to hold a snap election at short notice - a lot of that machinery will be eating its head off for a good part of the time. In the States, a government printer, when he is faced with an emergency of that kind, has to farm out the linotype work amongst many private printers and typesetters. I know that that has been done in Melbourne in the past.
– The electoral rolls were not among the publications that were listed in the Prime Minister’s reply from which I quoted.
– I know they were not. The honorable member did not list a lot of things. For example, the report of the Australian Broadcasting
Commission is printed in Sydney. The same thing applies to a great many publications. 1 remind the honorable member that the annual reports of all the instrumentalities should be published between the end of the financial year- and the bringing down of the Budget, yet even now we have not got a lot of those reports.
– We have been saying that for years.
– I know, but does the honorable member propose to ask any one outfit, whether it is a government factory or a private factory, to produce all those reports in that short space of time? lt cannot be done without a terrific reserve of machinery and employees, which would not be fully employed, or anything like fully employed, for a considerable portion of the year.
I am very delighted, as are other honorable members, to know that at last we are to have a modern printing office in Canberra, because the conditions under which work is done at present - very excellent work - are extraordinarily difficult. At the same time, I have very grave doubts whether the building warrants an expenditure of £3,000,000 either now or in the next twenty years. I should like to have seen evidence taken by the Public Works Committee from people other than public servants about the requirements and the probable turn-over of work at the Government Printing Office.
I think that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) knows as well as I do that we have in Canberra the best schools in Australia. We all want to construct our schools to the highest possible standards of efficiency and comfort the country can afford. What happens - and the honorable member knows what “happens - is that an inspector of the New South Wales Department of Education confers with representatives of the Department of the Interior and they decide on the best school possible. There is plenty of money for such schools in Canberra, and we build them. The New South Wales inspector then goes back to his State and says, “Look at the standard of the schools they are building in Canberra. We ought to have the same in New South Wales.” If we can achieve the highest possible standards of efficiency and comfort for every one, all right; I shall be happy to see it done. But I am afraid that something similar is happening in respect of this report recommending the construction of a new building for the Government Printing Office in Canberra.
I should like to see further investigations made before we embark on the expenditure of £3,000,000 for the new building. Imagine it! The sum of £3,000,000 is a lot of money. I should like to find out, for instance, what it has cost to build modern printing establishments in Sydney and Melbourne, and to compare the volume of work that they will be turning out and the job that they have to do with the volume of work that will be turned out and the job to be done by the Commonwealth Government Printing Office in Canberra. If that information were obtained, I should feel much more satisfied that the tremendous cost entailed in the construction of the proposed building would be justified.
.- Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Public Works Committee of this Parliament, I, too, should like to make some comments on this project. First, I should like to say that an inspection of the present Government Printing Office in Canberra will reveal to any member of this House conditions that are a disgrace to the National Capital. I am sure that each and every one of us will agree that the conditions under which the employees of the establishment are called upon to work are totally unsuited to the demands made upon the staff by the work done. In support of the remarks that were made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), I should like to say that the recommendations made by the Public Works Committee were based on expert evidence and took account of expected development over the next 25 years.
I have listened carefully to the criticism by the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) of the proposal to spend on the new Government Printing Office so huge an amount as £2,800.000. I suggest that if the present proposal were allowed to lapse, or if a building of smaller capacity were constructed, we should have to spend much more than £3,000,000 over the next twenty years to meet the requirements of development. So it is clear that the view taken by the committee is a long-range one.
I should like to comment specially on the proposal for a single-floor unit, Mr. Speaker. I was the only member of the Public Works Committee who cast a vote against it, and my mind is still not happy about it. I am just as sympathetic towards the employees of the Government Printing Office, and as mindful of the need to care for their welfare and to provide proper working conditions for them, as is any member of this House, and I do not agree with the proposal for a single floor spread over 10½ acres and roofed with galvanized iron. A roof of that kind will be a terrific heat conductor, and it will cause trouble, particularly in the summer. In the winter, it will probably result in the interior of the building being much colder than it need otherwise be.
I agree with the remarks made by the honorable member for Chisholm about the taking of evidence only from public servants. It is something to which I should like to register my objection in this House. I feel that we should make the widest possible investigation when we are considering a project of the immensity of the proposed new Government Printing Office building. I think that we should get the opinion of outside authorities and go to the utmost lengths to satisfy ourselves that any decision made will be the right one. The Public Works Committee discussed many aspects of the project very fully. The air-conditioning gave us a great deal of thought.
I conclude, Mr. Speaker, on the note that, apart from any criticism that I have made about the proposal for a single-floor unit, and any criticism by any one else about air-conditioning, the evidence before the committee established that it was necessary to make an early start on the construction of the new building in order to provide for the Commonwealth Government the printing facilities that it must have to serve its needs.
.- Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on this subject only to put a point of view which may have some bearing on what has just been said by the honorable member for Gellibrand (Mr. Mclvor). At the outset, I should like to say that I hope the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) will not think he is alone in worrying about the estimated cost of the new building which it is proposed to construct for the Government Printing Office in Canberra. It is quite true, Sir, that we might have taken evidence from private printers, but there are few private printers in Australia with businesses as large as is that of the Commonwealth Government Printing Office at pesent. However, we had available to us some private information which did not appear in the evidence and which supported the recommendations which ware ultimately made by the Public Works Committee.
The problem of the size and cost of the building gave the committee a good deal of concern, as I have indicated. The committee took note of the building recently constructed in Sydney for the New South Wales Government Printer. Although I have not the precise figure in my mind, I seem to recall that the cost of that building was some £2,000,000, with an additional amount of about £500,000 set aside for mechanical services. The honorable member for Chisholm will appreciate, I am sure, that similar figures would apply in respect of the project now under discussion, because the new printery in Canberra, although placed on a single floor, will be of something like the same proportions as those of the new building occupied by the New South Wales Government Printing Office.
The air-conditioning equipment for the new establishment is a tremendous consideration.
– The colourprinting part of the establishment is the part where the need for air-conditioning mainly arises.
– That is quite true. However, Sir, there are other considerations. It was submitted to us by the Commonwealth Government Printer, on many days throughout the winter, many of the presses cannot turn until 10 or 11 a.m. because the temperature does not rise sufficiently until that time. We were told that rubber printing blankets are not in workable condition until the temperature rises.
We were given evidence about the number of days on which the ambient temperature in Canberra, together with the internal heat load developed in the building, which must be added, would take conditions beyond the comfort level. When we looked at that aspect, Sir, we felt justified - although we had some concern about it - in recommending air-conditioning. The cost of the building, with air-conditioning, comes to £2,800,000.
With respect to the single floor, Sir, there is ample evidence that, throughout the business world to-day, single-floor plants are being adopted wherever possible. One need only to turn over the pages of the modern architectural journals published in Great Britain, and particularly in the United States of America, to find that firms such as the International Business Machines company, printers and food manufacturers all are concentrating on single floors. I know that the honorable member for Gellibrand has had some concern about a single floor; but, Sir, if you go in for a multi-story building in a project of this kind, inevitably you break up the floor area with pillars. Whereas at the moment we have been able to establish a single floor with widely separated pillars giving the utmost flexibility to the establishment of printing machinery, if we had a multi-story building we would not have the same flexibility in the arrangement of the plant required, and therefore we would lose very great advantages in the routing of the work flow through the plant. The difficulties of lighting and air-conditioning would be increased. Also, the cost of a multi-story building is higher than that of a single floor building. Having considered those matters the Public Works Committee submits its report with a good deal of confidence.
One other point that I wish to mention is one with which I know the honorable member for Chisholm will sympathize. It has been our experience in the Public Works Committee that when you look at such projects being planned for government operations one thing stands out about the lot - that is, that by the time you have the building completed and ready for occupation, it is fully occupied at that moment, and from there on it starts to produce a problem of insufficient space. This particular building does have some small margin - in my view an inadequately small margin, but still a margin - of room for future expansion. The evidence given to us by the Department of the Treasury and the Government Printer indicates beyond any doubt that if there is any delay in regard to the time schedule proposed, by the time we get the building it will not be more than adequate to house the machinery and carry the load of work which has developed at the Government Printing Office. Having given a great deal of attention to this point, which concerns some members in relation to architecture, size and cost of the building, I have no doubt that a careful reading of the evidence and a careful assessment of the value of the project will cause honorable members to support the recommendation of the Public Works Committee.
– in reply. - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) opened up some rather wide fields of possible debate when he expressed his support to this proposal. I do not intend to follow him through all those fields, attractive though they may be. For example, he dealt with the question of the kind of priority that should be given to this particular public work, and in passing he mentioned various other public works which had their own demands on the public purse. Not very long ago the honorable gentleman also spoke equally enthusiastically about our spending some millions of pounds in Melbourne on Commonwealth offices there. He also raised the question, Sir, of the kind of printing work which should be carried out by the Government Printer. That, of course, is another matter of policy on which the Government will make its decisions in due course.
But the honorable gentleman did raise one quite important point with which I should deal. That was the question oi ‘C:r. time in which this project could be undertaken. As has been pointed out, it is a large-scale project to cost nearly £3,000,000. The Government acted, once the decision was taken to proceed with the work, reasonably promptly. The Public Works Committee, to which this proposal was referred some months ago, brought down its report only the week before last, and the report was tabled. As I said earlier, the: motion that it is expedient to proceed with the work has been moved simply in order to enable the detailed planning, which must take some considerable time, to be started: immediately. That is not to say that the work will be proceeded with this year, because it is not in the Budget for this year, lt does not necessarily follow that it will be done next year. I cannot give the House any assurance on that, but at any rate we are prepared to put it in such order that the work can be done at an early date.
The Government is faced with many urgent demands for expenditure on public works. Some of them were mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne. Each one, in isolation, merits a tremendous degree of support. We. of course, have to plan a fairly stable public works programme over the years, and particularly in the Australian Capital Territory. The need for public works in this Territory is growing at a remarkable rate, and many millions of pounds can be spent on each project, and can be justified.
This particular project is the responsibility of the Department of the Treasury, and I have no doubt that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) will be pressing as firmly a;* possible for its inclusion in the works programme of the Government when the next Budget is being prepared. The work will have to take its place according to the resources available to the Government and according to the kind of programme we are able to have ready for the next Budget.
Naturally, Sir, the Government is concerned about the degree of expenditure involved, as the Public Works Committee was. The honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) unfortunately, although he rightly expressed doubts about the size of the expenditure, produced no evidence of any sort to indicate that our assessment of the expenditure was wrong or unjustified. All the evidence that we can produce indicates that we cannot build at any less expense a government printing office capable of doing the work which would normally be expected of the Commonwealth Government Printer. If the honorable member for Chisholm had been able to do anything beyond express some doubts, he might have been able to go further than the advisors of the Government, the members of the Public Works Committee, and all those members, of the Government who also- looked critically at this proposal.
The large expense of such projects, Sir, does to some degree impede their placing on the public works programme. No government department will embark on a large public work which will be an unnecessary extravagance when there are so many demands for works in other directions, because in the battle for position in these things that kind of expense does hinder the order of priority to some degree.
I commend the committee’s recommendation to the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
From time to time over the years representations have been made to the Commonwealth Government seeking the construction of a direct all-weather road between Tumut and Canberra, primarily on the ground that such a road would make it possible for the Tumut district to supply farm produce to Canberra, but also on the ground that it would be an attractive tourist route connecting the Australian Capital Territory with parts of New South Wales. The Commonwealth Government, of course, has control over and responsibility for only the roads in this area that lie within the boundaries of the Australian Capital Territory. In order, however, to obtain proper background information, the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory has been asked to investigate and report not on the proposal in its entirety, but on a number of aspects of the proposal. In its earlier inquiries, sittings of the committee have been limited to Canberra.. In order to conduct its present investigations satisfactorily the committee will require to take a considerable portion of its. evidence in the Tumut area. This motion is designed simply to obtain the approval of the Parliament for the committee to move from place to place.
.- This decision of the Government represents a great victory for the former honorable member for Hume, Mr. Arthur N. Fuller. When Mr. Fuller came into this House in 1943 he put forward this proposal. I supported him on that occasion because it did give the people of the southern parts of New South Wales and of Victoria the prospect of a more readily accessible entry to Canberra than is to be had by coming through Gundagai and Yass to the National Capital, which is a longer route. Unfortunately, the war was on and even in the post-war period it was not possible for the New South Wales Government and the Commonwealth Government to reach agreement on the proposal. However, a bridge has now been put across the Goodradigbeeriver at Brindabella. It is not as big as it might have been; it is not the sort of bridge that ultimately will be there, but it does open very rich country in- close proximity to the National Capital. It will make it possible for the people of Canberra to get more and cheaper fruit and vegetables. To that extent, it is to be commended. I hope that when the National Capital Development Commission can get around to the question, it will consider constructing not only an all-weather road between Canberra and Tumut, but also an all-weather road from Tumut to join the Hume Highway somewhere near Tarcutta.
I hope also that the commission some day will consider something that is even more important in one sense; something that no government has tackled and something that is outside the province of this proposal, and that is the construction of a railway line between Yass and Canberra. That would save a lot of wasteful expenditure by people engaged in transporting their goods from the Monaro and the Southern Tablelands generally to Sydney and other centres. At any rate, something is now being done in the way of decentralization, and that is to .be commended. T hope that I shall be in <he Parliament when the bill is brought forward to authorize the construction, in association with the New South Wales Government, of a railway between Yass and Canberra.
.- I am pleased that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has supported this motion. I will not argue with him on the rival merits of Mr. Fuller and myself. Every effort has been made to have this road constructed, not only in the interests of the Hume electorate but, more importantly, in the interests of the Australian Capital Territory. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, it will make a big difference in the provision of foodstuffs to the Australian Capital Territory and will lower costs. It will also have a very important effect on the building of the National Capital by the provision of cheaper building materials and in many other ways, as well as providing an excellent road for tourists. I am very glad that the Opposition is supporting the resolution and I am quite certain that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) will also give his support to it.
– 1 am glad to support the motion that is before the House. It is true, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) said, that this matter has a very considerable history. I first became associated with it when I w.is elected to this House in 1951 and sat beside the then honorable member for Hume, Mr. Arthur Fuller. With him, I raised this question on a number of occasions, both with the Prime Minister and with the Treasurer, and with him I visited the area and carried out inspections to try to determine sites at which bridges could be constructed. On those inspections, of course, we had the benefit of the knowledge and experience of the then Director of Works in the Australian Capital Territory and of the engineer from the Yarrowlumla Shire. The site for the bridge was, of course, finally selected by the Yarrowlumla Shire, and the bridge has been constructed across the Goodradigbee River.
It is true that the area in which this construction will take place is outside the Australian Capital Territory, being in the electorate of Hume and in the Yarrowlumla
Shire. But it is equally true that the peopleresiding in that area look upon Canberra, as their home town because, by reason of topography, it is the place that they can reach more easily than they can centres in. their electorate. Several men in this area, notably Mr. Bluett and Mr. Franklin, were amongst those who made early moves for Commonwealth interest in the development., of this through road and of the area itself. As the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) has pointed out, and as has been, mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the: Opposition and the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), the area that wilh be traversed by this through road could be one of the most productive in the whole country. I have seen the fringes of it - I have not had the opportunity to go> through all of it - but I am told that there is land there with a depth of 30 feet of rich red soil, that the area can produceeverything up to citrus, that there are magnificent stands of mountain ash growing at more than 3,000 feet above sea level and that this can, as the honorable member for Hume said, contribute much to the building programme of the National Capital.
I am hopeful that the idea of constructing this road will be approved by the Government and that the Government, in. consultation with the New South WalesGovernment, will find the means to construct the road not only to provide more ready access between the area and the Australian Capital Territory but also to open up this district which economically and geographically should be attached to the Australian Capital Territory and which can provide so many of the needs of this city which has, as the Mniister pointed out in another context, a very rapidly growing population. The area through which the road will pass can provide many of the needs of this capital city, not only in timber for home construction but in fruit and vegetables and crops of all kinds, lt will be a tremendous asset to the Australian Capital Territory to have a road constructed through this area, and that very rich land, which indeed has been the subject of many reports over the last, I would think, 30 or 40 years, with its produce accessible to this Territory, will be of tremendous benefit to the National Capital
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 15th September (vide page 1018), on motion by Mr. Davidson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I regret that I was not present in the House last night when the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) led the debate for the Australian Labour Party on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, but I have had the advantage since of going through the “ Hansard “ report of the debate and I have had the privilege, if that is the correct term, of seeing the headlines which his speech attracted in the local newspaper. I have no doubt that these were the headlines that this political speech on behalf of the Australian Labour Party were designed to attract. I think that one should not fail to register the point that on this issue, which is an integral part of the Government’s budgetary legislation, the Australian Labour Party has given us a political address rather than a constructive, businesslike analysis of the problems of budget-making and particularly of the very substantial problems of the Post Office itself.
Although this bill is confined to post and telegraph charges, it is part of this year’s Budget. It is one of the occasions on which there could be a completely constructive approach by the Australian Labour Party to the Government’s budgetary proposals, but, as I say, all that has been done really is to take advantage of the inevitable human frailties of resisting any proposal to increase any charges that we and all citizens must face. That, of course, is a phenomenon of human nature that can always be exploited politically. I am not complaining that it is exploited; I am merely exposing the fact and putting that speech for the Labour Party in its proper perspective. Here, an attempt was made to divide the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) from the Treasury. An attempt was made to twit the Country Party and to divide it from its colleagues on this side of the Parliament. No success attaches to these clearly recognizable political manoeuvres. The Country Party is too mature to fall for any attempt to drive wedges between it and its friends in this way. We are too adult not to recognize an obvious political trick when it comes along. After all, the oldest trick of the conjurer is to wave with one hand something glittering and decorative to the eye, so that the audience will not see what he is doing with the other hand. This is really what has occurred in the approach of the Labour Party to this matter.
The parties in this House from which the Government is made up realize that their responsibility is to contribute towards good and stable government of Australia. Speaking for my own party, I say we assume that it is our responsibility to apply the specialized knowledge that we have of rural matters to the problems of rural people. But we all combine on this side of the House to achieve the one great objective, that of keeping the socialists out of office. No trick played by the socialists will divert us from that great ambition to keep them out of office. It is an objective that we have achieved with considerable success over the last ten years.
We have a quite clear understanding of where we stand in relation to the Post Office. For many years I, and all others associated with me, have been saying that the Post Office should never be used as a tax-levying institution. That is a correct attitude, and the Post Office is not being used in that way now. But if this is a proper policy, then the inevitable corollary to it is also proper; that is, that the taxpayer should not be unduly exploited to provide, below cost, a service to the citizens of the country in the normal field of commercial servicing. I direct attention to the word “ unduly “ that I have used, because it has been a tradition in this country ever since federation, no matter what government has been in office, to provide some of our essential services to citizens at charges below actual cost. That has been the practice in the case of the Post Office, and of course it has been continued as a policy principle in the compilation of these new charges.
Let me give an illustration in the simplest form of all. The bulk postage rates have resulted, until now, in newspapers being carried at a fifth of the actual cost of handling. The new charges will change this position. I speak now, of course, in approximations, but the proportions I give are fairly accurate. The new charges will mean that newspapers will be carried in bulk at a quarter of the actual handling cost instead of a fifth. Here is perpetuated the principle of performing an essential service for the community for a charge much below the actual cost. Increasing this charge from a fifth to a quarter of actual cost could by no flight of the imagination be described as using postal charges as a taxlevying instrument.
This simple and clear illustration is typical of the attitude adopted by the Government in making the recent review of postal charges. There are still very substantial concessional rates at all levels of the postal charges. The Post Office, in its postal operations as distinct from its communication services, is really - I am sure my colleague will not be affronted by this - merely a high-class carrying service. It is a transport service, and it is historic in this country and throughout the world that transport services do not levy on all the freight that they carry the same rate per pound or per ton. There is always - and it is right and essential that there should be - some recognition of the fact that certain traffic should not be called upon to bear the same scale of charges as other traffic. In attracting additional business, transport services, whether publicly or privately conducted, have always carried some of the low-grade freight at charges below cost. We are all familiar with the practice in the railways in regard to the carriage of bulk primary products, superphosphate and that kind of thing. The same principle has been imported into this revision of the Post Office charges.
As we pride ourselves on being a modern community, desirous of improving the standard of living, which includes the level of services offered, we are constantly improving our services, and in no sphere of activity in Australia are the services being more constantly or effectively improved than in that of the Post Office. For instance, in this air age the Government has said, “ We will adopt the universal practice that wherever time can be saved by carrying fi-st-class mail matter by air, it will be the normal thing to carry it by air, and there shall be no additional charge for doing so “. . So the price of the service goes up from 4d. to 5d., if you look at it in that way. But if you consider it in the proper light, in respect of air carriage, the price goes down to 5d. That is, in fact, the correct way of considering the matter.
We now have a state of affairs in which people in the remote outback will have their first-class mail matter carried by air at a charge of 5d. for the unit weight, and it is correct to say - and I have checked this with Post Office officials - that many items that will be carried and delivered for 5d. will in fact cost 2s., 3s. or even 4s. to carry and deliver. Surely the people of the outback will realize that their interests are being catered for by the Government when a provision . of this kind is made, and all normal first-class mail matter will be carried by air,- whenever this will save time, the charge being a modest 5d. for the unit weight.
Here again we are sustaining the principle of not levying on every item carried the full cost of doing so. We are exercising a bias, as has been done by all governments of this country, so that favorable charges are imposed on the people of the outback, those who live in the generally sparsely populated rural areas, and who will now receive a better service at a substantially lower cost than is actually incurred by the Post Office.
When it is the policy of the Government and of the Post Office to improve continuously the standard of service, surely no one will say, “ That is right, that is what we want to be done, but you must never, never review the charges that you make for these services “. Those of us who are familiar with the trunk-line telephone service do not have to tell each other that it is only a year, or two or three years, ago, when it was the normal thing when one asked for a distant, or perhaps not so distant, trunk-line call, to hear the lass in the exchange say, “ Thank you, the delay on the line is two, three, or four hours “.
To-day, to my great surprise, I can always get a connexion from Canberra to my remote farm, through a series of exchanges, including a small country exchange, without hanging up the telephone. This is becoming increasingly the experience in this country. That is the sort of thing we mean when we say that we want a higher standard of living and a higher standard of efficiency. Services of this kind are themselves a contribution to lower costs of production.
Now, we are to have a fractionally higher charge levied upon us. I think that that will be understandable by the people who enjoy these services. Let us not forget that all these services cost prodigious amounts. I am assured by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) and his officers that, in attempting to keep pace with the growing demand for telephones, the requirements for capital expenditure are increasing at the rate of about £4,000,000 per annum. If industry and commerce throughout Australia are to be adequately serviced in the modern sense the Postal Department, as a monopoly institution, surely must be in a position to meet all demands without undue delay. I remind the House again that capital equipment costs almost fabulously large sums of money.
As an illustration, I have been told that in the comparatively new industrial area of Dandenong, outside Melbourne, Postal Department expenditure in the last four years has amounted to £400,000 in order to give no more than normal services to developing industry there. We are proud of the industrialization as we are proud of the achievements of our rural communities. Thirteen new industries are developing around Broadmeadows, near Melbourne. One of them is expending £20,000,000. The Postal Department must be in a position to give services to these people. I have mentioned a couple of Melbourne areas, but the same may be said of Kwinana, in Western Australia, Port Kembla in New South Wales, or Elizabeth in South Australia, to name but a few.
The capital works of the Postal Department last year required the expenditure of more than £36,000,000. The corresponding provision in this year’s Budget is for about £40,000,000. The connexion of telephones is growing at a fabulous rate. About 150,000 new connexions were made last year, and it is estimated that about 160,000 new applications will be received in -the current year. Notwithstanding these great expenditures and this great boost of services ‘by the Post Office, there is still an outstanding demand for some 41.000 telephones. However, we can congratulate the Postmaster-General because four years ago the outstanding demand was for 86,000 telephones and three years ago the figure was 73,000. He has got it down to about 40,000.
These figures indicate the rate at which the demand upon the Postal Department for capital expenditures is proceeding. The Postmaster-General himself told the House that over approximately the last five years, new capital sunk into the Postal Department has amounted to £200,000,000. Some one has said that it is really “ doubling-up “ on the taxpayer if, having drawn these great capital sums from him, we now intend that, in order to assist capital investment, the Post Office shall earn a little bit more than is necessary to cover its expenditure. It has been said that this is blistering the taxpayer in two ways - by getting the capital out of him, in the first place, and then by loading something onto departmental charges in order to pay for capital.
That argument which I hear .not infrequently is a complete fallacy because the extent to which the current earnings of the Postal Department fail to make some contribution to its new capital requirements is reflected in the burden that has to be placed upon the taxpayer. The argument that the Opposition puts forward, means, in effect, that those who use the postal services should enjoy the new capital installations at no cost, but that the whole cost should be levied on a different group of people, the general taxpayers. The alternative is that there should be some reasonable balance between what is levied on the general taxpayer for these purposes and what is paid in revised charges by those who use the services of the Department. The revised charges embodied in this bill represent no more than the Government’s assessment of a fair division, still preserving within these charges tremendously valuable concessional services to the users of bulk postage in particular, to the users of other postal services and, especially in certain areas, to telephone users.
To-day, the charge for installing a telephone is £10. But it costs £290 to make all the provisions necessary for that telephone. I remind my friends of the rural community that when the Postal Department puts in 60 chains of line for a subscriber, in addition to his benefiting from’ the expenditure of that £290, he benefits from the expenditure of another very substantial amount which I think would be more than £100 in some cases. For this, he is to be charged fractionally more rental. The additional telephone rental that will fall on a farmer may be as little as 5s. a year. The maximum additional rental that can fall on a rural dweller who has access to a very wide number of subscribers at the minimum rate, is £2 12s. 6d. a year, and the additional unit charge will be Id. I would say that if nothing were being given to these people other than what already exists, these charges would certainly not be unreasonable in the light of the progress that is being made. But greater benefits are being planned by the PostmasterGeneral and his department. They propose an amalgamation of zones in rural areas which will give all rural subscribers in Australia access to a very greatly increased number of adjacent subscribers - possibly within a range of 25 miles - not merely at the local call charge instead ot the trunk line charge, but without limitation of time. I understand that this innovation will be introduced in some months. The outcome for many rural people who use the telephone extensively will be that notwithstanding the slightly higher rentals and the higher unit charges, their telephone bill will be less than it was before. This is because of the advantage of the elimination of trunk line charges and the removal of the limitation of the three-minute period.
This is, by no means, all related to the capital costs of the Post Office. The capital investments in this service are very great indeed. I remind the House and the country that, by and large, over recent years the Post Office has not infrequently failed to meet from its charges the actual cost of performing its services, irrespective of interest on the investment or putting something by for next year’s capital expenditures. We certainly are not a people to boast of our prosperity and then want these services to he provided for without consideration of the capital invested or by providing for an actual overall operating loss. We know that it is intended to have operating losses for certain areas and in certain respects.
I turn for a moment to bulk postal charges, regarding which there has been a good deal of agitation. I remind honorable members that the Government has not been arbitrary or intransigent in this regard. It has heard representations and where ii has been shown that some unforeseen burden of severity would fall, the Government has amended the charges. But to-day the actual position is that for a big newspaper weighing half a pound, or an industry journal - it would be pretty big to weigh half a pound - the additional cost will be probably below 4s. a year, and that extra charge will be deferred for six months. Reference has been made to small country newspapers, of which I have a number in my electorate. I am assured that the additional charges will range from perhaps as low as ls. a year for a weekly publication to 2s. a year if it is a bi-weekly publication. And again, the additional charges will be deferred for six months! These are by no means savage charges. They are very considerate and they will represent a reimbursement to the Post Office of only one-quarter of the actual cost of performing its services.
There is a category of postal matter which is not eligible for registration for transmission as a newspaper. I refer to small publications of churches and welfare organizations which fall into a different category, and the charges for which have gone up. I am told that for a monthly publication the charge will be increased by as much as ls. 6d. a year, weighing up to four ounces. I think we can all say that we are sorry if the publications of churches and welfare organizations cost more to post, but these organizations have to face up to growing costs in all other spheres in a country which is living under considerable economic pressure. However, my colleague has said that he will still study whether it is feasible and practicable to meet the situation faced by organizations such as these.
I emphasize what my colleague pointed out. that in a transport organization of this kind, handling, as it does, as many as 500,000,000 items a year, it is impossible to have a multiplicity of categories of items attracting different charges. This would impose upon the Post Office an administrative burden of unlimited identification of different categories. To do that would defeat the general objective of keeping the costs of the Post Office down as low as possible. But as I have already said, my colleague is studying that aspect quite carefully.
The Government has in mind the consideration that the immense capital costs are not to be paid for by the postal users. These will be met overwhelmingly by the taxpayer. It is not proposed that interest shall be levied on the Post Office and transferred through its charges which will produce a stated rate of interest on the investment in the Post Office. As my colleague pointed out, a very high level committee has been appointed which will report to the Government on the facts of capital invested in the Post Office. When the Government is in possession of the factual findings of this committee, these will be a guide to it in any future re-examination of postal charges.
The background of all this, of course, is the fact that we live in days in which, by common consent, every £1 that can be raised in the form of loan money in Australia is passed over by the Commonwealth Government to the State governments for the better performance of their own responsibilities. That explains why we have to turn to the taxpayer for the capital requirements of the Post Office. But, in short, the increases are ve y modest indeed. The improvement in services is progressive and very great and there still remain within the structure of these charges enormous concessional provisions designed particularly to meet the special requirements of those who live in the country, and particularly in the remote areas of Australia.
.- The further this debate proceeds the more apparent it becomes that the Government is on the defensive. I have listened to the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) on many occasions in this House during the last ten years but I have never heard him at greater disadvantage than I have over the last 30 minutes. His speech was not up to his usual standard of oratory. It was quits patent to me that his heart was not in his brief. He seemed to be using a conjurer’s sleight of hand to indicate that the price increases proposed in the bill are really distinct advantages to those who will be asked to pay them.
The Minister began his speech by twitting the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) for embarking upon a political speech dealing with a very great national problem. Last night the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) quoted something which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Calwell) had said in relation to a bill dealing with increased postal charges in 1949. I have taken the trouble to look up the report of the speeches in that debate and if ever there was a case of Satan reproving sin it is the case of the Minister for Labour and National Service twitting the Labour Party with making political capital out of this proposal to increase postal charges. The Minister for Trade also accused the Labour Party of making political speeches on this bill.
In 1949 the Labour Government brought down a bill to increase postal charges very modestly. Those increases were infinitesimal when compared with those proposed in this measure. The then Leader of the Australian Country Party, Mr. - later Sir - Arthur Fadden, led the case against the bill. I propose to quote some of the statements he made on that occasion. The charge of political bias against the honorable member for Melbourne Ports pales into insignificance when it is compared with the statements made by Sir Arthur Fadden in 1949. During my speech I intend to use several of those statements as texts. They prove conclusively that the Government is putting on an act and is guilty of humbug and hypocrisy in accusing the Labour Party oi attempting to make political capital out of the proposed increases in postal rates.
Originally the Government expected to collect £17,800,000 by the proposed increased charges. When the announcement to that effect was made it very rightly met with severe opposition from all sections of the Australian economy. The opposition was not political, nor did it emanate from Labour supporters because some of the Government’s strongest and most enthusiastic supporters voiced in no uncertain words their condemnation and criticism of the proposed charges. The Government then realized that it had made a very slip-shod decision in the first instance and that it had not given the matter the consideration that it warranted. Even the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) admitted that the Government was a little in the dark about the matter. What a remarkable confession for the Prime Minister to make! One would have thought that the subject would have been given the most serious consideration before any announcement was made of the proposed new charges. After all, the Government was taking a step in the wrong direction. Instead of taking a step to fight inflation, it proposed to take a step which would add fuel to the fires of inflation. After much uneasy shuffling; after much wordy castigation by rank and file members of . the Government; as a result of the avalanche of letters and telegrams that were received by all honorable members, the Government made some slight amendments to Its proposals which will now return £16,200,000 a year.
It is true to say that the Government’s proposals were a very unpleasant surprise to the public and to industry because, for months prior to the Government’s announcement, the nation’s industrial leaders’ had been making- public statements to the effect that they hoped that the Budget would give some stimulus to industry and that it would produce some legislative measures which would reduce manufacturing costs. However, the legislation now before us will have the reverse effect - it will increase costs which, naturally, will be passed on to the worker whose wages will not go as far as they did previously. In other words, the Government’s proposal will have a distinct inflationary effect.
The greatest concession will be made in relation to the bulk postage on newspapers. Originally the proposed rate was to be 5d. for 8 oz. with a minimum: of 2d. for each article, but the Government amended the legislation to provide for a- lesser increase in the bulk postage rate which, however, is still higher than, it should be. Yesterday,, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) and the honorable member for Wills (Mi. Bryant) asked ques-tions about the Government’s intention regarding the bulk postage rates for free newspapers. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) brushed aside the question asked by the honorable member for Barton but, when the honorable member for Willsasked a supplementary question the PostmasterGeneral reiterated his opposition to the proposals contained in the two questions and said that the Labour Party did not take action along the lines proposed when it was in office and, therefore, there was no reason why the Government should take such action now. The questions contained a proposal that the bulk postage rate which applies to newspapers for which a charge is made should apply to free newspapers. That suggestion had never been placed before the Parliament previously in that form and, until two weeks ago, had never been placed before the Labour Party. From my knowledge of the activities of the Labour Government during the period’ in which it was in office’ from: 1941 to 1949, 1 am certain that it would have acquiesced readily to such a request because a great deal of money would not be involved and equality of principle would be achieved.
The privilege of the bulk postage rate for newspapers has not been enjoyed by very many newspapers in recent years. I refer to the large number of weekly newspapers, which are published in suburban areas and which are distributed gratis. For the most part - I speak with some experience of the position in Melbourne and Victoria - these were formerly local newspapers for which a charge was made but, for economic reasons, many of the suburban paid-subscription newspapers which could qualify for transmission by post as a newspaper and which received the benefit of the bulk postage rate have gone out of circulation or have been absorbed by larger organizations.
When- the original provisions relating to the delivery of newspapers and magazines by bulk postage were introduced - 1 understand in 1902 - it was specified that before any newspaper, periodical, magazine or any other publication could qualify for consideration for bulk postage registration, it must have published a minimum of three issues and have been able to- produce evidence that 75 per cent, of the published copies were- sold to subscribers. In otherwords, proof was required that 75 per cent, of the copies circulated were paid for. Since those regulations were framed and adopted more than half a century ago there have been major changes in the set-up of, particularly, suburban newspapers. No one in 1902 could have foreseen the march of progress which has altered the whole position of suburban newspapers. We have fought two world wars with a depression between; we have seen huge increases in population; we have seen the rapid changes wrought by the growth of Australia’s secondary industries; we have seen the advent of easier and quicker travel with the consequent shortening of distances by means of air travel and air freight. All these factors have played a mighty part in the rapid expansion that has taken place in our way of life.
The industrialization of Melbourne and Sydney has set a pattern of rapid expansion which is now being followed by other capitals and coastal and many inland cities and towns. Gone are the days when suburbs like Preston were well out in the rural areas. Gone are the days of the small suburban paid-subscription newspapers - in Melbourne they are almost as extinct as the dodo - and gone, too, are the penny locals. Honorable members will remember that before the depression we had the. penny locals which enjoyed a circulation of 2,000 or 3,000. They received the benefit of the bulk postage rates. But the penny locals now have given way to, and in manycases have been absorbed by, the free paper - a vigorous new creation of the industrial age with a circulation running into many thousands. One such organization in Parramatta, New South Wales, claims that no fewer than 205,000 copies are delivered weekly, and it produces more than 22 different publications. This organization is but one of several in Sydney and Melbourne which distribute between them almost 1,000,000 copies weekly.
In my electorate of Batman our local newspaper that had a circulation some years ago of 2,000 has now increased its circulation to 10,000 copies. I am sure that the free newspaper to-day is at least a 1,000 per cent, better newspaper than was the paid newspaper of fifteen or twenty years ago. Although newspapers have increased in quality; although they have increased in size; although, because of increased circulation, they have been able to employ a better class of journalists than they did previously, they are now being debarred from the advantages of the bulk postage- rates on those issues that they send by post to the comparatively few subscribers who wish to have them.
In Melbourne one large company distributes about eight free newspapers, and in my electorate the publication of one such newspaper has just been commenced. It is called the “ Heidelberger “ and, in the past twelve months, it has superseded the “ News “ which was a paid paper in Heidelberg for 70 years. It had enjoyed the benefit of free postage but it did not keep up with the times. In order to remain in existence it became a free newspaper. It changed its name from the “ News “ to the “ Heidelberger “. This newspaper has rapidly met the growing needs of the community but whereas twelve months ago it enjoyed a bulk postage concession under the act, in future, because it is a free newspaper, it will be subject to the normal postage charges. Where is the justice in that? Why should newspapers that make a charge get the benefit of concession rates when other newspapers that are free, which have a much larger circulation, which ar3 serving a much greater public need, and which are giving people news for which they formerly had to pay, are compelled to attract normal postage rates?
The newspapers that I have mentioned are typical of many that have good average news content. They are not full of advertisements. Whilst they depend for their existence on paid advertisements, the newspapers in Melbourne about which I can speak with authority are splendid publications. They have a news content of at least 30 per cent, and honorable members on this side of the House who have seen copies of some of them agree with me that they are splendidly prepared publications. Yet despite the fact that they are rendering a public service they are to be penalized. They are a creation of our modern times, which do not allow small suburban newspapers to exist. When this matter was raised in the House yesterday the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) became almost insulting and said that the Labour Party did nothing about this matter when it was in office. But the Labour Party had no need to do anything about it because when we were in office this was not a problem. It has only become a problem in the last few years. The honorable gentleman should give this matter very careful consideration.
I also point out that the free newspapers in my area are aiding in the assimilation of new Australians into the community. In the Brunswick area, which is represented in this House by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), each week a page or so of one local newspaper is published in Italian for the benefit of Italian immigrants who are unable to read English. Even the comic cartoons, which are printed in colour, have an Italian translation. There is evidence that this newspaper is stimulating interest amongst new Australians in the district in local affairs. It would not cost much to extend bulk postage concessions to free newspapers, but this would equate the position of the free newspapers with that of the paid newspapers. After all, why should they not all be treated alike? Why should particular treatment be meted out to the supporters of the Government - the big daily newspapers, which get concession rates - whereas, because of some obsolete section inserted in the act 50 years ago, a small newspaper, giving worthy service to the community, is denied justice? There is no need for the Postmaster-General, metaphorically, to do his block, as he did yesterday, and sneer at the Australian Labour Party because it did not grant this concession when it was in office. If he gives the matter further consideration he will recognize that these free newspapers can put up a formidable case for similar treatment to that meted out to the paid newspapers. If this were done it would not cost more than about £5,000 a year. But it would mean that people who, by reason of distance, receive those newspapers by mail, would be able to get them at the same postage rate as applies to paid newspapers. I suggest that the Government should look again at this matter. It is not being raised primarily by supporters of my party but by proprietors of small newspapers who, in my opinion, are doing a splendid job for the community.
I wish to return now to the matter of postal charges generally. Notwithstanding the soothing ointment that was applied by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), it is clear that the effect of the increases will be widespread and of far greater magnitude than was suggested by him. It is silly to suggest that the increased postal charges will cost the average person only 2s. or 3s. extra a year. They will cost the average person or business far more than that. No mention has been made of the effect that these increases will have on mail order companies, which have operated for many years in rural areas. I would have thought that the Australian Country Party members would have had something to say on this aspect, because they are supposed to represent the people in the outback. Rural dwellers will not receive proper treatment if these proposed increases become law because the mail order companies will have to charge postage where previously they sent goods post free. I have been assured by a large mail order company in Melbourne that in future it will have to charge the full postage rates. That means that the people in the outback will have to pay more. Under the present regulations the maximum weight of an article that may be sent through the post is 11 lb. In the past mail order companies have largely availed themselves of the postal service but because of the increased rates the Post Office will lose business to parcel delivery services in outer suburban areas. Taxi trucks could do a lot of those deliveries and as a result of negotiations that are proceeding it appears likely that the Post Office will lose a good deal of business to parcel delivery services.
This is not something new. When tram and train fares were raised in Melbourne on the last occasion, the people stopped using the trams and trains and used alternative transport. What happened to the trams and trains in Melbourne will happen to the Post Office. Some people will not send as many letters as they have been accustomed to sending. They will seek alternative methods of contacting people. I think that in future a good many letters will be delivered by hand. Where a firm sends a lot of letters to one suburb it may engage a man to walk the streets and place the letters in the letter boxes.
One mail order company has given me details of the way the increased postal charges will affect it. I was astounded to see the charges that this company will have to meet. The company cannot carry the increased charges and it will have to pass them on. That will mean that the outback settler will suffer; but that is of small concern apparently to members of the Australian Country Party. I have some figures which show the effect of the proposed charges on one mail order company. In a period of six months that company sends out 5,000 catalogues. The present postal charges on those catalogues amount to £239. The new charges will raise this figure to £354, an increase of almost 48 per cent. The company sends out 20,000 sale catalogues. The present postage charge for them is £208, but the new charge will be £416 - an increase of 100 per cent. The company posts 10,000 three-pound parcels, which at present cost £1,125. Under the new charge they will cost £1,500 - an increase of £375 or 33 per cent. The company posts 40,000 receipts. The present charge for them is £583, but the new charge will be £833 - an increase of £250 or 42 per cent. The company sends out 74,000 letters, which at present cost £1,127, but in future they will cost £1,541 - an increase of £414 or 36 per cent. The company receives 62,400 letters on which it has paid postage. The present cost of those letters to the company is £1,039, but the new cost will be £1,300 - an increase of £261 or 25 per cent. Under the present charges the company’s total postage bill for six months is £4,323, but under the new charges it will be £5,945 - an increase of £1,622 or 37 per cent. All that increase will have to be carried by the recipients of the mail orders. So it can be seen that these increased charges will certainly inflict hardship on many people.
In justifying the increases the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) stated that the Post Office must charge for its services at a rate that will show an interest return on capital invested. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) attacked that submission and I suggest that he cut the Treasurer’s case completely to ribbons. The honorable member was accused by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), who followed him in the debate, of distorting what the Treasurer had said, but the honorable member was later able to show, in a personal explanation that what he had said was true.
The fact remains, of course, that the £416,000,000 that has been provided out of taxation for capital works since the war is costing the Treasury no interest at all, and I believe that the Government has a very quaint notion about the position when it says that it ought to develop this new principle. To say that, because the Government has no precise information about the exact amount of capital invested in the Post Office, it should increase charges, is to use a most curious piece of reasoning. We suggest that before charges were increased the Government should have allowed the committee envisaged by the Treasurer, in his Budget Speech, to meet. If that committee had met first, the Government could have found out the capital position of the Post Office, and it may or may not then have decided that charges should be increased. That was the view put by Sir Arthur Fadden, the previous Treasurer, when he was in opposition in 1949. Dealing with the very modest increases proposed then, as reported at page 1736 of “Hansard” of 29th June, 1949, he said -
At this stage, I remind the House and the people that the Parliament is asked to approve of these increased charges in the absence of any detailed information from the Treasurer, from a parliamentary committee, from any independent authority or even from the Postmaster-General himself about the functioning of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in the 1947-48 financial year . . .
In other words, what we claim should be done now is the very thing that members of the Australian Country Party and others who support the present Government claimed should be done when they were in opposition in 1949. They have completely reversed their attitude over the last ten years, and it does not make sense for them now to accuse the present Opposition of playing politics in this matter.
I want to say something about the accusations that the Australian Labour Party is making this a political issue, and I shall quote some further observations made by Sir Arthur Fadden in 1949. In the same speech as the one from which I have just quoted, he said -
The whole position relating to these increased tariffs, or new indirect taxes upon the public, is highly unsatisfactory to members of the Opposition.
Here is the gem of the lot, Mr. Deputy Speaker -
- brow-beaten Labour caucus apparently has no qualms about taxing the farmer and the worker even more heavily than he is taxed to-day, because, surely even the most rabid Labourite in this House no longer regards telephones or telegrams as a luxury. In the final analysis the workers and the producers will be the ones who will have to meet these increased charges.
What Sir Arthur Fadden said in 1949, we say to-day, and surely we cannot be accused of seeking political kudos when we make observations similar to those that were made in 1949 by spokesmen for members of the present Government parties. The charge levelled by the Government at the Australian Labour Party that it is playing politics in this matter serves only to indicate the Government’s absolutely consistent hypocrisy.
In the few minutes left at my disposal, I want to deal with the Government’s inconsistency in claiming that postal charges should pay for the cost of postal services, although it does not say that this principle should apply when the Post Office is expected to provide a very wide variety of non-postal services throughout Australia. As the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) very rightly said last evening, the Post Office provides the following services on behalf of other departments: - ‘
Payment of age and invalid pensions, war pensions, widows’ pensions, child endowment, Naval, Military, and Air Force allotments.
Collection of war service homes and repatriation payments, customs duty on postal articles.
Sale of Commonwealth taxation stamps, beer duty stamps, State duty stamps.
Commonwealth Savings Bank transactions.
The .provision of those services entails a tremendous amount of work, but what does the Post Office get in return by way of commission? The Postmaster-General, in reply to a question asked recently by the honorable member for Blaxland, said -
For the year 1957-58 the total value of these transactions was £253,000,000 and the commission earned amounted to £1,150.107.
The commission represented less than one-half of 1 per cent. Any other organization providing similar facilities, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would receive a commission of at least 2i per cent., or about £6.300.000. Nobody can make me believe that the value of the work performed by the Postal Department in respect of the matters which I have mentioned is only £1,150,107. Of course it is not! The department provides these services for a charge representing millions of pounds less than the cost. Therefore, I suggest that before the Government advances the argument that postal users should pay for the costs of the Post Office, it should look to its own sins of omission and commission and see that the Post Office is paid proper rates of commission for providing these facilities. If the Postal Department did not do this work, the Government would have to establish another authority to do so - and it would not get the work done for only £1,150,107. 1 suggest that, in respect of this matter, the Government is guilty of gross inconsistency. Its arguments are swept aside by an examination of the phase of Post Office work which I have mentioned, lt can be seen that the Government itself, and not the taxpayers who use the postal services, grossly under-pays the Post Office for various services rendered to other government departments. If the Government is looking for another £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 in order to balance the finances of the Postal Department, it need only look in the mirror, as it were, to see who should pay the additional amount required. If the Post Office were paid commission at the rate of ‘2£ per cent, for the various services which I have enumerated, it would receive at least another £5,000,000. I suppose that, even then, those services would be cheap at the price.
Summing up, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to say that the universal opposition to this bill by political friend and foe alike should warn the Government that the public will take only so much from it. This Administration has been in office so long that it has become arrogant. It should not forget that the last straw was the one that broke the camel’s back. I point to the by-election in the New South Wales State electorate of Lismore, which was held last Saturday, as a warning to the Government. I am certain that, although the by-election was fought on State issues, a considerable number of the votes recorded was intended as a protest against this iniquitous measure that we are now discussing. We find that various groups in the community have made common cause in opposition to this bill - groups which, in the norma! course of events, would never have been brought together. Because they are united in their detestation of these proposals, they have been able to move the Government - even though only a little. The Government’s amendments to its original proposals have demonstrated that proper consideration was not given to them in the first place. The contemplated increases should have been shelved until the committee mentioned by the Treasurer had made its recommendations - a course of action which was suggested by Sir Arthur Fadden in 1949, when he put his own arguments on a similar proposal.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to state my respect and admiration for the Australian Post Office and for the standard of service that it gives to the community. I should like to express my respect also for the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) and the leadership of the Post Office and all its staff who serve this community. The more one learns about this organization, the more one marvels at the service it gives., especially as it operates under a measure so dull and drab as the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1950. On looking at the act, one finds that quite a number of its sections deal with matters such as the conveyance of mail by ships, what the master of the ship shall do, how he shall carry the mail, how he shall deliver it, and postage on letters to seamen “ on actual service in the King’s Navy or in the Marine Defence Force of the Commonwealth “. I almost expected to see a reference to press-gangs, but they had just about gone out when the original act was passed. As I have said, the act governing the operations of the Post Office is dull, drab, unimaginative, and lacking in principle and tradition. It seems to contain no idea of anything which would indicate the value of the Post Office itself.
The Postmaster-General’s Department has prepared a small brochure entitled “Progress - Policy - Plans”. The aims of the Post Office are stated at page 7, in these terms -
The Post Office seeks to provide a high grad-j of service and to provide it as efficiently and cheaply as possible.
Two simple tests are applied:
How does growth in staff compare with growth in business?
How do Post Office charges compare with costs?
That states their view of the plans. I may say that it does not do them much justice. It does them little honour when they do a magnificent job and then use those words. I think that it is about time that the Parliament itself, and the back-benchers of this party, at least, who are performing a magnificent service, had a look at similar acts of other legislatures. 1 have in mind American Public Law 85 which states -
The postal establishment has been extended . . for the communication of intelligence, the dissemination of information, the advancement of education and culture, and the distribution of articles of commerce and industry.
It goes on to say -
The development and expansion of the several elements of postal service, under authorization by the Congress, have been the impelling force in the origin and growth of many and varied business, commercial, and industrial enterprises which contribute materially to the national economy and the public welfare and which depend upon the continuance of these elements of postal service;
It continues -
It clearly is not a business enterprise conducted for profit or for raising general funds, and it would be an unfair burden upon any particular user or class of users of the mails to compel them to bear the expenses incurred by reason of special rate considerations granted or facilities provided to other users of the mails . . .
It then states -
The public interest and the increasing complexity of the social and economic fabric of the Nation require an immediate, clear and affirmative declaration of congressional policy with respect to the activities of the postal establishment . . .
I think that we require an immediate, affirmative declaration of our policy in respect of the Post Office. The American Congress goes on to say -
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress . . . that the post office is a public service; . . .
And that due consideration shall be given to - the preservation of the inherent advantages of the postal service in the promotion of social, cultural, intellectual and commercial intercourse among the people of the United States ….
In other words, the Americans believe in giving an imaginative and graphic idea of what they propose, or hope for, from their postal service. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) remarked on the American service last evening. He said that it was suffering because it was undercapitalized and was losing efficiency. He said that he hoped that that would not occur in our postal service. I should think that, because of the tremendous enthusiasm of the officers of our postal service, and of some of the men I remember who have headed it, this would not happen. Somehow or other the postal service will get the capital that it needs. I should like to deal with capital arrangements later. I think that somehow or other the postal service will get the required equipment, which is most modern and almost breathtaking in its advancing of the methods of communication and the dissemination of intelligence. The service will not fail to get the funds somehow, and it will go ahead tremendously. In fact, it has gone ahead.
It is our duty - and this committee, I understand, will specifically do so - to look at the provision of capital for the Post Office. While the committee is deliberating, capital must, of course, still be provided, and I think, Sir, that in this case the taxpayer has been forced to provide capital equipment. This has been brought about by the failure of loans in the last few years, partly, I think, itself due to the reduction by the Labour Party, years ago, of the rate of interest to 3i per cent. However, that should not deter us from endeavouring to get enough loan money by making the loans attractive to investors. Indeed, there are very large and fantastic amounts of investment money coming into Australia. That money should be directed into government channels so that new capital works for the Post Office can be paid for out of loans, and be charged their due interest. Then this question of whether the taxpayer pays it or not should not arise.
I believe that the Post Office should be a public service. If there is any attempt to make the Post Office a business undertaking - and I feel that there is an idea held by some people that it has to pay its way and pay interest - then make it a business undertaking, if that is the will of the Parliament, and give it a separate identity, just as Qantas, Commonwealth Oil Refineries and other statutory authorities were given separate identities. That is what we should do if this trend towards thinking the Post Office should pay its way still arises from the hazy confusion in which we seem to be looking at this matter at the moment. If we intend to do that, then let us do it, but - and here is the point - if the Post Office is to be a public service, then make it a public service.
I want to refer again to the work of the Americans in making the United States Post Office a public service. In their reports they have given a list of subsidies. They are called subsidies quite frankly. Here we are talking about things that are actually hidden subsidies involved in the movement of certain postal articles. In the year 1958-59 revenue earned by the United States Post Office from the carriage of newspapers and periodicals issued by non-profit organizations was 5,000,000 dollars. The cost of providing the service was 68,000,000 dollars. That means that the Americans lost 63,000,000 dollars in providing for the movement of newspapers and periodicals of that kind. This year the Americans expect to lose a little more than that in the provision of the same service.
Nobody will say that the Americans are not a very efficient, businesslike and hardheaded people. So they must have reasons for doing those things. The honorable member for Wentworth had some objection to the American system on the ground that the American postal service did not have sufficient funds. That, however, should not deter us from at least inquiring into this aspect of the work of the postal service, as well as providing for an inquiry by a committee into the capital structure of the Post Office.
The Americans have exempted from postal charges second-class mail in the form of publications for religious and classroom use. Most of such charges are paid by the taxpayer through consolidated revenue. In the year just concluded the
Americans lost 3,000,000 dollars in providing this service, and next year they expect to lose 3,400,000 dollars. They have also exempted third-class mail in the form of such publications as are issued by showsocieties and by bodies like the National Roads and Motorists Association in Australia, which perform a public service. In providing for what they call third-class mailing for non-profit organizations, in 1958-59, the Americans lost 43,000,000 dollars and expect to lose about 46,000,000 dollars this year. In the carriage of newbooks and library books - which are used books - the Americans lost 14,500,000 dollars, and this year expect to lose 16,000,000 dollars. These losses total 134,000,000 dollars, and are borne by the American postal service for the distribution of material which is disseminating information to the people.
At this point I should like to refer to the work of country newspapers in Australia. I shall quote from a letter from the secretary of the New South Wales Country Press Association, in order to support what I have to say about the value of dissemination of information to the community, particularly in rural areas, The letter reads in part -
In a democracy a well-informed public is of basic importance, and Governments in all countries in the Western world give practical encouragement to the media of information by way of concessions in press telegrams and cables, landlines for news services to broadcasting stations and postage charges for newspapers and magazines. These media of information, with their special place in our community life, should not be regarded as ordinary commercial postal traffic.
We have to make up our minds about that and get away from this confusion about whether the Post Office is a business undertaking or a public service. The letter continues -
The country newspaper is just as much an institution as it is a business. It is an integral part of local government machinery and its contribution to government administration at all levels has long been recognized.
I wish to thank the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) for that quotation. He has already spoken of it in the House. Country people always live on the mail bag. They live between deliveries of post office mail. They depend on the country newspaper for information about local government the administrative machinery around them, and how the com munity around them is getting on, for reports of social activities, educational activities and so on - and through the country newspaper they become a well informed public. Without a well informed public, there cannot be a true democracy. Democracy will fail in a situation of darkness such as we know exists on the other side of the iron curtain. The country newspapers, the editors and the people who send out the information, including a good deal of editorial matter - in some cases this is becoming less and less - are giving a tremendous service to the community.
I say this as a member representing a rural constituency. The people in the rural constituencies provide the export income without which we cannot expand. They will provide two-thirds of our future population, because the birth rate in the country areas, which have one-third of the total population, is two-thirds of the total for the States. In other words, where there is a large agglomeration of population in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, the great reservoir of future population comes from the country districts. They are, therefore, of immense importance. The country people will be called upon to do the settling of the northern part of Australia, which is so essential to us now. I do not think that there is any need to say any more about the importance to the rural constituencies of a movement of mail which is efficient, cheap and of a high quality. I want to quote now from the Canadian Post Office Act. In section 11, a newspaper is defined. To-day, bulk second-class mail matter, including Canadian, British and foreign newspapers, may be mailed by news dealers to subscribers in Canada at the bulk rate of 4 cents per lb. This is a long way lower than the rate that we are now increasing. What I am saying to the House is this: We must have another look at these charges.
– That is surface mail, and not air mail, is it?
– This is surface mail. I think that second-class mail would be mainly surface mail. The Canadian Post Office Act places a charge on newspapers in the country but it adds a rider to which I shall refer in a moment. I foreshadow now that al the appropriate time I shall move an amendment based on this Canadian provision. The Canadian act sets out the charges and then adds - . . subject to the exception that two thousand five hundred copies per issue may be transmitted by mail free of postage within a distance of forty miles from its known place of publication in the case of a newspaper or periodical published in a city, town or village with a population of not “more than ten thousand persons;
That provision is aimed at assisting the dissemination of printed material which is of such tremendous value to the community. It does not matter how much television or radio we have; the country newspaper is a paper of record and supplies the people with the information that they need. The Canadian provision to which I have referred assists the people in the small Canadian towns, and I believe that we should adopt the same principle here.
I shall vote for this measure, although in doing so I wish to record that I believe that the legislation affecting the Post Office in the 59 years since federation has been pretty poor. It has not done justice to the postal service or to the Parliament, and I think that the time has come to have a committee that will inquire not only into capital works but also into all of the intentions, the foresight and the future of the Post Office in doing the job that it must do. Let us make this point clear; it is no good blurring the two points as to whether this is to be a public service or a business undertaking. Let us find out what it really is. Is it a public service, as we have regarded it for years, or is it a business undertaking? If it is a public service, then let it carry out the public service.
A lot of nonsense has been uttered about the morale of the postal service being destroyed because the Post Office cannot make a profit. I should think that thousands of members of the Public Service would not know whether they were making a profit, but they still do a good job. They concern themselves with other matters than whether they are making a profit or a loss. They are not commercial people. As a matter of fact, I do not think that they worry much about taxation. I have been told that the higher the taxation, the bigger the unbudgeted return they get when they put their income tax form in. The postal officers - I think in the third division - told me that and also that they had no worry about taxation. They do not think like commercial people. They do not worry about profits and it is nonsense to say, as has been said in this House, that the morale of a postal officer depends on whether he is making a profit or a loss. Their morale is good and can be improved. This is a matter, of course, of how much a week they receive, and 1 hope that their salary is adequate for their needs. This is not a question of whether the Post Office is making a profit at any time, and it is ridiculous to raise such a point here.
I believe that this debate could result in new ideas being introduced in the Post Office. We should try to assist certain groups in the community such as religious organizations, non-profit organizations of special characters, country newspapers, show societies, all sorts of country and suburban clubs and organizations which perform a service. There is another point made in this debate that I think is absurd. We are told that the bulk deliveries of newspapers cost 6d. for each of them. Let us have a look at that. A country newspaper office, according to the postal regulations and by practice and custom, parcels up the newspapers. They are first wrapped, the address of the person to whom they are being sent is put on them, they are put into bundles for each street, with the numbers in the street in order, and with all the addresses facing in the one way. They are taken to the post office. They are not sorted but go straight into the postman’s bag. I defy any one to prove that a postman who is distributing 500 articles a day would, in the delivery of these country newspapers, be involved in work costing an extra 6d. for each item. These newspapers do not go to any other office; they go straight into the postman’s bag and are not touched by any official.
In contrast to this, let us look at the sorting of letters. This involves a tremendous amount of work, as can be seen by any one who visits the basement of the General Post Office in. Sydney. My friend, the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), probably knows this well. The quantity of mail is so vast that the officers cannot start by sorting it under the names of the addressees. It is first sorted into, I think, twelve groups. The whole of the mail is first divided into these twelve groups; maybe each group is a number of suburbs. Then each of these groups is taken and sorted into further groups, which are then broken down still further. In other words, each letter is handled many times and, of course, it would cost 5d. to put it through all those hands. A country newspaper would not cost 6d. when it is delivered to the post office, put straight into the postman’s bag and taken by him as he goes on his rounds. In many cases, the postman is not a full-time man, but only a part-time man.
I am making a plea for a new look at some of these services to the rural areas, and I am not ashamed to stand here as a representative of a rural community and say that country newspapers are often under pressure at the present time from television, in the viewing areas, and from radio. They are under pressure because of competition for advertisements, which represent an important part of the income of country newspapers. In fact, there are quite a number of newspapers which are distributed free, and which live by their advertisements alone. These newspapers ought to be recognized for the job they are dong, and this is a way in which the Parliament can recognize what they are doing. The Parliament can have a new look at the situation and can write this provision into the law in the same way as the Americans have done. Although the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) commented on the fact that the American Post Office may not have gone ahead quickly enough, we can do what was done in that country in respect of looking after certain people who need our assistance.
I suppose that no member of the Australian community has been lauded to a greater extent than the outback mailman. Mailmen of the outback, such as The Fizzer of “ We of the Never Never “, have been written and talked about for years. These men have been performing excellent services for the people of the outback for many years. I think there was a time when the mailman went across the continent once every six months. To-day he delivers the mail, sometimes riding a horse, sometimes driving a sulky or a motor car or a fourwheel drive jeep. He may even be given an aeroplane to deliver the mail from the main airport to the many stations in his district. But the country people live from visit to visit of the mailman. In many cases he is their sole contact with the outside world, .and all the interesting things they do are done through the mail.
It is quite a different proposition in the suburbs, where you have people tightly packed together. In that case you can send out your leaflets and newspapers whenever you want to. You can throw them over the fences, or put them in the letter boxes in big blocks of flats. But for the country dweller the delivery of the mail is probably the most important event in his life.
I ask the House to look at this amendment. I have spoken of the small country newspaper. There could be a definition, setting out the amount of editorial material that there should be, or perhaps prescribing that there should be more editorial than advertising material. I have mentioned a small town, and I have taken a maximum number of 10,000 persons. That has been taken from the Canadian legislation. These newspapers are performing a service in their own modest way for the people who are so tremendously important to our community, who are doing a great job for the country, who lead lonely lives and do not have all the amenities that are available to their city brothers and sisters. Those are the people we ought to think about, and I am not ashamed to make this plea to the Parliament.
.- The powerful speech made by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has remained unanswered. He made statements of very great significance and importance, and I thought that when the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), who is the Deputy Prime Minister, spoke this afternoon, he would at least have replied in a coherent manner to the charges made by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, and in some way have sought to answer the charges made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). The speeches made by both these honorable members were outstanding statements, in my opinion. They deserved the respect of the Parliament. They apparently received the respect of the Parliament, but they have not been answered in any way by the Government. These charges should be answered.
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has shifted his ground. We have heard quite a deal about who was responsible for the present situation. It seems to me that there has been some kind of game like the passing of the baton - no one wants it, it is hot, it has to be passed from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to the Treasury, and no one wants to accept it. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself blithely came into this House ten days after the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) made his Budget speech, to say that the rates and charges to be levied for postal services were arrived at in the dark. This is an extraordinary situation.
I want to say at once that I pay a tribute to those engaged in the service of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I join with the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) in paying a tribute to those employed in our small country post offices, who depend upon the unit payments for the transaction of their business. They are the living representatives of the PostmasterGeneral, of government, of order and of authority, in the hamlets and villages of our country. They attend to matters of licences, regulations, child endowment and one thousand and one matters very closely, warmly and intimately related to the affairs of the people. I salute them and offer them my personal words of congratulation for a job well done. I congratulate the mailmen and others working in the country centres, under great difficulties and many times suffering great hardship - and, very often, underpaid. I pay them a welldeserved compliment and say that they deserve just a little better from the Government at the present time.
I rise to vote against the bill. There can be no half-way house in this matter at all. We either agree with the bill or we disagree with it. I disagree with it because it does not meet the requirements of the people. Again I refer to the extremely slovenly and makeshift fashion in which the legislation was introduced to this Parliament. It was introduced in one form, and it provoked within minutes, ohours at the most, such a wave of hostility and protest throughout the country at the viciousness of its provisions that it had to be changed. Then we saw this passing of the buck and this excusing. There was a story in the press which was almost sad, about how the Postmaster-General had nearly resigned because he was so overcome with grief. It was said that he would have resigned but for the fact that certain of his colleagues would not go the distance with him. Mr. Speaker, that is all unimportant. It cuts no ice at all. It will not assist the people to understand or appreciate the problem, nor will it exonerate the Government for these charges that they are going to levy upon the people of Australia.
Let it be clearly understood in this House that it is not for us as parliamentarians to apportion the blame, to say that it is the responsibility of the Treasury or that it is the responsibility of the officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department. The responsibility rests fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of the Postmaster-General, and so it rests fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of the Menzies-McEwen Administration, which is responsible for this new change in the administration of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
I put this question to the House: Are these charges necessary to meet the situation in the country at the present time? If one is to be guided by the various statements that have been made available to honorable members - the Budget papers themselves, the Auditor-General’s statement and the statements emanating from th.j Postmaster-General’s Department - it would appear that the increased charges are not necessary at all. A reference to the Budget papers shows that although an amount of £100,028,240 was appropriated in the year 1958-59 for the conduct of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, only £96,698,109 was spent. This left unspent, in the year, £3,330,131.
We all know that there is room for a substantial amount of developmental work to be done in this country. People are crying out for telephones. They want additional services and one would expect that this department which, particularly in its telephone branch, is making substantial profits, would redouble its efforts to meet the needs of the people. Apparently, that is not so. lt is more concerned at becoming involved in this new brand of inflation - this idea of levying heavier charges on the people which seems to have become a fetish and a disease in this land. Sometimes it is a wealthy company making substantial profits, such as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has been making over the years, which increases its profits. Sometimes it is a company such as General MotorsHolden’s Limited, which increases its already satisfactory profits. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department which should render a service to the people of this country, and which is already making substantial profits, now proposes substantially to increase its charges.
Of all the weak statements that have ever been presented to the Parliament on this matter I think that the final effort ot the Postmaster-General was the weakest. He has presented a statement to the House entitled “Revision of Postage Rates - 1959 - General Financial Summary “. It is dated 1st September, 1959. This is the greatest howler that has ever been presented to Parliament. It is sheer impertinence when the Postal Department seeks to discuss the literacy of the people of this country. The statement says, in effect, that the Postal Department is not now required to provide an easy flow of literature from one part of Australia to the other, because we have become a very literate people. What an extraordinary, arrogant, unnecessary and rude approach to this Parliament and to the people of Australia! One part of the statement reads as follows: -
This, in conjunction with the availability of extensive library services, local and overseas newspapers, magazines and books, broadcasting and television, has afforded ready access to news and information to all Australians.
The Postmaster-General then sets out to give us this wonderful talk about the literacy of the people and how there is no longer a need to encourage it. He says -
In effect, the cost originally carried by the Post Office in the interest of disseminating news and encouraging literacy appears in more recent times to have assumed the form of a subsidy to the local publishing and printing industry.
What an extraordinary statement to come from the Postmaster-General!
I have referred to the amount underspent, according to the Estimates. Before even contemplating any other feature of the activities of the Department over which the Postmaster-General presides, let us turn our attention to the Auditor-General’s report. At the outset of my “remarks, 1 asked whether these increased charges were necessary. I do not think that they are. It has been proved beyond doubt that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is showing handsome profits. I think that any business person would be inclined to say, “ Before I slug the people who patronize my business, I will put my own house in order “. At paragraph 141 of the Auditor-General’s report, under the heading, “Balance-sheet and Profit and Loss Account “ he says -
In my previous report it was mentioned that several matters of principle and policy had to be resolved before the financial statements relating to the commercial accounts of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department could be certified by me. Although the accounts are under audit, finality on outstanding matters has not yet been achieved.
Surely that deserves the attention of the Postmaster-General before he sets out to slug the people of this country, prevent the free flow of literature, and increase the charge for telegrams and other postal services. 1 think that the whole attitude of the Government is indefensible. The Government has set out to charge interest on money taxed from the people. Why, Ben Turpin, Robin Hood or any Australian bushranger could not match these people in arrogance or impertinence! In the first place, the Government has taken this money out of the pay envelopes and the pockets of the people for use by the Postmaster-General’s Department. Then, under this new concept, it is going to make the people pay increased postal charges in order to reimburse the Treasury for the money made available to the Postal Department. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports strikingly drew attention to this matter. He referred to the statements of a number of personaliies who attended the conference, of Commonwealth and State Ministers on> 4th and 5th March. Mr. Bolte, the Victorian Premier, was very definite in his opposition to the practice of charging interest Ofl revenue funds. Amongst other things, he said -
At any rate a State would have had the opportunity to decide on the tax rates to be levied for these capital works. The money comes out of the same bucket whether the taxpayer be in
South Australia or Victoria or anywhere else. The taxpayers pay their taxes and a percentage of their taxes is then lent back to a State and interest has to be paid on it. I think that that is crazy accounting. What happens?
He goes on to explain it. The Premier of New South Wales adopted a similar attitude and supported Mr. Bolte very definitely in this opposition to the levying of interest on money that has already been taken from the people by taxation. It is not really strange to find that the Prime Minister had a view on the matter. At page 48 of the report of the conference, the Prime Minister is reported as having said -
Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of book-keeping that does not produce one pennyworth of financial results
Yet the same Prime Minister, and the same Government, is pursuing this policy in respect of the Postal Department and is calling upon the people of our country to pay additional sums of money! The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) is not here to answer these charges because he is absent from Australia, but he is on record in specific and definite terms. He said -
This, incidentally, would affect the revenue of the States. Certainly an increase in Postal Department charges would affect them. If we did not do that, then we would evidently have to increase general taxation to cover the deficit.
Yet this Government is now placing a heavier burden on the people in the form of increased postal charges! These will seriously affect the poor person such as the age pensioner who will not be able to get out of paying them. The wage earner will not be able to forget them. The small business, fighting for its existence on a margin just sufficient to keep itself afloat, will not be able to evade them. The big organizations and companies can pass it on and let the mass of the people pay it. But as we know, this is producing a new wave of costs and charges. The Prime Minister, in a public speech only a few days ago, decried the creeping inflation in this country. Yet he is feeding it, contributing to it, assisting it and firing it by costs of this kind.
I turn to the section of the report of the department dealing with the commercial results. It has been doing very well from the charges for the service it has been giving to the people. The last report of the Postmaster-General’s Department reveals that quite substantial profits were made. In the telephone branch these amounted to £6,294,207. The Postal Department generally showed a profit of £3,000,000. Surely such profits do not justify the levying of these increased charges on the people. I have here a list of people who will suffer greatly as a result of these increased charges. But the Postmaster-General goes on his merry way, blithely unconcerned for the people in the country - those very people whom he was sent here to represent. He knows these charges will bear very harshly upon them.
One effect of these increased charges will be that a buyer’s resistance will grow as it did in regard to telegrams. The figures show that to be so. In the section of the report devoted to the telegraph service we find that the number of telegrams despatched annually since 1954-55 has continued to fall. Last year the total number handled was 22,884,341 compared with 23,964,656 in 1956-57. The number has been falling year by year ever since charges for telegrams were increased.
Surely all these facts are conclusive to any honorable member who wants to be convinced in regard to the affairs of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Honorable members on the Government side, who feel as we do, instead of making speeches of mild rebuke or in opposition or asking for an amendment, should do the right thing by voting against these charges. This would give Parliament the opportunity to appoint a select committee or a royal commission or any other body of inquiry to investigate the affairs of the Postmaster-General’s Department and see whether these increased costs are warranted. In 1956-57 the total profit of the department amounted to £3,117,046. In 1957-58 it was £4,010,180. That resulted after providing for interest charges.
In the few minutes left to me I want to join previous speakers in making a plea for people in country districts of our great country. I refer to those scattered throughout this continent in the Northern Territory, in the centre, around Lake Eyre, in Northern Queensland, in the north of South Australia or in the western districts of Queensland or New South Wales, and also those in small hamlets or villages not 50 miles from here. I feel that they deserve to have a word spoken on their behalf. I know that the Country Party will compliment them and tell them that they are the pioneers who are developing the country, the strong men who are making it prosper, the producers. But this legislation will affect these people more harshly than anybody else.
I want to say a few words also in defence and in praise of the country press of Australia. Our country newspapers are the vehicles of information, the safety valve of public expression and the champions of local opinion. Invariably they hold the scales in the dissemination of news and information in a very impartial manner. The country press is the literature of the countryside, reporting in an intimate, friendly way the human story of regions of this country. Matters of vital concern to the people are mirrored in their columns. The country press is a necessary and vital adjunct to the metropolitan press. In the main the country press is an independent press and it deserves well of the people.
I am at a loss, therefore, to understand why this attack should be made upon the country press especially when a Country Party Postmaster-General is in charge of this very important department. This fact proves one thing, that the country people cannot depend upon or trust the Australian Country Party. When it comes to a test and country interests are at stake, the Country Party deserts the people and they are sold down the river.
What type of legislation is this? It was conceived in the city. It is a street corner type of legislation devised by people who can buy their newspapers from a newsboy and do not have to depend upon the post to bring them. I remind honorable members of the great service rendered by the country press to this Parliament, to the Government and to the people. It matters not whether it be an item from the News and Information Bureau or something to do with war loans, savings groups or any other national appeal. Such items, sent along to the country press, are given yards of space - not inches. Therefore, the Government has a responsibility to treat the country press in a fair and reasonable way.
The Government should consider also the needs of those who are in distress. The pensioners are surely entitled to better treatment in regard to telephones. Recently T received a letter from a Mrs. Curnuck, who is the secretary of the Penrith branch of the Pensioners Association. She points out that her husband is a very sick man and they need a telephone but they cannot meet the additional charges which will be levied upon them. I have here also requests to me to protest on behalf of various country newspapers against the proposed new charges. The “Lithgow Mercury” of 21st August last carried an article under the caption, “ When Will Menzies Ever See the Light? “ One paragraph read -
The P.I.E.U.A. State secretary (Mr. Bennett) said to-day . . . “ I believe he is still in the dark. Unless the whole of the charges are reviewed many publications must go out of business with subsequent unemployment in the industry.”
The “ Blue Mountains Courier “ has asked me to say something about this. In a letter dated 20th August last it wrote -
The Country Press Association of which the Courier is a member, is making a protest to the Postmaster-General and we, personally would like you to give them support.
I am delighted to support the country press. The letter goes on -
So heavy are the proposed charges that we will have to make a staff re-organization, involving at least one dismissal or, at the best, part-time working.
The Bathurst “ Western Times “ has sent me a telegram asking me to voice a strong protest against the proposed new postal charges. A similar message has come from the National Roads and Motorists Association and also from Cumberland Newspapers Limited. The secretary of this firm, Mr. E. S. White, has asked me to support the protest of the honorable member for Batman. I do so whole-heartedly. The honorable member made a very reasoned speech this afternoon. The religious press of Australia which represents publications such as “ Presbyterian Life “, “ Messenger of the Sacred Heart “ and “ Joint Board of Graded Lessons “ is asking that something be done to relieve the heavy burden which the increased postal charges will impose upon them. The papers are asking members of Parliament to support them in their protest and I am very pleased to do so.
The Country Party’s own paper in Queensland, “ Queensland Country Life “ has written asking me to voice a protest against this measure. What a bitter pill it must be to the Country Party to know that “Queensland Country Life” has sought the support of honorable members on this side of the House in its plea for justice from those who were sent here to represent country interests!
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
.- Mr. Speaker, the Budget road was paved with very good intentions but it has led to a heck of a lot of controversy. The cause of the controversy in relation to the proposed increased postal charges lies in the fact that the Treasury told the Post Office that it must raise an additional £17,000,000. The Post Office considered how that amount could be raised and, as a result, the proposals that have caused so much controversy were included in the Budget in its original form.
– Does the honorable member have inside information?
– One does not need a crystal ball to see how it is done. Any one who has been a member of a cabinet would know how it is done. I should like to make it quite clear at the outset that 1 shall not vote against this Budget measure that is now before us, as much as I dislike a number of its provisions. The Treasury also said to the Government that if it wished to reduce direct taxes it must increase indirect taxes. As all honorable members know, indirect taxes lead to increased costs. In this instance the new postal rates will lead to unemployment in the printing and publishing business - I think all honorable members know that I am directly concerned with a family business, not so much as a publisher but as a general printer - and a considerable addition to the burdens already imposed upon the States both by increasing their postage costs and decreasing their revenue from the railways by giving business to the airways. They will also cause the prices of shares in broadcasting and television organizations that are already phenomenally high to go even higher because even more advertising will go to them now - advertising that would normally have gone to periodicals, mail order business and country newspapers - and finally, the new rates will more seriously affect country dwellers than those of us who live in the cities. Those are the objectionable features of the proposals, as I see them. However, there may be very good reasons why there should be some increase in postal charges. What that increase should be and upon whom it should fall are very debatable points.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), who has had to bear most of the brunt of the criticism that has been directed towards this measure. I have very much sympathy with the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), who had to attend a Commonwealth finance conference overseas while the Budget was being debated. I have sympathy also with the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who returned from overseas to find that he and his colleagues were, as he said, “a little in the dark “. The Prime Minister’s statement to that effect was a classic British understatement. I think there was a complete blackout about these charges. I have considerable sympathy with myself and other honorable members on this side of the House because we find ourselves debating this very difficult, intricate and complicated matter without being in possession of any up-to-date financial statements and reports on the working of the Post Office for the last financial year. Finally, I have a great deal of sympathy with the Opposition. When the Budget was first introduced honorable members opposite thought that they would have a field day but, with one or two notable exceptions, nearly all of their criticism has been directed towards the original proposals and not against the first, or even the second, revised versions that have been submitted.
The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) read some letters that he had received prior to the alteration in the proposal to charge 2d. per article and to reduce the bulk rates on various categories of second-class and third-class mail matter. T sympathize with the Opposition which has had the prize taken from its grasp, so to sneak, while it has been chasing shadows and missing the substance.
Without being in possession of the financial accounts of the Post Office we are all debating this legislation in the dark. It is rather like carols by candle-light without a printed script being provided so that we may know the words of the various items on the programme. Because we are all labouring under considerable difficulty, I do not propose to deal at length with the details of the proposals, but I should like to discuss some of the principles involved. I feel that if not now, certainly in the notfardistant future, there will have to be a revision of some of the items that have been placed before us.
I should like to congratulate the Government, and the Postmaster-General in particular, on the courage that they have displayed in adopting a most unusual course in making not one, but two alterations to the Budget after it had been introduced. This happened as a result of deputations from people possessing technical experience and knowledge of how the proposed increases would affect not only printers, but also book publishers and newspaper organizations. Having been acquainted with the possible results of pursuing the original proposals, the Government had the courage to make, in the first place, a radical alteration, and then a second and important alteration in the original proposals. By so doing, the Government has rectified many of the errors that it had made in the first instance.
I should like to discuss, first, the question as to whether the Post Office is a business enterprise or a public service. I do not think that any distinct line of demarcation can be drawn between the two descriptions of the undertaking. Undoubtedly the Post Office is a business enterprise, at least as regards the telephone and telegraph sections, and it is also a public service. The Treasury, however, took the view that it is almost entirely a business enterprise and directed it to raise an additional £17,000,000.
T agree with the view expressed by several honorable members that if capital costs are to be met out of revenue - in other words, by direct taxes by asking the taxpayer to meet the costs - there seems to be no rhyme or reason why the taxpayer should be asked to meet interest and sinking fund payments by indirect taxes. That argument is very cogent and easily understood. Let us take, for example, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority or any other enterprise that enters into competition in the production of electricity. A true basis of its costs cannot be obtained in making a comparison with, say, the State Electricity Commission of Victoria or some other organization engaged in the production of electricity, unless the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority also is required to meet interest and sinking fund charges. But the Post Office is a monopoly. It is not in competition with any organization. No person could set up a distributing business in competition with the Post Office; he would be precluded from doing so by law. To a certain extent, the Post Office has always been regarded as a public service. I think that the latest view of the Treasury on this matter is that it is not fair to provide the full amount of about £39,000,000- the estimated cost of capital expansion in the Post Office for next year - from direct taxation. Instead £17.000.000 is to be raised by increased Post Office charges, leaving £22,000,000 to be provided out of taxation. Of course, £17,000.000 will only be raised in a full year. This year the amount that will be raised from these increased charges is £11,000,000, so that £28.000,000 will have to come from revenue. I suppose that is one way of looking at the matter, but on the other hand when we delve into these proposed increased charges we find many debatable points.
Before proceeding any further I want to say that I agree with the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) on one matter. If we are to treat the Post Office as a business enterprise and insist that it shall meet interest and sinking fund payments and adjust its charges accordingly, why are the Commonwealth railways not put on the same basis? Why are the railway authorities not told that they should increase their freight charges and fares so that interest and sinking fund charges can be paid on the whole of the money that is spent on capital works? I suppose one reason is that the Commonwealth railways are in competition with the airways and if rail freight charges and fares were increased the railways would be less able to compete with the airways. We are all aware that the airways are subsidized to the extent of more than £3 for every passenger who steps aboard an aeroplane. In other words, we are getting something like the situation that existed in Tasmania, where the airways were subsidized to such an extent that shipping did not pay, and then shipping had to be subsidized as well.
There are other Government undertakings that are in a similar position to the Post Office. Take the Government Printing Office, which we were discussing this afternoon, lt is in competition with the rest of the printing industry in Australia. The Government intends to spend £3,000,000 on a new building alone, without taking into account the cost of plant. I do not know what the Government Printing Office will charge the various Government departments for its work if it is to be treated as a business enterprise, but I suggest that if the building is to cost £3,000,000, the payment that the Government Printer will be forced to seek will greatly increase expenditure by these departments.
The Government has said that it wants to raise the additional revenue so that it can be used for public works because the money cannot be obtained from loan money. How long are we as a Parliament going to allow 78 per cent. - I think that is the figure - of new capital subscribed to various companies in this country to be raised by unsecured notes and debentures, interest on which is not taxable in the way dividends are? Naturally when a return of 8 per cent, or 10 per cent, can be obtained on notes of that nature, this tends to raise interest rates. This in turn means that Commonwealth loans are not as attractive to most investors as unsecured notes. Indirectly that in itself is responsible for the Commonwealth having to pay for its capital works out of revenue and in this case for increasing postal charges in order to obtain money for capital works out of indirect taxation. In my view unsecured notes, the interest on which is allowed to be treated as a part of working expenses, are a source of revenue which should not remain untapped indefinitely. 1 should like to say one thing with regard to the Post Office as a service. It has been pointed out by honorable members that the Post Office receives less than one-half of 1 per cent, of the value of transactions that it conducts for other departments. I do not know whether the postal section of the Post Office makes a charge against the telephone branch for distributing telephone books. If the telephone branch is to be treated as a separate section, then the postal section should be paid out of telephone revenue for the distribution of telephone books. All those matters make it difficult to discuss the fairness or otherwise of the charges concerned.
I wish to direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to the proposal that all first-class mail will in future go by air. In his second-reading speech the honorable gentleman said that at present only 7 per cent, of internal letters go by air. He said that 75 per cent, of overseas letters go by air. If at the present time, with the not unreasonable surcharge of 3d., only 7 per cent, of internal letters go by air, is there any real demand that all letter mail should be sent by air? The private individual only uses air mail when he wishes to send something that is very urgent. In the case of a business, most of its interstate mail is, &i far as I know, posted on a Friday night. lt is sent by ordinary mail because it ls delivered on the following Monday morning in any event. Therefore I cannot see why we have suddenly come to a decision that all first-class mail should go by air.
As I said before, this proposal will tak-j revenue away from the railways. It will give extra revenue to the airways, and t will increase the ordinary letter rate from 4d. to 5d. I cannot see any necessity for it. The Postmaster-General said that the loss on this item alone will be £1,450,000. Why should we legislate for an extra loss of almost £1,500,000 for something for which I cannot see any specific purpose, and for which I do not think any one in this House can see a specific purpose? It seems unnecessary to add to the losses of the. postal section by almost £1,500,000 for something that is not really necessary. The loss on the postal work of the department, as distinct from the telegraph and telephone work, was approximately £2,000,000 in 1957-58. The loss will probably be considerably less this year, as the PostmasterGeneral pointed out, and we do not know the figure for 1959-60. The estimate, ‘f no alteration is made, is £2,500,000, to which has been added the sum of almost £1,500,000 because of the decision to send all first-class mail in Australia by air. This will make the total estimated loss about £4,000,000. Nobody wants to see a loss of £4,000,000. That is too large on the postal side, but £1,500,000 of that has been brought about by this unnecessary alteration which, as faT as I can see, was not sought by any section of the community.
There has been a good deal of discussion and argument concerning the proposed increases for newspapers, books and printed matter posted in bulk. The PostmasterGeneral told us what has happened in other countries, lt would seem that somehow the printing and publishing industry ha? given offence to somebody. I do not know how that could have happened, but through out the document entitled “ Revision of Postal Rates 1959 “ a strong argument seems to prevail that the printing and publishing industry should not be subsidized. Insofar as a printing enterprise owns i newspaper, to some extent it is subsidized, but. as has already been pointed out by several honorable members, country newspapers are a very important part of life in the country. They are at a grave disadvantage compared with city newspapers and 1 am sorry to see that they will be placed in further difficulties as a result of these increased postal charges.
May I point out to the Minister, Mr Speaker, that the printing and publishing industry will not pay these increased charges. The publishers of newspapers and periodicals - and especially the publishers of newspapers - do not carry the postal charges. The subscribers to the newspapers and periodicals pay these charges. If printed matter is distributed by a printer or publisher on behalf of a firm, that firm pays the postal charges. So it is entirely a fallacy to say that the printing and publishing industry will pay these charges.
I suppose that if postal charges are low the industry will be given more work. What I am afraid of is that the incidence of some of these charges will cause a certain amount of unemployment. I do not think that the Government desired this result. For instance, I know of one firm - I emphasize that I am talking about only one firm, although goodness knows how many printers there are throughout Australia - which prints three periodicals, and which has already been informed by the owners of the publications that it is to change from a heavier-weight paper, which is manufactured in Australia by Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Limited, to a lighter- weight paper which is not manufactured in Australia and therefore must be imported. This action has been taken in order to reduce the weight of the periodical or magazine and thereby save on the new postage rates. If this sort of thing happens extensively, the loss of orders for Australian paper mills, which was originally estimated at about 5,000 tons of paper a year, will be very much greater. There is no reason why lighter-weight paper should not be used, because the technical efficiency of manufacturing processes is now such that it does not matter if light-weight paper is printed on both sides, because it is completely opaque. If the trend to paper of lighter weight develops to a considerable degree, the Post Office will not derive increased revenue. Indeed, if some publications cease, as the Minister expects, the effect may even be to decrease postal revenue.
The other outstanding item which I should like to mention is the distribution of greeting cards. The greeting card industry does not concern me personally or the firm with which I am associated. That industry is now worth about £4,000,000 a year to Australia. In the United States of America, the postage rate on greeting cards was raised from three cents to five cents, and after twelve months it was found necessary to reduce it to three cents again, because the increase had had a very serious effect on the industry. This indicates that if postage rates on Christmas cards are increased too much people will severely cut their postings of these cards.
Factors of this kind have not been sufficiently considered. It is obvious that they had not been considered at all in the first place. If they had been, we should not have had two amendments of the Government’s proposals already. However, I congratulate the Minister and the Cabinet on having the courage to make those amendments. I think that the effect of the original proposals would have been disastrous. For that matter, I think that the incidence of some of the proposals at present before us is too great, but I do not think that any of them as they stand is likely to be disastrous.
Overseas mail is another matter that warrants very close investigation. I expect that most members of this House have already received certain Communist pamphlets which are posted in New Zealand and which are distributed here, certainly at rates cheaper than the proposed higher rates, and, I think, cheaper even than the old rates. I could also quote to the Minister instances which I think have already been cited concerning people who are having printing done in Holland and other countries where production costs are low. Even after paying duty at present rates on printed matter, these people can have material printed, posted and distributed to Australian addresses at rates cheaper than the old rates and much cheaper than the increased rates proposed. This is another feature which I should like the Minister to take note of. It is not just a case of a shot in the dark. This is something of considerable substance which will need to be watched very closely.
In respect of these proposals generally, I think that, all in all, as has already been pointed out, it is much fairer to compare conditions in Australia with those in Canada and the United States of America than with conditions in Britain. A comparison between conditions here and in Canada is particularly suitable, because Canada is a very similar country, although it is at a slightly more advanced stage of development than is Australia. I hope that the matter will be looked at in that light. We should not make comparisons with conditions in Britain which is a heavily populated country and in which conditions are not similar in any respect.
The final matter I should like to mention, Mr. Speaker, relates to bulk postage. I suppose we could say that the first bulk postage proposals were the revised version and that the second set of proposals represented the authorized version. At any rate, according to the figures that I have worked out, under the altered rates now proposed, bulk postage will in some instances be cheaper than it was before. I do not know how this result has occurred, because I thought that the main loss was on bulk postage and that the general idea was to reduce the overall loss on bulk postage. I think that if the Minister looks at the new rates for commercial papers, patterns, samples, merchandise and the like, he will find that, in certain categories, particularly in the heavier weights, bulk postage will be cheaper than it was before. However, a table which was prepared, and which I now have before me, is rather complicated, and 1 would rather discuss the matter with the Minister at some other time than suggest that this table and all these figures be incorporated in “ Hansard “.
I do not think it was intended that bulk postage should be cheaper, but it seems to me that the ultimate result of the second proposal will be to make it cheaper in certain instances. Bulk postage on periodicals and newspapers, I think, will be very heavy under the proposals now before us, but nothing like so heavy as had been intended before the original proposals were altered. I understand that the increased postage on books will remain unchanged, and I should like the Minister to inform me whether that is so.
– There will be no change in respect of books printed in Australia, but the rates for imported books will be varied.
Finally, I suggest to the Minister that he was not right when he said that the Post Office is no longer as important a means of disseminating technical literature, books and other educational matter as it was before. We are not an illiterate nation. In spite of television and radio broadcasting, the demand for all forms of printed matter continues to increase. A farmer who hears a talk on the daily radio session for farmers cannot take in the whole of the talk; nor can he put it down on paper. He must continue to rely very largely on technical magazines and journals. I shall not name any of these in case it may be thought that I am advertising them. Such publications are still the main source from which farmers obtain their knowledge of modern techniques. I know that very clearly from personal experiences in my own family. For this reason, I am sorry that we have not been able to make any distinction between those journals which are of great value to the man on the land and other technical journals and publications which make up the vast amount of waste paper that comes to my office by mail and goes straight into the waste-paper basket.
– It has been rather interesting to hear the various views expressed in this debate. Apart from the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) who, I think, made a wonderful speech, other honorable members have taken up a lot of time on the question of bulk postage of newspapers. That seems to have become the hobby-horse of many honorable members in relation to this bill. I can quite understand why that is so, because it looks to me as if the question of bulk postage of newspapers has become involved in what we know as “pressure politics “.
Every honorable member, 1 suppose, would be able to count by the dozen the letters he has received from people interested in the proposed increase of bulk postage rates for newspapers. For some years I have not been happy about bulk postage rates. In fact, some four or five years ago, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee - the honorable member for Melbourne Ports was also a member of it at that time - in company with my fellow members I went fully into the operations of the Post Office. Yesterday evening the honorable member for Melbourne Ports quoted quite fully from the report that the committee presented to the Parliament as a result of its inquiries on that occasion. I do not desire to go over that ground, but I wish to say that I remember that when we were going into the question of the costs and the revenue of the Post Office in general the thing that stood out in my mind was the tremendous loss sustained by the Post Office on the carriage of newspapers in bulk. I can appreciate the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) asking whether the Government should tell the person who posts a letter now and again that the charge for delivery of these letters will be raised from 4d. to 5d-, although the department is already making a profit on the service, in order to make up the losses sustained on other types of postal business, the greatest of which is the carriage of newspapers in bulk. Admittedly the ordinary person in the community will not have to pay out such a great deal in increased rates in order to support the department’s activities in delivering newspapers in bulk. As has been pointed out, the increase will be borne to a great extent by the publishers.
The proposed increases of postage on books and periodicals raises the question of the effect the increases will have on the sale of books and periodicals. 1 am not going to labour the question of what is contained in the amended proposal which has replaced the original proposal, but I should like to point out that the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) said that a great deal of the opposition in regard to these increases was in respect of the original proposal and not directed to the amended proposal, under which parcels of bulk newspapers may be split up and delivered individually without each paper being subject to the initial charge of 2d. I do not think that the charge of 5d. for 12 oz. for newspapers posted in bulk will bear heavily on the delivery costs of each individual newspaper, particularly when each copy may have a weight of only 1 oz. or less. However, although the burden on each person involved in the purchase of a newspaper sent through the post may not be great, when you get into the realm of hundreds of thousands of pounds - in fact, millions of pounds in many cases - are we justified in saying that that class of service should continue to be given by the Postal Department at a loss to the community in general?
In order to justify such an attitude we would have to be able to show that the concession in relation to the carriage of newspapers in bulk is worth while to the community. I think that there are many publications in regard to which the concession is worth while, but I agree with the honorable member for Chisholm that a tremendous number of newspapers and periodicals are sent out in bulk the wrappers of which are never removed by the recipients. They are thrown, unopened, into the waste paper basket. So I do not see that too many people will suffer as a result of the proposal in regard to bulk postage of newspapers.
My experience as a member of Parliament sometimes makes me wonder why so many people spend so much money on the postage of periodicals and other papers that are sent willy-nilly to people whether or not those people want them. The waste involved is tremendous. Any honorable member has only to look in his own party room to see the quantity of printed matter that comes to honorable members. It is not possible for members to read all of it, because they have hot the time to do so. Some people think that a member of Parliament has nothing much to do. If those people had my experience they would know that a member of Parliament does not have much spare time to read a lot of the stuff that comes to him through the mail. At the same time, I have a great deal of sympathy for the country people who rely for their news, to a great degree, on the local newspaper delivered by mail. The postal services are much more important to country newspapers than they are to big metropolitan newspapers. Of course, country newspapers are not anything like the size of, for instance, the Saturday issue of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “. I do not know what the postage would be on a Saturday issue of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “, but I do not think many copies of that journal are sent by post. The majority of newspapers sent through the post are country newspapers, because the people who take a country newspaper may be scattered over many square miles of country, and personal delivery of newspapers to them would be impossible.
So in my attitude to the question of charges for bulk postage of newspapers 1 find myself having to consider two factors. One is whether the general taxpayer should subsidize the cheap delivery of newspapers; the other is whether people living in isolated places are entitled to have some subsidy in the way of cheap delivery of newspapers, as an offset to their isolation. I do not know how the balance would fall as between those two.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports, in opening the debate for the Opposition, indicated that the Labour Party is opposed to this bill. We are opposed to these increases of rates because we look upon them as an attempt by the Government to make the ordinary individual, who uses mail services for the delivery of letters, and not for parcels or goods in bulk, bear a charge which we think should be borne from general revenue. We have the alternatives stated by the honorable member for Chisholm - whether the Post Office should be run as an essential public service, or run on a commercial basis like any other commercial concern. We have considered these alternatives from time to time in other spheres, and on the floor of the House. The point arises: What should we do about our postal system? Is it an institution that should be conducted for the benefit of the people, or is it to be just a commercial concern whose services the people can use or not as they desire? We say, Sir, that the Post Office is an essential facility for the people to be able to use. We do not think that the people should have to pay excessively increased rates - as we regard the proposed rates - in order to enjoy that facility.
The Postmaster-General said that the ordinary person might send only three or four letters a week, and an increase of Id. in the letter postage rate would therefore mean to him only an additional 3d. or 4d. a week. But that is not the whole story. A municipal council, for instance, sends out many thousands of rate notices and other communications. If the postage rate for each of these were increased by 25 per cent. - from 4d. to 5d. - a council’s postage bill might rise from £2,000 a year to £2,500 a year. What is the council to do in such circumstances? It must increase the rates, by perhaps id., and the people will have to pay for that increased postage. Yet the Government says that it will be business people who will have to carry the expense of the increased rates, and not the ordinary run of person who posts letters. At present, business people put a 3d. stamp on the envelope when they send out a bill. When the Government’s proposal comes into operation, it will cost 5d., the same amount as a letter. These business houses do not send out 20 or 30 or 50 letters; they send out thousands of letters. When the overhead on the goods sold by that business is being calculated, an extra amount will be added to cover the increased cost of posting all these letters. That is the ordinary way of doing business, and nobody can argue against it. Who then will pay these extra charges? The persons who buy the goods! They will find that their purchases are a trifle dearer because of the extra postal charges that are paid by the firms. The Postmaster-General said that these extra charges would cost the ordinary person only 3d. or 4d. a week, but that estimate doss not take account of the extra amount that will be added to the cost of goods.
In the past the capital expenditure of the Postal Department, with the exception of a very small amount from loan funds, has come from general revenue. What is general revenue? General revenue is money paid by the people into the Treasury. Therefore, when the Government says that the millions of pounds spent by the Postal Department on capital equipment will be put on a commercial basis and interest will be charged on it, it is merely charging the people interest on the money they have already contributed. The money used in this way was not borrowed money but money that the people paid into general revenue. In referring to these proposals, the Postmaster-General in his second reading speech said -
As a result of the proposed adjustments, the Post Office is likely to return revenue of £119,700,000 in 1959-60.
That is what it will collect from the people with whom it does business, whether it be by telephone, postage stamps, postal notes, parcels or anything else. In the current year, revenue will be £119,700,000 compared with the estimated ordinary services expenditure of £109,000,000. This leaves a surplus of £10,700,000, even allowing for the great loss on bulk postage and other matters. The Postmaster-General said that that surplus will be paid into Consolidated Revenue. He added, however, that this year £39,400,000 will be spent on the extension of services. I quite agree that that money will be spent, but the Government should not try to recoup it in one year. A person who builds a house at a cost of £10,000 does not try to pay for it in one year; he borrows the money and undertakes to repay it, with’ interest, over ‘i stipulated number of years.
The Postmaster-General and honorable members opposite may say that we are wrong, but we contend that the aim of this measure is to raise extra money to be paid into Consolidated Revenue so that it will be available for other purposes. The honorable member for Chisholm referred to these increases as a form of indirect taxation. I agree that it is indirect taxation when a greater charge than is necessary is imposed. If interest at the rate of 5 per cent, were charged on the £39,000,000 that is proposed to be spent on capital works in this year, roughly £2,000,000 would be required to pay interest for this year. But the Government will take £10,700,000 as interest and dump it into Consolidated Revenue. We are told that, if this is not done, the Government will not have enough money left to provide loan funds for the States. This Government’s attitude towards the States is rather remarkable. Much of the money that it has lent to the States in the last few years has been raised by taxation. It is money that has been raised from the people who live in the States, but the States must pay interest at 3 per cent., 4 per cent., 5 per cent, or whatever rate was charged at the time the money was lent. The people are paying interest on their own money. This is merely an example of the difference between a Labour government and a Conservative or anti-Labour government. The difference is this: An anti-Labour government wants to put these matters on the basis of pounds, shillings and pence - it adopts a commercial outlook - but a Labour government adopts a national outlook.
I am very sorry that these increases are to be charged. We are told of the wonderful prosperity of the country. We are told that the basic wage has been increased by 15s. a week and that this will result in extra costs for services. But the Government does not tell us how much extra income tax it will collect as a result of the increase of 15s. I suppose, taken over the whole spread of wages and salaries from the lower to the upper rates, that a quarter of the increase of 15s. will come back to the Government in income tax collections during the coming year. But no consideration is given to that factor. Instead, the Government adopts the attitude that it must impose another slug on the people and increase charges.
I shall deal now with telephones. The people who have telephones do not worry so much about the 3d. for a call; the big bugbear with them is the amount of the rental. That is what tells. I know in r~ case that the rental exceeds the amount charged for the calls I make. I admit that others may have more calls, but the greatest benefit of the telephone to me is that it makes me available to people who want to ring me. The Government collects a tremendous number of threepences from people who ring me. However, the bugbear for the person with a telephone is the rental charge. People who ask to use the telephone offer 3d. for the call; they do not realize that when the rental is added the cost of a call is much more than 3d. We find here that another slug will be imposed on the people and the rental of a telephone will be increased. No one can tell me thai, after a telephone has been installed and has been in use for some time, the upkeep will jump by £1 16s. a year or 15 per cent. Of course, it will not jump by that much! Yet we are told that this increase is necessary.
The Postmaster-General said that £93,000,000 will be paid this year for capital works, which would include new telephone services. I realize that new installations are costly. The mere sight of the big reels of H-in. telephone cable, or cable of even larger diameter, which is laid underground, is enough to make one realize the great expense involved in providing these facilities. We understand that. But, at the same time, if you did not have these telephones how would your businesses get along?
I put a question to the Minister recently regarding an area in my own district, where the Port Adelaide business and industrial area is being extended into what had been samphire country. Timber mills are being erected out there, machinery places and various stores, where years ago nobody thought there would be any development at all. When a person establishes a business out there it is necessary, of course, for him to have a telephone. I am not putting the blame on the department for the fact that there are no telephones available there. I quite appreciate the difficulties connected with their provision, and I know the cost that will have to be met in order to provide these telephones. But you cannot have prosperity without providing these facilities. If you want national prosperity you must be prepared to undertake national expenditure. You should not just say to the person who wants a telephone, “We are going to slug you for a substantial amount, so that we can recoup our outlay in one year”. That seems to me what the Government is doing.
I mentioned earlier the difference in our outlook on these matters and that of the Government. One honorable member on the opposite side said that if the Labour Party had been in office at present it would have had to do what the Government is doing now, that it would have had to impose these increases. I quite realize that if we were in office we would have to make some adjustment, but we contend that the adjustment the Government is making is not the kind that we would make. We believe that the Government is putting the boots in, as it were, in imposing these extra postal and telephone charges on the community.
We are told also, Mr. Speaker, that there is another wonderful benefit to be derived from this legislation. It has been put to us that this will be a great help to the people. It has been said, “ You are going to be able to have your airmail letters sent for 5d. instead of 7d. as at present”. But how many people will get this benefit? Consider the 2,500,000 people, approximately, in Sydney. How many of those would want their ordinary, everyday correspondence to go by airmail? If a person in Sydney pays an account from Anthony Hordern’s, or if he sends an order to one of the firms in Sydney, he does not want to use airmail. That sort of correspondence would have to go by surface mail in any case, because you do not use airmail over distances of 5, 10 or 20 miles.
I think the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) said that 7 per cent, of letters go by airmail - I am speaking now from memory. If that is so, 93 per cent, of letters, which now cost 4d. to send, will in future cost 5d., while 7 per cent, of our letters will be reduced in price from 7d. to 5d. When the Government makes the claim that it is giving the people some great benefit in this way, it seems to me that its claim is without foundation.
Another point made by the Minister was that airmail will now be used wherever possible. At present a good deal of mail is sent by train, and it has not been the practice to weigh every letter. The practice has been to take an average weight of a mail bag now and again, and to base the charge on that average weight. The railways would charge, say, for ten bags of mail at 5s. a bag, or more according to the distance it had to travel. Now the Government proposes to drive another nail into the coffin of the railways, and who will jet the benefit from the extra quantities of mail carried by air? It was this very Government that said to the Post Office some years ago, “You must give a fair share, or an equal share, of the air mail to Australian National Airways Limited “. The Department now is obliged to give that share to the new company, Ansett-A.N.A. The Government has told the department, “ The air mail that used to go by TransAustralia Airlines must be split up, and you have to give a fair whack of it to AnsettA.N.A.”. As the honorable member for Kingsford Smith (Mr. Curtin) quietly said to me when the honorable member for Chisholm was speaking, “ This will mean more money for Ansett “. Quite true! It will mean more money for Ansett, and who will lose it? Why, the States that have lost on their railway services; they are the ones who will pay.
I say again to the Minister that when he talks about these extra charges and estimates what he is going to get in additional revenue from them, he should take notice of what has happened in the various cities with regard to transport services, tram and bus services. I know that in my own State whenever the fares go up by Id., the revenue falls off. The prices have continued to increase until the people to-day are not using the services to the extent that they once did. A gentleman was speaking to me recently in connexion with the increased postal charges. He said, “ I have a pretty big Christmas list, and I have been wondering whether I will be able to cope with it now that the postal charges are to be increased from 3id. to 5d.”.
– From 4d.
– No, it is 3id. for a Christmas card at the present time. This gentleman said, “ If tha charge goes up from 3 id. to 5d. I will have to cut down a bit. In fact, I think I will have to halve the list, send half this year and half next year.” If the Minister thinks he is going to get a lot of extra revenue because the same number of articles will be sent at 5d. as were sent at 3id., then I believe he is on a loser.
The same sort of thing happened in the case of telegrams. The charge for telegrams was increased a few years ago. Prior to that many people were pretty free with telegrams, but I know any amount of people who have said to me, “I went to send a telegram and it cost me 4s. 6d. / will not be sending another one for a long time.” I believe that when you increase charges in this way you merely cut down your total revenue. I know that we must make reasonable adjustments to meet costs, but if you make adjustments that will impose too heavy burdens on the people it will react upon you and you will not get as much revenue.
I can see that my time has nearly expired. There are many aspects of this legislation that one could talk about, but, in general, we feel that this bill is not a bill that should be accepted by this Parliament. We have heard many speakers on the Government side condemning the bill, condemning what the Government has done and the statements that it has made. It is up to them now to decide how they will vote. I know that if we were on the Government side and if any of our members did not vote for what we had decided we would want to know why. I think a lot of honorable members opposite will be in the same position. Despite all that they have had to say, when we call for a division they will have to grin and bear it, much as they dislike it, and they will vote for it. The honorable member for Chisholm spoke in very condemnatory terms of the bill and its provisions. He was disappointed with the increased charges that are proposed. But I do not think he will vote against the legislation when the time comes.
– What are you going to advise the Country Party to do?
– I do not advise the members of the Country Party, because they constitute a party on their own, and they have their own advisers. But I say this to them, instead cf advising them: If they would follow the lead of our party and do what we are doing, then they would be doing something very much in the interests of the country and the community generally. But I do not expect them to do this, because the Country Party is a sectional party, as its very name indicates. It represents a small section of the community.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I should like to start on the note on which the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) finished. I agree with most of what he said, but I am afraid that I cannot agree with the last part of his speech. He mentioned following the lead of the Labour Party, but my memory takes me back to the last government by Labour and for that reason alone, I am supporting this bill. As a new member, 1 find many things that are very difficult to understand. As the representative of a rural electorate, 1 believe that country people are going to suffer more from this bill than any other section of the community.
– You will still support it.
– That is because of the dreadful prospect of a Labour administration. I fought the last general election as a member of the Australian Country Party and therefore I will support that party. 1 also support the Government which has provided the greatest expansion and prosperity that this country has ever known.
An unfortunate aspect of this bill is the burden that it will put on a lot of rural people. At the moment, I am particularly concerned about the small country storekeeper. Every month, he sends his accounts out and, in future, he will be putting a fivepenny stamp on those envelopes. He has been putting 3id. on them in the past and the increase will be a tremendous burden in view of the strong competition that he has to meet from the chain stores which have come into some of our provincial cities. I feel that this Government must take that into consideration in future. It is a very serious burden for these people.
We have been told that there will be a great advantage in that all letters bearing the ordinary postage stamp will be carried by air mail. But that will benefit the capital city dwellers more than any other section of the community. It will not benefit country people to any great extent.
– I thought you were supporting this bill?
– I made my position clear earlier. The unfortunate fact is that these extra charges are unnecessary. Had income tax rates been left as they were, the Treasury would be better off to the extent of £20,000,000. We understand that the new postal charges will bring £17,000,000 a year to Consolidated Revenue. I believe that it would have been far better to leave the postal charges as they were, because the people least able to afford the higher imposts will be those who will suffer. The big businessman will be able to claim most of these charges as deductions for income tax. The small man, particularly the wage-earner, is not able to claim such deductions. Two-thirds of the people who pay income tax have taxable incomes of less than £1,000. The person with a taxable income of £1,000 pays £87 in income tax. As a result of the 5 per cent, concession, he will pay £4 7s. less in tax, but there will be very little left of that concession after he pays the extra postal charges.
I am a new member in this Parliament and I find the whole thing very bewildering. This Parliament has a great record, but in my concern and bewilderment I recollect the old saying, “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad “.
.- The conclusion of the speech of the honorable member for Mcpherson (Mr. Barnes) was rather astonishing. After examining this bill for just over six minutes he found evidence of insanity on the part of the Government that introduced it. He predicted that this would lead to the Government’s destruction. One can understand the position taken by the honorable member. He said that although this bill is lunacy on the part of the Government he supports it because he believes that the Government has contributed so much to the development of Australia. I advise the honorable member that if he looks at that latter question as critically as he has looked at this measure, he will find that there is no evidence to support that point of view. I think that he will be left with one reason only for supporting this Government - that if he does not do so he may lose his seat.
This bill, the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, has been introduced in order to increase the imposts on the Australian community by almost £17,000,000 a year. As the honorable member for McPherson has. pointed out, this will impose a very serious burden. The question that is involved here is, “ Is there any other way of obtaining this revenue? “ Of course, that question has been answered already by the honorable member himself. He said that the Government would have been better advised if, instead of proposing this act of lunacy, it had retained in the Treasury the £20,000,000 that it is giving back to the taxpayers in the form of a tax concession which is iniquitous, unfair, unnecessary, unasked for, and unappreciated. The decision to give that £20,000,000 back to people has led this Government to introduce a bill of this sort. It has led it to an act of insanity, in the words of the honorable member for McPherson.
Let us look, first of all, at the reasons for this measure. Presumably, the PostmasterGeneral, in introducing the bill, set out to give the House the impression that it is necessary because of increased costs. At page 759 of “ Hansard “ he is reported as having said -
The 19S6 tariff adjustments were designed to bring in an additional £7,250,000 yearly whilst the 1955 increase in the public telephone fee gave an additional annual return of £475,000. No other adjustments have been made to offset the inescapable extra yearly costs, which, as I have stated, are currently £30,000,000.
The implication is that something has been happening to increase the costs of the Postal Department and that this kind of legislation is necessary to meet that situation. At page 763 of “ Hansard “ he is reported as follows: -
Summarizing the position, Mr. Speaker, since 1949 postal trading losses have totalled £17,000,000.
Presumably, we are being asked to accept this legislation because of something that has happened to costs. Let me point out that the Minister has been very vague upon this question. He has been specific in relation to £17,000,000 of trading losses which have occurred since 1949, but he does not indicate what the spread of those losses has been over the years. We know that in recent years there have been no losses at all; in the last couple of years, substantial profits. We know, further, that this year there would be a substantial profit again, if it were not for the fact that there is an extra pay day in this year. The evidence, or the vague, indefinite implications in the Minister’s speech seem to me to be very unconvincing. In his “ Progress - Policy - Plans “ statement the Postmaster-General, on page 12, said -
Steadily increasing productivity and efficiency through improvements such as these mentioned have enabled the Post Office to absorb much of the increased costs for labour and materials which have characterized the post-war period.
Apparently increased efficiency has enabled the Post Office to absorb increased costs. The proposition. of increased costs being a justification for this bill seems to me to be of extremely doubtful validity and would probably fall to the ground on close examination. One thing which supports that suggestion is that although these proposed charges will bring in about £17,000,000 in this financial year nearly £11,000,000 of that sum will be transferred back to Consolidated Revenue. In other words, £11,000,000 of it is certainly not needed for anything that is happening in the Post Office. Therefore, it seems to me that the argument or the implication that this measure is necessary for reasons of cost, has nothing in it.
Members on this side of the House have alleged that this bill and the proposals in it are unnecessary, and we emphasize that point once more. In regard to the question of interest to which I have just referred, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) showed quite clearly last night that there was apparently a new development in relation to this. Within the last few weeks or months the Government has decided to charge into the cost structure of the Post Office an amount for interest on capital which has been invested in the Post Office. The position here is still very vague.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports pointed out last night that some considerable time ago the Public Accounts Committee looked into this matter. He quoted one of its conclusions, to the effect that not only will it be necessary to determine the capital of the department, but it will be necessary to determine also whether interest should be charged on funds invested from revenue as well as those from loans, and if this is decided, what rate of interest should be charged. From what the Minister has said, we do not know whether any matters of that sort have been determined. According to the last balance-sheet of the
Post Office, the consolidated profit and loss statement for 1957-58 shows the total interest charged as £878,366. That was a sum of interest charges made in the preceding year. What will be the interest charged as a result of these proposals? According to the financial and statistical bulletin of the Post Office the book value of its assets in 1957-58 stood at £448,889,949. What amount of interest will be allowed on that? If it is 5 per cent, it will be £22,000,000; if it is 2i per cent, it will be £11,000,000. What amount will be allowed under this new principle which is being introduced?
Further, in regard to this question of interest we know that all the capital structure of the Post Office is not equally distributed among its various divisions or sections. A very large amount of that capital structure is represented in the telephone section. Is the interest cost going to be distributed where the capital is invested or is it going to be charged evenly or averaged in some way throughout the whole department? All these are matters upon which we have been given no information whatsoever and in the absence of that information it is extremely difficult to ask the House to accept the proposal, let alone discuss it.
I wish to turn for a few minutes to the purpose involved in the imposition by the Post Office of these new rates. First of all, rates must be imposed to cover costs of operation. It has been pointed out where legitimate increases have occurred, particularly with regard to wages. Members on this side are all in favour of an increase in rates in order to pay that legitimate cost. We believe that increases in wages and salaries in the Post Office are long overdue. If an improvement in the standards of wages and conditions for Post Office employees is contemplated we would agree that this would amply justify an increase in costs.
A second purpose could be to provide capital funds for the development of the Post Office services. A third would be to provide a return on capital funds which have been used in the Post Office. This would be represented by the interest charged on funds invested. There is no question about the huge volume of funds required to meet operating costs and to provide capital for the development of the Post Office. There is no question that these funds must be obtained, but the important point to be decided is how shall they be obtained?
Before dealing with that question I think it is advisable to consider the third purpose - providing a return on capital. So far, the greater part of the capital fundsinvested in the Post Office have come from revenue. It is now proposed to make a charge upon these invested funds by way of interest.
– Does the Minister say what rate of interest will be charged?
– No, he has given no information about it at all or how it will be distributed throughout the Post Office. We are completely in the dark.
– You always were.
– And we always will be if it is left to the honorable member and the Government he supports to tell us. A good many people outside Parliament are interested in this matter, but obviously not many honorable members opposite want to know the answers. The result of the imposition of this interest charge would be to produce a large sum of money, perhaps £5,000,000, £10,000,000 or £11,000,000. But I wish to point out that that charge will be imposed upon the users of telephone services and Post Office services generally in respect of money which they have already contributed through taxation for investment in the Post Office. Although this procedure has never been accepted as a principle previously, it is to be accepted now. We want to know why it should be accepted now. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports pointed out that it had been accepted, and he quoted a statement of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget speech as follows: -
The earnings of the Post Office should also be increased, not merely to meet the cost of its day-to-day services, but to provide something by way of return on the additional capital.
– Who said that?
– The Treasurer, in his Budget speech. The Government has now accepted the proposition and, for the first time in Australian history an interest charge is to be placed upon some or all of the capital funds invested in the Post Office. That interest charge will appear in the cost structure. It is not a matter of increasing postal rates to cover costs but of partly or substantially increasing rates to cover this artificial or nominal interest charge which is being involved.
I want to stress again the apparent contrast between the prevailing views of the Government and those formerly expressed, particularly by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The honorable member for Melbourne Ports quoted from a speech of the Prime Minister made at the beginning of this year, in which he expressed complete disagreement with this proposition. Honorable members will recall that the Prime Minister said -
Really, the idea of us paying ourselves interest on money we lay out for public works is a bit humorous, is it not?
– Who said that?
– The Prime Minister. Who else would have said it? He went on to say -
Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of book-keeping that does not produce one pennyworth of financial results.
Who would have said that but this ageing and revered statesman? What we want, what we have asked for and what we have never received is an explanation of this great divergence of the views expressed by the Prime Minister in March of this year and by his Government to-day. As has been the case on so many other occasions, the questions have been completely ignored. This question was asked specifically last night by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), but it has been completely ignored by every speaker on the Government side. I predict that it will remain completely ignored until the end of this debate. We have been so often told by the newspapers, which are not exactly our friends, that there is no Opposition in this House. However, we have raised what every one would agree are critical points, but they have been completely ignored by the Government time and time again. The Government has given no answer to our questions.
This is a matter of considerable importance. Until March of this year the Prime Minister, and the Government, believed that no nominal interest charge should be made by the Government upon money spent on its own public works. But in the last few months there has been a complete change of front. Why has there been such a complete change of front? That question has been asked several times, but it remains unanswered. The Opposition demands an answer.
Let us look at the effect of this move. First of all, as the Prime Minister has said, a great public undertaking will be thrown into debt. That is precisely what this complicated piece of book-keeping will do. lt will throw a great public undertaking into debt. Having done this by an artificial manoeuvre, the rates that this public undertaking charges to the public are increased to meet the artificial situation that has been created. Increased charges are placed upon rural electors, supporters of the Country Party, in order to meet this artificial piece of book-keeping manoeuvring in which the Government has indulged. In other words, the rates are increased to eliminate the debt which the Government has itself brought into existence. Therefore, the funds that will be obtained by these increased rates are not needed by the Post Office. That is shown by the fact that £10,700,000 will be handed back to Consolidated Revenue. The money is needed by the Government. The explanation for the Government’s action may be found in the fact that the Government and Consolidated Revenue will be £11,000,000 better off, and that that money may be used by the Government for any purpose. It may be used to allow tax remissions, as has already been done to the extent that I have mentioned.
Secondly, the effect of this move will be to reduce the cost of the Post Office to the Budget. This transfer of the cost of the Post Office to this extent from the Budget to the users of the organization might be justified if it could be shown that the users of the Post Office were a different group of people from the users of the Budget, but in fact the users of the Budget - those who contribute taxes to the
Budget - are, broadly speaking, the same people as those who use the Post Office. If it were desirable to transfer the cost of the Post Office to a differently situated group of people, perhaps something could be said for this complicated piece of bookkeeping, but obviously no social or public gain will be achieved, because, as I have said, for all practical purposes the people who contribute taxes to the Budget are the people who use the Post Office.
Of course, the two forms of contribution are not the same. This £11,000,000 of revenue which will flow to the Government and which would not have been received in other circumstances, will be raised, in effect, by indirect taxes. A move towards indirect taxes rather than towards any other form of taxes is bad for two reasons; first, because indirect taxation is unfair, and secondly, because it is inflationary. It is unfair because some of it is paid by people who cannot afford to do so and who cannot pass it on. It is unfair because much of it is levied upon those who can afford to pay it but who manage to pass it on. It is time that the significance of indirect taxes and the ability to pass them on became much more clearly understood by every one associated with government in this country.
In his presidential address delivered at the thirty-fourth congress of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Perth on 26th August, 1959, Dr. H. C. Coombs said this -
Take first the pricing policies of industrialists and traders. No doubt some degree of competition prevails over a wide range of industry and commerce but there are degrees of monopoly and tacitly accepted practices which mean that prices are determined by management rather than by the market for a wide range of goods, and that within significant margins producers can decide at what prices their goods shall be sold. In these circumstances the policies of management are important.
Firstly, management appears to assume that increases in costs should and can be passed on - and so far as can be judged from the evidence available it appears to be broadly true that in Australia such increases in manufacturing and distributive industries can, in fact, be passed on.
That is the opinion of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. On that basis, the increases in Post Office costs - these indirect transferable increases in costs - will go into manufacturing and distributive industries, which have the power to pass on a substantial portion, if not all, of the increases. So it goes into prices.
– Read what Dr. Coombs said about labour and wages.
– Labour does not have the power to pass on increases.
– Read what Dr. Coombs said about it.
– I have read the whole of the address and I think it confirms the case that has been put by the Opposition in relation to this and a number of other matters that have been raised during the Budget debate. This is one of the most significant circumstances in Australian economics today. Indirect or transferable taxes or charges, such as the rates proposed in this bill, substantially can be passed on. They go into costs, profit percentages are applied to them and there is a further increase from that source. Apparently the Government holds the view that this kind of practice has permitted a vast improvement in the services provided in the Commonwealth. This was the point on which the honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Barnes) began. The Government says that there has been a great deal of inflation and a lot of unfair and improper practices, but that they have contributed very greatly to the prosperity of this country. For the benefit of the honorable member for Hume, who asked me to do so, I shall now read what Dr. Coombs said about wages -
You may feel sceptical of propositions which appear to suggest that wage-earners have gained little or nothing from increased wage rates over recent decades. But it is not suggesting that wageearners’ standards of living have not improved - indeed the improvement is obvious. But I do suggest that when allowance is made for higher aggregate earnings due to freedom from unemployment, larger family incomes as a result of more overtime, more readily available casual work, higher relative earnings for young people, for the effects of increased social services, and for the benefits of durable consumers’ goods, financed by savings stimulated by hire-purchase facilities, there will be surprisingly little left to be attributed to higher real wage rates.
That is what Dr. Coombs says about charges. He says that if you allow for overtime, for the fact that members of families are working, for larger relative earnings of young people, and for all the other things that I have quoted, very little is left to be attributed to higher real wags rates. One important reason for this is the method of finance that this Government has decided to adopt in relation to the Post Office. The net effect of the decision to charge interest on funds invested in the Post Office is to raise a more substantial amount of money through the use of the Post Office than is necessary for its conduct and operation. These charges are finally paid by people whose incomes are small and whose economic power is small. They are not able to pass on those charges. As well as being unfair in this way, this method is, of course, inflationary. It would not be so important if it were limited to £11,000,000 in a bill of this kind, but an enormous volume of taxes and other charges is similarly imposed by the Government on the people.
A fundamental question is involved in the determination of these rates. Is the Post Office to be a public service or is it to be a commercial or money-making device? In some respects this question is unreal. No doubt the Post Office can be an effective money-raising device. It can raise £11,000,000 apparently easily enough for the Government, but there is one point of warning in relation to this: When you consider yourself to be a monopoly and you increase your charges, you do not always end up with more revenue than when you started. You do not always end up in a better position than when you started. I think that the Post Office has already had some experience of that. In the document dealing with the progress, policy and plans of the Post Office, to which I have referred, we find on page 8 a series of graphs which show that the business of the postal section increased by almost 30 per cent, between 1953 and 1954, which was a time when there were no significant increases in charges. We see on the same page that telephone business increased by more than 30 per cent, in that time. But we see, too. that telegraph business fell by 20 per cent, in that period, and, as the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson), said, there has been a great increase in charges for telegrams and we know thai people who have once sent a telegram wait quite a length of time before they send another one. It seems to me that the assumption involved in this bill that the increased rates will meet some kind of fairly inelastic demand, resulting in the increases in revenue that are expected, is a proposition that is still to be tested. In a year or two we may find that graphs of postal and telephone business have moved in a very different direction - very likely in the direction that telegraph business has moved.
It seems to me that the revenue of the Post Office should be sufficient to cover most of its costs, but not necessarily all of them. There are certain costs which it is not desirable to cover. The Post Office is a development service, as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) pointed out. In certain areas of the country to which the Post Office extends its services it should not be required to cover operating costs. The Post Office provides many services, such as the carriage through the mails of educational material. Such material could quite well be carried for less than cost. Another thing that the Post Office must consider is what proportion of its capital requirements it is going to provide from revenue. My own view is that the Post Office should be used to provide a considerable amount of its new capital requirements. In the past they have been provided substantially from revenue, but the Post Office is now in a position where more of its capital requirements no doubt can be provided from its own revenue. The question of whether the Post Office is to be a profitmaking undertaking is totally irrelevant. That matter does not enter into consideration at all.
One further question I think deserves attention. The estimated revenue to be derived from these increased charges - £17,000,000 in a full year - assumes that these charges will result in higher revenue. As I have said, that it is by no means certain, and I should not be at all surprised if the Government is sadly disappointed in this regard.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, it seems hardly possible to deal in a practical fashion with the new rates proposed under this bill and still be consistent, because it is quite clear that there is more rule of thumb than logic in the construction of the tariff schedule. Of course, the confusion that arises from this source is added to by some of the decisions that are now to be passed into law and on this particular matter I find myself in complete agreement with the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who directed attention quite rightly to the fact that 7 per cent, of our internal mails go by air. It seems to me that if only 7 per cent, of the internal mail is at present required to go by air, it is unfair that everybody should be charged to provide an air mail service for all letters. The proposal to send all letters, as far as possible, by air overlooks the fact* that there is an enormous quantity of short-haul mail, much of which may indeed be delivered within the town of postage and in most of the country districts - I say “ most “ advisedly - there is no air service available and therefore there can be no air mail and practically no advantage, if any, to the people who must now pay an increased surcharge. This savours very much of sugaring the pill and charging the customer for the sugar.
At present the carriage of first-class mail matter is a very profitable part of the business of the Post Office, but that profit is being eaten up on those lines that are being carried unprofitably. Yet, once again we are proposing to increase the rates by 25 per cent, as well as getting rid of lower charges for the open commercial letter, the post card and so on. I think there will be general agreement that if one is going to base charges on the kind of service given, there is no logical reason why an open letter or a post card should qualify for a lower rate than a sealed letter, because in each case it has to be sorted, bagged, transported, re-sorted and delivered. The same service goes into the handling of either piece of mail. The inference from this situation is that the handling of each kind of mail should be paid for by that particular type of mail. It is here where one begins to be inconsistent, because if that view were to be applied to bulk postage, then it would mean a rate considerably greater than that which the Government at first proposed and from which it withdrew with a good deal of alacrity and, I am happy to say, a good deal of good judgment. Arising from all this it seems that the hard fact of the matter and what is causing concern to so many honorable members is that any attempt to move in one stage or even two stages from the very valuable concessions that have been available to the people in this country in the past towards the full price of postal services represented by the postage stamp in the corner, is going to be too much entirely and the burden will fall with most disastrous results upon those firms that have been persuaded by the very availability of concessions to build a good deal of their business undertakings on the availability of the mail.
I was glad to see placed on record, Sir, the passage from the report of the Royal Commission on Postal Services of 1908-10 which was read to the House yesterday by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). The royal commission, referring to the Postmaster-General’s Department, stated -
Since we are not so much further from the frontier days than we were when that royal commission sat, what it had to say in 1908 still has a great deal of validity.
When one looks at the size of the postal undertaking as a whole, it is quite clear that it touches the life of the people of this country most intimately. Therefore, it not sufficient merely to examine the tariff schedule and to talk about proposed changes in that schedule from the standpoint only of its effect upon the revenue. I believe, Sir - and I am sure we all will agree - that the Government should not have placed itself in the position of having to admit, when the proposed new postal charges were foreshadowed as part of the Budget, that it was in the dark. Quite clearly, when one looks at the whole complex of the postal system of this country and its effect on the lives of Australia’s 10,000,000 people, one may well think that the real effect does not show up on the financial side, and that the worst effects will show up in the social and, if I may use the term in its broadest sense, the political field.
The Post Office expected that, without any changes in postal tariffs, it would experience a loss of £4,000,000 in the financial year 1959-60. This raises the problem of whether a potential deficit of £4,000,000 can be dealt with merely by increasing the charges for one, two or three categories of postal services. The adjustment of rates in this way is apt to produce a rather jerrybuilt tariff structure. As I mentioned earlier, some of the things which we are now doing, and which will perhaps make more acceptable what we propose, tend only to make the structure a little more jerry-built. The same sort of situation arises in the taxation field, Sir, where, from time to time, and for reasons which barely touch on the economic, great adjustments are made in tax schedules. Adjustments made in this way from time to time over a long period of years have so distorted the whole tax structure that we are now talking about a royal commission on taxation - and certainly not before time. The tax structure ought to be inquired into. I believe that, if we continue to deal with our problems in the postal service on an ad hoc basis, we shall ultimately find ourselves in the same position - if we are not already in it. I believe that we shall find ourselves in a position in which there ought to be an inquiry from the ground up into all the tariff schedules for postal, telegraph and telephone services.
It is quite true, Sir, that there is an enormous demand for increasing capital in the postal service. In recent months, the Public Works Committee, of which I am a member, has been inquiring into proposals by the Postmaster-General’s Department for the provision of new buildings for the expansion of telephone services and for the expansion of mail-handling facilities in some of our capital cities. Statistics indicate that there is a vast increase in the use of postal services, but the increasing volume of mail does not result in any savings in handling. No advantage is gained from the increasing volume of mail handled by the reduction of handling costs. On the contrary, there is an increasing demand for more complex and more delicate technical equipment. This causes costs to rise once again. So there will always be this expanding demand for capital in the postal service.
I agree with those honorable members who have expressed the view that, while the capital is being provided from revenue it seems odd to ask the people of this country to pay twice for their Post Office services, first, by way of taxation in order to provide the funds needed to pay for the capital facilities required for the services, and, secondly, by way of increased postal charges as well as interest.
While we are examining the whole question of the financial structure of the postal service, we may perhaps consider in more detail the extent to which it is reasonable to saddle the users of some postal services with the losses incurred on concessions given to the users of other services.
I should like now to come back to the subject of bulk postage, which has loomed rather large in this debate. I begin to question whether the development of a tariff structure based on weight alone, or even predominantly on weight, results in a structure founded on a really logical basis. Paragraph 44 of the statement recently issued by the Postmaster-General points out that handling and distribution costs are not in any way affected by the nature of the contents of an envelope and that it seems reasonable that the same postal charge should be levied on all these articles. Going back to my earlier illustration of the service required for a postcard, an open envelope or a sealed envelope, one cannot help but agree that the Postmaster-General’s observation is eminently logical. On the other hand, paragraph 36 of his statement points out that many small publications enjoying bulk postage rates would weigh less than one ounce, in some cases 30 or more items going to the pound, and that the return on each item would be less than one-fifth of a penny. Everybody knows, Sir, that it is quite impossible to give the usual postal service for any article at so small a figure. Therefore, there is great support for some upward movement in bulk postage charges. However, I agree with several honorable members who said, earlier to-day, that it is rather a shame that we cannot re-examine the problem and find some method of arriving at a variety of classifications - perhaps not a big variety - of mail which is entitled to the benefits of bulk handling.
I think that a break-down of the cost of handling mail will indicate that the weight factor has perhaps the smallest influence on postal costs. After all, every article has to be posted and cleared. A good deal of mail has to be cleared from letter receivers around the towns. All mail has to be sorted, postmarked, spot-checked for weight and so on, bagged and transported. This factor, of course, is not so important in respect of the vast volume of mail which is posted within a town for delivery to an addressee in another part of the same town, or in respect of other categories of mail which will readily occur to the minds of honorable members.
I believe that the thinking behind this present set of proposals stems rather from a departmental attitude that the traffic has to meet the cost, whereas, as I have pointed out, the big thing with which the House must concern itself is the effect on the social circumstances of the people in the outback areas.
May I now deal with the bulk handling of country newspapers, Sir. So many speakers have already mentioned it that there are not many new terms in which one can deal with this subject. The PostmasterGeneral’s statement mentioned the fact that most of these postal concessions had their origin in the days when there was a good deal of illiteracy, and when it was felt that the cost of any concessions on special classes of mail which would help us to get over this unhappy situation might reasonably be borne by the taxpayers. Happily, we are not in that position to-day; but it must be kept in mind that many of the great publicists throughout the world have drawn attention to the fact that what happens in the main street of the country town may well have greater importance in the mind of the country dweller than what happens in international affairs. It seems to me, therefore, that we have to look at this question of the distribution of country newspapers favorably.
I have always sought to avoid claiming my own electorate as an example of anything, but it seems to be such a perfect example of the circumstance to which I wish to drawn attention that on this occasion I shall set that reservation aside. My own electorate, like so many electorates represented in this House, is a country electorate. Its population is distributed roughly in half a dozen town of comparable size, each having its own country press unit. The country towns, each of which is the publishing centre for the country press, and is the centre of each country district, is at once the shopping centre and the marketing centre for all sorts of primary production. It is very important that people in country areas should keep in the most intimate touch with their marketing centre. I believe that the increased cost of the bulk distribution of newspapers rising, as it will, to a considerable fraction of the cost of a copy of a country newspaper itself, will have two effects. The publisher will have to carry the increased cost against his present margin of profit which, in many cases, as honorable members will know, is pretty slim or he will have to increase the cost of subscriptions. The inevitable consequence of increasing the cost of subscriptions will be a drop in the number of subscriptions, and therefore a lower availability of advertising. In those circumstances it is not too much to say that we might well see the demise of some very important country newspapers.
I think it would be an extraordinarily bad thing if the sense of community in country areas were to be lost, because the people who would suffer not inconsiderably from this loss would be not only the people directly concerned, but also the whole of the Australian people.
If one looks at the conditions which apply in country towns to-day, it seems that every time an adjustment has to be made or something has to be done with any of the great services provided by the Government, the thin end of the stick goes to the people in the country areas. In considering this change in relation to postal services we can see that the immediate result will be to the detriment of country people. Admittedly country people derive certain advantages from the proposal to enlarge zones within which local telephone calls may be made, and I hope that this will mean lower costs to people in country areas to whom, up to now, almost every telephone call made has meant a trunk line call. Nevertheless, it is the man in the country who in many cases has to pay a considerable amount for the establishment of long lines. He is the man the greater proportion of whose calls are trunk line calls, and therefore the cost of a telephone service is greater te him than to the person in the city.
We are talking about the installation of television in country areas. Once again it is the man in the country, in the remote areas, who is most in need of this service, who will get the poorest service if he gets a service at all. Many country areas are devoid, or almost devoid, of radio services. If one looks at the extension of road services once again it is the man in the country who has the greatest need of ready access to communications who gets the poorest service.
One can explain all those things by saying that in the provision of public facilities the principle to be followed is, the greatest good for the greatest number. I think that that is true; but we ought to spare a thought for those people in country areas who find themselves in the greatest need of services, because these are the days when the attractions of frontier life are starting to disappear, if they have not already disappeared, and we in this country are going to have to work a good deal harder in future to make country living attractive to the people that we want to settle on the land and stay on the land. Of a certainty, those people are the backbone of the nation. I do not know what can be done about it at this stage, but I should hope that the thought that I have left with the Postmaster-General may bear some fruit - that is, that the question of who is entitled to the advantages inherent in bulk postage concessions might be reconsidered.
It has already been pointed out that there is a vast difference in the usefulness, on the one hand, of the country newspaper, which is surely entitled to the best bulk rate we can give it, and the usefulness of the vast volume of rather indifferent mail which arrives at the letterbox unsought, and is of very questionable value. I might mention that in my area the percentage of the circulation of the six newspapers there which goes by mail varies from eighteen in one case to 74 in another. So the result of any great increase in the cost of bulk postage can readily be seen.
Whilst I should not like to take on my shoulders the responsibility of deciding what is, and what is not, useful, there is plenty of room, within the category of bulk postage, to have some differentiation, so that the benefits of bulk postage will go for a certainty to country newspapers, because
I believe they render a splendid service to the people in our outback areas.
.-] agree with many of the statements made by the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall). I particularly agree with his statement that postal facilities are bound to increase as time goes on. I think it is clear from the second-reading speech made by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), and from the debate generally, that improvement of the capital facilities owned by the Postmaster-General’s Department cannot be evaded. The history of the department in recent years shows a tendency to improve capital facilities. The increasing of efficiency is a progressive and continuing measure and we will find, as we have always found, that complete efficiency is never achieved, because as fast as a particular level of efficiency aimed at is reached, progress in methods and techniques, and the production of new equipment, all set a new target of efficiency which involves an increase in capital facilities. So one must always bear in mind, when discussing such a measure as the present bill, that as time goes on alterations will be constantly made to the Postal Department’s facilities. New facilities will come into use, and as a consequence the department will function more effectively.
Like other members of my party I shall vote against this bill. In my criticism of it, I point out that when we are dealing with this department we are dealing with Australia’s biggest enterprise. Only recently we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the postal service by issuing a commemorative postage stamp, and I think I should spend a few minutes in reminding the House of the extent to which the Postal Department has assisted in the development of Australia itself. When the first Australian postal official started work on a boat in Port Phillip Bay there was practically no postal organization. Since then Australia has been developed, and wherever men have gone to open up this country and exploit its resources, the Postal Department has followed. In all circumstances, sometimes in extremely bad conditions, it has always continued to function. When the electric telegraph came into use, one of the great advances made in Australia was the establishment of the overland telegraph. Later, after telephone services came into being overseas, the Postal Department put such services into operation in Australia, and it provided postal and telephone facilities in every place where even a small community came into existence. The result is that to-day we have a remarkably efficient machine operating right throughout Australia and its territories, and even as far as Heard Island.
I point out these matters to indicate to the House that the Postal Department has been one of the means by which Australia has advanced. It has been associated with the development of Australia. Its main concern has not been the making of profits but the making available of means of communication in a sparsely populated country covering great distances. In any discussion on postal rates, the part played by the Postal Department in the development and the expansion of Australia by making ready communication available to people wherever they may be should be taken into consideration and recognized by this House,
I make those statements because I feel that in this piece of legislation there is a departure from the principle that the Postal Department is a public institution created to enable Australia to function and function effectively, and to provide a means of communication that will enable every one of the activities, complex as they may be, from educational to organizational, from institutional to industrial and commercial, to flourish. The Postal Department has enabled Australia, through providing ready means of communication, to have an easy and a smooth development, and a system of society in which communication is readily available. We must at all costs ensure that this public institution continues to maintain the position that it has established over the years.
I suppose that very little legislation has received the same public resentment and criticism as this measure has received. I have received letters and telegrams from newspapers, from chambers of commerce, from educational institutions, from booksellers, from journalists, from mail services, from mail order people, from freelance writers and from municipal councils pro testing against the increased postal rates. All of them suggest that, as a consequence of the increased postal charges, some people will be very gravely disturbed economically and others will have difficulty in carrying on their businesses or other activities.
I want to deal first with the increase in the charge for first-class mail matter. As all honorable members know, that has been increased by some 25 per cent., but that 25 per cent, does not tell the whole story. The Postmaster-General referred to some £30,000,000 of extra charges that were incurred by the Post Office during the last ten years. But the House and the PostmasterGeneral might well be reminded that during those ten years I think four pieces of legislation have been introduced in which postal, telegraph or telephone charges have been increased in order to meet additional costs. In 1950, we increased the postal rate from 2±d. to 3d. and now that has gone from 3d. to 4d. and shortly will become 5d. In addition, second-class mail matter that went at a cheaper rate in envelopes is now to go at 5d. Post cards, probably the lightest form of mail that the Post Office has to deal with, will also come under the charges for first-class mail matter. We know exactly, from what has been said by the numerous speakers in this debate, the extent to which the charges for registered publications will increase.
These increased postal charges are in addition to increased telephone charges, which include increased charges for telephone rentals and for services and extensions. Taking the whole picture, if these rates come into operation as proposed in this measure, it is assumed that there will be an increase of £16,000,000 in the revenue of the Post Office. I suggest to the PostmasterGeneral that before he assumes that the revenue will increase by £16,000,000, he should look at some of the likely results of these increases. As I pointed out before, the Post Office is a great public institution, and two points must be considered. They are: How will the increased charges affect the users of the Post Office and how will the Post Office be affected by the increased charges? These charges mean a considerable increase in the cost to industry and every phase of activity in the community. It does not matter whether it is commercial, industrial, professional, organizational or social - every section of the community must bear the burden of the charges and this will be reflected in their every-day activities. Some people have the habit of using post cards for sending messages. The tendency now will be not to send post cards because of the increased charge. The same position will arise at Christmas time. Most people are accustomed to send Christmas cards to others. With the increased postage costs from 3 id. to 5d., the number of Christmas cards sent through the post will considerably decrease. Clearly there is a grave possibility that certain sections of the postal services, freely used in the past because of the low charges, will in future not be used.
The House should consider the effect of the increased charges on the business world. Other honorable members have pointed out - I mention it again simply to remind the House of it - that commercial houses, factories, banks, insurance companies and others engaged in commercial and industrial activity use the Post Office to send out accounts, invoices, receipts, cheques and so forth. It is freely admitted by most people engaged in business that postage has never been regarded by them as serious enough to enter into costs, but already there is evidence that the chambers of commerce are endeavouring to find ways and means of overcoming the effect of increased postal charges. I bring to the notice of honorable members a news item which appeared in the Melbourne “ Herald “ of 24th August last, in which the president of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce indicated to the world at large how the members of the Chamber of Commerce propose to overcome the increased charges and, from their stand-point, to carry on their business more efficiently. The press report said -
The president, Mr. F. G. May, said to-day the plan should be adopted on a nation-wide scale.
It would cut postage and duty costs in an ordinary transaction from ls. 6d. to Sd., he said.
Outlining the plan, he said modern business should scrap the old “ carefully documented sequence of order-invoice-statement-receipt, which suited our grandfathers, “ and use a method involving only “ statement-and-invoice one way and cheque-needing-no-receipt the other “.
New technique should be -
Suppliers should either enclose an invoice with the goods or send it with the next statement. They would save 5d.
Customers should pay by cheque crossed “ Account Payee Only “ which would not need a receipt. That would prune another Sd. and 3d. off the many instances where receipts were now needed.
The total saving would be ls. Id., not allowing for a saving in office time.
Then the secretary of the chamber, Mr. V. R. Hill, said that members were supporting a meeting of protest, and Mr. Mav said: -
Businessmen agreed that it had been usual to ignore postage in calculating costs while postage was reasonable. But now they were obliged to take notice, and postage would find its way into costs unless savings could be made.
It appears, therefore, that one of the possible results of the steepness of the increase in postal rates will be that many users of the Post Office will discontinue their use, while those who are large users and cannot escape using the Post Office will find new ways of sending out their documents, and in doing so they will manage to reduce their postal costs to a level lower than they are at the present time. These are matters that have to be considered when we are dealing with this particular measure.
Now I come to the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall) regarding country newspapers and bulk postage. In my electorate there is one daily newspaper, two tri-weekly and four weekly papers. The daily newspaper is, of course, much larger than the tri-weeklies, which in turn are slightly larger than the weeklies. Up to 72 per cent, of the weeklies are posted to subscribers. This is because the papers are published in small country towns which do not have large populations, and the subscribers are farmers and others who reside in the district, at distances of up to 10 or 15 miles. These publications are important, because they give to country dwellers the news of their own localities and are, therefore, important means of news dissemination. Any increase in bulk postage charges will hit these small periodicals very severely indeed. As has been pointed out by the honorable member for Paterson, this will mean that the owners of the papers will have to reduce their prices or go out of existence. The owners will have to reduce the price of the papers themselves if they want to retain their customers.
With the tri-weeklies the position is similar, except that they are printed in larger towns, and therefore more of them are distributed in the towns themselves. But the subscribers who live outside the towns have the papers sent by post, and they are in fairly large numbers. Any increase in the bulk postage rate will hit the newspaper or the subscriber. Either the newspaper comes down in price or the subscriber has to pay the increased postage rate.
– How much will the increase be?
– That will depend upon the postal charges. That is obvious to any one. I am trying to point out that if an increase takes place in the bulk postage rate, it is the people in the country who will be hit hardest, because they require news dissemination by post more than the people in the cities. I sincerely hope that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who has been trying to interject, will support me in my desire to have these postal charges kept at their present level, in order to assist the people in the country districts, who are entitled to the very best consideration.
Another difficulty will be faced by these small newspapers. The accounts that they send out are usually for quite small amounts, only 4s. or 5s. If the accounts that are sent out are to be charged for as first-class matter, this will mean a very big increase in administration costs of country newspapers. When one considers the cumulative effect of all these charges, one can realize that country newspapers will be very badly hit compared with other sections of the community. The country newspapers are affected not only by the increased postal charges, but also by increased telephone and teletype charges, and, of course, by increased telephone rentals. All these increases have created very substantial problems.
Let me point out also the unfairness to telephone subscribers of some of these proposed increases. Statement “ D “ circulated by the Postmaster-General gives the rental groupings for five types of telephone exchanges. The first grouping under the existing system includes exchanges having from one to 300 lines. It is proposed that the base annual rental for telephones attached to these exchanges will be increased from £4 7s. 6d. to £7, representing an increase of £2 12s. 6d. These are the rates for business telephones. For a residence telephone the increase is £1 12s. 6d., from £4 7s. 6d. to £6. What I want to point out is this: The majority of telephone exchanges in the one to 300 lines group are those at which the telephones can be used only between 9 a.m. and 5 or 6 p.m. Therefore, subscribers in country districts, and living in localities of sparse population, and, therefore, having small telephone exchanges, will have their charges increased to a greater extent than those in the more closely settled areas. For instance, subscribers connected to exchanges in the 301-1,000 lines group will have their annual rentals increased by only £2, from £5 to £7, in the case of a business telephone, and from £5 to £6 for a residence telephone.
– The honorable member is reading the wrong column.
– No, I am not. If you look closely at the statement you will see that the three existing groupings, with 1 to 300 lines, 301 to 1,000 lines and 1,001 to 2,000 lines will in future be all under the one group, with one to 2,000 lines. Unfortunately, however, those connected to the smaller exchanges, in the 1 to 300 lines group, will suffer the largest increases. Those in the more thickly populated areas, where there are more telephone facilities, will have to pay increases ranging from only 5s. to £2 according to the particular classification.
– That will come under the new system.
– That may be so. But there are hundreds of these small exchanges in respect of which the rate will go up from £4 7s. 6d. to £7. They have perhaps 50, 40, 30 or even fewer subscribers who can get telephone communication only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. It seems to me a very unjust provision to be included in the increased charges which the Government is bringing into operation. 1 feel that the telephone services might well be used to enforce decentralization, as far as is possible, by promoting it in our country districts. The more facilities we can. give for communication between rural centres and the capital cities the more we shall promote industry in the country. The Postal Department is a great public institution which should be used for the development of this country. Because it should assist in the transaction of the necessary business of this country, as far as is humanly possible, the charges in country districts should be reduced to the minimum. I think that in these proposals the Government is departing from a very essential principle of assisting decentralization in every way that it possibly can.
There is another matter which I desire to mention in the few minutes remaining to me. Booksellers have pointed out to me with a great deal of truth and logic that the charges now being made by the Postal Department for the transmission of books to country areas is putting a tremendous burden on country booksellers. I am informed that whereas the present postage rate for Australian books is 6id. per lb., the new rate will be lOd. per lb. For books published overseas, many of which are technical and are necessary for educational purposes, very often in technical schools, the present rate is 9id. The new rate will be 2s. 2d.
– You are completely out of date.
– If these figures do not still, apply, the minister did not say that very, clearly in his speech. If anybody has been misled,, it is because the honorable gentleman has not made the position clear:.
– The document from which you are quoting was printed before my speech was delivered.
– Whatever the new rates are, this is the position: The bookseller in Melbourne, for instance, who buys his books from a wholesale warehouse, is able to have them delivered to him by van with no charge for freight. But when the country bookseller writes to the wholesaler in Melbourne, say for certain technical books for a technical school, or for other books, for cultural or information purposes, he has to pay the postage on them from Melbourne. The result is that the price of the books goes up. As a general rule, the booksellers desire to have one. price throughout Australia, but, with the increased postal charges, the man who buys a technical book in a country district will have to pay more than the person in the metropolitan area. One can quite understand that these postal charges Wl. place a very unfair burden upon those who are carrying on business in country towns. They will also place an unfair burden on many other industries.
I believe that these increased charges are not justified. They are too steep and too harsh. I believe that the Minister’s expectation that he will secure an additional £17,000,000 from these charges will not be borne out. He will find that business firms and’ others will do their level best to find ways and means of getting around the increased bulk charges with the result that the revenue of the Postal Department will be seriously affected.
.- The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) made much, as have many other speakers in this debate, of the effect that these increased charges will have on country newspapers. The honorable member suggested that the increased bulk postage rates would badly hit country newspapers. He talked of the effect that they would have on the dissemination of information and he described the value of country newspapers to community life.
I have at least eight country newspapers in my electorate, and 1 am second to none in my praise of such newspapers because of the value of. their work. But I do think that one has to have a sense of proportion in this matter. The value of their work can only be diminished by these charges in one way, and that is by reducing the number of people who read them. I have checked up on the eight newspapers that circulate in my electorate and on two others which circulate partly in my electorate, and I have found that not one of the ten will have to increase its annual subscription by more than. 2s., to absorb completely the cost of the increase in: bulk postage. If the. honorable member for Bendigo thinks that an increase of 2s. a year in the subscription rate will substantially reduce the circulation of a newspaper I say that he has lost his sense of proportion. I know that the newspapers themselves do not think that they will lose a single reader as a result of increasing their subscription rates.
– Whether a reader will pay the extra 2s. will depend on his income.
– My view is that an increase of 2s. a year will not affect the circulation one iota. Until I became a member of this Parliament, representing a country electorate, I had very little conception of what the services of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department meant to rural people in Australia. Because I believe that my former ignorance on this matter is shared by the vast majority of metropolitan dwellers, and perhaps even by some members of this Parliament, judging by what has been said in this debate - although not by the honorable member for Bendigo - I want to say something about it to the House to-night. Most city dwellers regard a telephone as a great asset, if not indispensable. In the metropolitan areas it is only necessary to walk a few yards to the side fence to get assistance or to pass the time of day with the nearest neighbour. The nearest doctor is only a few minutes away by bus. All the necessaries of life are within range of public transport, and the paper is thrown over the fence early every morning. An unlimited range of entertainment facilities is available, the businessman can talk face to face with the people on whom he depends, with very little loss of time; and the telephone is considered indispensable when circumstances such as these prevail. It is not difficult, therefore, to imagine what it means to the average country dweller who has none of these conditions. But for him the telephone -has removed that gnawing fear of an emergency which is never far from the consciousness of the person who lives in relative isolation - such things as the sudden accident, the sick child, the fire, the flash flood. The telephone has meant the difference to many a farmer between a good living, a reasonable living and a bare existence. He is able to order the spare part he needs at a crucial time in the season; he can transact business in the evening after the daylight hours have been used to the full; he has quick access to advice from the agricultural adviser or the veterinary surgeon. The telephone has removed the demoralising effects of isolation on what I may describe as a fundamental human instinct. Man. and perhaps woman to an even greater degree, is a social animal. The telephone makes it possible, in conditions of isolation, to satisfy this instinct and I believe that this, in turn, produces a better adjusted and happier rural dweller and a more closely knit and more productive community.
For the businessman in the country town the telephone has helped to redress the disadvantages under which he suffers compared with his city counterpart. It brings him into touch with his more widely dispersed customers. It relieves him from the heavy burden of carrying large stocks which the size of his market does not justify. It assists him to keep in touch with the latest developments in his particular business.
I could go on multiplying these examples and, indeed, extend them to the postal and telegraph side of the department’s activities, but I think I have said enough to convince honorable members, if they need convincing, that adequate facilities, particularly on the telephone side, in the rural areas are of massive importance. This stems from the human, business and farm efficiency needs which they meet.
– How will you vote on this bill?
– The honorable member will hear in a minute. I ask him to be patient. The services of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department meet these needs in a vitally important section of the Australian population and economy. They are of massive importance also to Australia as a whole.
Having made this point, I now turn to the interjection of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie). He was astute enough to anticipate me by a few seconds. My remarks may be interpreted, perhaps, as a prelude to an attack on the increased charges proposed in this bill, at least so far as they affect country areas. But I hasten to say that I do not intend to make such an attack. On the contrary, I intend to give the legislation my whole-hearted support. I do so because its provisions measure up to the yardstick that I take, that is, the importance of the department’s services in rural areas.
Since its inception, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has always recognized its special obligation to provide services to remote areas. In many, perhaps in most cases, these services have been provided at a rate below the actual cost of installing and providing them. Since the war, the department’s acceptance of this principle has been exemplified by the priority it has given to the telecommunications side of its activities, at the expense of all others. On the telecommunications side, the greater proportion of the money available per subscriber is spent in the country. It is because of this that such a policy has played a great part in improving communications in rural areas.
This has been particularly so since the present Government came into office and greatly increased the amount that could be spent by the department, as opposed to the subscriber himself, on a subscriber’s line in a rural area. Let us not forget that. But despite the emphasis inherent in these priorities for rural dwellers which I have described, all honorable members who represent rural electorates know that there is still much to be done before the situation can be described as satisfactory. There is still what I have previously described in this House as the “ submerged tenth “ of telephone users who operate within very restricted hours. There are still too many overloaded party lines. There are still too few trunk lines, and this causes long delays in making long-distance calls. There are still too many changes in country towns which are badly housed and shockingly overloaded, and which provide deplorable working conditions for the employees. In saying this, I do not for an instant wish to minimize the importance of what has been achieved since this Government came into office. Those achievements have been remarkable, but it just has not been possible for the department to do everything at once.
My purpose is to emphasize that there is still much to be done. It is because the Government has recognized these inadequacies and has made positive proposals to modify them that I support this legislation. I do not believe that the increases in charges proposed in this bill can be taken in isolation; they must be considered in relation to the plans the department has for future progress. The two should be taken together. It is precisely because the Post Office has made the decision to speed up the attainment of what is called national subscriber dialling, with all the attendant advantages that this will bring, particularly to people in country towns, and also because the department has plans for progress with telephone services - and they are expensive plans - that these increases in charges, I understand, have been made.
I can testify to the very high cost of automatic working, even in the small but very important corner of Australia which I represent. In the town of Mount Gambier an automatic exchange to serve 2,500 subscribers was recently opened. It cost the best part of £400,000. There are more than 70 rural automatic exchanges in my electorate alone and the average of them is £16,500. Despite this, in my electorate alone there are many towns which need automatic exchanges, and even more areas which need rural automatic exchanges. If this situation exists all over the Commonwealth, it is clear that the attainment of automatic working everywhere will involve the expenditure of formidable sums of money. I do not believe that that expenditure cannot be avoided. The services of the Postmaster-General’s Department must keep pace with the growth of Australia, but to expend money on providing services that do not contribute to the overall objective of national subscriber dialling, with all its attendant advantages, is, in my belief, pouring money down the drain. The high cost of the establishment of this system must be borne, I believe, in the present for the sake of the benefits that will accrue in the future.
It is worth noting that some of these benefits accrue very quickly and with formidable savings to subscribers. I refer to the proposal - it has been mentioned previously during this debate, and will become effective in May of next year - to group country subscribers into zones of up to 25 miles in which they can make untimed local calls to other subscribers within the zone and to subscribers within adjoining zones. This will mean that a farmer who lives, say, IS miles from the nearest centre and who, at present, pays about 9d. for a three-minute call, will be able to do his business with the township <or make his social calls for 4d., with the added advantage of being able to talk for as long as he wishes. In these circumstances, it is not difficult to imagine the benefits and economies that will flow from this policy, both to the farmers themselves and to the businessmen in country towns.
Of course, it may be argued - and by implication it has been argued by honorable gentlemen opposite - that the capital sums needed to carry out this work should be found without charges being increased, and that although we know that increasingly large sums of money will have to be found for the capital requirements of the Post Office to implement this policy, we should turn a blind eye and fix charges for postal services at a level which has no relation to capital needs. In my opinion, such a policy would be both short-sighted and disastrous. There is no doubt that if such a policy were adopted Nemesis would catch up with us in a very short time and we would be faced with the spectacle of the Post Office swallowing more than its share of the pool of revenue, at the expense of other projects which are more truly national in their character because they benefit the whole of the community. Alternatively, if the Government were to allocate to the Post Office the share of revenue that an overall balanced view would dictate, we would be faced with the same kind of stagnation in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department as has been experienced in the Post Office in the United States of America. This matter was referred to last night by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury). I personally am not prepared to be a party to such a short-sighted policy, either in the interests of Australia or of my own constituents.
It has been :said, Mr. Speaker, that this increase in charges is a disguised tax and an attempt by the Government to make the Post Office user a kind of milch-cow for revenue purposes. Such a statement is shown to be nonsense when it is remembered that since the war the Post Office has received £400,000;000 out of revenue for capital purposes, on which it has paid not one penny interest or made any contribution to repayment of the principal. When it is remembered, too, that over the same period it has made normal trading losses of about £27,000,000, the statement that the Post Office user is being milked becomes even more absurd. It has been said that the Post Office is a great national institution, a great public utility in the best sense of the word, and, by implication, that it is not, therefore, a business firm. It is a great public utility - a public utility which, as I believe every honorable member in this House would agree, places service to the nation ahead of any consideration of profit. But are we to deduce from this undoubted fact, as so many of the people who emphasize it appear to do, that the Post Office should never raise its charges and that it should operate without regard to commercial losses? If that is their definition of a public utility, and if that is the way in which they believe that a government-operated business enterprise should be run, it certainly is not mine. If the Post Office were run along those lines, we would be faced with the possibility of narrow sectional interests receiving substantial monetary benefits at the expense of the general taxpayer.
Such practices in regard to public utilities have, of course, a long history in Australia. They are practices which have resulted, not in many public undertakings being milchcows for general revenue, but in general revenue being a milch-cow for them, to the benefit of small selfish groups in the community. Why should the general taxpayer subsidize to the tune of 5d. a copy a large metropolitan newspaper which already is making huge profits? Why should the general taxpayer assist, by way of subsidized postage, those awful abominations known as abridged books? These are just two examples, but I could quote many others.
The fact to be borne in mind is that not overy one in the community uses the Post Office services and, of those who do, not every one uses them to an equal degree. This fact in itself places limits on the extent to which the Government should subsidize Post Office operations out of general revenue, to which all taxpayers contribute, not just a proportion who use the Post Office services. With this in mind, it appears to me that charges should be fixed at such a level that in the overall commercial operations of the undertaking, revenue will cover all costs. I believe that included in those costs should be a charge for servicing the capital employed. It is important to remember that if charges were fixed on this basis, the Post Office would not be making a profit in the commercially accepted meaning of the term. All business firms add the cost of servicing their capital to their costs before - not after - calculating their profit. Therein lies the justification for calling the Post Office a public utility even when adopting a policy of charging such as I have recommended. It can be called a public utility because it does not make a profit in any conventionally accepted meaning of the term. The profit that would be made by a business firm is, in the case of the Post Office, returned to its customers in the form of charges lower than they would be otherwise. The justification for requiring the Post Office to pay interest on its capital is that this represents a return from the users of the Post Office to the general body of taxpayers, who, as a kind of hypothetical entity, make the money available and deny themselves its use for other purposes.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, there is another sense in which the Post Office, operating under the system of fixing charges that I have described, may be regarded as a public utility. The fixing of the individual charges is, in the last resort, in the hands of the Government. This gives the Government, as the representative of the whole community, the opportunity, while fixing the charges as a whole with the idea of making the Post Office selfsupporting in its commercial operations, to vary individual charges in. the pursuance of nationally desirable objectives and, in particular, the objective of good communications in the rural areas. After all, the operations of the Post Office are on a sufficiently large scale to make such a policy perfectly feasible. It can and should be done. I support the bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Duthie) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Downer) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Speaker, during question time to-day questions about import licensing were addressed to the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) and mention was made of certain comments that had been made by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). I’ feel that it is encumbent upon me in the few moments at my disposal to say that the honorable member for Yarra was misunderstood and, as a consequence he was unfairly attacked by the Minister for Trade. I concede that under Standing Orders, Sir, your attitude was perfectly correct, but the inference drawn by the Minister from what the honorable member for Yarra had said about B category licences was incorrect, and the assumption that he made and the temper that he displayed were completely out of line with the tolerance that a Minister should show at question time.
The honorable member for Yarra implied that trading was taking place in B category licences. He implied that there was horse trading, as it were, in those licences, but he made no attack - the Minister should remember this - on the personnel of the Minister’s department. Nor is it likely that there would be such an attack from this side of the House because we have the greatest respect for Sir John Crawford and the men who work under him. But to-day the Minister said: “ Produce the evidence, otherwise you are defaming public servants “, and then talked about a scurrilous and low attack. If these are not verbatim quotations, the Minister has only himself to blame, because I attempted to obtain a copy of the question and answer from the Minister’s office, but I was refused that privilege. Through his secretary the Minister said that he would not make the statement available so I must depend on memory.
The first point that I want to make with regard to the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra is that there was no attack implied or otherwise, on public servants; but there was an attack on the Minister for refusing to agree that this House has been hoodwinked into believing that there is no trading in licences, particularly B category licences. If my memory serves me correctly, and I was listening with great attentiveness, the Minister said that there is nothing in this matter and there is no trading in licences. If there were, he said, he would attend to it and see that no further licences were issued to the man, the company or the organization concerned.
I want to say to the Minister that that is utterly wrong. He knows it to be wrong, and he was attempting to hoodwink this House. It is a notorious fact that during the last twelve months or two years there has been wholesale trafficking in licences, particularly B category licences. That arises from a decision by the Minister and his staff that so long as the ceiling on imports - £850,000,000 worth or thereabouts- is observed it matters not how those imports are apportioned. Whilst there is a loose arrangement for licences, in regard to B category licences a practice has been going on that the Government has not been able to end. It may have started in the early days when there was an over-generous issue of licences, or it may have started when there was a scarcity of licences and they were almost impossible to obtain.
The Minister attacked the honorable member for Yarra in such a way as to imply that he was making charges against public servants, but the honorable member was merely attacking the Minister’s statement that no misdemeanours or malpractices have occurred with regard to B category licences. Well, we now have the evidence to refute that statement.
I have selected at random the issue of the “ Sydney Morning Herald “ of Saturday, 28th February last. In the classified advertisements under the heading “ Partnerships and Agencies “ B category licences are put up for common auction. They are advertised more extensively in the larger display advertisements in the “ Financial Review “, a journal for the businessman, issued and published by the “ Sydney Morning Herald “.
The Minister claims that nothing is wrong: that everything is all right in the best of all possible worlds. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) went red in the face and said: “ Produce the evidence! “ We are doing that now, and we ask for the decency of a reply. In the “Sydney Morning Herald” of Saturday, 28th February, this year, an advertisement appears regarding B category licences. The advertisement bears out what the honorable member for Yarra said - that there is trading in licences and the right to import. The advertisement reads -
Established Importer, central premises, adequate “ B “ quota, invites sound business propositions.
The advertisement implies that secrecy will be observed. That is tradinng in licences. If it is not sufficient to convince the Minister that there is trading in licences, let us look at another advertisement -
Established Importer with “ B “ Class Licences, central office, storage space, prepared to consider employing Salesman with ideas.
What does that mean? Tt is a remarkable advertisement and I think I should repeat it. because I do not think the Minister has grasped the import of it. The advertisement is inserted by an established importer with “ B “ class licences, with a central office to conduct his business, and with plenty of storage space for the loot. He is prepared to consider employing a salesman with ideas - one who knows his way about.
It is well-known in Sydney that many men with “ B “ class quotas are living on the proceeds of their licences without doing a tap of work. I say that is trafficking in licences. To show that this practice is general I will read another advertisement. This one appeared for weeks. It is a cry in the night - “ I am an indenter with unlimited capacity for absorbing quotas “. The advertisement reads -
Indentor with “ B “ quota required to import goods for large wholesale organization. Deposit paid with order and good profit margin assured. We are prepared to place regular orders on longterms basis if agreeable.
Secrecy is implied. So there you are! Advertisements such as these appear ad nauseum in the “ Sydney Morning Herald “. I rise merely to point out to the Minister that he was completely in error in referring to the attack of the honorable member for Yarra as a scurrilous and low attack on public servants. The Minister should not be so arrogant in these matters because he knows better than anybody else how vulnerable he is in this section of his administration. He knows that increases in “ B “ category licences have been very badly handled. Whenever one wants some information about this matter one is met with a solid wall of silence or else an arrogant rejoinder from the Minister, who is notorious in this House for making 100 words do the work of one.
The final thing that I want to say on this matter is that we feel that we have established a case, and we should like to hear the Minister for Trade answer it. Trading in B class licences is bad for the nation and bad for the administration of import licensing.
– But the honorable member for Yarra said that the trading was not just in B class licences.
– I do not know what the honorable member is talking about. I do not know whether he knows as much about importing as he does about banking, but what he has said certainly does not merit a reply from me in view of the limited time at my disposal. As I have said, we feel that we have established the fact that this trading in licences occurs. We want an answer to our case that rights to import goods are being sold. If this sort of thing happens and the Minister says that there is nothing wrong in it, something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
.- Mr. Speaker, the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has tried to divert attention from what the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) said. There is no difficulty in proving that statement. A quotation from “ Hansard “ will show the context in which the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra were made and precisely what he said on this matter, and will provide a complete answer to what the honorable member for Parkes said. He was arguing-
– On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: I submit that it is out of order for an honorable member to quote from current “ Hansard “.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).The honorable member for Bradfield is in order.
– This is the context in which the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra were made, Mr. Speaker. He said -
If the Government were interested in spending - the borrowed funds on capital, the system of import licensing would need to be administered in such a way that most, if not all, of the addition to overseas funds would be spent upon machinery and developmental equipment instead of import licences being issued more or less indiscriminately.
The honorable member for Higinbotham (Mr. Timson) interjected -
We are not indiscriminate.
The honorable member for Yarra went on -
You are pretty nearly indiscriminate. The honorable member cannot tell me that there are any controls that really amount to controls in the issue of import licences. There is unlimited transfer of licences between the various categories. The honorable member must know that if he knows the right people and can pay a few pounds, he can get a transfer easily between one category and another. Any belief that you are really controlling this situation is a fantasy.
Before I proceed, let me say that the honorable member for Yarra was suggesting not only that it is possible to get a transfer from one category to another easily by paying a few pounds, but also that this was being done on a wholesale scale. His argument was that the Government was not ensuring that imports of foreign capital took the form of capital goods, and so he suggested that this transfer from one category to another was taking place on a wholesale scale. This meant, not one case, not two cases, nor three, but hundreds of cases. What did he mean by “ transfer . . . between one category and another”? He was quite clear about that. One can get a transfer from one category to anotherfrom’ B to A or from A to the administrative category - only by the action of an official. Tt is not a question of advertising, and selling a licence to somebody else. It isnot a question of somebody who has a B; licence advertising, and selling that B licence to another person who wants a licence for the B category. That is not what is involved at all.
The honorable member for Yarra spoke about a transfer from one category to another, and the whole import of his remarks was that a person with a B licence could get, for example, a licence for the administrative category by the payment of a few pounds. To whom would he pay a few pounds, seeing that such a transfer can be effected only through an official? He would pay a few pounds only to an official, and the implication is perfectly clear - that the honorable member for Yarra suggested that officials were being bribed to make transfers from A or B categories to the administrative category, and that this was being done, not in one or two instances, but on a wholesale scale. There can be no other implication in the honorable member’s remarks.
I raised the matter to-day, Sir, because I felt that the honorable member’s observations were grossly unfair to officials. Australia is very fortunate to have at the top extremely efficient and capable officials, and, right throughout, extraordinarily honest ones.
– But the honorable member is always talking about bureaucracy.
– No, I say that Australia is extraordinarily fortunate in having public servants of that calibre. In my view, when a member of this House makes against public servants charges of the kind made in this instance, without presenting any specific case to back up his allegations, words such as those used this afternoon by the Minister .for Trade are completely justified.
I do .not think .that I need say anything more, Sir.
– The honorable ‘member is a pious humbug.
– The honorable member for Parkes tried to divert attention from what the honorable member for Yarra had said, and ‘tried to pretend ‘that all that the honorable member for Yarra was talking about was the transfer of a B licence to somebody else who wanted a licence in the B category. That was not what the honorable member was talking about, as a clear reading of “ Hansard “ shows.
.- Mr. Speaker, it does not matter how loudly the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) or other Government supporters claim that there is nothing in the allegations made by Opposition members. Let me tell Government supporters that they cannot divert attention from something that is well known in this community - the fact that the administration of import licensing in this country is corrupt.
– Now we see.
– Yes. If the honorable member will just wait a moment, I shall quote my authorities. Let us see what was said about import licensing by a former member of this Parliament who belongs to the Australian Country Party, not to the Australian Labour Party. All that we have ever asked is that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) and the Government should undertake an investigation of the numerous matters that are brought to the notice of this Parliament with respect to the administration of the scheme of import licensing. Mr. H. V. C. Thorby, a former member of this Parliament, a former Minister in an anti-Labour government, a member of the Australian Country Party, had something to say about import licensing at the 1957 conference of the New South Wales branch of that party.
He described the import licensing system as “ the most corrupt ever introduced anywhere in the world “. He said that there had never been a worse dictatorship operating in Australia, and added -
I’ve had Country Party Ministers say openly to me that the system is putrid.
Mr. Thorby said, also, that he had “ astounding information of firms trafficking in import licences “. Those are the views of a member of the very party to which the Minister belongs. They are the views of a man who has served in this Parliament as both a private member and a Minister. Do the Minister and Government supporters generally try to brush that kind of criticism lightly aside by saying that there is no basis for it? Mr. Thorby, in effect, has invited the Government to have the matter investigated. If an investigation is undertaken, he will no doubt produce the astounding information of firms trafficking in import licences which he claims to have.
Rather an interesting position has arisen in this debate. The Minister for Trade would have the House believe, if we rely on what he said this afternoon in reply to questions asked by my colleagues, that once he and the Department of Trade became aware of wrong-doing in the administration of import licensing they would take immediate action. What is the position? The Minister in reply to a question which I directed to him on 19th March, 1958, said1 -
– Who said that?
– The Minister for Trade. So, even if one produces evidence of malpractice, the Government regards it so lightly that the person concerned does not lose all his quota. He merely has i! reduced, and it does not mean that he will not get licences in future when he applies for them.
So the Government is putting a premium on malpractices. It is encouraging those people to continue trafficking in licences. The Minister talks about instances of wrong-doing in regard to the administration of import licences. Surely members of this Parliament have not forgotten the wellknown case of David Jones Limited, just after import licensing was restored in this country by the anti-Labour Government’ That firm had some prior knowledge of what the Government intended to do, and so arranged accordingly that it could get an advantage over all other importers in this country. Or we can talk about Thiess Brothers, a firm which had barges with American equipment towed to this country, and actually almost in Australian waters, before the licence necessary was issued. The licence in that case was not approve! by the man who was the head of the department at the time, but was issued on ministerial direction.
But what happens when one produces the evidence of such things? Every time a member of this Parliament takes up a case in regard to import licensing, you will find that the Government adopts a particular method of stifling the criticism. Let me tell you how to get an import licence. People who want import licences and are dissatisfied about not getting them only have to get a Labour member of this Parliament to take up their case in the House, and it is not long before they get the licence, because the Government does not want the member to get evidence abour what is happening.
Let me give an example. I have here letter from A. Deans and Company, met cantile brokers and agents. A member oi this firm wrote to me and said -
Some few weeks ago you commented in the House on the possibility of irregularities in the allocation of import licences and suggested that some investigation may be due.
Should you be kind enough to grant me the favour of an interview, I would be pleased to present you with a file and information that should prove most interesting.
I got into contact with this chap and he agreed to furnish a statement as to what had happened in his own case. The statement was not forthcoming, so I sent a message to him, asking what had happened about it. My secretary was advised in a telephone conversation, on 13 th May, by the wife of the gentleman concerned, that the permit had come through “ yesterday “. She also said that her husband would be ringing me the following day. He did ring me the following day, and advised me that as he had received his permit he would now prefer to have the matter dropped. He did not want it to proceed to an investigation, because he had got his permit.
Here is another case. It concerns Mr. A. E. Buttfield, who made a statement which was published in the press under the heading, “ A ‘ marked man ‘ wants a probe on import licences “. In this statement he attacked the administration of import licensing by the Government. I asked a series of questions about Mr. Buttfield’s allegations. The first question directed to the Minister for Trade was -
Has his attention been drawn to a statement by Mr. A. E. Buttfield, principal of A. E. Buttfield and Coy. Pty. Ltd., Importers, of Barrack Street, Sydney, who has been in business for approximately 30 years, that a thorough investigation into the issue of import licences would reveal some extraordinary happenings?
The Minister’s answer was, “ Yes “, meaning that his attention had been drawn to the statement. I then asked the Minister -
Has this gentleman alleged-
Listen to Mr. Buttfield’s allegations - that (a) vital business secrets sought by departmental officers have leaked to business competitors, (b) importers no longer in business have continued to receive import licences which they are selling to other traders at a substantial profit, sometimes as high as 25 per cent., and (c) he is being victimised by departmental officers because he has appealed to the Minister and Members of Parliament against departmental decisions?
The Minister said that he had heard of these allegations, and he confirmed that I had stated correctly the allegations made by Mr. Buttfield. Here is the Minister’s reply in relation to these allegations -
Mr. Buttfield’s three allegations have been investigated. The investigation does not in any way substantiate Mr. Buttfield’s claim that there have been breaches of confidence on the part of Departmental officers.
If Mr. Buttfield has any information concerning irregularities in import licensing and cares to make this information available to either the Department of Trade or the Department of Customs and Excise, it will be investigated.
The Minister concluded by saying -
For some time Mr. Buttfield refused to make available information to enable his applications for special licences to be considered. However, this information has very recently been made available and special licences have been issued.
Why were those licences issued to Mr. Buttfield? If Mr. Buttfield had been making serious allegations against the administration of the department, allegations which he could not substantiate, would you not have imagined that this would have been a case where the licences would have been refused by the department until such time as Mr. Buttfield had produced evidence to support his allegations?
Why did Mr. Buttfield get his licences? It was for the same reason as A. Deans and Company got its licences. The reason is that after I raised the matter in this Parliament, and began to question the Minister, the Government, in order to keep Buttfield quiet, issued him with his special licences. Everybody knows what is going on to-day. I have been told that any number of people will give evidence of their experiences with this department if the Minister will only have the proper investigation that is required - the investigation that was sought by the member of his own party, Mr. Thorby, to whom I have made reference. I have mentioned here on previous occasions that I have been advised that if a person makes application to the department-
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.-! did not intend to speak in regard to this particular matter, but I have this to say: One would have thought that so long after the cessation of hostilities and the aftermath this Government would have been competent enough so to manage the economy of the nation as to be able to avoid the necessity for an import licensing system. The fact is that all the problems mentioned arise basically from the difficulties of administering import licensing.
During the war it was the practice of the government of the day to control imports. It had to do so because of the meagre quantities of goods that were available from abroad at that time. It was likewise necessary for the government rigidly to control exports. However, for the purposes of the discussion to-night, 1 want to refer to the Hides and Leather Industry Board. In the post-war period it became desirable to wind up the activities of that instrumentality. It took some little time to do so and, lo and behold, during the winding-up process a gentleman approached me in a certain country town in Victoria and said, “ I desire to establish a tannery “. I said, “Why can’t you establish a tannery?” He replied, “I have been to the Hides and Leather Industry Board and was informed that an allocation of hides could not be made available to me”. I asked him the reason, and he answered, “Because the board is carrying on a practice, essential in war-time, of seeing that the available hides are split up among the already established tanners “. The Government is following a certain practice and is allocating to certain favoured people already in business all the available goods, ten years after the war ended. This sort of thing was necessary during the war, of course.
However, I return to the experience of this man with the Hides and Leather Industry Board. As Minister, I sent for the chairman of the board - a man very eminent in the business world of Sydney - and said, “What is this all about?” His answer was, “We are not going to give leather quotas to a new man to establish himself in business”. I told him that if we were living in a socialist economy he might be right, but that as I understood it, the then Government was giving every individual the right to exercise some ability, just as MacRobertson exercised his ability when he started making chocolates in a tin shed in Fitzroy and finally became a millionaire. I said to the chairman, “ I wouldn’t be surprised if you started in a similar situation “. He said, “I did”. My reply to that was, “Well, issue the licence “. But to think that there should be a necessity after this long period since the end of the war to allocate to certain favoured people already in business the goods that are available and to prevent any humble citizen from obtaining goods and showing his initiative in the boasted private enterprise system which honorable members opposite so ardently support is abhorrent.
They are the facts. This system inevitably lends itself to abuses because people already in industry, in some instances largely because of the inexperience of some of the officers in the Import Licensing Branch, are able to obtain quantities of goods to which they are not justly entitled. When they have excess quotas, of course, they go on the market trading them and we get all these allegations of scandals. We know that scandals are taking place in our economy fifteen years after the cessation of hostilities. These people opposite who yap about communism and socialism are imposing on this economy, due to their incapacity and inability, a system which lends itself to these horrible, disreputable and disgraceful practices.
Let me end on this note: I wonder whether this arises out of the fact that only within the last two or three weeks Sir John Crawford, a most eminent public officer and head of a department in this Commonwealth, said in a public statement that more and more every day in this Commonwealth of Australia departmental heads were deciding policy and running departments instead of Ministers. I would be very surprised if that applied to the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), but it could possibly be applied to him and may have been meant to refer to him because Sir John has been the chief executive officer of his department for a very long time. I would say that Sir John did not speak without a great deal of experience. If he was not referring to the right honorable gentleman’s department then he was referring to departments administered by many other incompetent and nincompoop Ministers.
– I had expected that some evidence would bc produced to-night which would require examination. The position is that to-night’s incident is a diversionary attack to try to divert attention from a gross political blunder which the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) has perpetrated and in which he has involved the Australian Labour Party. To-night’s effort was designed to be a stunt to turn attention from these outrageous allegations of the honorable member for Yarra by referring to alleged trafficking in import licensing. As it happens, of course, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) in his incorrigible form has confirmed the attack upon the public servants initiated by the honorable member for Yarra. In his customary style, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has given further confirmation of an attack upon the probity of public servants. This issue was raised in the House by the honorable member for Yarra, who said -
The honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) has correctly drawn our attention to the true circumstances by saying the transfers of import licences from one category to another, which are very rare indeed, can be effected only upon the decision of an official. The honorable member for Yarra is saying that any one who knows the right public servant and pays a few pounds can have such a decision made, and that is a libelous attack upon the officers in the Department of Trade and in the Department of Customs and Excise. It is to the disgrace of the Australian Labour Party in this House not only that this should have occurred but that the attack should be repeated by two former Ministers.
– I rise on a point of order. I want to make my position perfectly clear. I want a withdrawal of the statement that I reflected on any public officer.
– Order! The Minister for Trade may continue.
– The Minister is a notorious liar.
– Order! The. honorable member will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw “ notorious “.
– The honorable member will withdraw.
– I withdraw the whole remark.
– Thank you, Mr. Speaker, but I did not attach any importance to the remark. Labour spokesmen have claimed that they would produce evidence to-night of trafficking in licences. As long as I have been responsible for the administration of import licensing, I have made it clear that if trafficking occurred, appropriate punitive action would be taken. These advertisements that have been read of themselves prove nothing. The people who hold import licence quotas in this country are people who have become entitled to quotas because of an historic engagement in the business of importing. A man who has historically been an importer and therefore has qualified for entitlement to a licence is, of course, free to discover his customers by personal contact, by waiting for them to come to his place of business, or by inserting an advertisement in the newspapers. There is nothing wrong with that and nothing has been proved by these advertisements that have been read out to-night.
The facts of the matter are that in a condition of shortage of any material, competition for the material will arise and with it the possibility of trafficking. The Government is, of course, aware of that, and the closest scrutiny is maintained in a combination between the Department of Trade, which is responsible for the policy in this respect, and the Department of Customs and Excise which carries out, to a substantial extent, the actual operation of the issue and handling of quotas and licences. I am able to stand in the House and say that all these advertisements in all newspapers in Australia - they are not infrequent; they appear by the hundred - are studied by an appropriate senior officer of the Department of Customs and. Excise.
Where a person is advertising that he has a quota and wants clients, or where a person is advertising that he wants to make contact with some one who holds a quota, it has been for a considerable period, I am assured, the regular practice in the Department of Customs and Excise to write to the advertiser and explain the law and the policy in this regard and so enable people to guard against inadvertent breaches of the law. Where there is some evidence that a person is using his licence not to conduct the physical operations of importing but to accept a commission payment, as it is described, for the use of his name by another person who in fact conducts the importing operation, the Department of Trade is on the spot. There is a standing inter-departmental committee which studies these matters and, as the honorable member for East Sydney has said, where an offence is proven, the licence, or that part of the licence which has been used in infringement, is cancelled.
Lest there be any thought that this is an exercise of an arbitrary authority of purely punitive character by officials of the Government, let me say that the Government established an appeal board composed of three very honorable men, including two well-known private citizens, one being Sir John Tivey, a former president of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia. This body hears appeals against decisions made by the inter-departmental committee where a penalty has been applied. I think in the circumstances in which the economic affairs of the country require some restriction, this is a fair and careful provision that has been made for the purpose of guarding against breaches of correct conduct, and that an appropriate provision has been made for the imposition of relative penalties. Provision has been made for an appeal, not to other officials, not to the political head of the department, but to an appeal board which includes in this case, as I say, as distinguished and honorable a gentleman as Sir John Tivey.
I can tell the House that there have been a number of cases in which trafficking has been established. Trafficking, in this sense,. means the lending of a person’s name and quota entitlement to enable someone else to conduct the actual operation of importing. That is an offence. A person becomes entitled to a quota because he has been an importer, and to enable him to continue in business as an importer.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
– I wish to move that the Minister be granted an extension of time, so that he can reply to my criticism concerning Mr. Thorby’s statement. [Extension of time granted.]
– I will take only a minute or two to deal with the circumstances which I think have been correctly recounted by the honorable member for East Sydney, regarding a former colleague of mine, Mr. Thorby. I think it is well known that since I have administered this difficult matter I have declined to interview applicants for licences and to grant or refuse licences. I think it would be wrong for me to do so. If one person can get to a Minister to influence him, then every one should be able to do so. Quite clearly this is physically impossible, and I have made my rule for this reason. I am determined to sustain equity of treatment. I will interview an applicant for a licence in order to explain a policy. I will not interview an applicant for a licence in order to discuss his application. That has been the constant practice.
My former colleague, Mr. Thorby, sought to bring to me an applicant for a licence. I declined to see that applicant with my former colleague. This irritated Mr. Thorby so much that he made this outburst at a Country Party conference. He produced not a scintilla of evidence to support his allegations. They were merely the outcome of my refusal to break my rule, even in the case of a former Country Party ministerial colleague.
.- The Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) is exceptionally persuasive, and I bring my full objectivity to bear upon the way in which he has approached the subject, and I find myself still unconvinced. He admits, first, that in these matters he will not interfere at any level whatsoever, and in fact that he supports the decision of his departmental officials. I might be a little more persuaded that the Minister knew what he was talking about when he discussed the internal administration of his department if it were not for the fact that a fortnight ago I asked him questions along the lines of a series of questions that had been asked about trade with China and Russia. My question related to the export of steel to China and Russia, and he made the categorical statement in this House that there was no export of steel to those countries. Yet on that very day there was a news item in the Melbourne “ Age “ to the effect that 9,000 tons of steel was being loaded at Port Kembla for export to Russia. So I say that if he does not know what is going on in that section of his department, then I am doubtful whether he knows what goes on in the even more complicated section of his department that deals with import licences. It seems that Sir John Crawford was in fact right in his interpretation at least of that matter.
If that were the only instance, perhaps I could forgive the Minister, but a week or so before that in, I think, the Melbourne “ Sun “, there was another statement about overseas trade. I assume it was accurate, coming as it did from official sources. It was to the effect that the export of wool to Russia had diminished, and that instead Russia was, in fact, buying steel.
Here are two instances of what seem to me to be authoritative statements. Steel was being exported to China at the same time as the Minister himself denied to the House that this was going on.
– I said in this House that steel was being exported.
– The Minister said in answer to me that steel was not being exported to China. I do not customarily get hold of “Hansard” and study it from beginning to end in order to find out exactly what Ministers or others have said, but I recall that on. this particular occasion it was a matter of immediate comment among my colleagues here. They discussed the fact that this item was in the newspaper and that the Minister had denied what was, in fact, public knowledge.
– The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) introduces still another diversion into this debate. He raises the matter of what the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) said in answer to some question that he asked a week or more ago about the export of steel to China. The debate to-night has been concerned with the disgraceful attack which took place yesterday on the honesty of the public servants of this country in the administration of the licensing system - an attack launched quite carelessly and light-heartedly, apparently, by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), who said that for a few pounds importers could arrange exchanges of their import licences from one category to another. There are two elements in the discussions that have followed. One is the question whether transfers between categories can be arranged in this way. The Minister for Trade has answered that quite effectively, and the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) has pointed out, as the honorable member for Yarra should have known when he began this attack, that transfers from one category to another, or from one item to another in a category, are made by officials, by public servants, and that these are not political decisions. The charge is, therefore, clearly one of dishonesty against the public servants of this country. It is a charge that cannot be sustained, and one which the members of this Government can effectively and dogmatically reject.
In an attempt to divert attention from this unfortunate error which the honorable member for Yarra made, all these vague charges of trafficking in import licences have been raised. The need for licensing in this country is quite clearly understood and accepted, and it does create a situation of possible advantage to those who have the right to import at a time when imports are restricted. But honorable members who make charges that there is trafficking in licences, and that dishonest dealing is widespread, should at least take the trouble to understand the procedures by which this licensing system is administered. It is quite clear from to-night’s discussion that the members of the Opposition who make these charges have not bothered to try to understand these procedures.
The Department of Trade has the overall responsibility for the level of licensing and for deciding questions as to the different classes of goods which may be imported within that level of licensing. The Department of Customs and Excise is responsible for everything relating to the use of a quota or licence. That is why I have intervened in this debate as the representative in this House of the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Henty), whose department is responsible for everything connected with the use of licences after they have been issued.
The Department of Customs and Excise, as the Minister for Trade has pointed out to-night, follows up most carefully and assidiously any advertisement which suggests that abuses are occurring under the licensing system. Newspapers do not ordinarily give the names of advertisers when they advertise anonymously, so it is not possible always to make a complete investigation; but in cases in which that cannot be done the advertiser is written to by the Department of Customs and Excise and the consequences of dealing in his licence are pointed out. The distinction between the legitimate use and the misuse of a quota is a difficult one to draw, at times. There is not to-day and there has never been any harm in advertising for business. But when a quota holder or a person who has the right to a licence does no work, carries no risk and, in fact, does nothing but sell his right to a piece of paper, that is regarded quite clearly as an abuse of a quota and when the facts are established his quota or licence is cancelled.
Members of the Opposition laughed when these investigations were referred to earlier in the debate. They may be interested to know that £600,000 worth of licences have been cancelled because of abuses of this sort since last July.
– Well, it has been going on.
– It is a reality that this check is carried out. It is entirely wrong for honorable members to suggest that people can easily traffic in licences without consequence. Because people’s businesses and people’s well-being are involved, it is essential that regular procedures should be established. And they have been. When circumstances arise which suggest that there may have been an abuse by a licenceholder of his rights, the Department of Customs and Excise makes an investigation. If the investigation indicates that the matter should be taken further, the Collector of Customs refers the facts to a departmental committee consisting of officers of the Department of Trade and of the Department of Customs and Excise. Since last July, 118 cases of that sort have been dealt with by the departmental committee, and that committee will be dealing with twelve more cases next Friday.
As I have said, for the reason that people’s businesses and livelihoods are affected, it is necessary that established and effective procedures should be maintained in order to deal with these cases. Consequently, provision has been made for appeal against the decision of the departmental committee. An appeal may be made to the Import Licensing Advisory Appeals Board, the establishment of which was announced by the Minister for Customs and Excise on 21st April. The Minister for Trade has referred to this board. The independent members of the board are Sir John Tivey, Mr. A. G. Church and Mr. H. D. Hendy. They sit in judgment on appeals against the actions or decisions of the departmental committee. Since that appeal board has been operating, it has dealt with eighteen appeals. In one case the board decided against the departmental decision and upheld the appeal. It made an adjustment to the departmental decision in two other cases, and in fifteen it supported the departmental decision.
I have sought to point out in these few minutes that the original debate arose over the charge by the honorable member for Yarra of dishonesty in the transfers of categories effected by officials. A diversion was attempted into the whole field of licensing. I hope that I have established that there is a settled method of constant investigation of any reported abuses of the licensing system, and that there is adequate provision for appeals against departmental decisions.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.45 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1. (a) The maximum total beta activity recorded in 19S8 at any of the 24 stations in the fall-out monitoring network operating in Australia was 60 millicuries per square kilometre, at Alice Springs, on 29th July. This fall-out would give a radiation dose, accumulated over SO years, of less than 0.008 per cent, of the natural background radiation over the same period, (h) The minimum total beta activity recorded in 19S8 at any of the fall-out monitoring stations was less than 1 millicurie per square kilometre, and as such results were returned by most stations on most occasions it is not possible to state precisely when and where minimum fall-out occurred. 2. (a) Yes, in the Hobart area, (b) No.
r asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
(a) .1958-399; 1959-430. (b) 1958-712; 1959-770.
Boer War Veterans.
s. - On 19th August, the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Clay) asked me the following question: -
In view of the fact that there remain now only some hundreds of Boer War veterans, will the right honorable gentleman take steps to amend the appropriate legislation so that the Commonwealth will assume responsibility for the hospitalization and medical treatment of these veterans, as it does in the case of any other Australian soldiers who have had war service?
The Minister for Repatriation advises me as follows: -
The British Government accepted responsibility for treatment and pension benefits in respect of members of Australian contingents who served in the South African War. In its capacity as agent for the British Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, the Repatriation Commission provides medical treatment and pays pensions for South African War members as authorized by the British authorities. State assistance by the Governments of Victoria and New South Wales is also provided in certain cases.
The basis of eligibility for pension and medical benefits under the provisions of the Repatriation Act is that the relationship between the incapacity and the members war service must be established, and it would be impracticable at this juncture to establish the relationship between the disability claimed and a member’s South African war service. The Commonwealth has accepted some measure of responsibility by extending the provisions of the Repatriation Act in relation to service pensions to persons who served in the South African War, and were members of forces raised in Australia. In addition, such persons are also entitled to treatment from the Repatriation Department for pulmonary tuberculosis, and funeral benefits are payable in respect of them under the Repatriation Regulations.
All South African War veterans residing in Australia would now probably qualify for an age pension or a service pension if they could comply with the means test and would, likewise, be eligible for benefits under the Pensioner Medical Service if they could comply with the means test provisions of that service. The question of providing treatment and pensions under the Repatriation Act for South African War veterans has been considered on numerous occasions, but the Government has felt the provisions of the Act should not be extended to include benefits other than those already available.
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has furnished the following replies to the questions: -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers to the honorable member’s questions: -
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers to the honorable member’s questions: -
d asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following replies: -
Williams, nor, so far as is known to either of them, or to the Department of Shipping and Transport, is there any relationship between either of them and Mr. L. Williams.
t asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
a asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What amounts of commission are received by his department for services performed on behalf of - (a) The Department of Social Services for the payment of (i) age, invalid and associate pensions, (ii) child endowment, (b) the Department of Repatriation; (c) the War Service Homes Division: (d) the Commonwealth Bank of Australia: (e) any other department or instrumentality?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Commission received bv the Post Office in 1957-58 was- (a) (i) £185,925, (ii) £102.374: (b) £215,540: (c) £52,197; (d) £295,979; (e) £298,082: total, £1,150,107.
son asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
a asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice: -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
y asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
What would be the estimated cost in a full year of increasing - (a) a wife’s allowance from £1 15s. to £3 per week; (b) the funeral benefit to £30; and (c) child endowment for the first child to 10s. per week?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The estimated cost in a full year of increasing - (a) wife’s allowance from £1 15s. to £3 per week is £85,000,000; (b) funeral benefit to £30 is £70,000,000; (c) child endowment for the first child to 10s. per week is £19,500,000.
t asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– I am informed as follows by the Minister for Repatriation: -
Unauthorized Possession of Firearms.
e. - On 20th August, the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Cash) asked the following question: -
What precautions are taken in regard to the unauthorized possession of firearms and other lethal weapons by persons who do not declare those weapons at Customs inspections, on arrival in or departure from Australia? Are Australian airports equipped with scientific metal detectors which would lessen the possibility of an armed passenger assuming unauthorized control of an aircraft - a situation which seems to occur in other parts of the world from time to time?
The Minister for Customs and Excise has now furnished the following answer to the honorable member’s question: -
The Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations prohibit the importation, except with the consent of the Minister for Customs and Excise, of pistols, parts thereof, rifles larger than .22-in. calibre, parts thereof, and goods of a dangerous character. In the case where firearms are declared by a passenger on importation they are detained by the Collector in the State concerned until it is established that such person is allowed, in terms of State legislation, to have the firearms in his possession. If firearms or goods of a dangerous character are undeclared and are subsequently detected during the routine customs search, they are seized and the person involved is liable to be proceeded against under customs law. Australian airports are not at present equipped with any scientific metal detecting equipment. The Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations prohibit the export of firearms and ammunition without the consent of the Minister for Customs and Excise. Any firearms found in the possession of outgoing passengers which have not received this export approval are liable to seizure.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 September 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1959/19590916_reps_23_hor24/>.