25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Has he now received the report of the inquiry into the future of tertiary education? When does he expect the report to be available to honorable members and the public? Will he give an assurance that interested organisations and individuals will have sufficient time to study the report before related legislation is introduced into the Parliament?
– I have not yet received this report, though I am told that it is, as you might say, on the way. 1 should imagine that it would take a good deal of study. I would willingly agree that it would raise a series of matters which the House ought to have the opportunity of discussing, and I will take steps to see that it has that opportunity. At the moment I have not seen the report. I do not know what it is about and, therefore, I cannot be more precise than I am being now. I understand the interest of all honorable members in this matter, and I will certainly be very careful to protect them.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. In view of the critical situation in South East Asia, has any detailed consideration been given to quick and effective conversion to military transport of the commercial aircraft estimated to be required should a significant emergency arise?
– 1 would ask the honorable member to allow me to refer the detailed part of his question to my colleague in another place. Of course, I think it is well known that in planning the mobility of Australian forces the defence advisers do take into account the availability and suitability of civilian aircraft in Australia, particularly those capable of flying at high speeds, but what work has been done or what work would be necessary in the event of commissioning these aircraft are matters that I will refer to my colleague.
– I ask the Prime Minister, in his capacity of Acting Treasurer: Is the Government giving consideration to the report of the Commonwealth Actuary on the eighth quinquennial investigation of the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund? Does the Government propose to give effect to recommendations of the Actuary that surplus funds revealed by the investigation should be used to provide additional benefits to contributors and all classes of superannuation and provident account pensioners both currently and retrospectively? If the latter part of my question is construed as touching a matter of policy, will the right honorable gentleman make a statement on the matter as early as possible?
– The report referred to by the honorable member has not yet been considered by me personally. The Treasurer will be back at the end of the week, and this will engage his attention quite soon after his return. I shall convey to him the suggestion made by the honorable member.
(Dr. Gibbs having addressed a question to the Minister for Repatriation) -
– A similar question is on the notice paper. Therefore, the question asked by the honorable member for Bowman is out of order.
– I address a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. I ask the Minister, first, whether he recalls the suggestions I have been making about letting us have lists showing where apprentices are most needed and where industry is failing to meet its obligations in that field. I ask, further, whether he is aware of a report by the Apprenticeship Commission in Victoria, published yesterday, criticising employers for by no means accepting their full obligations with regard to apprenticeship training, and of a statement on similar lines made publicly in Sydney yesterday by a Minister of the New South Wales Government. If those two criticisms have not been brought to his notice, will he examine them? Further, will he let us have reports of the apprenticeship position at the State level as ascertained by the appropriate State authorities?
– I shall obtain details for the honorable member as to the occupations and trades in which the greatest numbers of vacancies for apprentices exist. I can say generally - the honorable member would know this from his own personal experience - that the greatest gap between the demand for and the supply of apprentices exists in the metal and the electrical trades. Another industry in which there are far more vacancies for apprentices than there are apprentices available is the building industry.
I had some figures taken out recently, and I can assure the honorable member that the gap between vacancies and the number of apprentices available is substantial. I know that it. can be said that some employers are not fulfilling their obligations to employ apprentices. The figures to which I have referred disclose that, over the whole of Australia, the number of vacancies for apprentices is far greater than the number of apprentices available. That indicates that the fundamental reason for the shortage of apprentices is not the failure of employers to engage them.
I have not seen the report issued by the Apprenticeship Commission in Victoria or the statement made by a Minister of the New South Wales Government yesterday, but 1 will go so far as to say that anyone who can help the Commonwealth Government in promoting the idea that we must have more and more skilled men, if this country is to have full development and an average growth rate of 5½ per cent. per annum, will be doing a great service to the community. We do need apprentices, and we do need trade skills. I am glad that the statements to which the honorable member referred were made.
Army a question. In view of the number of requests emanating from my electorate in central north Queensland and the grave disquiet felt in this area, will the Minister inform the House whether further urgent attempts are being made by the Government to bring Army personnel up to full strength so that northern Australia may be adequately protected?
– As has been stated, the Government’s policy is not necessarily to station Army units in all places around the Australian coast. The Government’s policy is to station them in strategic positions and to give them mobility so that they may operate quickly and effectively to any area if required.
– I, too, ask the Minister for the Army a question. Is the Army considering the purchase of the French Entac lightweight anti-tank weapon? In what respects does the Entac missile differ in utility or performance from the Australian produced Malkara missile? Does the Army’s rejection of the Malkara mean that the Australian made missile will be sold to Britain while the Australian Army will use the French missile, which differs only very slightly from the Australian product?
– It is correct that the Army has decided to purchase the French anti-tank missile known as Entac. The missile is at present undergoing operational trials in Australia. Consideration has been given to the use by the Army of Malkara but Malkara does not meet the peculiar requirements of the Australian Army, which are based on a particular situation which we in this part of the world face. Malkara, however, did meet the British Army’s different requirements. The situation is as the honorable gentleman has stated. We are selling to Britain the Australian produced Malkara because it meets Britain’s requirements and we arc buying the French produced Entac with which to equip our forces because it is the missile which most exactly meets the particular requirements of the Australian Army.
– Does the Minister for External Affairs regard the motion recently placed before the United Nations Security Council on the issue of airborne landings of Indonesians on Malaysian soil as being of worthwhile value in terms of world opinion? Also, does the Minister know of any move to debate the issue in the General Assembly? My aim in asking these questions is to ascertain the Minister’s opinion as to the degree of importance of world opinion on issues of this type.
– Order! The honorable member is asking his maiden question but is now getting out of order. In the circumstances 1 will be tolerant.
– I am not aware of any proposal to bring the matter referred to before the General Assembly of the United Nations. Our view would be that any move to debate this matter in the General Assembly is up to the parties concerned - Malaysia and Indonesia. It is relevant to the question to note that the Security Council is still seised of the question of Indonesian aggression. One of the values that have come from the reference of this matter to the Security Council is that the matter has remained on the agenda of the Council and with any fresh incident or change in the situation the Security Council is in a position to proceed immediately to the reconsideration of the matter. The resolution before the Security Council was lost on the veto of the Soviet Union, but it gained the support of the majority - 9 out of the 11 countries, including countries representative of what is commonly termed the Afro-Asian bloc. Although the resolution was vetoed, it can be regarded as a significant expression of world opinion, and widely representative world opinion, on two or three very important elements in the situation. One was that it did deplore, and deplore quite plainly, that aggression had been committed. Secondly, it did uphold, and uphold in an unequivocal way, that the rights of Malaysia to its own independence and to respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity should be observed. Thirdly, the resolution d:d express the hope that Indonesia would refrain from any further acts of this kind, lt is our hope that Indo nesia will take notice of this expression of world opinion and will in future refrain from such actions.
– I direct a question to the Attorney-General. When does the Minister intend to introduce the bill to establish a new Federal superior court, the draft of which the former Attorney-General, Sir Garfield Barwick, had almost completed when he ceased to be Attorney-General?
– Legislation in relation to this matter is not immediately contemplated. A great deal of thought is being given to the format which a Federal judiciary would take. As to the second part of the question, I am bound to say that my predecessor did not have the matter at the stage suggested by the questioner.
– My question also is addresed to the Attorney-General and it relates to the continental shelf. May I explain that several oil exploration companies will, in the near future, begin oil exploration in areas that fall within the definition of the continental shelf? One oil company has a large oil drilling rig used for drilling at sea now being towed from the United States of America. I ask: With a view to securing uniform observance of the articles of the convention on the continental shelf, a convention to which this country is a signatory, can he say whether an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States on the matter is within sight? Alternatively, does the Commonwealth propose to legislate unilaterally to give effect to the convention?
– There have been, so far as I know, no discussions between the Commonwealth and the States in relation to the convention. On the other hand there have been very real discussions, which I would characterise as fruitful discussions, between the States and the Commonwealth, both at the Attorney-General level and at the Minister for Mines and Minister for National Development level, in relation to working out a programme of legislation which would meet the requirements of giving protection to those people who choose to drill at offshore sites.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Social Services a question. Will the Minister consider restoring to pensioners the right to earn or receive from other sources £3 10s. a week, which was taken from them in 1955, when the permissible income was reduced to £2 a week, thus depriving many pensioners of the pensioner medical card? Is the Minister aware that without the medical card a pensioner who requires medical treatment has to approach a doctor and pay £1 10s. a visit, and a 5s. fee to the chemist, and would be lucky to get his medicine for 15s.? I ask the Minister to reconsider at this late hour giving the right to pensioners to earn £3 10s. a week and retain the medical card. If he has any heart at all he will do that.
– I regret to say that the honorable member for West Sydney is getting his Ministries mixed. There has been no reduction in the “ means as assessed “ applicable to age, invalid and widow pensioners. Indeed, since this Government has been in office there has been a consistent and progressive liberalisation of the means tests both with respect to income and property which led subsequently to the ultimate merging of both under the composite term “ means as assessed “. This means tests which precedes the issue of a pensioner medical card is laid down in the National Health Act and the Department of Social Services has no jurisdiction over it.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industry. The Minister will be aware that a proportion of wool growers in Western Australia, estimated at 50 per cent., last year freely elected to dispose of their clips by private treaty, and that there is every indication that the proportion has increased substantially this year. These clips are in many instances classed by progressive young people, some of whom are active members of the junior farmer organisations and eager to obtain Owner Classers Classing Certificates. Does the Australian Wool Board allow its inspectors to examine clips sold by private treaty in buyers’ warehouses with & view to issuing certificates? If it does not, will the Minister see that it does so in future?
– In the past, the number of Wool Board inspectors had been sufficient to cater only for the wool passing through auction sales. The Board is prepared to assist further if this is physically possible, but as wool sold by private treaty goes through the sheds very rapidly there would be a considerable physical problem in following the honorable member’s suggestion without holding up the sale or delivery of the wool. However, the Board is sympathetic towards this proposal.
– Has the Prime Minister yet received answers from all Stale Premiers stating their attitude towards his letter setting out the Commonwealth’s expressed plan, to take over the control of intrastate airlines? Should those answers express opposition to the plan, will the Government go ahead and use its powers of regulation to take over control of these airlines? If the Government intends to do this, how can the right honorable gentleman explain the sudden out-of-character interest in a form of national control to which this Government has so often expressed its opposition? Finally, why this sudden interest in the Commonwealth control of intrastate airlines?
– I. have not yet received answers from all the Premiers, and it is, therefore, quite impossible for me to say what their general views may be. 1 am rather surprised to hear the honorable member suggesting that there has been a sudden change of front on my part. May I remind him that I made an unsuccessful attempt years ago to get full power over civil aviation for the Commonwealth.
– And quite properly.
– And, I think, quite properly. I must confess that I was astonished When the proposal was not voted for by the necessary majority in Australia. All I can hope is that on that occasion the honorable member did his best to see that the referendum proposal was accepted.
– Has the attention of the Minister for the Navy been directed to trials recently carried out in the United States of America, in which CI 20 Hercules aircraft and Boeing 727 aircraft have taken off from and landed on United States aircraft carriers? Is he aware that these trials have shown that the CI 20 aircraft can land on the deck of an aircraft carrier with no other means of retardation than the reverse thrust of its propellers. As this presumes a policy of using troop planes from carriers, I ask the Minister: Will he speak to his colleague, the Minister for Air, and arrange for trials to be conducted with the Caribou on the more restricted flight deck of the “ Melbourne “ as this aircraft has the same characteristics of reverse thrust as has the Hercules and will also give us some flexibility in a similar role to that about which the United States of America is now thinking?
– I have seen the report to which the honorable member refers. I point out that the carrier on which this was done was, I think, about 100 ft. longer than H.M.A.S. “ Melbourne “. I have discussed this matter with some of my officers and, although the Caribou has a very good short landing and take off performance, and also has the reversed thrust, I think far more would have to be known before experiments can be conducted by the Royal Australian Air Force on “ Melbourne “.
– I preface a question to the Prime Minister by saying that this matter was put to me by Australians when I was recently in Vietnam. I ask the Prime Minister: Has the Government any intention of allowing members of the Australian Army in South Vietnam to accept decorations awarded by the Government of South Vietnam? Seeing that we are involved in this area, is the Government going to strike a campaign medal and thereby show its recognition to these men, one of whom has already been killed?
– This matter has not come before me, but I am grateful to the honorable member for raising it. 1 will look into it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. The Government has announced that it is making a defence review at the present time or will be making a defence review some time shortly. Can the Minister advise the House whether it is the intention of the Government to make any statement on this subject to the House before it goes into recess, or is it the intention of the Government to make such a statement after the House has gone into recess?
– The time of the review and the making of the review are the responsibilities of my colleague. The making of a statement will be consequential upon what action “he takes. I will bring both questions to his notice.
– When the Minister for National Development was in Gladstone about six weeks ago, he denied a Canberra report about possible Commonwealth aid for projects in Queensland worth several million pounds. He said that there would not be an announcement before the Budget, and that the Budget would not include any details; but he said that the Federal Cabinet would consider concrete recommendations from the Northern Division of the Department of National Development. I now ask the Minister: Have these recommendations concerning Commonwealth aid to Queensland projects yet been submitted by the Northern Division and considered by Cabinet? If so, are these recommendations in addition to the four point plan estimated to cost £17.5 million as mentioned in the Press when the Minister was in Gladstone? If the recommendations have not been submitted, when does the Minister expect to receive them?
– Mr. Speaker, what I said when I was in Gladstone was that a request had been received by the Commonwealth Government from the Queensland State Government for assistance in various projects. This request had not been received in time for consideration by the Commonwealth with a view to the inclusion of any of these projects in the Budget. I said that the Northern Division of the Department of National Development would be assessing various parts of the request. The Department is doing so at the present moment. These matters will be brought up at a later date for discussion and possible inclusion in the next Budget.
– In addressing a question to the Minister for Primary Industry, I refer to his Press statement earlier this month relating to approval for a total expenditure of £3.3 million on sheep and wool research, and particularly that portion of it which states that assistance is being given to speed up the training of shearers using the Tally-Hi shearing method. I ask: What sum is involved in this assistance, and in what way is it being spent?
– Out of the aggregate amount voted for research, the sum allotted for tuition in the Tally-Hi method of sheep shearing is £12,000. Wherever possible, the Australian Wool Board is employing instructors to coach shearers in this method. A complete statement on the matter is included in the annual report of the Board, which I tabled last week in this chamber. If the honorable member examines the report he will find full particulars of the matter.
– My question is directed to the Acting Minister for Supply and is supplementary to the question asked earlier this afternoon of the Minister for the Army. On 30th September 1959 the then Minister for the Army informed the honorable member for Wills that the Army had “arranged with the Department of Supply to examine the practicality of certain modifications to the Malkara missile to meet the possible requirements of the Australian Army, having regard to areas of likely operations “. I ask the Minister whether the Department of Supply made such investigations. Are we to assume from the fact that the Malkara missile has now been rejected by the Army that the Government did not give sufficient encouragement to Australian inventiveness and industry, so vital to us in times of emergency?
– I am sure that the honorable member will appreciate that I am not familiar with the subject he has raised. I shall look it up and give him an answer at the earliest opportunity.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Trade and Industry by directing the right honorable gentleman’s attention to a report of a statement made by him on 2nd September when addressing the Japanese trade delegation to Australia. The Minister is reported to have said: “If an industry is threatened, we must be expected to give it support “. As the statement was made at the same time as the Tariff Board was hearing a request for increased duties to be imposed on cars imported from Japan - the country which buys most of our wool - will the Minister assure me that the statement was not intended to encourage the Tariff Board to recommend higher protection for the motor car industry? In other words, will the Minister assure me that the Tariff Board is not expected to keep the Minister’s statement within its sights when making its recommendations?
– Of course, I cannot be sure, from memory, whether the honorable member has quoted me accurately, or whether the report quoted me accurately. The report may or may not be accurate, but the substance of what I would have said would have been that if an existing Australian industry was efficient and economic and was in need of assistance, its case would be referred to the Tariff Board. The Government would, as the honorable member knows very well, be guided in its decision by the report of the Tariff Board. I have certainly not uttered any words directed to influencing the Tariff Board in respect of any case referred to it.
– Not since Melville went.
– Not during the time Melville was there; not ever. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will appreciate that. I also hope that the honorable member for Wakefield, who is an enthusiast in these matters, will realise that the case be raises goes both ways. This country has a very great beef industry. Japan has a population of over 90 million people. In the course of protecting its own beef industry, Japan is unwilling to accept more than a few thousand tons of Australian beef a year. Surely the attitude of each government to protecting its essential interests is regarded as being within its own control. I am sure that this is comprehended by the Japanese Government and by Japanese industry, even if it is not comprehended by the honorable member.
– Can the Minister for the Army outline to the House the main characteristics which distinguish the requirements of the British Army for an anti-tank weapon from those of the Australian Army? I am asking for the main characteristics, not the details. Secondly, can he say whether, at any stage when the Malkara was being designed and built or later on, the requirements of the Australian Army were taken into account? If they were not, why were they not taken into account?
– In relation to the first part of the honorable member’s question, my understanding is that the two weapons involved are of different kinds. The Eniac is the lighter weapon and cun be carried on quite a small vehicle. Four of them can be carried on a Land Rover type of vehicle. In South East Asia we are likely to be limited to that type of vehicle. In other words, the requirements place emphasis on lightness and ease of transport. The British, in relation to their requirements in Europe particularly, for which I understand they have obtained Malkara, have not the same limitation. Our concentration on the South East Asian theatre has dictated our particular requirements. I am not aware of the history which it would be necessary for me to know in order to answer the second part of the honorable gentleman’s question, in which he asks whether Malkara was developed so as to conform to a specific requirement laid down by the Army. I would imagine that it was not. However, I will get the information requested by the honorable gentleman and let him have it
– My question ii addressed to the Minister for External Affairs. I ask whether it is correct, as reported, that air travellers from Hong Kong to Red China are warned as follows -
Keep your baggage under lock and key but keep your eyes open because hoodlums insert hazardous explosives in the baggage of travellers.
Are the representatives of the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wheat Board who visit Red China insured against these special risks? Are they protected by the Australian Government in any way?
– I have no knowledge about whether or not such notice is given to travellers to Red China. I suppose it is sound advice to tell any traveller to keep his pocket and his bags tightly closed. I assume that the Australian Wheat Board and the Australian Wool Board make suitable arrangements for their employees or agents in respect of all travel abroad.
– I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport: Why was the 10,000-ton Australian National Line bulk carrier “ Lake Barrine “, which was scheduled for overhaul at the Newcastle State Dockyard, withdrawn and transferred to a Melbourne yard for overhaul? To which repair yard in Melbourne was it transferred? Is the Chairman of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, which operates the A.N.L., financially interested in that yard? Is the Minister aware that this transfer of the “Lake Barrine” has resulted in 63 painters and dockers being temporarily stood down by the Newcastle State Dockyard?
– The statements contained in the honorable member’s question are not correct. The “ Lake Barrine “ was never scheduled for survey at the Newcastle State Dockyard, although it is true that in the past several of the Lake class vessels have gone to that dockyard for survey. In the near future two vessels will be undergoing survey in the Newcastle State Dockyard and the “ Lake Barrine “ and the “ Bass Trader “, I think, will be undergoing survey in Melbourne. Within the next- 12 months one other vessel will be undergoing survey in .Sydney and a further vessel will bc undergoing survey wherever the availability of labour makes it likely that the survey will be carried out efficiently and quickly.
As to the latter part of the honorable gentleman’s question, I understand that dismissal notices were given to some 60 painters and dockers at the Newcastle State Dockyard. These have now been withdrawn. Work is being found immediately for more than 40 of the men concerned and the balance have been assured that if they take their accumulated leave, which amounts to an average of about a fortnight, Chey will be found work immediately on their return.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Army. In view of the fact that the Army is experiencing difficulty in raising its strength to the target figure set by the Government, will the Minister review the respective retiring ages at present laid down in the Service, as the retiring age factor is causing the loss of many experienced officers who have many more useful years left in which to serve?
– The matter raised by the honorable gentleman has been reviewed by the Army on many occasions. Indeed, in relation to officers, the Service has recently introduced provisions that enable certain officers, if they are required and are willing to serve, to extend their service beyond the normal retiring age. However, I point out that the degree to which this can be done is limited by the need to have a basically young Army. By the very nature of the work that the Army has to do in its preparation for war, its members cannot be too old. A certain number of men in older age groups may be retained, but if this trend is taken too far, you get into a situation in which the personnel are basically too old to fight. Nevertheless, I should like to assure the honorable gentleman that efforts are constantly being made to retain every available man as long as we can to enable us to stretch our available manpower to the greatest possible extent.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is the city of Greater Wollongong, with a population of 150,000, and being the seventh city of this Commonwealth, entirely lacking, within it boundaries, a commercial airport or even an emergency landing strip? Is it necessary for the residents of that city to journey 50 miles to Mascot over difficult terrain and through the heavy traffic of the metropolis of Sydney if they wish to travel by air? Will the Minister ask his colleague to institute a searching inquiry to ascertain whether there is anywhere in the adjoining terrain, which, admittedly is of a difficult nature, a place where an aerodrome could be established? Will the Minister for Civil Aviation, in the interim, as an elementary utility measure, arrange for TransAustralia Airlines to establish a helicopter service between Wollongong and Sydney?
– This matter, of course, does not come within my jurisdiction and I have very little personal knowledge of it, although I seem to recall that, some time ago, there was an aerodrome in the general vicinity of Wollongong. Whether it was at Wollongong or at Port Kembla I do not know. I consider that a helicopter service would not be a satisfactory alternative. In any event, I shall refer the question to my colleague in another place and see that the honorable member receives a reply as soon as possible.
– I wish to address a question to the Prime Minister. Has he had an opportunity to study the proposal by the Premier of Victoria to introduce a separate income tax in that State? Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the Premier is quoted as having said that it will be necessary to increase land tax levied on all owners, including small home owners, to meet his Budget commitments if the Commonwealth does not ratify his proposal? When can the Parliament expect a statement clarifying the Commonwealth’s attitude on the matter?
– This matter is under investigation. Some technical aspects deserve study, and I have had this put in hand. As soon as it is completed I will take the matter to Cabinet. I would hope to be in a position, quite soon, to state what the attitude of the Commonwealth Government will be.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock) on the ground of Parliamentary business overseas.
Motion (by Mr. Adermann) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) on the ground of Parliamentary business overseas.
Motion (by Mr. Calwell) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Coutts) and to the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) on the ground of Parliamentary business oversets.
Motion (by Mr. Adermann) agreed to -
That Government business shall take precedence over general business tomorrow.
Debate resumed from 16th September (vide page 1143), on motion by Mr. Hulme -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Is it the wish of the House to debate the subject matter of the two measures together, as suggested by the Minister? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
On behalf of the Opposition I move -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ this House condemns the unnecessary and unjust action taken by the Government to increase the charges imposed on telephone users “.
It will be recalled that some five years ago, when postal charges were being investigated - new rates were subsequently imposed - a new procedure was adopted with respect to what are called the commercial accounts of the Post Office. This was to charge to the working services of the Post Office an interest component calculated on the capital that was said to be employed in the Post Office. When that was done, the Labour Party objected. We took the view, and we still hold the view, that because the Post Office is a public utility - in some respects it may be a business undertaking - with a natural monopoly, as it were, of the provision of services that are not matched anywhere else and not provided from anywhere else, this was a futile sort of exercise which loaded an imaginary charge on to the Post Office. In order to balance the books with this imaginary sum added it was necessary to increase the charges of the various postal services, mail services on one hand and telephone services on the other.
We maintain that, after all, there may bc a number of different attitudes taken with respect to the overall services of the Post Office. What we want to be clear on in this direction is what the philosophy of the Government is and, against that, what the attitude of the Labour Party is. We believe that the objective of the Post Office should be to provide the maximum service at the minimum cost to the public. We believe, too, that there should be some rough equality between income received from all Post Office services and the expenditure incurred in providing those services. However, when the Government took the stand that it did it seemed to have done so after a very rapid conversion, and we described it on that occasion as a triumph of the Treasury over the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). Backroom boys in the Treasury persuaded the Treasurer that a certain course was prudent - a course which not very many months before the Government, through both the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) and the Treasurer had argued against. I draw the attention of this House to an extract which I have quoted previously from a report of a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers held in Canberra on 4th March 1959. At page 48 of the document is reported a discussion which took place between Sir Thomas Playford, as Premier of South Australia, Mr. Hiley, as Treasurer of Queensland, Mr. Bolte as Premier of Victoria, the Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies as he then was, and the Commonwealth Treasurer, Mr. Harold Holt. During the course of an argument, when discussion was had on the fact that the States received moneys rom the Commonwealth for purposes of capital expenditure - moneys which had not been raised by loan but which had been raised in revenues - the States suggested that they ought not to be expected to pay interest on these moneys. They suggested that, after all, the Commonwealth did not adopt that attitude with respect to its capital works. They cited the Post Office and the Commonwealth Railways in particular. The Prime Minister then said -
The proposition is that we charge ourselves Interest, we throw into deficit a couple of great undertakings-
The undertakings he had in mind were the Post Office and the Commonwealth Railways - that have been referred to, and we then raise the wind in order to meet that deficit - because it all comes back onto us.
Then he went on to say - and I repeat that this was on the 4th March .1959 -
Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of book-keeping that does not produce one pennyworth of financial results.
A few lines later, the Treasurer went on to explain that attitude further. He said -
But if we are to incur losses on our Postal Department and on the Commonwealth Railways, as is apparently recommended here -
It was being recommended by Mr. Bolte - then, just as the States have met such a position by increasing their rates for various services, we would also, presumably, be required to increase our rales for these services. This, incidentally, would effect the revenues 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 deficits.
In March 1959, judging from what the Prime Minister and the Treasurer said, the Government apparently held the view that to do what was decided to be done in October 1959 was complicated book-keeping not producing one pennyworth of financial results. I suggest that from a cold, logical accounting point of view that is still the position.
As I said earlier, there are several ways in which you can run the Post Office. The public of Australia ought to be clear on the way in which, this Government does its financing, so that we will know where we are. It would be possible to run the Post Office at a considerable loss. In the United States of America, where the telephone services are conducted by private enterprises, the Post Office engages only in the ordinary postal activities. On a turnover of some 4 billion dollars last financial year, the Post Office of the United States of America suffered an aggregate loss of something in the region of 800 million dollars, or almost one-fifth of its total turnover.
In the United Kingdom - which, in some respects, is comparable with Australia - a different attitude is taken towards the running of the Post Office. The position there is given in some detail in the latest available report and accounts of the British Post Office, those for 1963-64. The aim of the Post Office in the United Kingdom is to earn roughly 8 per cent, on its capital, contrasted with an average return of 16 per cent, on capital by private enterprise. If it is accepted that industry should earn something like 16 per cent, on all capital employed, not merely that provided by the shareholders, this represents a considerable impost. We see clearly that factors other than wage payments are responsible for the high prices that prevail in the community. In the British Post Office, the aspiration is a return of 8 per cent, on capital employed. That is another way of conducting the Post Office. If you like, you can run the Post Office on the break even principle. In the view of the Opposition, that is the desirable aim.
When you get down to the argument that there ought to be some sort of earning on capital, you are getting into matters that are matters of sheer opinion. There is no black and white about them, despite what some members of the Ad Hoc Committee had to say. In my view, the members of that Ad Hoc Committee got caught up in the difficulty that, being businessmen, they were over-obsessed with the idea of running the
Post Office as a business undertaking. In the view of the Opposition, the main emphasis ought to be on running the Post Office as a public utility. We say that decisions on how fast the Post Office ought to be allowed to grow should be made by the Government and that the Government should allocate capital accordingly. Following the reasoning in the United Kingdom, it would seem that as long as the Post Office there was able to earn 8 per cent, over and above its normal outgoings, there would be no difficulty whatever in providing any extra capital that the Post Office required. But I do not think that is a tenable view in the Australian circumstances. I think that here the Government has an obligation to treat the Post Office as a public utility, that the Government ought fo determine its capital allocation in line with capital allocations for other activities, and that the determinant of Post Office finances ought not to be success in extracting from the public certain amounts over and above what services actually cost.
The finance for the Post Office ought to bc provided as a part of the Government’s overall plan. If that finance is provided from revenue, as has been done over recent years in connection with the majority of the Government’s capital works, no interest component should be added to the money provided. The point that 1 wish to make is that all that adding an interest component docs is to load on to the users of the Post Office services an additional burden which otherwise they would not have to bear. At the moment, the amount which the Government proposes to raise by way of additional postal charges is £20 million a year, and I admit that if the money is not found in this way the Government will have to find it somewhere else. 1 am not arguing that point. I am merely stating that, in terms of the overall financial performance of the Government, it is clear that the Post Office is being used as a taxing machine for the purpose of raising £20 million.
Ft may be argued that it is just as equitable to extract the money from the users of telephone services as it is to get it from the taxpayers by way of additional income tax or some other sort of tax. That may well be, but that is not the ground on which the Government has based its case. The Government has based its case on a ground which, in my view, is very nebulous. The Government’s view is not shared by everybody. I draw the attention of the House to paragraph 27 of the minority report of the Ad Hoc Committee. It reads -
For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that interest may, in the context with which we are concerned, be treated as the price which the owner can exact from the user for the use of money.
That was the view put forward in the majority report of the Ad Hoc Committee. The minority report goes on to say -
When the community, as taxpayers, provides money for the community, as Post Office customers, it is a matter of judgment whether a price for the use of the money should be exacted from the customers. Such judgment must be constantly exercised upon wise principles in future.
It continues -
There can be neither logic nor theory to justify altering retrospectively the judgments on this matter that have been made in the past. For this reason, we think that the theoretical contentions referred to in paragraph 65 of the majority report should be carefully assessed. We should add that there cannot be any ready-made rule of “ business practice “ by which the charge for interest can be determined in the case of a national service. 1 suggest that puts the issue very clearly. There cannot be any ready-made rule of business practice by which the charge for interest can be determined in the case of a national service. You can, if you like, determine, as the British Post Office does, to have a return on capital of 8 per cent. YOU can determine, as in the case of Australia, to have a return of between 4 per cent, and 4J- per cent. Or you can determine not to have a rate at all. No course is necessarily in any way a better business theory than another. In this country we lean not to the business theory but to the theory of treating the Post Office as a public utility whose capital needs are to be met from government services, just the same, let us say, as in the case of education, health or roads. Does anybody suggest, for argument’s sake, that if you provide £100 million for capital expenditure on roads you should add some silly sum by way of interest? Where it would be charged to would be a problem presenting some difficulty. No-one would suggest that in order to justify expenditure on education the expenditure must earn interest.
The Government is not even consistent in the attitude it adopts in relation to its other undertakings. I direct the attention of the House to the interim report of the Commonwealth Railways, tabled yesterday. The sum of £45 million has been advanced to the Commonwealth Railways by the Treasury but there is no reference in the report to an interest component. I suggest that perhaps logically there is more reason why interest should be charged in the case of the Commonwealth Railways than in the case of the Post Office because at least the Commonwealth Railways competes as a form of transport with other forms of transport, but I defy anybody to suggest that any other service competes with the Post Office in the carrying of letters or that the telephone service is similar to any other form of communications. The Post Office does not compete in those senses at all.
I want to look at the capital position of the Post Office. In some respects the Post Office is a kind of two headed animal. On the one hand you have the postal services, which may be said to be labour intensive activities. On the other hand you have the telecommunications services, which are heavily capital intensive. The Commonwealth Railways may be said to be competitive with other forms of transport but let us suppose that there is no interest component in its finances. Let us suppose also that the Victorian Railways or that the Ansett airline organisation is faced with an interest component. In this event the price that the Commonwealth Railways is able to charge will possibly be less than it should charge because it is not faced with that interest component. At least the Government should be consistent in these matters.
Another example of the Government’s inconsistency is the way in, which the export and import credit organisation is financed. The annual report of this organisation was tabled yesterday. When the Export Payments Insurance Corporation was established the Government provided it with £1 million as original capital. The Corporation immediately invested that sum in government bonds. The interest from that investment is returned each year as income and presumably the users of the service pay less because the Corporation has the income of the interest on £1 million as a start. In essence the users of this service are being subsidised by the Government.
It seems to me most peculiar and illogical to finance only the Post Office in the way it is financed. I suggest that the reason this load has been applied to the Post Office is that it is easy to apply but once applied there is not much tendency to remove it. At the moment the annual burden is about £20 million. This is why I have suggested in the amendment that the increased Post Office charges were unnecessary. In some respects they are unjust. I suggest that they are unjust because they affect different users in different ways. I acknowledge that the United States Post Office is not altogether similar to the Australian Post Office because the Post Office in the United States does not engage in telephone activities; but I point out that the annual report of the United States Post Office indicates that between 75 per cent, and 80 per cent, of that organisation’s activity was concerned directly with business undertakings.
I would like an indication from the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) whether the Post Office in Australia has available to it information showing how much of ils activities, both on the postal side and in relation to telephones, is with what might be called business users of the service as distinct from private users. This is a factor that should be taken into account in trying to find where this so-called notional interest burden really rests. After all, if we increase the rental of a telephone from £14 to £20 a year it is easy for a business undertaking to recover as much as 40 per cent, of the extra £6 by paying less income tax. So the total burden to the Post Office user is not the first consideration. Of course, where the Commonwealth gathers with one hand as a Post Office impost it loses on the other in the form of reduced tax collections. An escape of that kind is not available to, say, the pensioner who uses a telephone. What about the person who has had a telephone for 30 years and was able to pay his rental until he began to receive the pension. Why not apply a differential rate to pensioners? Why not say that anybody who has had a telephone for 30 years is entitled to a rebate of rental because of his obvious satisfaction with the system? The new user of a telephone may be in a different situation from that of the old user.
These are reasons why we suggest that the methods adopted in increasing Post Office charges are unjust. In the first place the Government has acted on the basis of a theory that is not very tenable. When you chase the theory you find that it has a much longer tail than you originally thought. The final impact of the increased charges is difficult to assess in all cases. Unfortunately some people cannot avoid the additional impost and upon them it will rest very heavily. A perusal of the financial and statistical bulletin of the Post Office reveals that of the total capitalisation of the Post Office of almost £600 million, after allowing for depreciation of assets, more than £500 million is tied up on the telecommunications side. The remaining £100 million includes buildings and land, so that the postal side is fairly light on the use of capital although it is relatively heavy on the use of labour. By and large the major part of capital expenditure in the Australian context is on the side of the telephones. 1 have no means to make other than a rough comparison in relation to this matter. Perhaps it is a matter upon which the Postmaster-General may throw some light later. The United Kingdom Post Office is comparable with ours because it does as our Post Office does. It provides telephone services as well as ordinary postal services.
The balance sheet of the United Kingdom Post Office shows the net book value at 31st March 1964, of total capitalisation, as £1.144 million sterling, of which £915 millions is in the field of telecommunication. When you add a quarter to the latter figure to allow for exchange you get a sum of about £1,150 million in Australian currency as being the book value of the capital installations on the telecommunication side in the United Kingdom. Contrast that with the position in Australia, where the capital installations are approaching half that value. The population of the United Kingdom is about five times greater than the population of Australia, which leads to one of two conclusions: Either there has been a wasteful use of capital in the Post Office in Australia - which is not the view that I hold - or. because of our geography, the costs of providing telephone services on anything like the scale that we have should be treated as part of our development, as is done in the case of transport costs. After all, we have one of the highest ratings in the world, with about 24 telephones to every 100 people.
The telephone is one of amenities of our civilisation; it is one of the things that has brought the outback into contact with the closer-in parts. On a per capita basis, in Australia we have to spend more on capital installations for postal services than does, say, the United Kingdom. That is, again, one of the reasons why this Government has been wrong in falling for the argument about loading the interest component into the cost, which makes it more difficult for people to get a telephone. There is no logic in the method of determination of the cost, and there is no justice where the final impact of that method falls.
Therefore, I suggest that the decision to increase charges should be reviewed in the light of the circumstances as they actually apply. When this issue comes up periodically I find it a really interesting exercise in comparative economics and in the field of public utility provision to look at what other parts of the world do compared with what we do in Australia. But I think we should always be clear that the circumstances here are probably very much different from those in other parts of the world. I should like the Minister later on - it may not be possible in the course of this debate - to consider the observation that we have, apparently a much heavier use of capital per head of population in Australia. I suppose a large part of it is involved in the provision of trunk line services over long distances, and some is due to the disparity between population and geographical area and to the fact that our centres of population are so far apart. That is just an observation that 1 make by the way.
There arc one or two other points I should like to mention. One of them is what seems to me a rather odd decision taken by the Government. I refer to a decision not to increase charges but to reduce them. The reduction to take place is in the charges for delivery of what is called “ household service mail “. Apparently an abominable practice of some firms, which arc audacious enough to think that everybody in a city wants to read their catalogues, is to continue. Apparently the Government is to make it easier for the abomination to be perpetrated, because it is reducing the cost of bulk deliveries of such circulars by some 30 per cent. This, also, is something on which I should have liked a little more information about the costing. The Minister has suggested that it has been carefully thought out that the reduction will produce sufficient new business to more than offset the loss involved in the reduction of the charge. I should bc interested to have a little more information on how the costing was arrived at.
In the course of my preparation for this debate I read some of the voluminous material that is available on the Post Office of the United States of America. In the United States there is a continuous committee that looks into postal activities. I believe that it is a committee of the Senate. The committee produces reports in volumes which are about four times as thick as our usual volumes of “ Hansard “. The reports of the committee cite the sort of things that are happening in the United States with regard to bulk mail. It is quite possible that the same sort of thing will happen here. We had the silly enough example in our economy of Melbourne firms carting carloads of biscuits to Sydney, and Sydney firms carting carloads of biscuits to Melbourne. They have apparently solved the problem now by eating each other by merger and agreeing to make the same sort of biscuits. But what is there to stop David Jones Ltd. of Sydney, for argument’s sake, deciding to fill up two or three vans with catalogues, bringing them to a point convenient to the metropolitan area of Melbourne and then dumping them in the hands of the Post Office for delivery at the reduced rates? Whether that is regarded as a good form of private enterprise I leave for imagination to determine, but I cannot see any virtue whatever in making it easier for the wiles of the salesmen to be brought to our doors by the skill of the postal staff of Australia.
I suggest that perhaps, if anything, the Government should have increased the charges on mail of that type. However, if the economy of the Post Office is so poised in terms of surplus manpower that it is economic to reduce charges for house hold service mail, I would be interested to have from the Minister a little more information than he has given us so far. At this stage I should like to say briefly that I have a great admiration for the skill and efficiency of the Post Office. I do not believe that its efficiency is connected in any way with the fact that it has to earn a certain percentage of the capital employed. To my mind, such a suggestion would be a slur on the goodwill of the Post Office staff, rather than anything else.
Over a period of very many years I have often had to rely on being able to post something at my home in the suburbs at 10 o’clock and it being in Canberra or at my office in Melbourne first thing in the morning for typing. Never at any time have I had any quibble whatever about the service that the Post Office performs, and I believe that its service is worthy of acknowledgment here. If at this stage we were doing something that would increase the pay of the ordinary humble staff of the Post Office my views about the interest component would perhaps be sofened a little bit, but this measure does not achieve that purpose; it is simply an easy way for the Government to raise £20 million, without considering whether it is necessarily the best way. I suggest that it is in the light of this kind of assessment that the Parliament ought to scrutinise what is being done, and therefore I say in conclusion that we oppose the increases in postal charges. Technically these increases are not dealt with in the Bill. They are imposed by regulations under the general postal legislation. But I am assured that according to the forms of the House this is the occasion on which we should direct attention to our proposition that the increases are unnecessary and that they are unjust in the way that they affect the various users of the postal services.
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
.- We have two bills before us which the House has, by arrangement, decided to deal with together. One of them is to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act and the other is to amend the Broadcasting anc! Television Act. The Bill to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act provides for two changes of no great importance. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) referred to one aspect of them at the end of his speech, but, as I have said, the Bill provides for no change of any great importance. Certainly the changes are of nothing like the importance of the changes that the Minister announced in his second reading speech. I refer to the proposed increases in telephone charges that will be implemented by regulation, to which the honorable member for Melbourne Ports referred a few moments ago. As the honorable member said, it is customary to impose these increased charges in this way and not by legislative action. It is to this aspect of the activities of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme) that I would like to address myself particularly this afternoon.
I do not propose to cover the whole of the workings of the Postmaster-General’s Department dealt with by the Bills now before us, as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has just done. I may say, however, that I think we are indebted to the Minister for a most lucid statement of the philosophy of the Government in its approach to the financing of postal and telecommunications services. The magnitude of the operation he has described is indeed impressive. Any industry with 90,000 employees is big in any language. The Department’s approach to the use of Australian industrial potential, as described by the Minister, is very creditable and provides, I think, a very good example to the business community of this country. Without a doubt the contracts placed by the Post Office with Australian industry have had an influence which has gone quite beyond the mere pounds, shillings and pence involved. The very high technical standards required, as a result of the rapid introduction of the most advanced electronic equipment, have certainly constituted a growth factor in the development of industry as a whole, particularly the electronics industry. lt has always been the policy of this Government that the Post Office, in general, is to be regarded as a business undertaking, and that it should not be allowed to continue to suffer recurring losses. This principle has been extended to embrace more than the mere outgoings on actual operations, and now also involves a requirement of some reasonable return on capital employed. The Minister went to some pains to point this out. You will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he referred to the findings of committees which had arrived at certain conclusions. He referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts and to Sir Alexander Fitzgerald’s committee. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports, like the good socialist that he is and speaking for the Australian Labour Party, says that he believes the Post Office should not be run as a business undertaking but that it should be run at a loss, and that any deficits incurred should be charged against the country’s revenue.
In general terms I agree that the Post Office should be regarded as a business undertaking. It is, indeed, hard to accept any other approach to it, if only because of the magnitude of the operation. There is also the fundamental requirement of some means of metering the use of communication facilities, and even of placing some restraint on them. I submit that the machinery of the market place clearly meets these requirements. I hope I have made my position clear. I believe a business undertaking - any business undertaking - should not be allowed to continue incurring losses.
The next point that I wish particularly to take up in this discussion is one that was mentioned by the Minister himself. He noted that the Post Office has an obligation to the community as a whole, particularly in the outback and developing areas. He said that in many cases services are provided for the community at rates well below cost. At a later point in his speech he explained that the figure of £570 for the capital cost of every telephone connection was an average figure, taken over the whole nation. Some installations, he said, would cost more than £1,000, and the country average is apparently £620. Tq my mind that raises this question: How rigidly should the Government apply the principle that the Post Office must conduct its affairs on a business basis? I suggest that if the Post Office did this, a great many of the more remote telephone services would never bc installed, because a wise business undertaking docs not follow this practice of averaging out the cost of capital installations. The sound management principle is to consider the additional return for each additional unit of capital employed. In other words, the very fact that the Post Office makes installations in the more remote areas and then follows this procedure of averaging out capital costs represents a departure from normal business practice, and we should not pretend otherwise. What I am saying is that the country, and the Post Office, and telephone subscribers everywhere, might well be better served if we indulged in a little re-thinking with regard to this across-the-board approach to capital costs of installation.
Perhaps I may be permitted to digress for a moment at this point. Time and again one hears people refer to Australia as a land of opportunity, a land of wide open spaces. Our abundance of space is seen as a glorious advantage. I am one who believes that our excessive space is one of our greatest weaknesses. An eminent world authority on economic geography, Professor Eric Zimmerman, speaking in the United States of America, had this to say - an excess of space is one of the greatest luxuries, one of the most expensive possessions of which a country may boast. One has only to imagine a country of continental expanse which consists of an enormous desert surrounded by a narrow margin of productive land - some people think of Australia in this way. The Australians would probably be much better off if their resources wore concentrated upon a very much smaller area. The pulse of economic and social life would beat quicker; and much effort, time and wealth could be saved if short direct connections could replace the circuitous journeys necessary at present.
Here is a classic example of this very thing - the high cost of infrastructure, caused to a very large extent by distance. In fact, I understand from the Minister’s second reading speech that £33 million of capital money will be spent this year in purely rural telephone extension in a pattern which bears no relation at all ito the distribution of population or to the probable or possible return on that capital. Here again, you see that the Post Office is not in fact conducting itself as a normal business undertaking.
Returning again to the calculation of £570 as the capital cost of a telephone installation, I would mention that the Minister was at some pains to establish this figure and also to make the point that a return on capital was considered a reasonable element to include in charges for services. The particulars he gave show that the costs of a remote connection inflate this figure in two ways. In the first place, the basic cost of connecting a subscriber to his exchange, and the costs of inter-connection with other exchanges in the same local call area, are set down at £450. In the second place, the costs of providing trunk line services are set at £120. This is done on a continental basis. Now, in Australia not only is there a marked concentration of people in urban areas but also there is a marked concentration of urban areas in particular parts of the country. In other words, I am paying for the cost of having the facility to make a telephone call to Port Hedland or Marble Bar. With very great respect to the good people of those towns, I doubt that we can afford the luxury of this kind of accounting. If we were to remove the low density areas from this calculation, the figure for providing trunk line services would surely be much less than £120. 1 must confess that from this point onwards, the Minister lost the logic of his design. Having been at pains not to differentiate according to areas or density of population when it was necessary to establish the capital cost of an installation, he went on to differentiate in a most marked way when it came to establishing annual rentals. I would have thought that, in fact, there should be some fairly close connection between the annual rental, the fixed continuing charge, and the capitalisation involved. In fact, the Minister bases his yearly rental charges on a completely different concept - the standards of daily service available from a particular instrument - without any regard at all to the amount of capital involved in making the connection. However, I think I have made my point.
The Minister brought these mild strictures upon his head by going out of his way to insist that the Post Office is regarded as a national business which should pay its way. If this is so, then I would suggest that it is a business run on, perhaps, a very odd basis. There is no real relationship between the Postmaster-General’s approach to capital planning and his basis of charging. There should be and, in fact, I was almost going to say there is, an element of cynicism in the idea of such a great differential as there is between the charges for the lowest rate country subscribers and the city subscriber. But 1 am sure that this is not the case. My suggestion is that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should temper its enthusiasm for the idea of running the Post Office on these national business lines with a little more realism. I am quite sure that it would be a practical course to discover those areas of Australia for which the normal expectation of return on telephone capital just will not work. The areas, I suspect, would be more than half of the land area of Australia.
I submit that the costs of installation in these areas should be met from a special fund. 1 am sure that the country would be most sympathetic in ensuring that the money would be available to meet these needs. It is not part of my argument in any sense to suggest that telephone services should not be provided for outback areas - for instance, for the people of Port Hedland or Marble Bar. But what I am saying is that the provision of these remote and, therefore, expensive services should not bc allowed to distort the accounts of the Post Office, obliging the Minister to come to us with rental increases of the type he proposes. If you do make a special provision and thus make allowance for the luxury of distance on a national basis,, then 1 am prepared to go along with the Minister with a businesslike approach to the matter of telephone charges. At the same time, I suggest that the cost of telephone services would appear a little more realistic. Quite frankly, 1. do not regard these proposals in this Bill as good thinking.
For the reasons that I have suggested, the Minister’s line of argument is inconsistent. 1 am sure the Minister must think so. He is following a pattern that has been laid down for years in the Post Office. I hope very sincerely that he will change this pattern. There is an clement of confusion in the way in which the annual charges have been set. I do not think that sound lines of administration for the future have been laid. 1 doubt that the increases will be fully effective. I am quite sure that the capital accounting system implied in what the Minister has told us has reached the end of its usefulness. The provision of telephone services, communications generally, roads and other services in remote areas cannot be taken into consideration in a common profit and loss account, or in a capital budget for the whole country, any more than the cost of building beef roads in Queensland should be a charge on the motorists in Hobart.
It is far preferable, it seems to me, to look the facts of geography fair in the face, recognise the special needs of the outback, and make quite separate capital provisions for them. These special needs should be financed, 1 believe, from general revenue. Then, when you are dealing with a telephone system containing a viable density of population, you can undertake the type of accounting that is realistic, and you can reasonably expect the system to pay for itself, its running costs, and the capital involved. Finally, you would most certainly provide telephone services on a lower basis of charge. 1 ask the Postmaster-General to consider immediately the points I have raised in regard to the creation of a special account, lt is my hope that he will be able to act before these charges are brought down by regulation.
.- I think the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) should have made it clear to honorable members and to the Australian people that if the Government were not using the Post Office as a taxing machine to raise the interest on expenditure for its capital development - a charge that is not made on any other Commonwealth Government department - the Post Office would show a profit annually of over £20 million, instead of showing a deficit. I believe that the Government’s actions in this respect are completely wrong and I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean).
The Bill before the House will amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1959. In my opinion the increases in telephone charges are savage and unnecessary. Telegram charges have also been increased, notwithstanding the fact that the last balance sheet issued by the Post Office showed that the Telegraph Branch made a profit. Overall, the Post Office showed a loss of £1.9 million, according to its last annual report, but the increases provided for in this Bill will raise additional revenue of £9.5 million. In the absence of this year’s annual report I do not know what will be tha profit or loss of the Post Office. I have always thought it a pity that when we are debating an important bill concerning a department we do not have the department’s annual report for the preceding financial year. As is true of every other department, the accounts of the Post Office close on 30th June each year. I appreciate that physical difficulties would be involved in compiling the annual report in time for the Estimates debate, but it is a pity that that debate and debates on bills such as the one before us must be conducted without our having in our possession the report of the department’s activities last financial year.
In my opinion the proposed increases should not be imposed, because they are founded unfairly. Under the pretext of the need to change the method of commercial accounting in the Post Office the Government decided that it would make the Post Office pay interest charges on expenditure on its development. Therefore this year the Post Office will have to find about £22 million or £23 million which it will pay into Consolidated Revenue. This seems to be a method of indirectly taxing the people. We have too many indirect taxes in this country. About 1 1 per cent, of the gross national product is absorbed by indirect taxation, without taking account of the methods of indirect taxation through the Post Office to which I have referred. Direct taxation takes 6 per cent, of the gross national product. The percentages attributable to direct and indirect taxation should be reversed. Direct taxation is the fairest way of raising money. The Government should not raise taxation by getting it around at the back door and camouflaging it so that the people are unaware they are paying it.
In his second reading speech the PostmasterGeneral referred to the new accounting system and the reason for its introduction. He referred to the following passage in the Treasurer’s Budget Speech in 1959-60-
It is clear beyond doubt that, since capital expenditure on the Post Office must continue to increase, 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.
It seems to me that the meaning of that passage is that the Post Office is to be used as a taxing machine. The Postmaster-General continued -
The Treasurer then went ou to announce that the Government would appoint an expert committee to examine these questions. A committee under the chairmanship of Sir Alexander Fitzgerald, O.B.E., was subsequently appointed to examine and report upon the financial relationship between the Post Office and the Treasury and other matters, including the basis for preparation of the commercial accounts and the general question of return on funds provided for Post Office purposes.
The committee reported its findings to the Government. The Committee was asked to determine the amount of capital that had been expended to develop the Post Office since Federation in J 901; that is, it was asked to calculate how much had been spent by the Government on building post offices and telephone exchanges, laying of co-axial cables and all the items that formed part of developing the Post Office. It was decided that the Post Office should pay interest calculated back to 1901 on the amount expended. The result has been the imposition of special charges through the Post Office to be paid by the people.
One section of the committee calculated the total amount of capital expenditure by the Post Office since 1901 as £380 million. Another section of the committee - I assume a minority section - calculated the amount as £300 million. I suppose the Government said: “ We will split the difference of £80 million and assume that the Post Office has cost £340 million to develop since Federation “. Consequently it has been necessary for the Post Office to increase its postage charges, telephone charges, telegram charges and the charges for almost all of its services in order to raise the interest it must pay. In 1959-60, the first year of the imposition of interest charges on capital expenditure the people provided extra postal revenue of £15.3 million. In the next year interest charges were £17.6 million; in 1961-62, £20 million; in 1962-63, £21 million. As I said before, we have not received last year’s balance sheet, but as the interest charges have increased by £1 million or £2 million each year I think we can assume that last year the Post Office had to pay interest charges of £22 million or £23 million on capital expended on its development since 1901 . This is a charge that no other department has to pay.
I shall make a comparison with another Government department which, like the
Post Office, is engaged only in rendering a service. I refer to the Department of Civil Aviation. The Post Office arranges to take letters from the point of posting to their destinations. The Department of Civil Aviation arranges for airline services to take passengers from their points of embarkation to their destinations. In what way does the Department of Civil Aviation differ from the Post Office? The anticipated expenditure of the Department of Civil Aviation for this year is £25.8 million. By comparison, its income is very small. Through this Department the Government contributes to the construction and maintenance of aerodromes and the provision of navigational and meteorological services. The estimated income of the Department of Civil Aviation for 1964-65 from air navigation charges and charges for meteorological and navigational services is £4.6 million. Included in this amount is the profit earned by Trans- Australia Airlines and Qantas Empire Airways Ltd.; the Government airlines, lt is expected that this year T.A.A. will earn a profit of £525,000 and Qantas will earn a profit of £974,000.
Although the Department of Civil Aviation is expected to have an income from all sources of about £4.6 million this year, it will be spending over £25 million in the same period; in other words, it will be spending about £21 million more than it earns. In spite of this fact, the Government does not propose to treat the Department of Civil Aviation in the same way as it treats the Post Office by saying: “ You will have to pay interest on expenditure on your capital development “. Why should we treat the Post Office in this fashion? If interest can be charged in respect of one department, it should be charged in respect of all departments. Why does not the Government charge the Department of the Army, the Department of Trade and Industry, and all other departments that provide services, interest on their capital expenditure? Why is the Post Office used as a taxing machine? As a matter of fact, over the last six years, since the Post Office has been paying this interest, it has had to find £96.4 million. On the other hand, the Department of Civil Aviation, which also provides a public service, has spent £125 million and shown a loss of more than £100 million. The Government is requiring the
Post Office to make up the losses shown by the other departments. I say that this is quite a wrong principle. I do not know what members of the Government have in the back of their minds in respect of this matter.
In some quarters there is a suggestion that the Post Office should be handed over to private enterprise. A re-organisation of the Post Office is being made at present. That makes it appear that something like a handing over to private enterprise may be contemplated.
– Is the Government going to sell the Post Office?
– It may sell the best part of the Post Office. As the honorable member for Scullin knows, that sort of malpractice is not beyond this Government. It has sold Commonwealth instrumentalities before. For instance, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries organisation was supported by the Commonwealth. It was struggling and it had to be paid a subsidy. It had to be developed because we did not have any oil refineries in Australia. It was built up, and as soon as it got on its feet and started to make a profit this Government sold it to private enterprise so that private individuals could receive the profit. That is what this Government does when a service is making money for the people. If a government instrumentality makes money, that money goes into the Consolidated Revenue Fund and can be used to pay the pensioners a little more than the paltry amount that they are paid at present.
Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd. was another project which had to be propped up by the Government. Of course, a Labour government created it. It had to be supported at first because it could not make money, but as soon as it got on its feet and started to show a profit this Government, against the best interests of the people, said: “ We will sell this organisation, too. It is a paying proposition. We will sell it to private enterprise. Blow the majority of the people.” Another example is the Bell Bay aluminium project in Tasmania. It was developed by the Labour Party. No aluminium was being produced in Australia. Then we developed this aluminium project and it was able to produce only 10 per cent, of our requirements. As soon as it got on its feet and looked as though it would be able to do a bit more for the people and be developed, this Government sold it.
Does the Government intend to do the same with the Post Office? It would be interesting to know whether it does. The Victorian Employers Federation has suggested that the Government might well consider allowing private enterprise a 40 per cent, shareholding in the Post Office. We know that a re-organisation of the Post Office is going on now. It is being dissected. Mail rooms are being built away from post offices and exchanges are being built away from post offices. Three different sections are being made. That is not good business. Docs David Jones Ltd. or any big firm in Melbourne dissect its general store? No. Those firms know that that is not good business. They put everything together under the one roof and make everything accessible, which is only sensible. Why is the Government allowing the Post Office to be dissected? Is the Government trying to divide it into sections so that the Government can say: “ We have built up the telephone business pretty well. It is now on its feet and making a good profit. We will sell it to private enterprise”? Let us remember that the Victorian Employers Federation has its eye on the possibility that if a section of the Post Office becomes a success it will be handed over to private enterprise. If that happens, the people will lose it.
The Postmaster-General said that the number of employees in the Post Office is 90,000. 1 hope he is aware that there is very great discontent among those 90,000 postal workers. There are many reasons why they are discontented. A lower value is placed on the work of employees in the Post Office than on the work of the employees of any other department. The Post Office has the greatest number of employees, and those employees are not happy about the low work value that is placed on them. They consist of the mail workers in the mail rooms and the postmen. Their work value is on a very low level. They arc discontented. Of course, mail officers in Sydney went on strike recently. They were very upset because they felt that they were being imposed upon and were not getting a fair go. So, for the first time in history, they went on strike in protest against the parlous conditions that exist. Part of the cause of the strike was the differential rates of pay in the mail branch.
– Did you say that their work was of low value?
– It is nice to hear that from the Labour Party.
– 1 did not mean that their work was of low value. I said that the price that the Government puts on their work is low.
– You said that their work was of low value.
– That is not what I meant. You understood what I meant. Their work is of a very high standard and they are efficient; but the price that the Government puts on their work is low. They are still upset about the position.
I should like the Postmaster-General to consider the matters I am raising. I should like him to make the position easier for people who cannot afford a telephone by enabling them to pay the rental on the stamp card system, as is the case in respect of television and radio licences. Pensioners cannot afford to pay these big amounts. If there was a card system under which they could pay 7s. 6d. a week, they might be able to afford to have a telephone.
– They may pay on an instalment basis now, if they want to.
– But there is not a card system.
– There is an instalment system.
– I do not like asking the Government to give concessions to pensioners or anybody else. 1 believe that the Government should pay a bigger pension so that pensioners can afford to have the necessaries of life. They should not have to ask’ for concessions.
I refer now to some of the telephone charges that are being imposed. They are absolutely beyond the financial resources of pensioners. Subscribers with local call access to up to 2,000 subscribers and all those connected to non-continuous service exchanges will pay £8. AU other subscribers in country areas with continuous services and local call access to more than 2,000 subscribers will pay £12. Those amounts represent increased rentals. I am sure that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) will be speaking about the rentals in Canberra, which are being increased from £8 10s. to £20. Canberra subscribers will pay the same rental as subscribers in other capital cities, such as Sydney, where a subscriber has access to about 500,000 other subscribers. In my opinion, the rental of £20 is too expensive.
– What about no taxation without representation?
– Yes. Business people receive taxation deductions for telephone charges. I think the honorable member for Melbourne Ports mentioned that, if a person is in business and is making a profit, the Government is generous enough to give him a taxation deduction for his telephone charges. Item No. 27 on the taxation return covers telephone expenses for business reasons only. Why give people who can afford to pay (he £20 further concessions in the form of taxation deductions, and not give the same concessions to pensioners? 1 guarantee that anything that business people pay in the form of taxation eventually goes back to the consumer, who has to pay for it.
I believe that pensioners should receive some concession. A telephone is a necessity in the homes of many pensioners. In my electorate, as I am sure in other electorates, there are pensioners who are very ill and the doctor says: “You must have a telephone so that I can keep in constant contact with you “. There are also pensioners living alone. How can they afford this very great increase to £20 per annum? If they have not a telephone now, in order to get one they must pay in advance the rental for half a year, which in a metropolitan area would bc £10, and the installation fee. That fee is something new. This Government introduced it as another way of getting money out of the people indirectly instead of taxing them directly. The installation fee of £10 was imposed in 1956. At that time, 100,000 people or thereabouts were waiting for the installation of telephones. I suppose that the Government took the view that an installation fee of £10 would return it approximately £1 million from those people. This vicious installation fee is now to be increased. The new rate will be £15. This means that a pensioner who wants a telephone, or who is told by his doctor that he must have one installed, will have to pay an installation of £15 plus £10 for half the annual rental in advance, making a total of £25. Where can a pensioner get that kind of money?
– That is before a single call is made, too.
– Yes, before even a single call is made. Where does the PostmasterGeneral expect pensioners to get £25 to pay in advance for this service that is absolutely necessary for many of them?
– Particularly in view of the miserable pensions that this Government provides.
– I have mentioned that already. If the Government paid adequate pensions, we would not be looking for concessions. Pensioners could not exist if «t were not for the concessions that they receive from local government authorities by way of rebates of rates and from State Governments in the form of concession fares, as well as the assistance that they receive from organisations that provide soup kitchens. If various charitable organisations did not look after pensioners, they would starve before this Government showed any concern. As I have said, the Government now wants to force pensioners to pay in advance before a telephone service is installed a total of £25, made up of an installation fee of £15 plus £10 for half the annual rental. This, as we have been reminded, does not take into account the cost of calls.
Another matter that I want to discuss is the proposed concession of a discount of 30 per cent, on charges made under the householder delivery service. Here, again, the Government proposes to give a concession to businesses. In effect, it says: “ If you want to advertise, we shall give you a 30 per cent, discount on charges for household delivery “. The cost of delivering 1 ,000 advertising letters in a particular section of a suburb, at the normal postage rates, would be about £20 16s. Id. A discount of 30 per cent, represents a saving of more than £6 to a business that undertakes advertising in this manner. Why does the Government propose to give concessions like this to businesses which, after all, can pay the normal rates, while, at the same time, it inflicts on pensioners the penalties that I described earlier? 1 suggest that, instead of encouraging advertising, the Government should do something to control and limit it. The advertising content in prices today is materially helping to make the cost of living as high as it is. We are subjected to a spate of advertising on television and radio. A television viewer may enjoy the picture, but he should not forget that he is paying for all the advertising that he sees. Indirectly, he pays for the very advertisements that interrupt the programmes and cause him annoyance and inconvenience.
– The return from advertising last year was £111 million.
– As my honorable friend from Barton has just said, the return from advertising last year was £111 million. This sum has been added, in total, to the prices of the commodities that the people buy. Such advertising should be limited. As I said a moment ago, the consumers have to pay the cost of it.
I wish to make another point now, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suggest to the PostmasterGeneral that he ought to make himself more conversant with the human needs of the service that he administers. The Post Office is the greatest service and the largest business in the Commonwealth. It employs 90,000 persons. Relations between the Minister and the employees of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department are not as good as they should be. I recall a fairly recent occasion when a group of the Department’s employees revolted against the bad conditions under which they suffered in the service of the Government. They went on strike. The Minister, instead of adopting a human approach, said: “We shall invoke the penal provisions of the Public Service Act”. What are those provisions? Section 66 of the Act provides that an employee who stops work or goes on strike because he refuses to accept meekly the crust that is handed out to him will be sacked. On the occasion that I have mentioned, the Postmaster-General said, in effect: “ If you do not go back to work tomorrow, I shall invoke the penal provisions of the Public Service Act “. Those employees who went on strike are not yet sure that they will not suffer as a consequence.
As I mentioned in this chamber the other day, when referring to the Public Service Act and the Public Service Regulations, an officer whose conduct is not what somebody in authority thinks it should be can lose entirely his accumulated long service leave or furlough rights. As I pointed out then, a man on a salary of £1.500 a year, with 40 years’ accumulated furlough, who dared to go on strike could be sacked and, in the result, could lose one year’s salary, or £1,500, being his entitlement of one year’s furlough. The Postmaster-General apparently believes that this does not matter. On the occasion of the strike that I have mentioned, he said: “ Go back to work or I shall put the boot in and invoke the penal provisions of the Public Service Act”. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) had to step in and call the Minister off.
So I suggest to the Postmaster-General that he ought to examine human relations in the Post Office and not rush in to use the penal provisions of the Public Service Act as a threat against the employees. I invite him to run the Post Office more in consultation with the employees. I do not suggest that they ought to run the entire show, but they should be consulted in the running of a big business of this kind. I should like the Minister to do what he can to improve relations between himself and the employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department, which at present are far from good.
I support the amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill proposed by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, the House is at present debating two Bills, one designed to amend the Broadcasting and Television Act and the other designed to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act. I reject the amendment to the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill proposed by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), but I reserve the right to criticise certain aspects of both Bills. Before I make any criticisms, I want to make it perfectly plain that anything that I say is not intended to reflect on those responsible for the operations of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, which renders great service to the people of Australia. 1 believe that, in accordance with the present policy of the Department, the people responsible for its operations do a mighty job. Under the present policy, the Post Office gives the people of Australia wonderful service. So I wish it to be clearly understood that any criticism I make is not directed at those persons who give effect to the policy under which the Department is administered.
The Opposition’s main criticism concerning these two Bills relates to the payment by the Department of an interest charge on capital invested. There may appear to be some merit in this criticism, but I recall that before an interest charge on capital investment was introduced a few years ago there was continual criticism, particularly by Opposition members, who set up a great howl and claimed that the Government was not administering the Post Office as a business undertaking and that a proper business basis ought to be adopted. We now hear a directly contradictory criticism. We are now told that the Department should be administered in a different manner altogether and not in a businesslike way.
I remind the Opposition that in other countries, particularly one that I shall mention, services of the kind provided by our Postmaster-General’s Department are administered on a purely commercial basis and the normal commercial charges are applicable. I believe that it would be a move in the right direction if we were to adopt a similar policy here. I suggest that we should divorce the Post Office from the Treasury altogether and put it on a purely commercial basis. Other countries have found that this policy proves very successful, and I believe that it could well be adopted in Australia. In Great Britain the Post Office has been divorced from the Treasury and has been established on a purely commercial basis. I intend to quote from a booklet - “Post Office Finance” - about the British Post Office. Concerning the period before the Post Office was divorced from the Treasury, the booklet states -
Despite ils commercial character, its monies flowed into and out of the central Exchequer and so came under the traditional restraints.
I ask honorable members to note the word “ restraints “. This is what we are getting in Australia so far as our Post Office is concerned. Restraints are being placed on it, due to the fact that all moneys are paid into the Treasury and doled out piecemeal without any reasonably good planning for the future operations of the Post Office. The booklet further states -
The pre-requisite for further development of the concept of self-contained finance for the Post Office was, therefore, the cutting of these links with the Exchequer. This further step was taken with the passing of the Post Office Act 1961 which came into effect on 1st April of that year.
In respect of the severing of the connection between the Post Office and the Treasury, the booklet states -
The starting point of the new arrangements was the separation of Post Office current finances from the Exchequer. The Post Office now retains its revenue and defrays its expenses from it. Its finances centre on a Post Office Fund under its own management, and it is dependent on the Exchequer only for sums borrowed to meet that part of the annual Post Office investment programme which cannot be financed from its own resources. lt has power to borrow, for temporary purposes, up to a limit of £30 million from the Bank of England. In the other direction it has power to invest surplus money in short-term Government securities, or in such other form as the Treasury may approve.
In accordance with this recognition of its commercial character the Post Office accepts the commercial obligation to pay the taxes and duties to which industry in general is subject, such as income and profits tax, purchase tax, stamp duty, vehicle duties, and so on.
The British Post Office was put on a purely commercial basis, and so could plan ahead for its operations without any hindrance from the Treasury, or without the Treasury saying: “You have to cut down on your expenditure here “. I believe that if we had some similar set-up we would have better and cheaper services in Australia. If we fail to get a similar set-up why cannot we introduce a system similar to that in the Department of Civil Aviation, whereby a sum of money is allocated for spending over a number of years? If we could do that in our Post Office we would achieve our dream of subscriber trunk dialling throughout the Commonwealth much sooner. Incidentally, I want to say something about subscriber trunk dialling and how it affects telephone connections in certain areas. 1 believe that the Post Office must have a plan for subscriber trunk dialling right throughout the Commonwealth, but I will never see it functioning, the way things are going at present, and a lot more people will not see it. The Department must plan on the basis of long distance telephone connections of a certain standard. Many people in my area have had private lines for over 40 years - services which have cost thousands of pounds. I realise that it is wise to plan ahead, but with this postal planning these people will be more or less compelled to go on with another service to comply with certain standards to cover the event of the trunk dialling system being instituted in the distant future. I try to explain the benefits of the system but these people say to me: “ Look, I will be dead by the time it comes in and 1 will not get any benefit from it, so why should I spend money on it? “ The Post Office must plan ahead for the services it is anxious to supply so that people throughout the Commonwealth may enjoy better services, but I ask the Postmaster-General and the Government to examine systems that operate in other parts of the world to see whether they could not improve our existing services. 1 emphasise that in the circumstances we have the best that can be supplied under the policy that the Government follows so far as the Postmaster-General’s Department is concerned. The Government should have a look at other systems to see whether something better cannot be provided. Surely with scientific improvements something can bc done.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) referred to the household delivery service. 1. want an explanation of this household delivery service under which postal articles are sent to every address in an area. 1 want to know what is meant by the words “ an area “. Do they refer only to city areas or to the whole of the Commonwealth?
– A postal area.
– A postal area where there is a postal delivery?
– We have not many postal deliveries in our country districts. There have been some complaints about the high installation costs for telephones throughout the Commonwealth. In his speech the Minister gave a break-up of these costs. The average cost is £570, but mention was made of the cost of a country installation as being about £600. I remind honorable members that in many country areas the cost to the Department is small compared with the cost to an individual subscriber who has to provide his’ own telephone line. 1 am not suggesting that the Post Office should- do more than it is obliged to do, but I point out to the House that there are disabilities in living in country areas, even though we do get, according to one honorable member, some concessions - and he qualified that claim later. People should not forget that in most cases the average trunk line call in a country area like mine would be about 4s. for three minutes. In many instances a particular person charge applies, and it can cost 6s. for a three minute call. In the city area there is no increase in the charge and a person can talk all day for 4d. if. he wants to. This contributes to the problems that country people are faced with - they ring a city number and are almost invariably told that it is engaged. This lack of restriction on the length of a call is responsible. A country person has to wait until the number is no longer engaged, or book a call, for a specific time. I have heard, it said again and again that time means money. In the majority . of country areas, time is vital and means a lot of money. Let me emphasise that the majority of the telephones in country areas are installed not just for private purposes but for essential business reasons. The people in countryareas must have telephones in order to keep in contact with business undertakings and activities. I believe that further concessions should be given to country districts. We. hear it said continually in this House, particularly by our friends opposite, that the Government is neglecting one of the main planks in the platform of the party to which I . belong. I refer to decentralisation. The telephone is one of the greatest mediums for promoting decentralisation of industry in Australia. If we are to have businesses and industries in country towns, it is essential that they have telephones.
I wish to ask a question relating to the charge for installing telephones. I have before me an application which was submitted last April. Amongst other things, the application contains a statement that the applicant tenders the sum of £10 to cover service connection. As I have said, the application was made in April. I wonder whether, when this Bill becomes law, the connection will still be made for £10. Or will an extra charge be made following upon the alteration in telephone and telegraph charges? Perhaps when he replies the Minister will tell us whether, when this Bill becomes law, an extra charge will be made in all those cases where applications have been submitted before the passing of this legislation.
I come now to a matter which relates to the Broadcasting and Television Act. In these days, we seem more interested in talking about the various phases of television services than about radio services, so I do not know to what phase of the radio service the matter about which I propose to refer relates. I ask the Minister to see whether it is possible to bring into operation the final phase of providing satisfactory radio services in areas of Australia where the people now either have bad reception or no reception at all. I recall that about 10 years ago I raised in this House the question of the bad radio reception experienced by residents of the south western parts of Queensland. These people pay an annual fee for a radio listener’s licence, and the Department should provide them with a decent service. I suggest that the Department is under a moral obligation to provide a decent service. If it cannot provide that service, then it should either modify the fee for a listener’s licence or forgo it altogether. These people have been putting up with poor radio reception for a long time. There are certain periods of the day when reception is reasonably good, but for most of the 24 hours it is extremely bad. There is a terrific amount of interference during certain periods of the day. As I have said, although the Department is not providing a good service, it is still charging the full annual fee for a listener’s licence.
After many years, it would appear that some progress is to be made in the area about which I am speaking. I understand that the Department proposes to build a new radio station for the area; but I understand also that it will be about two years before the station is completed. I ask the Postmaster-General to have another look at this matter, with a view to giving these people the same value for their listener’s licence fee as is enjoyed by the residents of areas closer to the cities. The provision of a good service would not cost a great deal of money but it would certainly enable these people to enjoy one of the amenities available to the residents of more fortunate areas. I know that there are other parts of the Commonwealth in which similar difficulties are experienced, but I speak of this area because it is one that 1 know. Some priority should be given to the provision of a good radio service to these people, who cannot hope to have television for many years unless the Department is prepared to accept the suggestion that I am about to offer.
We know that there is now on the market what is commonly referred to as a package television station. It is capable of giving service only within a limited radius. In the western area about which I am speaking, there is a group of people prepared to invest money in such a station and to operate it under the supervision of the Postmaster-General’s Department. These people are prepared to give an undertaking that if ever the time should come when the Department decides to extend its television services to the area, they will abide by any decision made by the Department if their station should interfere in any way with the Department’s plans. I know that the proposal has been submitted to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board in Melbourne on two occasions and has been rejected both times.
What better offer could the Government have? Such a service would not cost the Government anything. As I have said, if it should interfere in any way with the Government’s television service when it comes into the area, these people are prepared to abide by any decision the Department might make with regard to the restriction of their activities. I appeal to the Postmaster-General to have another look at this proposal. These package stations are on the market and such a service would cost the taxpayer nothing. Private enterprise is prepared to provide a service in the area and to take the chance of it proving to be profitable.
In his second reading speech the PostmasterGeneral has staled that all costs of the Department have risen. He has told us that it is estimated that the recent increase in the basic wage alone will cost his Department another £7 million, and that all other costs have risen. Once again, I make a plea for the people living in isolated areas, and 1 make a special plea for young people and school children. As they cannot now expect a decent telephone service, I ask that better mail services be provided, especially for those children who have to depend upon correspondence schools for their education. The reason given by the Department for the reduced services in country areas is that tenders for mail services are too high and that the cost of delivery of a particular item is out of all proportion to the service provided. But the Department fails to remember that when costs rise services provided in the metropolitan areas are not reduced. For example, when the 40 hour week came into effect many more postmen were required in order to give the city people their regular deliveries of mail but country people did not retain the standard of service to which they had been accustomed. When the Department’s costs increase somebody has to be the bunny. The Department has to reduce expenditure in some direction, and it usually reduces it at the expense of country people.
I ask the Postmaster-General to look into the matters 1 have raised. Primary producers have no control over costs but when the Department’s operating costs increase the services to country people are reduced. I am sure that when the Postmaster-General considers all the implications of the matters 1 have raised he will acknowledge that country people are entitled to a better deal. Surely they are entitled to at least the service they were getting 40 years ago but which they are not getting today. To reduce services to country people is to take a retrograde step. Country people should be treated more generously than they have been in the past.
I pay a tribute to all the people engaged in providing our telephone and telegraph services - to all employees of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I speak from personal experience and I know that they do a splendid job. But they could do a much belter job if there were an alteration in the Department’s policy.
.- I congratulate the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) on his wholehearted condemnation of the unnecessary and unjust action taken by the Government to increase charges imposed on telephone users. I agree with the honorable member’s condemnation of the Government. I agree also with his comments about employees of the Postal Department. They do a particularly good job. If the Department was administered better than it is they would be able to do a better job.
I agree wholeheartedly with the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) who pointed out that every service the Government renders to promote the development of this country or the welfare of its people should be rendered at the lowest possible cost. The honorable member pointed out that health, education and the construction of roads were public services in the same way as the instrumentalities controlled by the Postal Department. Me claimed that the services of the Postal Department should bc provided at the lowest possible cost. But are they being provided today at the lowest possible cost? Let us examine briefly the increases proposed by this legislation and their effect on those who use our postal services. The fee for the installation of a telephone will be increased from £10 to £15. That is an increase of 50 per cent. - not a bad increase. The Government seeks to justify the increase by claiming that wages have recently risen by £1 a week. The annual telephone rental paid by private subscribers is to be increased from £ 14-odd to £20 - an increase of about 40 per cent. The rental paid by businesss subscribers will increase from £17 7s. 6d. to £20 - a rise of about 15 per cent. What effect will those increases have on telephone users?
Recently I asked the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme), upon notice -
What is the average number of outward calls made by a non-business telephone subscriber?
The Postmaster-General replied -
Statistics maintained by the Department on telephone calling rates do not differentiate between business and residence services. However, recent sample studies show average calling rates for residence services to be about S80 local calls yearly in metropolitan areas and 220 in the country. . . .
How much do those 580 calls cost? In the first year the subscriber will pay an installation fee of £15 and £20 for the rental of his instrument. Before he makes a call he will pay 700s. For each local call he will pay 4d. If he makes 580 calls a year he is paying more ‘than ls. a call without taking into account the cost of 4d. for each call.
– It is monstrous. It is outrageous. That subscriber will pay more than ls. for each call in addition to the 4d. call charge. How much did he pay before this Government increased charges? He paid about £14 a year rental and an installation fee of £10 - much less than ls. a call. The cost of local calls made by the average subscriber of a residence service virtually will increase by about 50 per cent. That is what this Government is doing for telephone users. It is increasing the cost of their calls enormously.
But this is only the first part of a terrible dory. Suppose I have a telephone for 20 years. The instrument would not cost £20 to make but I will pay at least £20 a year in rental for the next 20 years. There are two million subscribers in Australia. This means that the Department will receive £40 million a year in rental. Over 20 years the Department will receive £800 million in rental and at the end of that 20 years each instrument will be as good as the day it was installed. If that is not outrageous highway robbery I am not a very good judge of what constitutes-
– Your figures are wrong to start with.
– Now the least bright and the least well-informed member of a Ministry that is distinguished by its ill- informed members has the audacity to tell me that my figures are incorrect.
– They are.
– My figures are correct; I read them from the document presented by the Postmaster-General. Is it incorrect to say that £20 is 400s.? Is it incorrect to say that if a person has 200 calls, each call-
– I am not talking about that. Some of your other figures are wrong.
– Well, what are the other figures that are wrong? Be specific. Of course, you cannot be specific.
– Yes I can; you said-
– Order! The honorable member will address the Chair.
– I should not be sidetracked by a person of that calibre. After all, I aim at the eagles of the Ministry, not the peewees. The Postmaster-General is the person whom I am addressing in connection with this matter. I have used round figures which might not have been exact, but they are approximately correct and they give a true picture of the position. The point 1 am making is that there has been an exorbitant increase in telephone rentals. Rentals have been increased by 40 per cent, for residential telephones and 14 per cent, for business telephones, and the installation charges for all telephones have increased by 50 per cent. Those increases are immense and I suggest that they cannot possibly be justified by the administration.
I have been dealing with this subject on the ground of whether the increases are necessary. I shall now deal with it on the ground of injustice. In the past the rental for a business telephone has been £17 17s. 6d. and the rental for a residential telephone has been £14 2s. 6d. The increase in rental for the business telephone is only one-seventh, or 14 per cent.; the increase in the rental for the residential telephone is 40 per cent. The point that I make is that a vast number of people, and probably the biggest percentage in country areas and in the cities, do not have as many as 580 calls a year, which was stated as the average number. Most people have fewer. A vast number have 220 calls a year, which was stated as the average number of calls for each subscriber in country districts. From that figure we can work out how much it costs those people for each call in the first year when they have to pay £15 for the installation of a telephone, £12 for the rental and 4d. for each of the 220 culls. That is a mathematical problem which the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth), who was interjecting, should be able to work out quite easily with the assistance of his big staff.
– I will check your figures carefully.
– I invite the Minister to check not one of these figures but all of them. It is obvious that if a person who has only 200 calls in a year pays £20 in rental, each call has cost him 2s. But added to that is an extra 4d.
– Do not look at me.
– Isn’t that right?
– But you have to extend that figure over the whole year.
– That is right. In addition, a person ‘has to pay 300s. for the installation, which means much to the age pensioners and others using the telephone. That increases the charge to more than 4s. a call. This is where there is a differentiation between users which is to the disadvantage of those people compared with big business concerns.
Because the big business concern has perhaps a thousand or more telephone calls the average cost of each call above the base cost of 4d. is only an additional 4d. or 6d., which means that the total cost for each call is only 8d. or lOd. That is less than half the amount paid in many cases by the person who has a telephone in his residence. That should be obvious to everyone. Furthermore, if we are to talk in percentages, the percentage increase in the cost of telephone calls of business people is much less than the increase applied to a residential phone in the city or the country. There has been a discrimination in favour of big business against the person who has to use the telephone only occasionally. I believe that I have made it particularly clear that the increase in the cost of installation of a telephone will be 50 per cent, and that the increase in rentals from £14 2s. 6d. to £20 is an increase of 40 per cent. This is for the use of a telephone which has probably cost about £10 and which, at the end of 20, 30 or 40 years will be as good as ever and will be returned to the custodianship of the Post Office. During that time the Post Office will have received as rental for the use of the instrument between £400 and £500.
– But you have to extend the installation charge over the 30 or 40 years.
– I welcome Chat assistance, because this gentleman looks more intelligent that the others who have been interjecting. There is another issue upon which this Government has shown clearly its bias towards big business. I do not blame the Government for that, because I realise that those who sit opposite are the instruments, the puppets, the jumping jacks of big business in Australia. When they can do a job for their supporters, their backers and financiers, it is only natural that they will do it. On this occasion the Government is serving its backers particularly well. It is not only serving them in the matter of telephones but also with regard to postal charges.
I was in the United States of America some time ago, at the expense of the Government of this country, and while there I saw a television series dealing with the American postal service and pointing out the vast losses incurred in the distribution of publications like “ Reader’s Digest “ and pamphlets used to advertise the goods of various firms. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost annually in distributing particular items and, overall, thousands of millions of dollars were lost in distributing this type of postal material. Today we have been told, in effect, that it is proposed to decrease the charge for the distribution of some articles and that, overall, the decreased charge will cover the cost of distribution. I doubt that. I doubt it on the evidence supplied in the United States of America and elsewhere. I doubt that this Government has, by any scientific method, arrived at the cost of distributing dodgers from firms such as Myer Emporium Ltd., Foy and Gibson Ltd. and David Jones Ltd. or is able to compare it with the cost of distributing letters throughout the community.
– But in the United States they distribute samples of cornflakes. That is not done here.
– Well, I recently received razor blades and tooth paste in my mail.
– Those things are a bit smaller and easier to handle.
– You must be a V.I.P.
– That is right. An investigation recently made by the American postal authorities showed that there was a relatively large loss incurred in accepting these items for delivery by mail, and I do not hesitate to suggest that if a scientific investigation was carried out here it would bc found that the big companies are not paying adequately for the distribution of their propaganda. But of course these big companies are the backers and financial supporters of the Government. They have the ear of the Government, and the people who control these big firms can go to the Government and say: “ We are paying a vast amount of money to circulate our advertisements and we want a reduction. “ Of course, it is a fact that they are paying a large amount, but they do not tell the Government that as a result of the circulation of these advertisements they are making profits of 30 per cent, or 50 per cent, at the expense of the community and that they are well in a position to pay more for the dissemination of these advertisements. Nor do they tell it that they get big tax reductions and remissions because these expenses are incurred in the course of carrying on their businesses.
Similar tax remissions were referred to by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), who pointed out that a person who has a telephone connected to his business premises gets a remission of tux because of the £15 that he has’ to pay for that telephone installation. He also gets a remission of tax in respect of the annual rental charge of £20 that is made. I am not too sure about the telephone calls themselves, but probably he gets a remission of tax in respect of the charges for those too. When the whole thing is boiled down it is found that the person who is hit seriously is the age pensioner or the ordinary resident who needs the public service of a telephone - and it is a public service - and who has to pay for each outward call that he makes at the rate of 2s. or 3s. a call. He is the person, and the only person, who pays. Yet the Government of this country has the audacity to go before the people and complain that there is an inflationary trend in the community that must be arrested at all costs.
If this is what the Government believes, let it do what the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) suggested, what the honorable member for Melbourne Ports suggested, what the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) suggests and what I, with diffidence and humility, suggest. Let it have another look at these increased charges for postal services. Look at them first, if you like, as a business proposition. What would have been your reaction if it had been shown that the workers of this country had had a 50 per cent, increase in their wages? We would be told it would create a terrible situation, in which the spiral of inflation would start to revolve at such a great rate that it could never be stopped. But the same people who tell us this also say that it is a terrible thing for a worker to seek, not a 50 per cent, increase in his wages but only such an increase in his purchasing power as to enable him to keep up with the cost of living. These people say nothing about increases from 30 per cent, to 50 per cent, in the costs of a particular service in one Government department.
I think I have said enough in connection with telephone charges.
– Hear, hear!
– Perhaps the PostmasterGeneral thinks I have said too much. In any case I shall now come to the matter of increases in television charges levied on the ordinary members of the community. I used to think that one of the most widely accepted business principles involved the proposition that the greater your market and the wider your clientele, the lower you could set the price of your product. In this case, we find that when the number of people enjoying television is doubled the Government says: “We have to increase the price of each television licence “. It appals me to think of the charge that will be made for a television licence if the time ever comes when 10 or 12 times as many people are looking at television as look at it today.
What should be happening today is the reverse of what is actually happening. As new people come here from overseas, more people get married and more and more obtain television licences, the service that was previously provided for a small number is provided for a large number, and so the price of a licence should be reduced. But this Government does not think along those lines. Tt increases the licence charge and it endeavours- to hide, as the honorable member for Banks has pointed out, the exorbitant profit being made by the Postal Department by telling us that the Department must meet legitimate interest charges on some capital that it expended back in 1901 and in subsequent years. The position is, of course, utterly absurd. But even if there were justification for the Government obtaining all the revenue that it will receive as a result of this new legislation, the largest extra contribution will be made by the section of the community that should not be called upon to make it. Instead of getting the extra revenue from those best able to provide it, the Government takes it from those least able to pay. Of course this is in accordance with the philosophy of the Government. It probably believes that what it has to do is keep the conditions of the workers at a stable low level and allow free enterprise, which is another term for free exploitation, by the representatives of big business in this community.
– Turn it up.
– I sympathise with the honorable member who is groaning in one of the Country Party seats. After all, we here are the victims of big business which is represented by the Liberal Party, but we on this side of the House know it and we fight against it. The honorable member and his colleagues are the unwitting and unconscious victims of the depredations and predatory activities of big business.
.- The honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) is entitled, of course, to make what political capital he can and to mouth some of the old shibboleths. I am concerned, however, with other matters. We are dealing with two Bills. I am concerned with only one of them, that which makes provision for increased telephone charges. I want to start by being’ perhaps somewhat provincial or even parochial. I want to start at the grass roots and then ascend to those lofty heights on which the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has treated us to a dissertation on the economics of public utilities. This last is a most interesting field, and I shall be happy to reach it but only by way of the grass roots. This is not an academic matter. To me, it is a very practical one. I want to deal, therefore, with the shortage of telephones - the absence of any telephones at all - before going into the question of how, from a financial point of view, telephones are to be provided. If I may say so with respect to the honorable member for Scullin, there is one thing worse than having to pay more for a telephone, and that is not to have a telephone at all, and not be able to get one even if you are prepared to pay for one. It is on this aspect of the matter that I start.
Firstly, I should like to draw a comparison between the situation with regard to outstanding applications for telephones in the various States of the Commonwealth. As at 30th June 1964, the number of outstanding applications in New South Wales was 29,471; in Victoria, 12,127; in South Australia, 4,596; in Western Australia, 2,085; in Queensland, 1,574; and in Tasmania, 487. Now, it will be seen that New South Wales has much more than double the number of unfilled applications of the next worse served State, Victoria. As to the position of the various electorates in New South Wales, as at 30th June 1964, there were 793 outstanding applications in Bradfield. Of the 46 seats in New South Wales, 31 are better off than Bradfield and 14 are worse off than Bradfield. The figures show that every single country seat in New South Wales is better off, and far better off, than any metropolitan seat in New South Wales, with one exception - a country seat held by a Liberal. So there are more outstanding applications in my electorate-
– The seat of Hughes has 2,500 outstanding applications.
– I know that your electorate is a bad one in this regard. There are more outstanding applications in my electorate than in the whole of Tasmania. There are more outstanding applications in each of 14 other electorates in New South Wales than in the whole of Tasmania. There are more outstanding applications in each of five electorates in New South Wales than there are in the whole of Western Australia. I draw attention to this disparity in the position of New South Wales compared with other States, and in the metropolitan electorates of New South Wales compared with the country electorates of that State. I merely draw attention to these facts because, clearly, it should be the policy of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme) to rectify these imbalances.
I want to give some examples of the kind of matter that is constantly coming up in my electorate, and that has moved me to take some interest in this matter which is not, as I say, an academic matter, but is a very practical one. I quote briefly the kinds of letters that I am constantly writing to the Director of Posts and Telegraphs in New South Wales and sometimes to the Postmaster-General himself. This is one example -
On 25th March 1963, my constituent, unable to get a telephone, wrote to me that he had taken a new position as General Manager for Australia of his Company and now found the lack of a telephone a serious handicap to his business arrangements, particularly in regard to his interstate offices and customers. As a case in point, it was necessary for him recently to telephone the Managing Director in New York; due to the time variation this call had to be put through at 11 p.m. and he had to prevail upon the kindness of a neighbour to use his phone. He says that his frustration is not appeased when he sees the Department’s advertisements for coloured telephones!
I take another example -
My constituent, unable to get a telephone, complains that his business of plumbing and draining has suffered greatly through lack of a service.
Here are other examples -
My constituent writes that he has tried for four years to have a telephone installed at his home address, but as yet he has been unsuccessful, due to lack of equipment. He lives in a suburb within 12 miles of the G.P.O., Sydney.
On 24th January 1964, I wrote -
My constituent states that he is Chief Accountant of a firm . . . which is established in every State of Australia. He says also that he made his application for a telephone as long ago as May 1963. As yet there appears to be no prospect of getting a telephone.
On 16th January 1964, 1 wrote -
It is pointed out that my constituent is a member of the Executive Committee of the Wool Textile Manufacturers of Australia and that his company conducts aa extensive wool top export business. He complains that his company is in considerable difficulties now due to the fact that he is unable to receive overseas telegrams and telephone calls out of office hours because he has no telephone at his home. Application for a telephone service was first made in the name of his company, early in September 1963, and has so far been unsuccessful. This is after nine months delay.
As another example, I wrote on 14th November 1963 -
My constituent states that application for a telephone was made as long ago as December 1962, but that no definite date of installation has as yet been made by the Telephone Department. This is after 11 months’ delay.
On 29th January 1964, I wrote -
About a fortnight before Christmas my constituent, an elderly man, became seriously ill and his wife had to leave him in the early hours of the morning to contact a doctor from a public telephone some distance from the home. Although a medical certificate was submitted in support of the application as yet no telephone has been supplied. The application was made about 18 months ago.
Another constituent writes -
My mother is an elderly widow living alone who has indifferent health having suffered from a glaucoma of the eyes which needs to be watched very carefully. She is also a chronic bronchitis sufferer. She would not have sold her home had she known she could not have her phone transferred.
People are not able to live in various parts of my electorate because they cannot get a telephone. This is the position we have reached. On 14th November 1963, I wrote -
It appears that my constituent applied for a telephone about 12 months ago and that since then he has supplied the Department with letters from two doctors, stating that his wife is carrying out private nursing for them and that a phone is of vital importance in this connection. . . . However he has already been waiting for a phone for almost two years.
So people cannot engage in their business either because they cannot get telephones. Finally, on 21st July 1964 - this, I know, will move honorable members - I wrote that an application was made for a telephone by an employee of an undertaker. The applicant had to live away from home on the undertaker’s premises until a telephone was installed at his home as he had to be on call at night to remove corpses.
I quote these examples merely as an illustration of the kind of thing that is constantly happening to me as a member of Parliament. This is why I say that this is not a theoretical matter of economics; it is a matter of getting telephones. Clearly in New South Wales, the metropolitan area of Sydney and my electorate have not had the deal that they should have had from the Department. May I say that I do nob hold the present Postmaster-General responsible because this is a situation that he has inherited, and he is doing a very good job. The action that is envisaged in this Bill is the beginning, I think, of the clearing up of these problems.
What are the economics of the situation? Telephones, clearly, are essential, particularly for two reasons; firstly, for the expansion of the economy - national development, if you like; and, secondly, for ordinary civilised living, because the telephone is one of the ordinary amenities of life. Therefore, you cannot regard the provision of resources for the installation of telephones as an economic regulator - one of those things that you can turn on and turn off according to the state of the economy. You cannot look at the matter from the standpoint that if the economy is booming you cut down on the provision of telephones; but if there is a slump, then you can install a lot of telephones. You cannot look upon telephones in this light at all. It is part of the expansion of the economy and should continue in an organised way. To attempt to increase and decrease capital expenditure and the organisation that goes with it in this field to match the economy is to attempt the impossible. I therefore say that it is correct that we should have a programme that continues steadily in this field without variation according to the economics operating at the time.
– How many public telephones are there in your electorate?
– There are 793 outstanding applications. The honorable member who has interjected has in his electorate perhaps a couple of hundred unfulfilled applications for telephone services. He can sit back and regard this problem academically. I shall now refer to the relationship between telephone users and general taxpayers, because the establishment of equity between these two groups is the nub of the matter argued in this chamber today by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) and other honorable members. Should telephones be paid for by those who use them or should they be partly paid for by the general taxpayers? That is the big issue, and I suggest that we examine it. The figures I shall quote and have quoted are official, as they have been given to me by the Postmaster-General. The cost of installation of a telephone is £570. The annual charges on that installation cost are £57, of which £37 represents interest and depreciation charges, and the balance of £20 represents operation and maintenance charges. You invest £570 and you need a return of £57 to cover the fixed capital charges and operation and maintenance charges. This is £7 in excess of the earnings expected from each additional subscriber, so that for every additional telephone you install you incur an annual dead loss of £7. The question is: For how long can this situation continue?
In 1959 telephone charges were reviewed to ensure that they were correctly related to the costs of installation and maintenance. For two or three years the Post Office earned a profit. In 1962-63 and 1963-64 the Post Office operated at a loss; indeed, for the last three years its losses have amounted to £5 million. The losses have been due in part to increased wages and have been incurred despite the increased efficiency and mechanisation of the Post Office. Since 1959 the wages costs of the Post Office have increased by £11 1/2 million. The recent basic wage decision will add another £7 million annually to Post Office costs, although the staff numbers have increased by only 4 per cent, since 1959
Clearly this is a situation in which the Government must act to cover the increasing losses, which unless some action is taken will increase still more as a result of rises in wages, installation of more telephones, and so on. Increased charges by the Post Office will be essential unless the general taxpayer is to be brought in to fill the gap. That is the essence of the matter. Should the general taxpayer be required to pay some part of the telephone bills of the populace at large? Honorable members opposite will say: “Yes, of course we will bring in the general taxpayer.” That is because the general taxpayer is hard to identify as the bloke who is paying, whereas the telephone subscriber knows he is paying more. So it is always popular to say that the charge should be borne by the general taxpayer.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports said that it is possible either not to make any charge for interest on the capital expenditure of the Post Office or to make an interest charge on that capital, which may bc great or small or to subsidise the Post Office from the public purse. There are various things you can do. The honorable member also pointed out that governments have acted quite illogically in this field. They may do one thing in regard to the Commonwealth Railways and the opposite thing in regard to capital invested in the provision of telephone services. As he rightly pointed out, governments are inconsistent. It is quite true that governments generally are inconsistent, but as he spoke I gave some thought to the real principles upon which the Government makes or does not make an interest charge for public capita] invested. I think there are two reasons. I have no doubt that they are quite illogical, but I think every honorable member will realise their truth,
First, there is an economic reason which may be applicable. Do you or do you not wish to encourage the use of a particular public utility? I can imagine a situation - this is entirely hypothetical - where you are short of foreign exchange and do not wish to import more oil than you must. For this reason you want to encourage the use of the railways, which burn coal, rather than the use of road vehicles, which burn oil. In this circumstance you may be prepared to make a concession to enable the railways to carry more freight than do the road vehicles. You may say: “ Very well, we will not make any allowance for the capital invested in the railways when we calculate freight charges “. This is an economic reason. The second reason, 1 am afraid, is purely practical and political. The Government may believe that politically it cannot impose a charge on the consumer by adding interest charges on the capital invested to the charge made for the services provided. This is purely a political consideration. Of course it is inconsistent and political, but let us be realistic and not academic.
In relation to telephone charges I quite definitely take the view that so many obligations are placed upon the general taxpayer that we should not regard him as a person who should contribute a type of social service subsidy to the telephone users. In particular 1 have in mind at present our defence needs. If you are going to take money from the general taxpayer - that is, from general revenue - and pay it into the Post Office to subsidise uneconomic telephone services, the result is to decrease the amount that you can derive from the general taxpayer for such essential purposes as defence. Judging the matter purely practicably and pragmatically, I say that the general taxpayer should not carry any of the burden of economic telephone services.
So far I have dealt with equity as between telephone users and the general taxpayers. I shall now examine equity as between business telephone users and residential telephone users. In a survey conducted by the Postmaster-General’s Department it was found that each subscriber in a typical outer metropolitan area paid £25 a year for rental and call charges. Each business subscriber paid an average of £79 a year. Quite clearly from the figures I have quoted the residential subscriber is being subsidised by the business subscriber. The relationship between the two types of subscribers shows that it is quite reasonable for the charge upon the residential subscriber to be increased, if you are considering economic payments.
I turn my attention to the relationship between city and country subscribers. Some of my friends in the corner seemed to be getting excited about this relationship. The cost of installation of a telephone in the country is £620 compared with a cost of £540 in the city. These figures appear in the “Hansard” report of 20th August 1964. Country subscribers who have local call access to up to 2,000 subscribers and who are not connected to a continuous service exchange pay an annual rental of £8. All other country subscribers with continuous exchange services and local call access to more than 2,000 subscribers pay £ 1 2 annual rental. The city subscribers pays an annual rental of £20.
– How much revenue comes from the country subscribers?
– If honorable gentlemen in the corner wish me to seek the official figures from the Postmaster-General, I will do so, and then they will be sorry, because there can be no doubt that, as always, the country dwellers do better than the people in the cities. That is fair enough. These people live in country areas and it is right that they should receive some subsidy from the city dwellers. Let my friends not say that they do not receive a subsidy, lest I ask for the precise figures and make them sorry that they used that argument.
I come now to another class of equity. I have spoken of equity as between the telephone users and the general taxpayers and of equity as between various classes of users - business users, residential users, country users and city users. Now I shall deal with equity as between age, invalid and blind pensioners on the one hand, and other users on the other hand. It has been suggested that such pensioners should have special rates. In round figures, there are about 600,000 age pensioners and about 100,000 invalid pensioners. T am not suggesting that each of them would have a telephone and should receive a concession. I am merely saying that there is a vast number of pensioners, that if we are to give a concession to them the total sum involved will be very considerable indeed, and that the concession must be given at the expense of other users. The cost will not be inconsiderable, that is the sole point that I make.
The Department of Social Services takes a view with which I entirely agree. That view is that there may well be age pensioners, invalid pensioners or Hind pensioners who are in very great need of a telephone; there may be other pensioners who have some need of a telephone; and there may be others who have no need of a telephone at all. It depends entirely on their circumstances, with whom they live, whether there is a telephone on the premises in which they live, whether they are alone or have friends, and what is the condition of their health. It depends on a whole variety of matters.
Quite clearly, if funds are available, it would be much better that pensions should be increased and that each pensioner should use the increase as seems best to him, rather than that we should thrust a telephone on to a pensioner who could use the . amount represented by the cost of that telephone to the public to much better advantage to himself. So I agree entirely with the attitude of the Department of Social Services that such a concession is not a useful or proper social service. To some that may seem hardhearted But in the long run the Government has to be responsible. It is easy enough for a member of the Opposition to be kindhearted to everybody. He does not have to find the money. He does not have to have regard to other claims on the Treasury. He can speak with complete irresponsibility and, no doubt, gain many votes in the process. But the Government must be responsible.
So, I conclude that it is right and proper that the Government should pursue the policy that it has pursued, namely, of making the telephone users, not the general taxpayers, pay for telephones. I also conclude that the increase in the capital expenditure on telephones contemplated in the present year is good. It is proposed to spend £77 million, an increase of £8.5 million on the expenditure last year. I am afraid that this amount is not sufficient to overtake the lag for a very long time; it should be much more. It was in contemplation, I think, that the Government would cut back the provision of capital for the expansion of the telephone service on account of the economic situation - the boom conditions and inflationary pressures. Therefore, it is good that the amount, instead of being cut back, has been increased. However, it is unfortunate that the increase could not be greater. I am glad that the charges have been made economic. I hope that that policy will be adhered to and that we will never go back to treating the Post Office as part of the social services system
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
- Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the four minutes that remain to me, I should like to make one simple point if I can. The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) mentioned the fact that the Post Office in England has now been made a semi-autonomous authority that raises its own finance and generally conducts its own affairs without detailed interference by any Minister. This has great attractions, in my view. If we continue to pursue the policy of charging economic rates for the services provided by the Post Office, one of the difficulties associated with this kind of development is clearly overcome. When you do not charge economic rates, only when the Treasury has to provide a subsidy, has the close nexus between the Post Office and the Government or the responsible Minister to be maintained.
Another problem remains, of course. Australia, unlike England, is a developing country. This means that there will be a certain number of relatively uneconomic services, lt may well be argued that the subsidy on these services should not be provided by the ordinary telephone users. This is a problem, but 1 think that now that we are far less undeveloped than we were arrangements could be made to cover even this situation. But politicians are unwilling to let go the reins, and therefore, I suppose, we can expect that governments whether composed of members of the Liberal Party of Australia, which I have the honour to represent, and the Australian Country Party, or of members of the party that now sits on the other side of the House, will always find that there is resistance to abandoning the kind of fiddling that politicians always like to undertake in favour of particular classes of people or particular constituents.
The raising of loan money outside the Treasury system also presents problems. The Treasury, naturally, likes to determine the total amount of loan raisings, not only by itself directly but also by various, agencies and semi-autonomous authorities of the Commonwealth or the State Governments. However, if the provision of telephones is to go on steadily, as it should and is not to be regarded as an economic regulator so that you provide telephones in one year and you cut back in another, regulating capital expenditure in accordance with the state of the economy, this problem should not be insuperable. In my view, we should be able to have steady progress under a programme determined for years in advance. So this Treasury control over borrowings really should not present so great a problem as might at first glance appear. On that point at least I agree with my friend from the Country Party, the honorable member for Maranoa, for this is something that we. should be contemplating.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, as you are aware, the two Bills that the House is now debating are designed to amend the Broadcasting and Television Act and the Post and Telegraph Rates Act. Broadly, the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill provides for increases in telephone charges represented by increased rentals and a re-arrangement of the general structure to raise rentals for private telephones to the same rates that apply to business services. There is also provision for a slight increase in telegraph charges. The Australian Labour Party has proposed an amendment to the motion for the second reading of this Bill in the following terms -
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - “ this House condemns the unnecessary and unjust action taken by the Government to increase the charges imposed on telephone users “.
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) has presented to us the suggestion that the basic reason for the increase in telephone rentals is the increased cost of the operations of the Postmaster-General’s Department and of the Telephone Branch in particular. These increased costs have been brought about by the adoption of recommendations made in a report by the Ad Hoc Committee of Inquiry into the Commercial Accounts of the Post Office. That Committee was appointed in 1959 and, in 1961, its report was tabled in this Parliament. The Committee was composed of five members. By a majority of three to two, the vote of the Chairman deciding the issue, the Committee presented recommendations proposing a reassessment and review of the general commercial accounting of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. As a result, interest is now charged on funds invested in capital development by the Department.
The recital of a few figures will indicate just what is involved, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the financial year 1961-62, interest charged against the Telephone Branch alone was £18,912,744. In 1962-63, this charge increased to £19,911,284. This represented an increase of £998,540. We can expect that not only the Telephone Branch but also the Postal Branch and the other branches of the Department will continue to be burdened with these increased interest charges. In 1962-63, the interest charge against the Postal Branch totalled £768,501. I have already given honorable members the figure in respect of the Telephone Branch. The interest charge against the Telegraph Branch in that financial year was £498,522. The total for the three Branches was £ 2 1, 178,307. This was an increase compared to the previous financial year when the total was £20,085,586.
So you can see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the situation in the Department will not get any better, for it will continue to be burdened with these increasing interest charges, which will rise at the rate of about £1 million a year. This additional sum annually will have to be provided in some way. Will it be absorbed into the general costs of the economy by means of the Budget, or will the Government continually come to the Parliament and say: “ We must increase postal charges because the interest burden on the Department has increased. We must increase telephone rentals and charges for calls, or in some other way obtain additional revenue from the people - in other words, telephone subscribers generally. The same thing applies to those who use the telegraph facilities.”? I do not want to be a Job’s comforter, but I suggest that the only thing we can look forward to is an annual increase in charges by this Government.
At present, the basic letter postage rate is 5d. for the first ounce. 1 believe that the only reason why the Government is not proposing an increase in that rate now is that a decimal currency system is to be introduced shortly. We shall probably find, when it is introduced, that, instead of paying 5d., we pay 5 cents, which will be the equivalent of 6d. I believe that, by this means, within a short time, postal charges will be increased merely by the adoption of decimal currency, and that the basic letter rate will be raised by the equivalent of Id. an ounce.
The questions that we have to consider are these: How is the Postmaster-. General’s Department to be administered? ls it to bc administered as a business enterprise? Is it to be administered as an undertaking that provides a service to the people? ls it to be placed on the same basis as a private enterprise that is required to declare a dividend every year? Or are we going to work it on the level of trying to finish with income as close as possible to expenditure? If we lose one year, we show a profit next year. The latter method has been adopted and has been the accepted principle in the Department ever since it has been in existence. It has never been a source of revenue, but the Treasury, which has been subjected to a deal of pressure by this
Government over the years it has been in office, has been driven crazy looking for new sources of revenue - sources from which the Government can obtain increased revenue by way of taxation. This Government displays once again its leaning towards flat rate taxation whereby, irrespective of whether one is on an income of £20 a week or £200 a week he makes the same contribution per £1 by way of tax. If we examine the taxation figures we find that this indirect form of taxation has been used by the Government. That is what these increases represent - an increase in indirect taxation whereby persons, irrespective of their income, have to make the same contribution.
The private subscriber will now be required to pay for a telephone £20 a year rental and £15 connection fee, whereas the commercial and business users, irrespective of how many calls they make a day or year, will still pay £20 rental only and £15 connection fee. Yet, if it were worked out on the basis of usage, the private subscriber should pay much less than he will be required to pay under this system. From a private survey I have carried out - speaking to friends of mine and people who have the telephone - I find that the average telephone account for the average fellow is somewhere around £25 to £30 per annum. Very few accounts exceed the £30 mark. However, so far as business houses are concerned, obviously your guess would be as good as mine as to the amount of their telephone accounts. In many business places the telephone hardly ever stops ringing.
The Postmaster-General’s Department should completely review the financial structure of the charges for telephones, get away from the flat rate system and introduce a system of a nominal rental, possibly £5 per annum, with payment for every call made. I realise that the cost of telephone calls would increase, but this system would mean that the people who use the telephone most would pay most. At present people who use the telephone only on limited occasions still pay the same rental as does the business enterprise - £20 a year.
I have obtained some figures of telephone charges in New Zealand. I asked the Postmaster-General a question on this subject shortly after the announcement that the Government proposed to increase telephone rentals. Information had come into my possession that in New Zealand the private subscriber and the business undertaking pay nothing for their individual calls. When I asked the Minister a question on this, he said, in effect: “ We are a big sprawling country; they are only a little place over there. There is not much of New Zealand and they do not have to worry about calls “. I feel that is the wrong approach, and the outmoded approach, to the question. It is interesting to compare telephone rentals in New Zealand with those applying here. Let the people who may be listening to me, or those who might read my contribution on this subject, compare the figures. In New Zealand in Class 1 - where there are over 100,000 subscribers available - the business connection costs £31 per annum and the residential connection £16; in Class 2, with over 3,001 but under 100,000 subscribers, the business connection costs £27 per annum and the residential connection £16; in Class 3, automatic, 201 to 3,001 subscribers, the business connection costs £23 and the residential connection £14 10s.; in Class 4, manual with continuous attendant, or automatic, with less than 201 subscribers, £21 for a business connection and £13 for a residential connection; and in Class 5, where there is manual but not continuous service, the cost is £18 for a business connection and £12 10s. for a residential connection. Compare these figures with the new scale of rentals mentioned by the Minister. These were for subscribers with local call access to up to 2,000 subscribers and all those connected to non-continuous service exchanges, £8 per annum; all other subscribers in country areas with continuous service and local call access to more than 2,000 subscribers, £1 2 per annum; and subscribers in all capital cities and Newcastle, £20 per annum.
From the figures I have just quoted relating to rental charges it is obvious that the New Zealand subscriber is far better off than the Australian subscriber. Then the Australian subscriber has to pay for every call he makes, whereas the New Zealand subscriber has to pay only for trunk line calls. 1 will deal with the question of trunk calls presently, because the New Zealand trunk line charges are even more favorable than our trunk line charges. From the figures I have quoted it can be seen that New Zealand has approached this question of telephone charges on a more practical and realistic basis than Australia has done. It has treated the telephone as a service to the community and not as a means of increasing revenue.
The charge in New Zealand for a call from a public telephone is 2d. for every three minutes whereas in Australia it is 6d. for every three minutes. A comparison of these figures indicates once again the more practical and realistic approach by the New Zealand authority. Let us compare now trunk line charges. For a call from Auckland to Wellington, a distance of 450 miles, the charge is 7s 6d. in business hours. In Australia, as honorable members know, a call beyond 400 miles costs 15s. for three minutes. For a call from Auckland to Christchurch, a distance of 700 miles, the charge is 8s. compared with 15s. for a call over a similar distance in Australia. From Auckland to Invercargill, a distance of 1,000 miles, the New Zealand charge is 8s. whereas in Australia it would be 15s. From these figures honorable members can see that the New Zealand subscriber is treated far better than the Australian subscriber and that New Zealand has a far more realistic approach to the whole question of telephone charges.
As I mentioned earlier, the whole background of the reason for the introduction of this system is related to the ad hoc committee appointed by this Government, I believe at the instigation of the Treasury and the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). The Government wanted to obtain some additional finance by way of painless extraction which, or so it thought, would not cause a hue and cry. This was a committee of five and its recommendation was determined by a three to two majority. The men who dissented from the majority recommendation were obviously very much opposed to what was recommended. I should like to quote paragraph 24 of the minority report of the Committee. It appears under the heading “ Reasons for Dissent “ and is as follows -
The majority report states that the operating costs of the Post Office should be determined in accordance with “generally accepted commercial accounting standards “. We believe this view to be only partially correct, for accountancy principles are only one of a number of factors that need consideration and there is no consensus of professional opinion that these standards should be applied to non-profit organisations such as the Post Office. The practical issues concern the charges to be made for interest, depreciation and pensions, which are examined briefly below and in mure detail elsewhere.
In respect of interest, the report states -
The accounting argument for the inclusion of interest on invested capital as a production cost is that, if any element of interest is charged against operating cost, interest on all capital should be so charged. Accounting practice, however, has gradually crystallised against the inclusion of notional interest as a current cost and there is no accounting principle that requires it. Certainly the retrospective adjustment of past accounts to charge notional interest on capital cannot be justified by accounting principles.
So that is what the minority of members of this Committee - the two out of five, or 40 per cent. - thought. They were completely opposed to charging interest on capita] which has already been raised. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department has operated under a system of sinking charges and depreciation charges on the money which is borrowed, and money made available for capital development is paid back to the Treasury over a period of years and over the lifetime of the asset which has been purchased. That system operated quite satisfactorily until the Treasury found itself financially embarrassed and faced with the need to obtain money from some other source. This is the source from which it has decided to raise the money. If the Government would only revert to the old system, stability in telephone rentals and charges and in postal charges would bc achieved. The only time when there would be any need to increase such charges would be when the actual costs of running the Department increased, such as when there were increases in wages and in the cost of purchasing new equipment. If the Government would reject the decision made by a majority of three to two on the ad hoc committee the telephone would be brought within the reach of the average person once again.
That brings me to some letters that I have received in connection with these new rates. One is from a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner and another is from a widow who is an age pensioner. Both these people complain bitterly to me about what the proposed increased charges will mean to them. Both of them are sick. Of course, it is obvious that the T.P.I, pensioner would not be in receipt of that pension if he were not sick. He is a widower who has had a woman looking after him for some time. This woman is to be married within a week or so. The T.P.I, pensioner takes turns, and on those occasions it is necessary to phone a doctor. When the woman who cares for him is married, he will be left on his own. If he cannot afford c telephone, how will he get on? I leave it to the Minister and the House to imagine what will happen to him. He has told me that he definitely cannot afford to pay the telephone rental out of his T.P.I, pension. The widowed age pensioner to whom I have referred had a stroke recently and she requires medical treatment from time to time. She, too, will be unable to afford the cost of a telephone. Those two examples show that the increased telephone rentals will place a very heavy burden on very many people in the community. The increase will affect thousands of pensioners, including blind persons. Some reduction in telephone rentals would be of substantial benefit to them. I suggest that it would be far better to introduce a system under which one paid only a nominal rental for a telephone and paid for all calls. Under such a system, one would pay for what one used and would not pay for what one did not use.
I should like to deal with one or two other matters relating to the Bills before the House. First, I refer to the policy of the Postmaster-General’s Department wilh relation to the decentralisation of industry. We hear honorable members in the Country Party corner continually talking about the decentralisation of industry. Whenever one travels through an electorate represented by a member of the Country Party a hue and cry is raised about the decentralisation of industry and members of this and other Parliaments are continually being asked what they are doing about it. I strongly support the country people in their demands for something to be done about decentralisation, and I ask the members of the Country Party to raise their voice in protest at the Government’s failure to do something about trunk line charges. Let me give some examples of the heavy cost of trunk line calls from the north coast of New South Wales. For instance, the cost of a trunk line call from Newcastle to Sydney is 4s. for three minutes. From Taree, a call lasting three minutes would cost 6s. From Coffs Harbour it would cost 10s. From Kempsey or Grafton it would also cost 10s., and from Lismore it would cost 12s.
People in business in the country with whom I have spoken are concerned mainly about telephone charges and freight rates. We in this Parliament have nothing to do with freight rates, but we have plenty to do with telephone charges. This Government would not have done anything about a uniform petrol price - it is still only at the talking stage - if the Labour Party had not written into its policy a promise to provide for a uniform price, irrespective of where petrol was sold. If Arthur Calwell had not included that promise in the Labour Party’s policy, the Prime Minister would never have thought of doing anything about the matter. Our friends in. the Country Party corner can do something about trunk line charges by bringing to bear on the Prime Minister and the Postmaster-General some of the pressure which it is said they can can bring to bear. We had a member of the Country Party as Postmaster-General for years. The present Postmaster-General is the first member of the Liberal Party to hold that office for some lime now.
– They will just follow the party line.
– We know that they will just follow the party line. They are prepared to talk about the decentralisation of industry, but not to do anything effective about it. If honorable members in the Country Party corner were honest, sincere and fair dinkum - which I question very strongly - they would do something practical; they would bring pressure to bear on the PostmasterGeneral in order to induce him to reduce trunk line charges. People who are considering establishing industries in country centres are discouraged when they find that every call of three minutes duration to a capital city will cost them a minimum of 10s. One way in which this Parliament could encourage the decentralisation of industry would be to relieve country industries of these heavy trunk line charges.
Strong exception is taken to the decision to include the Newcastle district in the metropolitan or capital city bracket. The Minister has taken into consideration the fact that Newcastle is a large centre. I agree that the population of Newcastle is greater than that of Hobart, but what we must bear in mind is that Newcastle is not a seat of government. The heads of Government Departments, both State and
Federal, are located in the City of Sydney. Again, the head offices of most companies are in Sydney, which means that every time a business man in Newcastle wishes to call up the head office of a company he is faced with a cost of 4s. for every three minutes of conversation. I strongly object to the inclusion of Newcastle in the metropolitan or capital city bracket. I believe it should be in the bracket covering other than capital cities, especially when we remember that, because of the facts that I have mentioned, people in business in Newcastle are committed to make so many trunk line calls to Sydney. In my view, the inclusion of Newcastle in the higher bracket constitutes an anomaly.
I come now to postal facilities and services. Instead of improving, I believe that postal facilities and services are going backward, and I shall quote one or two examples to support that belief. Recently, the Minister wrote to me regretting the inconvenience caused to myself and to a business house in Newcastle. A letter was posted to me by a member of this House at 5.15 p.m. on a Tuesday in one of the outer suburbs of Sydney. The suburb was not so very far out, it was well within the metropolitan area, but it was still one of the outer suburbs. That letter arrived in Newcastle at 2 a.m. on the following Thursday and was delivered to my office at 10 a.m. Despite the fact that there are 12 trains and one aircraft from Sydney to Newcastle each day, it took all that time for that letter to get from Sydney to Newcastle. I should have been delivered at the Newcastle distribution centre by 2 a.m. on the Wednesday, and to my office on the Wednesday morning at the normal delivery time of 9.30 or 10 a.m. That is one example of inefficiency.
Another relates to the posting of a parcel to a business firm in Newcastle. The parcel was lodged at the G.P.O. in Sydney at 4 p.m. on a Monday but was not delivered at the business premises in Newcastle, only 104 miles away, until 10.15 a.m. on the following Friday. There can be no excuse for such inefficiency. As to the collection and delivery of mails generally, I point out that if a letter is posted in one of the Newcastle suburbs after 7.30 p.m. on a Friday, it is not delivered to another suburb in that city until the morning delivery on the following Monday. 1 have posted at 8 o’clock on a Friday night in a suburban post office in Newcastle a letter which was not delivered in Newcastle until 10 a.m. on the Monday. These are facts. After the 10 a.m. collection on a Saturday morning at suburban post offices the next collection is at 7.30 p.m. on Sunday. Mail posted at a suburban post office in Newcastle after 7.30 p.m. on a Monday is not delivered in Sydney until the Wednesday. This service is not good enough. This is 1964, not 1864. The Postmaster-General’s Department should provide a better postal service than it is providing at present.
I have given glaring examples of the inefficiency of the Department. I anticipate that soon postal charges will be increased. Instead of reducing the charge for the householder delivery service the Department should have a penetrating look at the whole position. Let the Postmaster-General appoint an ad hoc committee to investigate postal services and to see what can be done to provide better mail facilities. I hope that the honorable gentleman will do something about the matters that I have raised.
I had intended to say something about the increase in television licence fees, but my time has almost expired. In the two minutes left to me I should like to appeal to the Postmaster-General to do something about Channel 5, the national television station in Newcastle. The station has been telecasting for about two years and in that time it has not shown one local production. We have only five minutes of local news each day. After all, the Postmaster-General has rated Newcastle on the same basis as Sydney as far as telephone charges are concerned, but he is doing nothing to see that television viewers in Newcastle receive facilities similar to those provided to viewers in Sydney. Newcastle news is gathered and conveyed by telephone to Sydney. It is then relayed from Sydney to Newcastle viewers at 6.55 p.m. The local news lasts for only five minutes and the national news comes on at 7 o’clock. Does the honorable gentleman mean to tell me that five minutes is the maximum time that can be given on the national station to local news? The commercial station in Newcastle provides a 30 minutes news service. I hope that in the near future the Minister will see his way clear to provide a comparable service to people who watch the national station. Many people - I am one - prefer to watch the national television news service or to listen to the national news on the radio. We believe that the national news is more factual and not tainted with the political affiliations of the owners of commercial television and radio stations, be they the “ Daily Telegraph “ or the “ Sydney Morning Herald”. The stations owned by some of these wealthy interests give the viewer or the listener their ideas about politics and news.
Local sport is another subject that does not receive sufficient attention by the national television station. Newcastle people do not want Sydney sport; they want Newcastle sport. Take the situation in Rugby League. I think the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) is still smarting over Newcastle’s defeat of the mighty St. George in the State Cup. Newcastle also defeated Parramatta. We do not want Sydney sport; we want Newcastle sport. We want programmes originating and prepared in Newcastle.
-Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Many points have been raised in this debate. It would bc impossible in 20 minutes to attempt to deal with all of them.
– Is the Minister speaking to the amendment?
– I am speaking to the amendment. As I have said, in the 20 minutes available to me it would be impossible to deal with all of the points raised in the debate but I rise at this stage to say ‘ quite definitely that the Government is not prepared to accept the Opposition’s amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time. The amendment reads -
That all words after “ That “ be omitted wilh a view to inserting the following words in place thereof; - “ this House condemns . the unnecessary and unjust action taken by the Government to increase the charges imposed on telephone users “.
The amendment refers to the proposed increased charges as unnecessary. In my second reading speech I pointed out - other honorable members on this side have similarly referred to this matter - that in the last three years the Post Office has lost £5 million on its telephone services. It has been pointed out that the last basic wage increase will add an additional £7 million a year to the wages bill of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Of that amount £5i million is in relation to normal services other than capital charges.
Honorable members do not appreciate the size of the Postmaster-General’s Department as a business undertaking. They do not appreciate the problems that arise from day to day. In the last week I have ascertained that the application of increased world prices for lead and copper will cost the Department an extra £1 million a year. Recently employees in the technical service of the Post Office were granted an above award loading, which will cost £1) million a year. The Post Office is not a small business employing two or three persons and for which increases in wages or costs mean an extra £20, £30 or £40. Individual increases add up to tremendous totals for the Post Office. Although we budgeted for a small profit this year, taking into account the increased revenue from the additional charges, we find that the profit is slowly disappearing in prospect because of additional costs such as those to which I have referred. The increased cost of lead and copper and the above award loading to which I have referred will cost the Post Office £2± million in one fell swoop. So I submit that the proposed increases are not unnecessary.
I proceed now to analyse some of the things said by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). We on this side of the House regard the Post Office as a business undertaking which should pay its way. When I say that, I stress that we are not seeking large profits. We seek merely to strike a balance over a period of four or five years as between revenue and payments. That is the basic reason why the Government must reject the amendment.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports said that the Ad Hoc Committee - the Fitzgerald Committee - was obsessed with the idea of the Post Office as a business undertaking and not a utility. He said that too much emphasis was placed on the Post Office as a business and that more emphasis should be placed on it as a utility. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports and I were members of the Public Accounts Committee when that Committee brought down its twelfth report. The Committee at that time considered financial matters relating to the Post Office. Every member of the Committee, be he from the Opposition or from this side of the Parliament, was a signatory to the recommendations contained in the twelfth report. Paragraph 480 (2) of that report stated -
Although organised on traditional departmental lines the Postmaster-General’s Department should also be regarded as a business undertaking.
– But the Committee did not say that the Post Office should meet interest charges.
– I am not discussing that matter at this stage. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports said tonight that the Post Office should be regarded not as a business undertaking but as a utility, but only a few years ago he gave his approval to the recommendation that the Post Office should be regarded as a business undertaking. As a result of the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee the Government referred this subject to the Fitzgerald Committee which on a majority basis, decided the capital and determined the interest rate that should be charged. It is very easy for members of the Labour Party to come into the House at this stage and to quote at length the comments of the minority group within the Committee. If in fact we, as a Government, had accepted the opinions of the minority we would have been criticised by the Labour. Party at that time for not accepting the majority view. I say that the correct thing for the Government to do was to accept the majority and not the minority view. That is why we have a change in the telephone accounts in relation to the Post Office as a business undertaking.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports suggested that there were three bases that one should look at. The first was that the United States of America allowed its Post Office to run at a substantial loss. We reject this, and I shall deal in a few minutes with some of the reasons why we reject it. Then the honorable member referred to Great Britain where, he pointed out, the Post Office, which is more comparable with the Australian Post Office than the United States Post Office is, sought a return of 8 per cent, on the capital invested. He then said that the third basis to adopt is a break-even one without interest. Of course, the real argument between the Opposition and the Government is as to whether interest should be charged. But the honorable member who made these comments was a member of the Public Accounts Committee that said that the Post Office was a business undertaking that should be considered by the Government both as to capital and interest. The Government gave the problem to a committee which fixed what the capital was and recommended what the rate of interest should be. Then the honorable member, who agreed wilh four other Labour members of the Public Accounts Committee on this matter, rejects the decision when it comes before the House. I mention this because it is a clear indication, I believe, that we are facing a Senate election and that the Labour Party is developing its policies, which arc related, perhaps, to winning votes at that election rather than being consistent with what has gone before.
The question is whether the user or the taxpayer should pay part of the charges in relation to telephones. It was suggested by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) that we are using the Post Office as a taxing machine. I deny completely that this is the situation. It has been pointed out that on every new telephone that is installed at the present time, on an average, there is a loss of £7. I believe, and the Government accepts, that it has the responsibility to pay out of general taxation for the general services within the community - defence, civil aviation and many others. They should be paid for by the whole of the community in indirect or direct taxation. But when you come to a service such as that provided by the Post Office, we believe that those who have the benefit of the service should be the people to pay for it.
If we did not charge interest, what would happen? Let us assume that the amount that we pay the Treasury by way of interest is £24 million a year. If the Treasury does not receive this amount it must charge the general taxpaying community an equivalent amount. This would pass from the person who gets the benefit to the person, who in many cases, gets no benefit whatever, the responsibility in regard to this interest payment.
I should like to move on to the question of other departments which was raised this afternoon. It was put that virtually the only instrumentality of the Commonwealth which pays interest on capital is the Post Office. If we understand the situation and if we look at the records we find that far from the Post Office being the only one, in general terms all those departments and all those sections of departments which are not in the category of those merely rendering a service to the community meet something which is the equivalent of an interest charge, if it is not actually interest. The Australian National Shipping Line pays a dividend. Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. pays a dividend. Trans-Australia Airlines works under the established principle of paying a dividend to the Government. The Overseas Telecommunications Commission, an authority which is under my control as Minister and which renders a service to the Australian community by way of overseas telephones and telegraphs, by cable and by radio, pays interest to the Treasury on the advances made to it. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority and the Joint Coal Board are other illustrations. This principle is accepted and the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is not the only department which makes an interest payment on advances by the Treasury. So I would say that it does apply generally to organisations within the Government which can be regarded as commercial organisations. There may be the odd exception, but I believe that we, as a Government, will approach this in the proper manner ere very long.
I reject the suggestion that the Department of Civil Aviation is to be compared with the Post Office. It was suggested this afternoon that it has, perhaps, a comparable opportunity to raise revenue. This is just ridiculous, because the Department of Civil Aviation does not have its own aeroplanes and it does not carry passengers. T.A.A., Ansett-A.N.A. and the overseas airlines provide the services for the travelling public. Therefore it would be ridiculous, surely, to suggest that the money spent by the Government as a service to the whole community should carry an interest charge.
Who would pay it? It would bc the person who uses the aeroplane because from the fare that he pays to the company would have to come an increase in the air charges. Of course, this would then be paid by the community. We believe that because the Department of Civil Aviation provides a service to the whole community we are justified in not making an interest charge in relation to it.
If I may make an additional reference to the comparison between a residential and a business telephone, the revenue that we receive for a residential telephone service is £25 per annum against an annual cost of £57. The revenue from a business telephone is £78. The honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) said that the business community is at present subsidising the telephones which are used by domestic users. It has been suggested that the business person enjoys a tax deduction. Admittedly he does, but let me go a little further and apply what we have discovered in relation to the cathode ray tube. I know that (his is not exactly comparable, but it is similar.
The cathode ray tube on which excise of £6 is charged to the industry which manufactures television sets costs the purchaser of a television set between £10 and £15 at the least. The £78 average which a business undertaking pays to the Post Office for its use of the telephone service is charged against the business undertaking’s costs. In the cost of the goods which it distributes through the community J guarantee that the £78 has become £100 to £120. Every increase of £1 in charges to the business community is added to the cost of the goods which the business community supplies to the public to the extent of perhaps £1 10s. or £2. I say, therefore, that it is better that the domestic user should pay £1 rather than £2 in price of the goods that he gets from the business community.
– A very poor argument.
– Of course it is a poor argument to the honorable member. I have never understood that the honorable member has been trained in economics or accountancy, but the argument has much truth for those people who understand this subject. 1 would like to mention just one other matter in the little time that is left to me. Complaints have been made about the problem associated with the domestic user. There are many people in the community who have motor cars and who use them perhaps once a week and leave them in their garages for the rest of the week. They still pay their charges for insurance and registration. They are willing to pay these charges for something which is a convenience. There are many people - there must be many people if you have average earnings of only £20 a week - wilh a low usage rate of the domestic telephone. As in the case of those with motor cars, they should, I believe, be prepared to meet a reasonable charge for the service.
I shall mention also the householder delivery service, because this has been referred to by a number of members opposite. This is not to be confused with the bulk postage operation. The householder delivery service is a system which «c have in the Department under which you merely address envelopes to householders, the contents of the envelopes in all cases being the same. On inquiry, we will give the person who wants to send out the material the number of houses within a particular postal area. The person bundles up thai number of articles and takes them to the post office, and we deliver them in the normal course. It docs not matter whether the articles are in letter form or in the form of catalogues or newspapers, although there is a slight difference in the rates charged, lt does not cost us anything to make the reduction in the charge because we have been losing business as a result of competition from the give-away local newspapers, which have developed a delivery service which has brought them into competition with the Post Office.
Over the last three years there has been a reduction in the number of articles we have carried. We have not enjoyed any saving in staff because of this reduction in traffic, and we have tried to encourage more business. Despite what the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) has said, most people regard us as being more efficient in the delivery of these articles than other agencies are, and they would prefer to use our services if our charges are comparable with charges imposed by others offering such a service. Because there is less effort from our point of view, arising from processing in bulk, there is in fact less cost than in the normal letter operation. While we had a very good profit at the full rate we believe that because we are losing business we are justified in lowering the rate by 30 per cent., which still will make the service profitable to us and will also attract business back to the Post Office. The quantity of business done then will take it out of the merely profitable area into the satisfactorily profitable area. So I believe that we are completely justified in granting this reduction while for other services we are imposing increased charges.
I remind honorable members that there are to be no increases in postal charges, nor are there to be any increases in the unit call fees for telephone services. Before the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) made his Budget Speech the newspapers were speculating that there would be an increase to 6d. in the letter rate and an increase to 5d. in the telephone unit call fee. I think honorable members opposite believed that these increases would be imposed and that they were disappointed when they were not imposed, because the Opposition then lost a point of criticism of the Government. But I believe we did the right thing in increasing the charges after consideration of capital costs, because capital costs are the real worry of the Department and myself with respect to the provision of these services to the community. I am certain that the community will accept them because it will have a clear understanding of what is involved and why these increases have been necessary.
– The Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) concluded his remarks by saying that he believes the people will accept these increased charges. They will accept them only to the extent that they regard the services as essential, and they will accept them under a great deal of protest. Wherever they can do without the services provided by the Post Office they will choose to do without them.
The Postmaster-General, whose scholastic attainments may bring him some comfort, chose to sneer at the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark), who interjected, saying that he was not aware that the honorable member had been trained in economics. The Postmaster-General may be interested to know that the honorable member is trained and experienced in accountancy and is probably as well qualified as the Minister to speak on these subjects. The Minister also made some reference to the remarks of the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones), who referred to delays in delivery. The Minister defended the Post Office, as he must, saying that the services provided by the Post Office were recognised by everybody as being most efficient and speedy. I can give him a case within my recent experience. In order “ to get a letter to Hobart for delivery to a nephew having a birthday, I posted a letter at the post office here in the mid-afternoon on Monday. I paid the special delivery fee and I think the total charge was ls. 8d. The letter had not been delivered in Hobart last night, and Hobart, after all, is not so very far away by air. That is just one instance, and no doubt it could be multiplied a hundred times over, because I assume that every special delivery letter to Hobart by the same mail would also not have been delivered.
– Was it typewritten or handwritten?
– I did not send the message by smoke signal as members of the Country Party would. Tonight I want to speak particularly for the telephone subscribers of Canberra who have been hardest hit by the proposed increases of all people in Australia. I find quite incomprehensible the way in which the Postmaster-General has decided on the increased telephone charges for this city. The document presented with the Budget Papers shows that <n Canberra the rental for a wall telephone will increase from £8 5s., for a pedestal telephone from £8 10s., for a wall handset from £8 12s. 6d., and for a table handset from £8 17s. 6d., to £20 a year in each case. The increase in respect of all telephones will be more than 100 per cent.
– Nearer to 120 per cent.
– That is probably so. If the honorable member for Darling were here I would ask him to make the calculation. It is worth comparing these increases with those being imposed in other centres. I shall confine myself to the rates for ordinary table handsets, which are the ones most commonly used. In Sydney and Melbourne the subscribers will find their rental charges increased by £5 7s. 6d. a year, from £ 1 4 1 2s. 6d. to £20. The rentals in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Newcastle will increase by £6 2s. 6d., from £13 17s. 6d. to £20. In Canberra the rental will go from £8 17s. 6d. to £20, an increase of £11 2s. 6d.
Several weeks ago I addressed a question to the Postmaster-General in this House. I pointed out that Canberra people could reach comparatively few subscribers with a unit fee call as compared with subscribers in Sydney and Melbourne, with whom they will now be bracketed for rental purposes. The actual figures provided by the Post Office are these: The Canberra subscriber can reach 19,03 1 subscribers with a unit fee call costing 4d., while a Sydney subscriber subscriber can reach 479,561 other subscribers with such calls.
-I wish they would.
– The Minister may laugh. It is rare to see him laugh and I am delighted to see it. But when the Minister answered my question his answer was completely at variance with the facts given in his second reading speech- if they were facts. When he answered the question, the Minister said this -
Iam not certain of the number of people who may be called on a local call basis in Canberra compared with the number in Sydney and Melbourne, butI do not accept such a comparison as a criterion in determining the rental to be charged for a telephone.I believe that people in Canberra call as many people as do people in Melbourne and Sydney. The fact that Sydney subscribers are able to call on a local basis 400,000 other subscribers does not mean that Sydney subscribers call more local subscribers than do Canberra subscribers. The important factor is the service that is provided. The status of Canberra justifies its being regarded as a capital city in Australia, and telephone subscribers are being called upon to pay rentals in keeping with that status.
– Don’t you agree with that?
– When the Minister made that statement, perhaps he had not already prepared his second reading speech for this Bill because, in that speech in which he sought to justify the increased telephone charges, he said this-
Other features of (he proposed rental are -
A common rate for all capital cities and Newcastle where subscribers have access to a substantial number of other subscribers atuntimed local call rates.
On the one hand, the Minister says that this is not the criterion for assessing rental charges and, on the other hand, in his second reading speech, he takes this principle as a criterion for assessing the rental and telephone charges. The Minister goes on to say that there will be -
Lower rates for other areas -
I repeat that the Canberra subscriber can call fewer than 20,000 subscribers on a local call basis while a Sydney subscriber can call nearly 500,000 other subscribers on a local call basis. I suggest to the Minister that the whole basis of telephone charges - rental and other charges - has been on the principle of the number of subscribers available to a subscriber. This is quite evident, indeed, right throughout the document that the Minister has circulated with the Budget papers.
In his second reading speech, the Minister referred to the great advances that have been made in telephone services. We can now, he pointed out, dial people in Sydney or Melbourne. We can ring people in Perth or Adelaide with practically no delay. We can even ring people in other parts of the world. But the great bulk of people who are being called upon to pay these increased charges do not want to call London. Nor do they want to call New York, Paris or even Perth or Hobart. They want to be able to ring up their friends in their own area, to call their doctor, to call trades people, and to place orders for the goods that they need for their homes. They do not require the great bulk of the services that arc being provided. If the Minister is adhering to his basis of fixing rental charge increases, as he said in his second reading speech - . . where subscribers have access to a substantial number of other subscribers-
I suggest that he should review the very severe increases - I would say savage increases - in telephone rentals in this city because, to me, it is patently unfair that such a change should have been made. I repeat for the benefit of the House that the rental in Canberra for an ordinary hand set table telephone goes from £8 17s. 6d. to £20, which is an increase of £1 1 2. 6d., compared with an increase in Melbourne and Sydney of £5 7s. 6d., and an increase in other capital cities and Newcastle of £6 2s. 6d. I suggest that the Minister should have another look at these charges as they affect Canberra.
– He may make them even higher.
– He may, too. The Minister says that the people will accept these charges. I propose to read to the House some of the opinions that have been expressed by some of the people in this city. I have in my hand letters which have been chosen from many that I have received. They have been chosen as coming from various suburbs of Canberra. I have one here which comes from a lady who lives in the suburb of Forrest. She says -
I am the mother of four (4) young children, the youngest being eight months, and regard the phone as my only means of communication with the outside world.
My husband has told me that we could not possibly afford the new rates and threatens to have the phone disconnected. As I cannot drive, and have no opportunity at the present time for lessons, 1 am feeling most depressed.
The children have had the chicken pox over the past eight weeks and only for the telephone I am sure my mental health would have suffered.
I do hope that something can be done.
She concludes her letter by saying -
My opinion of the Menzies Government was never the best but now they have really sunk to a new low.
I have a letter from a gentleman who resides in the suburb of Campbell. He says - lt would of course be superfluous for me to draw your attention to the steep increases in telephone rental charges for the A.C.T. proposed in the 1964-65 budget. They seem to be so extreme that every possible argument might bc used in an endeavour to secure some modification in the proposals.
He goes on -
Why should the increase in rental be so great? No-one would buck at say, 20 per cent., but 120 per cent, is extreme; one could almost say “ savage “. It would have been more equitable to have increased rentals, say 20 per cent, and local calls on accounts by Id. This might have raised as much revenue.
He concludes -
I hope that the weight of opinion will be strong to secure some modification in the proposed increases.
A lady who lives at Red Hill writes -
I want to urge you to do all you can to oppose the rise in telephone rental. There must be many people like myself who live alone and for whom therefore a telephone is a necessity, but at almost 10s. a week it is becoming an impossible luxury, people who do not qualify for the pension but who are living, as 1 am on superannuation which docs not vary with rising costs, lt seems to me that it would be much fairer to raise the charge per call, then those who use the telephone most would pay the most.
I have also received a letter from a pioneer of this city who lives in the suburb of Ainslie. He writes -
I wish to inform you that I have had to hand in my telephone in after 18 years, as I cannot afford to pay £20 rent per year. I have been paying £8 17s. per year, and the reason for me to keep a telephone is to call a doctor when I get a coronary occlusion, and I have had three already.
I say the Menzies Government is a disgrace to us who have built Canberra, and now tramp on us.
I quote these next remarks to show that this is a genuine old chap -
Now Sir I came to Canberra on the 21.4.26 and the only accommodation we had then was bags and canvas for our home, and no heating appliances, and no transport - had to walk everywhere, and no bridges and now expect us to pay an extra £11 3s. for a telephone and £2 10s. for water which is unfit to drink.
The last remark has nothing to do with this Bill, but it is in the letter, and I just mention it in passing.
I have a letter from a lady who lives in Dickson, another suburb of Canberra. She writes -
As a private telephone subscriber I wish to register a strong protest, which I would be glad if you would pass to the appropriate authority at the more than 100 per cent, increase in the telephone rental charge announced in the Budget.
In my own particular case the telephone is a necessity because 1 have with me an elderly parent, otherwise I would have the service disconnected immediately. No doubt there are many others in a similar position.
Finally, I think it is grossly unfair that the private subscriber should be called upon to pay the same rental as applies to people in business.
The next letter comes from a lady who lives in a block of flats in Northbourne Avenue, Lyneham. She writes -
I had intended to have a private telephone connected, but owing to the fantastic cost of the service, I now find it would be impossible for me to have a ‘phone connected, and yet I consider it a necessity rather than a luxury.
She refers to the difficulty of getting to public telephones, and she mentions an occasion on which she was taken suddenly ill. She says -
I simply had to wait for my husband to return at 4.30 p.m. Fortunately 1 made it to hospital in time, but only just. On several other occasions my son litis been sick, and 1 found it necessary to phone for a doctor. Twice he has cut him/df and needed urgent medical treatment. Both times I found my neighbour at home, but one should not be forced to rely on this. My husband earns approximately £23 a week as a storeman with the Department of the Interior. The first year rental of a telephone would, including the installation fee, be £33. litis just does not fit my budget. Although 1 am at present working myself, I hope soon to be able to afford to leave work and take a full lime job caring for my family. We have only one child and on my husband’s wage could not afford to have a phone. How do old people, pensioners and mothers of large families, cope.
The next letter I wish to read comes from an aged and widowed pensioner. She writes - 1 know that some people feel that pensioners who have a telephone arc indulging in a luxury, that they can and should do without it. So 1 am going lo tell you how necessary a telephone is to me and to many more like me. I have been a widow for 8i years and have no children and 1 live alone in a Government flat. I suffer from chronic bronchitis and the quicker I can get my doctor and his prescription for anti-biotics the less severe is the attack. If I had to dress and go to a public telephone 1 would certainly end up with pneumonia. ] am also being treated by my doctor for a heart murmur. Two months ago having the telephone probably saved my life.
She goes on to deal with the circumstances of that event and then writes -
Relying solely on my pension 1 find it hard but necessary to pay the present rental plus the high rate per call. If no rebate is allowed for pensioners 1 will be forced to relinquish my telephone.
These letters have been written by people who have had telephones for years and who are the most deserving people in the community. But the Minister says that those who have telephones must pay. I do not think that he could really follow that argument through, because if there were no private subscribers to our telephone services the Government would still have to maintain the telephone services as an integral part, not only of its own administration but of every facet of its defence and transport services. The Minister for Housing (Mr. Bury), who is now at the table, may have a softer approach to this question than has the Postmaster-General and may urge the Government to have some consideration for the old people, for the pensioners and others who are living alone. I refer to those people for whom, it has rightly been said, the telephone is a lifeline. They cannot do without the telephone but now cannot afford to pay for it. 1 suggest that such people living in Canberra have been placed in a particularly difficult position. The pensioner -living in Sydney or Melbourne over the years has been finding each year £14 to pay the annual rental charge. I do not know how he has been able to do it. Now he faces an increase of over £5, but the pensioner living in Canberra, a city where costs and charges are admittedly higher than they are in the State capital cities - the prices for all commodities are higher - faces an annual rental increase of £11 2s. 6d. He is just not in a position to pay it.
In this year’s Budget the kind and wonderful Federal Government granted pensioners an increase of 5s. a week. A pensioner who has a telephone will have to use the 5s. increase for 47 weeks to pay the higher rental charge for his telephone. If he is paying the full television licence fee be will have to use the increase in his pension for four weeks to pay the increase in the licence fee. Out of the 52 weeks in the year 51 weeks are thus accounted for. He is left with one week in which the 5s. increase in his pension granted by this Government is untouched. I repeat that for 47 weeks the increase in his pension will be used to pay the increased telephone rental charge, and for four weeks it will be used to pay the increased television licence fee - that is, if he is lucky enough to have a television receiver. For one week in the year he can enjoy the increase of 5s. But if he applies this amount to purchasing cigarettes he can finance the price rise of 4d. a packet on 15 packets of 20 cigarettes, which allows him one cigarette a day provided he refrains from smoking on Sundays and public holidays. That is how the increase of 5s. a week in the pension will be spent by a pensioner who has a telephone, is fortunate enough to have been given or to have been able to buy a television set, and smokes. Obviously he will be worse off than he was before the Budget, because of the increased prices of everything else he has to buy. This Government! plans to increase the price that the pensioner in Canberra has to pay for water from £5 to £7 10s. as the basic annual rate. Yet its supporters talk about being kindly towards pensioners and about what they are doing to aid pensioners. I ask the Government to have another look at the petty things it is doing in this community. I have never heard of a more penny pinching, rotten piece of business than asking pensioners to pay these additional charges for items which are essential to them. Surely to goodness the great Commonwealth of Australia can be big enough to provide a concession for the aged, the widowed, the ill and the pensioners in this community.
– It will not even give it to blind pensioners, let alone others.
– The Government gives a blind pensioner a television licence for nothing. A magnificent gesture! The Minister said that the Government does not use the Post Office for taxing purposes. It might be worth recalling that the dog tax was introduced to limit the number of dogs in the community. I suggest to the Minister for Housing, who is at the table, and to the Postmaster-General, who has left the chamber, that the increased telephone rental charges will limit the number of telephones. That may well be the reason for the increase. Is the task getting beyond the PostmasterGeneral’s Department? Is that the reason for the increased rental charge - it cannot be justified on other grounds? The grounds on which the Government has sought to justify the increases contain the greatest ‘possible disparities. I have referred to the greatest of them, which occurs in Canberra, the National Capital.
I ask the Government seriously to reexamine the telephone rental charges to see whether it can justify the increase? I admit to the Postmaster-General that I have never been trained as an economist. I have no knowledge of accountancy. I have a sufficiently hard task to reconcile my cheque butts. I think the Government’s approach is wrong. I shall not refer to the points raised by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) in relation to interest charges, the disbursement of funds, and so on. However, I want to make the point again that the majority of the people who depend on telephone services for the ordinary interchange of courtesies - to get in touch with relatives and friends, to ring doctors and to order goods and services they need - are not concerned with the fact that they can pick up the telephone and ring New York, Moscow or Kamchatka or anywhere else like that. They do not make use of this great extension of services that has been provided at great cost. When the PostmasterGeneral assesses the cost of connecting a telephone he is taking into account the total expenditure on these great services and dividing it by the number of telephones connected.
I suggest to the Postmaster-General, who has now returned to the chamber, that he look again at the rates that have been applied to Canberra, because they are out of proportion to the services provided. The Postmaster-General is aware of this position, because not so long ago he received a deputation of citizens from Queanbeyan, which is within the Canberra local service area and whose citizens are included in the 19,000-odd subscribers Canberra people can ring for the local call charge of 4d. The Queanbeyan citizens asked for the installation of an automatic exchange instead of the present manual exchange While I pay tribute to the girls who staff the manual exchange, there must be a great shortage of personnel there, because it is not unusual to wait four or five minutes before the Queanbeyan telephone exchange answers. The Postmaster-General can check my statement by picking up his telephone and dialling U9. The delay does not apply only to people telephoning from Canberra to Queanbeyan. It applies also to subscribers in Queanbeyan who pick up their telephones and ring their exchange. We will be required to pay this great increase in rental, yet we still have a service which limits our ability to ring a great proportion of the 19,000 subscribers who are included in the area. Of course, as the Postmaster-General knows, the 19,000 subscribers include those on the smaller exchanges around Canberra. I ask the Minister to have another look at that position.
When he received a deputation recently, he had to tell it that there was no prospect of Queanbeyan getting an automatic exchange for a considerable time. A report in the “ Canberra Times “ of 19th August stated -
The Postmaster-General, Mr. Hulme, yesterday rejected a plea for an automatic telephone exchange at Queanbeyan.
Mr. Hulme told a deputation from Queanbeyan Municipal Council that the exchange was not on his department’s capital works priority list.
These priority lists are wonderful things. Some people in this city still have to wait four or five months to get a telephone, but there was no delay when the Totalisator Agency Board was set up and established its betting shop. It got its telephones right away. No doubt it is a good revenue producer. The report continued -
He said there were many places in Australia in need of much more urgent work.
The Department had to slick to ils priority system-
That could be paraphrased - . . even though he was sympathetic to Qucanbeyan’s problem.
The Queanbeyan people received sympathy, but they did not receive an automatic exchange. But we must not be too downhearted. We must realise that we are getting the benefit of the great advances in telecommunications and science which have been referred to. Only today 1 received most graphic evidence of the great improvement that is being made in the service available to Canberra subscribers. 1 have here a press release which states -
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) has advised . . that, as a result of the re-arrangement of existing facilities, the following additional telephone circuits will be provided on the 12th October 1964-
A very important date -
Canberra - Bungendore … 3 circuits.
– At the commencement of my speech 1 want to refer to a couple of comments that have been made by previous speakers in this debate. The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) referred to Country Party policy and the actions of members of the Country Party in this chamber. He said that he actually supported our efforts for the decentralisation of industry and population throughout Australia. It was good to hear him, as a member of the Opposition, admit that he agrees that our policies on decentralisation have been correct. He also said that this Government will be introducing legislation to equalise petrol prices because the Labour Party had a similar proposal in its policy. Goodness me, the Country Party has had uniform petrol prices in its policy for years and has been fighting for this aid to decentralisation for the past few years. It was quite ludicrous for the honorable member for Newcastle to say that this legislation was being introduced only because a similar proposal was included^ in the Labour Party’s policy.
He also spoke about the importance of local sporting events being shown on the national television stations. This gives me the opportunity to raise with the Postmaster-
General (Mr. Hulme) and the officers of his department a matter in relation to the televising by the national stations of local sporting events in Victoria. All this winter Victorians have had to suffer from a lack of coverage by the national television stations of the greatest winter sport in Australia - Australian Rules football. Whilst I understand that the blame for that lack lies not at the door of the Australian Broadcasting Commission but rather at the door of the Victorian Football League, I hope that by the time this great game, the greatest of them all, commences next winter the A. B.C. will have been able to persuade the League officials - some of whom I know very well - that they should see reason and that telecasts of Australian Rules football should be available to viewers on the national television stations in Victoria.
The honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) made some remarks which lately we have come to recognise as being quite typical of him. As usual, he made a one sided and uninformed attack on the facilities, particularly the telephone facilities, that are available in country areas. He said that there is a greater number of outstanding applications for telephones in his electorate than in many other districts. Of course there is a greater number of outstanding applications in his district than in country areas. That is caused mainly by the unhealthy and unbalanced population expansion that is taking place near Sydney, and also around all the other capital cities of Australia. He will find that in his area people will not have to wait very long for a telephone and that when they get one they will have a continuous and exclusive service. However, some people in country areas, who for years have had telephones in their houses and have paid the rent and upkeep on them, have had restricted hours and a party line service - not even an exclusive service - during all of those years. In the Bradfield electorate many public telephones would be available for people to use in an emergency, and those telephones are available at all hours of the day and night. That is not the position in country areas.
When the honorable member for Bradfield was criticising the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) for his comments on the lack of facilities in country areas, 1 could not help thinking of the respective sizes of their electorates. I see in “Hansard” of 15th September 1964 that the division of Bradfield has an area of approximately 39 square miles, and that the division of the honorable member for Maranoa, whom the honorable member for Bradfield was criticising, has an area of 223,000 square miles. We cannot expect an honorable member who represents an area which he can walk around in a few hours, to have any comprehension of the distances and difficulties of communication in country areas. I suggest to the honorable member for Bradfield that, instead of criticising the policy of members of the Country Party on this and other subjects, he would make a much more useful contribution if he sought a greater understanding of the problems of country people, particularly in regard to communications.
I wish to comment on something that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) said. As I listened to him, I had to admit, as I am sure we all do, that we do not like to see increases in charges that will affect people on fixed incomes, regardless of whether they depend on pensions or superannuation. None of us likes to see increases that will adversely affect those people. However, I could not help thinking about the situation that existed in 1949 when the Australian Labour Party was in office and inflation was increasing at the rate of 10 per cent, per annum. That was the highest rate of increase in inflation that this country has known. What an effect that must have had on pensioners and other people on fixed incomes and superannuation. So, although the honorable member’s story sounded good, and was to a certain extent true, I could not help feeling that he was not particularly sincere when he criticised this Government for what he described as mean actions adversely affecting pensioners. As I have said, when Labour was last in office, people depending on fixed incomes and pensions were far more severely hit by rising costs than people in that position are hit now.
As I contemplated the increased charges provided for in these two Bills, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I tried to put myself in the position of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) and his officers when they were considering what they would do about the charges that ar: to be altered. I know that these charges had to bc considered against the overall economic picture, and I expect that the Minister took two major factors into account1 - the great demand for telephones and the overall labour situation in the light of the labour required to keep up with the installation of these facilities. In the final result, the Postmaster-General’s Department received a total Budget allocation approximately £17 million greater than that received last financial year. This is not the whole picture, of course. As has been pointed out by previous speakers, £7 million of this will straight away be absorbed by increased wages and salaries resulting from the recent basic wage decision. This leaves a substantial increase of about £10 million in the funds available to the Department this financial year. But £8.5 million of this £10 million will be devoted to capital works. However, that £8.5 million will enable the Department to do only as much as about £6.5 million would previously have made possible, for costs have increased by approximately £2 million.
The question that concerns me and my colleagues from country areas is: How much of the additional allocation is to go to rural areas? People sometimes say that those of us who represent country constituencies are always talking about problems in country areas. This is one of our major responsibilities. We have to bring the problems of country people to the notice of the Government and the Parliament of Australia at every available opportunity. For this reason, my colleagues and I feel perfectly justified in raising these matters. To say the least of it, there has been considerable dissatisfaction among rural people over telephone facilities during the past few years. I agree that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has made improvements, particularly in the provision of additional trunk line channels, although there are still a great number of complaints on this score.
Let me give one example, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since the beginning of this financial year, I have learned that at least one promise of major improvements in trunk line facilities in an area near my home city of Wangaratta has had to be broken because of a reduction in the finance allocated. I find this most disturbing It is extremely embarrassing to have to explain this sort of thing to the local people who, over the years, have constantly pressed me for something to be done. They were promised improvements in their service this financial year, and that promise has had to be broken. 1 am sure that the Department is upset about this, but that does not alter the fact that the local subscribers are now very angry. They have tolerated shocking delays in trunk line calls for years. Over the last 12 months, they have accepted the situation believing that it would improve this financial year. I mention this case not with any desire to be parochial but merely to illustrate the sort of situation that exists In many country districts.
Apart from the provision of additional trunk line facilities, three major factors concern country people. These are restricted hours of service, the fact that continuous service is available to too few people and the installation of country automatic exchanges. Let me deal first with restricted hours of service. People in outlying districts tell us, as we move about the country: “ Our hours of service have not been improved for the last 30 years “. This situation is pretty difficult to explain away. Country people have seen increases in certain trunk line charges and in postal charges. They associate these increases with general increases of charges by the Department. Now, in addition, they see the increases at present proposed. Some, though not all, of these people who have only restricted hours of service will find that their telephone rentals will rise from £6 12s. 6d. to £8 a year. Officers of the Department have explained to me that this rental increase will not apply to all subscribers with restricted hours of service. I make the point that it will apply to some. We cannot very well avoid such people as we move about our electorates. I believe that it is extremely difficult to justify an increase in rental when there has been no improvement in the restricted hours of service.
The next matter is the provision of continuous service for too few people. As we all know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, an exchange must have 40 subscribers before the subscribers become eligible for a continuous service. A total of 40 or more subscribers docs not necessarily mean that continuous service will be provided, however. This minimum limit has been imposed for many years now. I believe that the Department should consider reducing this minimum limit from 40 to 30. This would be a real benefit to people in outlying areas who contribute so much to Australia’s export income, on which our national development depends. They are entitled to share in the general improvement in the standard of living, continuous telephone service being a major factor in the standard of living of people on farms and in outlying areas. At meetings in country areas, departmental officers are asked: “How long has this policy been in existence?” They reply: “ lt has been in existence for a very long time “. The local people then say: “ Why cannot the Department have another look at the matter and see whether the minimum number of subscribers required can be reduced from 40 to 30?” This would at least be a step in the right direction. I know that the officers of the Department are extremely busy, but I should like them to ascertain the cost of reducing the minimum number of subscribers required.
Let me turn now to the question of country automatic exchanges. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. England), a few weeks ago in his speech on the Budget, painted a pretty dismal picture of the increase in the number of country automatic exchanges in his area over the last three years. I know that a similar situation exists in my own electorate, and doubtless in many other country areas too. To repeat the honorable member’s figures - and these are calculations he has made from the telephone directory, and not Post Office figures - in 1962 there were 97 exchanges in his electorate, of which 28 were automatic. Ir 1964 there were 94 exchanges - three had dropped out because of resignations of postmistresses and postmasters - of which 29 were automatic; so there was an increase of one automatic exchange in three years in the electorate of Calare. There were 51 continuous service exchanges in 1962 and, three years later, there were 52 - an increase of one. The restricted hours services dropped from 46 to 45 in that three-year period.
I am aware that there was a change in equipment - a change to crossbar equipment - in the Department during that time and that as a result of the tooling up by the manufacturers, and that sort of thine there was a delay in the supply of these rural automatic exchanges. However, I hope that the finance that would have been allocated to purchasing me normal number of country automatic exchanges during those three years, “and which has probably been used otherwise, has been taken into consideration and that the Department has made an allocation in this year’s Estimates to make up for it.
The Department has often complained of a lack of finance. It has stated that it had the men and materials to do jobs in country areas, but lacked the finance. I would be interested to know whether the Department has ever studied the scheme that the State Electricity Commission of Victoria employs, called the self-help scheme, under which certain numbers of subscribers apply for a service and pay for it and the Department does the work. In the case of telephones, subscribers could make a deal with the Postmaster-General whereby they would put up the finance and the Department would do the work.
– You have to rig your own lines.
– That is true, but I still feci this would be a good move. It is fair to say that the Department had done a great job and that the officers of the Department, in all spheres, are qualified to handle the position. I am not saying this to detract from the sincerity of what I have said or from the justification I had for saying what I have said. I believe in giving credit where credit is due; but all the logical explanations and economic theories do not make a scrap of difference to the fact that many people in country areas still have telephone conditions the same as they were back in the horse and buggy days. I and my colleagues will keep fighting to ensure that there is a maximum improvement in the telephone exchanges available in country areas in the shortest possible time.
.- First, I want to remind the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten) that the latest statistics show that 67 applicants are waiting for telephone services in his electorate. I invite him. if he has not already done so, to look at any Commonwealth electorate in New South Wales and compare that paltry figure with what obtains there. One other comment I want to make arising out of the remarks of the honorable member is in respect of inflation. He said that in 1949, in the last year of the Chifley Government, there was roaring inflation at the rate of about 10 per cent. I am not sure whether that figure is right, and I am not in a position to check it at the moment, but there certainly was an increase in inflation in that last year. However, what the honorable member did not tell the House, of course, was that he - or if not he, his party, along with the other coalition party - went out in 1948 to defeat the Chifley Government’s referendum proposal to retain Commonwealth price control in Australia. Even he must have vivid memories of how they counselled the electors, telling them that if price restrictions were removed production would increase and prices would find their own level. We have heard that story so many times. It was like the abolition of rent control in Victoria - “ Remove rents and houses will become readily available “. Of course, today we even have pensioners desperately trying to pay about three or four guineas a week for one-room fiats. Anyhow, this is apart from the general issue that we have in hand at the moment.
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) seems unduly confident that these increases will be accepted by the community. Already Government supporters and Opposition members have indicated a lot of hostility to this measure. I am prepared to predict that that hostility which has already been evidenced will be small fry compared with the hostility that will come to the fore when telephone accounts go out in another month or two. It will be then that people will be faced with paying £10 for a half year’s rental along with their accounts for the telephone calls they have made.
I strongly endorse the remarks of the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) in which he drew attention in a detailed fashion to the particularly bad position that obtains in the metropolitan area of Sydney and in New South Wales generally. The position was bad last year and it has got worse since then. In May last year Sydney had 53.9 per cent, of the total number of applicants from the metropolitan areas of the different States awaiting telephone connections. Sydney had more deferred applications than all the other capital cities of Australia put together. New South Wales had 41.1 per cent, of the deferred rural applications as well. Taking metropolitan and country applications together, New South Wales had 50.4 per cent, of the total number of people in Australia awaiting telephone services. I have made representations, as I know every other honorable member from New South Wales has done, to the Minister, drawing attention to this serious position. This state of affairs is impeding decentralisation. I do not mean only decentralisation out into country areas. It is impeding very desirable decentralisation within the metropolitan area of Sydney. Traffic is so congested in the inner city that many businesses are now trying to remove themselves from the inner city to the outer suburbs. Factories have been built and great office buildings constructed in outer suburbs. Many of the big retailers, including Anthony Hordern and Sons Ltd., Hordern Bros., David Jones Ltd., and the Myer Emporium Ltd., are going to the outer suburban areas. In many cases they are compelled to wait for months and even for years for telephone services. One important fact of which the Government must take note is that this long wait is throttling further healthy development of business activity in the metropolitan area, lt ought to be obvious, too, that there will bc a further impediment to the decentralisation of industry into rural areas, because the burden of increased costs for telephone services will fall more heavily on rural industries than on city industries. Only today I received an answer from the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) in which he referred to the things that arc desirable to encourage decentralisation. At the very time when the Minister is talking about the need for decentralisation and suggesting the making of grants and long term loans to industries which establish themselves in country districts, the Postmaster-General seeks to impose further burdens on such industries. I repeat that the cost of telephone rentals will bc an inhibitor of rural development.
Like the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner), the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) and many other honorable members, I have had pathetic and heartrending appeals made to me by constituents who are very ill. Many of them have been told that they have only a few weeks to live, and that it is absolutely imperative that they have ready contact with a doctor. Elderly couples living in home units, flats or houses find it impossible to go out in the middle of the night to a public telephone to ring for a doctor. I have had letters, as I am sure other honorable members have, from specialists and doctors, saying that a telephone is absolutely essential in some cases. But what can be done?
There are two problems confronting us. In many areas of my electorate - no doubt this applies in most metropolitan areas - it is quite possible to find that the local telephone exchange has no spare lines available. Until only a short time ago, 36 out of 93 telephone exchanges in the metropolitan area of Sydney did not have lines to give in even the most urgent cases. The Telephone Branch is changing over to the new crossbar type of equipment, and the supply of spare lines has been allowed to run out. No matter how big is an industry that wants to establish itself in a district, or how urgent a medical case may be, there are just no lines available.
There is also the frustrating fact that, even after a telephone exchange has been supplied with extra lines, quite often no cable is available in that particular area, because supplies of cable are planned for some indefinite and unspecified time in the future. It is left to us to pass the message on to unfortunate applicants for telephones. While we are on this subject, I invite the Postmaster-General to have a close look at the question of the programming for and the planning of telephone works. It seems to me that there must be lack of coordination when, after an exchange has been waiting for months and sometimes for years for extra lines and those lines have been provided, we find that new telephones cannot be installed in the area served by the exchange because of a shortage of telephone cable.
I can guarantee to the Minister and the Government that there are many more potential applicants for telephone services in this country than the official figures indicate. I have been told by the Minister’s own officers that immediately the Department’s vans appear in a street to put in cable that has not been available for months and sometimes for years, residents of the area, believing that an extended service is being provided, submit applications. Within no time at all, the supply of cable is exhausted, and once again residents are confronted with long waiting periods. I suggest that, even with increased costs, there is a potential demand for telephone services in the community that is not registered by formal application.
The question whether these increases are warranted turns on the method of keeping the Post Office accounts. As the Minister and others have said already, this matter was inquired into by a Governmentappointed committee of five in 1959. The five members were Sir Alexander Fitzgerald and Messrs. Evans, Nimmo, Packer and Easton. What is often not explained to the House when it is suggested that all that the Government is doing now is carrying out the recommendations of that committee is that the members were almost evenly divided. In fact, the majority had only the barest margin. Sir Alexander Fitzgerald, Mr. Evans and, significantly enough, Mr. Nimmo. the Treasury representative, recommended the kind of accounting system that was in fact adopted by the Government. Very strong objections were taken to that recommendation by the two other members of the committee, Mr. Packer and Mr. Easton. Mr. Easton, equally significantly, represented the Post Office. He was violently opposed to the recommendations that were made by the majority with relation to the assessment of the capital debt of the Post Office and the contribution that ought to bc made with respect to that capital debt.
The first point that I. think ought to be made in opposition to the recommendations that were accepted by the Government is that the Post Office is not a business in the ordinary commercial sense. No amount of tortuous argument will convince the people that it is. It is not even a statutory corporation; it is not a statutory body like the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, Trans-Australia Airlines, or the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. It is a Government department. The Post Office itself does not decide what the rates will be. We in this Parliament are now debating what rates shall be charged. The Post Office is not conducted as an ordinary commercial undertaking, with complete freedom to make its own assessment of capital development policies and the charges that ought to be.
There are very good reasons why it ls not conducted as a statutory body but as a department.
It is conducted as a department, because it is trying to serve two masters. On the one hand, it is trying to be a commercial body and on the other hand it is trying to represent Government policy in relation to national development. The Post Office is trying to do two things which, in many ways, are in conflict with one another. That is the first reason why we say it is not a commercial enterprise in the sense that the Government would like to have us believe it is.
A second reason why it is not a normal commercial enterprise is that the interest burden that has been imposed upon it has been imposed, in large measure, with respect to capital funds provided, not out of loan revenue, on which interest is ordinarily payable, but mainly out of Consolidated Revenue or the commercial revenue of the Post Office itself. As a matter of fact, when the minority report of the committee came to hand in 1959, it pointed out that twothirds of the capital of the Post Office came out of Consolidated Revenue and about onethird came out of the revenue of the Post Office. This is yet another reason for stressing that the Post Office is not a commercial enterprise in the ordinary meaning of the term.
On other occasions in this place I have complained about the assessment in 1959 of the capital debt of the Post Office. On this point the two reports of the Fitzgerald committee were in substantial conflict. The majority report, which the Government adopted, stated that the capital debt of the Post Office in 1959 was £382.68 million. This is important. Suddenly in 1959, out of the blue, without any consideration, along came this decision that henceforth, in the consideration of the cost of the Post Office, regard had to be paid to the fact that over the years it had been supplied with £382.68 million on which interest had to be paid. Governments in the past had paid no heed to this fact in considering the capital requirements of the Post Office. Not only was the Post Office to pay interest on capital provided in the future but it also had to pay interest on the debt accumulated over the years despite the fact, as was pointed out in the minority report, that this decision had never been reached by the governments which made, the capital available. But the present Government made a retrospective claim for interest. It is a continuing claim because interest is still being paid on that old debt. In the accounts of the Post Office about £20 million is set aside as interest payments not just on the capital supplied this year out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund but on the accumulated debt dating back years prior to 1959.
The proposition that interest should be paid on the accumulated debt was such a rotten one that even the majority report watered down the recommendation. It wiped off the interest burden on about £76 million. The majority report thought the proposition so hot that arbitrarily it decided not to impose the total burden of accumulated interest and wiped off about £76 million of the debt. Today we are paying interest not only on the capital that has been supplied to the Post Office but also on interest which, in the view of the Government, should have been paid by the Post Office back over the years.
This is the reason for the burden now being imposed by this legislation on telephone users. They are being treated in an ordinary commercial sense. They are being asked to make retrospective contributions to a capital debt that was built up over the years before 1959. As I have said, from 1959 we inherited a debt of £382.68 million on which on all future occasions, unless the debt is reduced - it will not be, because it is increasing - a heavy interest burden is to be imposed. I pointed out in a question a few weeks ago that, had it not been for this interest burden that has been newly imposed, the Post Office in 1962-63 would have made a profit of £19 million instead of suffering a loss of £2 million. I rely on my memory for those figures and they may be subject to correction.
The Post Office is a public utility in the broad sense. Over the years it has had to provide uneconomic services. It has had to subsidise mails and telegraphic services to the rural areas of the community. Members of the Country Party should note this fact. Over the years the Post Office has provided, on behalf of other government departments, services at a notional charge.
Those services were supplied at a concessional rate or for no charge. In many cases the charges were simply book entries. The Post Office did not receive any money for the services it provided. But in 1959, when an estimate was made of the capital debt of the Post Office, no allowance was made for the work that had been done gratuitously by the Post Office for other departments. One would think that if this interest burden were to be imposed some credit would be allowed to the Post Office for the fact that it had provided services to other departments at no cost. Referring to uneconomic services the minority report of the committee stated -
Out of pocket loss on these services to 30th June 1959 was £149,950,000 of which £25,650,000 was on Government account and £124,300,000 for concessions to sections of the public.
The reference to sections of the public included provision of telephone services to rural areas. The minority report assessed the residual book value of such assets at £104 million. The report stated -
The revenue from the services provided docs not cover operational costs, let alone interest and depreciation.
So one begins to see how, by this jiggerypokery, the Post Office has become not only an ordinary commercial enterprise in the sense of profit and loss accounts but also a revenue raiser for the Treasury, lt has become a further instrument of taxation in the community.
The Government’s insistence on the Post Office being a commercial enterprise is rather interesting. The Government cannot have it both ways. If the Government wants the Post Office to be a big commercial enterprise why does it not see that the Post Office pays local government rates and other forms of indirect taxation that are levied on ordinary commercial enterprises in the community? Think of the interest that local government bodies would have in the Post Office if the substantial property that it holds was subject to rates. Think of the interest that the water boards would have in Post Office property. Think of the interest the State Governments would have in the matter of land tax. If the Government wants to run the Post Office as a commercial enterprise it should pay the indirect taxes levied by local government authorities and by State Governments on other commercial enterprises.
Dealing with the commercial operation of the Post Office, the minority report of the committee - it is well worth reading - stated -
The majority report recommends a cost structure for future operations determined without regard to the demand for Post Office services.
Whether the Post Office makes a profit or not it will have to pay this burden of interest, lt is not treated like an ordinary company which would pay a dividend if it made a profit. The Post Office is treated in a way that suits the Treasury and the Government and it has to pay a fixed rate of interest whether it makes a profit or not. The minority report suggested that the Post Office could regard itself as a public company in which we all are shareholders and if it made a profit it could pay a dividend to the Treasury, but that suggestion, significantly, was not adopted. The minority report continued - lt requires the Post Office customers to pay a fixed rale of interest on past capital, a costly’ charge for the funding of liabilities for pensions and furlough, and, finally, the full cost of uneconomic services provided in the national interest.
This is important. The Postmaster-General has said that those who use the telephone service should pay for it. but the evidence shows that the telephone is being used for the benefit of many other people in the community and for the promotion of national development. The Minister has admitted that although telephone services are provided in rural areas they are not likely to be paid for for generations to come. All of these things are being done in the national interest, but still the Minister insists that those who use the facilities of the Post Office should pay for them. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it should be otherwise and that some contribution should be made from the public purse for all these facilities that are provided at a low cost, or at no cost, in the national interest.
I should like to mention also a matter that 1 believe has not been mentioned during this debate. I refer to the non-official post offices which are to be found throughout Australia. In many instances the nonofficial post offices are a disgrace as representing a public utility in our community. This is not the fault of the people who conduct them; it is the fault of the Government, which either will not make proper, fully equipped post offices available throughout the country or will not give sufficient reimbursement to the people who conduct the non-official post offices so that they can provide a proper facility for the public. Many non-official post offices have not seen a coat of paint for 10 or 15 years. Much of their equipment is dingy and much of it is secondhand equipment which has been taken from other Government offices. I bring this situation to the notice of the Government because in many places we see private enterprise with modern shops and fine premises, but stuck right in the middle of them is some dingy, unattractive office which represents the Post Office, the biggest commercial enterprise in Australia.
I believe that the increased charges to be imposed will not be well received. I think they are being imposed, among other reasons, to discourage people from applying for telephones, to price people out of having telephones. Some of the people who will be hit by the additional charges have waited three or four years for a telephone. They will have the service connected in a few months’ time after the charges have gone up to £20 for rental and £15 for the connection. Before they make one telephone call they will be faced with a charge of £25 for their new telephone - £15 installation fee, £10 for half a year’s rental. Many people who had a telephone service installed, in. the past and who are living on fixed incomes will have to pay the increased charges without having additional income with which to pay them. I am certain that the Government will feel (he full blast of their protest when the new accounts come to hand within a month or two.
– I should like to begin on the note on which the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds)’ concluded, because I, too, believe that the chickens will be coming home to roost in the very near future There has been a great and violent reaction around the Australian countryside to the proposed impositions. When people marched in their spontaneous protest through Melbourne a short while ago, it was not only in regard to the increases of the prices of basic commodities; it was also a reaction to the various impositions contained in the Budget. Especially. T believe, there was a consideration of the impositions in postal and telegraph charges.
There is no doubt that if the Government wanted to devise a means which would be conducive to aggravating the inflation that is taking place at present it could do no better than indulge in an increase of charges of this type, because these are basic. As any honorable member can easily imagine, the increased costs of telephones used in industry and commerce can be carried right through the process of production and, ultimately, the Australian community will have to pay. I wish to speak for only a short time, although one could be tempted to become enthusiastic on this topic. I remember well that in the last debate on the estimates for this Department I talked at great length about the effects that the imposition of interest rates would have on the service. The Postmaster-General of the time - not the one who sits at the table now - denied emphatically what I prophesied, but here today we have a justification for the warning that I gave on the effect of the imposition of interest charges.
My own electorate is one which has borne the brunt of this imposition to a very considerable extent, because the electorate of Hughes has no fewer than 2,342 people waiting for telephones. I can tell the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme) that it is no joke representing an electorate that has this kind of problem. Not only are applicants for residential telephones represented in this number but a large number of industrial people as well are represented, some of whom are even involved in the export trade. We see films on television stressing the need for industry to export, yet we find that industry’s efforts towards that end are undermined and nullified as a consequence of the inadequacy of telephone facilities. Many businesses have waited long periods for telephone services. I do not know whether people in industry should be given a priority, nor is it my job to work out these things. They often contend that they should have a priority, but of course the person dependent on the telephone for reasons associated with adverse health does not always readily concede this point.
As has been mentioned, and as is indicated in the paraphernalia available to honorable members, telephones are used extensively these days. When you deprive an applicant in the metropolitan area of Sydney or Melbourne, or any other large city, of a telephone you are depriving him of an appliance and a convenience which represents 580 calls per annum. I am speaking of local calls only; I have not included trunk calls. When you deprive a country subscriber of a telephone you are denying him an appliance which would facilitate 220 local calls. So there is a very serious loss of convenience when these deficiencies take place. We look at the annual report of the Postmaster-General for the year ended 30th June 1963 and we see the matter in relation to interest rates summed up very well under the heading “ Financial Results “. The report states -
Post Office business expanded considerably during the year. Earnings rose by £11,263,472, to £151,469,346. This compared with a rise of only £4,058,494 in 1961/62. Expenditure rose by £10,064,735 to £152,232,327.
After taking interest into account there was a loss of £762,981 from the year’s operations.
This is the net effect of the imposition. Other parts of the report show that the interest on the telephone service alone accounted for £19.6 million in the year ended 30th June 1963. That represented 20.8 per cent. of expenses of the Department. The interest bill of the Telegraph Branch accounted for 6.79 per cent. of the total Postal Department’s expenses, and the interest bill for postal services accounted for 1. 56 per cent. of total expenses. This, obviously, is one of the major reasons why people in such numbers are today being deprived of telephones. According to the Postmaster-General, no fewer than 52,344 applicants were watting for telephones at 31st July 1964. Of course, New South Wales carries the greatest burden. That State has 31,241 applicants, compared with 11, 674 in Victoria. The numbers waiting in the other States are much smaller. Why is New South Wales the object of such neglect? This is a very difficult matter to understand, and I believe the PostmasterGeneral will need to do a lot of explaining before he can satisfactorily placate the frustrated people in that State, people who have been waiting, like so many in my own electorate, for as long as five years for a telephone.
– What are the figures for Queensland?
– In Queensland there are 1,787 applications outstanding.
– Is that all?
– I do not know whether the honorable member for Watson is implying that this has some association with the fact that there has been a long run of Ministers from Queensland holding this portfolio. I would not like to make that kind of insinuation. But 1 will tell the Minister that if I ever had the opportunity to become Postmaster-General I would make sure that there would be nothing like 31,241 outstanding applications in New South Wales for telephone services. I would have no compunction at all about spreading the burden of telephone deficiencies and having some of the other States share that burden. I think if proper expression were given - as it certainly’ would be given if a Labour government was in office - to the points of view expressed by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, particularly in regard to the charging of interest - a principle for which we do not stand - there would bc no outstanding applications for telephones in Australia.
Here I come to the first thing that we stand for. There were plenty of members of the ad hoc committee - and I have a summary of its report here - who showed beyond any shadow of doubt that they could see no genuine economic principle to justify the charging of interest in this fashion. It is really quite absurd. After all, interest is the price for money that a lender can extract from a borrower. That is the general definition of interest. When the Government lends to the Government it seems rather odd that it is able to extract enormous sums of money, running to about £20 million. If the Government does not charge this interest, then the Government does not pay interest. If you do not pay interest on this money, then more money is available to give people the services they need. We are told that the Minister is an accomplished accountant. I do not know that it is necessary to study accountancy for a number of years to get the nation into such a devil of a mess as it is in at present and to have us so adversely affected by the economic principles that the Minister pursues.
It is important, I think, for the House to realise that the Post Office renders a great national service. My colleague, the honorable member for Barton, mentioned that the Post Office carries on some uneconomic services. He spoke of a few of them. Apart from the ones he mentioned, the Post Office performs services for a number of Commonwealth Departments. We just could not exist if we did not have a post office somewhere to tell us how much snow had fallen in its particular district, or how much rain had fallen, or to provide a service in respect of electoral enrolment, or to give information about age pensions, unemployment benefit and sickness benefit and the like. The officers of the Post Office answer all sorts of questions. They tell people how to join the Public Service, or how to go about joining the public service of Papua and New Guinea, or how to apply for the homes savings grant. The Post Office has 101 ramifications. When we think of this great service, which is associated with so many other Government services, it seems utterly absurd to think of it for one solitary moment in terms of sheer profit and loss. I have a sneaking idea that the worst kind of person to run the Australian postal and telegraph services might be an accountant, when consideration is given to the matters that I have just been speaking of.
I was interested earlier this year to receive a letter from the Acting Director, Posts and Telegraphs, of the Postmaster-General’s Department in Sydney, Mr. T. H. Skelton. It was dated 11th March 1964. T had written a letter asking this gentleman to explain the nature of the telephone problem in New South Wales. I do not intend to read the whole of his reply, but he pointed out certain aspects of the problem. He said -
There arc 42 telephone exchanges in the New South Wales metropolitan area where the installation of additional equipment is being delayed because of current supply difficulties.
Quite apart from the question of money, there seems to have been an inability on the part of the Department to organise its affairs properly, because there were current supply difficulties. The letter went on -
Eighteen separate contracts, each covering a large number of separate components, affect the supply of material for the new capital works programme this financial year. The outstanding material which is delaying the extension nf exchanges which are filled to capacity, however, are items of telephone switching apparatus. The apparatus is supplied by the Australian factories of Telephone and Electrical Industries and Standard Telephones and Cables, who are manufacturing crossbar switching equipment under licence to L. M. Ericsson (of Sweden), and the Inner company which itself had developed a factory now in production in Melbourne.
I find it very difficult to understand why the great Australian Postmaster-General’s Department is unable, when it needs special telephone equipment, to find someone in Australia to supply that equipment. Does the Minister suggest for one moment that there is some type of technical requirement in connection with this equipment which is beyond the resourcefulness of Australian workmen? Does he suggest that if sufficient notice were given to Australian manufacturers they would still be unable to supply this equipment?
– Raise it in the Estimates debate and I will answer it.
– I strongly doubt that the Minister would make any such suggestion. Mr. Skelton went on to say -
Delivery of equipment now in short supply was expected in the latter months of the 1962-63 financial year. 1 would like to know - and I have asked the question on previous occasions - in what form the supply requirements were set out in the contract. Were there any penalties in the contract? It seems to me to be a most unusual arrangement and a very loose arrangement which results in a firm being late in supplying equipment which bears such an important relationship to the economic affairs of this country.
– But this is a new industry which has come to serve the Post Office. You must give it’ a chance to get established.
– I think the point the Minister makes is one that should have been recognised early enough for allowances to have been made for the problems that arose. This is the whole essence of the situation. If you have the money to spend and you do not arrange to spend it early enough to cover all possible eventualities in connection with the supply of equipment, you are a guilty party and contributing to the delay in providing telephone services.
– We spent our funds.
– Well, you spent them too late, because according to Mr. Skelton the equipment could have been delivered a good deal earlier. Tt would have been delivered on time if it had been ordered on time or if sufficient time had been given to cover all these eventualities about which the Minister has been speaking.
That is just one aspect of the situation that I wanted to mention in passing. There is a limit on the time available to me and I am afraid I will not be able to cover a number of other important points. However, I must say that I read with some consternation today - and I take the opportunity to mention this briefly - that the postal unions are showing a state of concern about the salaries paid to their members. I am referring to the unions associated with the Minister’s Department. It would be disastrous, particularly having in mind the necessity to overcome the telephone shortage, if we were to experience another disruption of postal activities because wages paid to P.M.G. personnel are inadequate. I was astounded to receive from the Minister a short time ago a reply to a question I asked about salaries of people in the Department. I noticed, for example, that the first ten categories of employees receive salaries ranging from £877 to £975, and that no fewer than 23,529 workers in the Department receive these low salaries. To my way of thinking this is absolutely appalling. Some of these salaries are little higher than the basic wage. The basic wage is £15 8s. a week, which is about £800 a year. It can be readily seen from the answers supplied to my questions by the Postmaster-General on 27th August 1964 that there are many workers in the Postmaster-General’s Department receiving no more than £77 over the basie wage. That certainly applies to employees in the cleaning category. Those in the labouring category are in the same bracket. The salary for a process worker is £891 per annum, so a process worker receives £91 over the basic wage. This rate also applies to assistant storemen, clerical assistants grade li and workshop assistants grade 1. Telephonists receive in the vicinity of £947. In all, as I have said, 23,529 workers in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department receive salaries ranging from £877 to £975. This is an alarming state of affairs. It is certainly justification for the action threatened by the postal unions. I strongly suggest to the Minister that he be conciliatory in the attempt to give wage justice to these workers, so that a stoppage can be averted and the disruption of these important telephone installations to which I have referred may be prevented.
I wish now to mention two matters very quickly. The Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden) made reference yesterday to the tapping of telephones in respect of what has become commonly known as the Bankstown aldermen’s case. The Minister intimated that overtures had been made to the New South Wales Government indicating that the provisions of the relevant act were such that telephone conversation interceptions could not be tolerated. I was very pleased to read in the Sydney Press tonight that the Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Renshaw, said that the New South Wales Government abhors telephone tapping and interception, and will have nothing to do with it whatever. Nevertheless, it seems to be an established fact that telephones were tapped, tape recorders used, and evidence presented in That form in court proceedings associated with the Bankstown aldermen’s case. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to this matter and to ascertain whether any personnel of the Postmaster-General’s Department have been involved in the tapping of these telephones, whether any personnel of the Department have assisted any party to this dispute and otherwise to investigate the bona fides of the claims that have been made in this regard.
I do not want to let the opportunity go by, since we are discussing matters relating to the Postmaster-General’s Department and we are debating two bills at the one time, one of which involves the Broadcasting and Television Act, to make a protest about a radio session that is being conducted in Sydney. This session, which is broadcast from Station 2GB, is conducted by a lady who calls herself, for theatrical purposes, Andrea. It is a staggering thing that this woman should be allowed to continue in the manner in which she has been operating for so many years, surreptitiously, almost sneaking up on unsuspecting people, talking in a friendly way about all sorts of matters - just idle chatter and gossip - but nevertheless never letting an opportunity go by to discredit, unjustifiably in almost every case, the Australian Labour Party. This session has degenerated into a purely antiLabour programme. I believe that, in the terms of the Broadcasting and Television Act, the Minister should take some steps to curtail the activities of the lady. I know that the honorable member for Evans (Dr. Mackay) is hand in glove with her, He has participated in this programme quite often. This might be substantiation of the fact that this is a political programme disguised. I do not know that the provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act are such that people can run a political programme without indicating that it has a political motive, and there can be no doubt that this programme is designed to discredit the Australian Labour Party.
When you have a look at the television time used during elections by political parties, it is easy to ascertain that the Australian Labour Party has been greatly disadvantaged. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) sought information about this particular matter. He asked questions about the free time occupied by each political party for the telecasting of the initial speeches of each party leader. It is very interesting to note that the free time allocated was along these lines: The Australian Labour Party had 280 minutes for the party leader’s initial speech. The anti-Labour parties together - and I am referring to the Australian Country Party, the Australian Democratic Labour Party and the Liberal Party - had no fewer than 450 minutes for the televising of each party leader’s initial speech. This was free time. Coming to paid time, we find that the Australian Labour Party had 417 minutes. The other parties together had no fewer than 746 minutes, which is pretty close to double the time the Australian Labour Party had.
There are a number of other questions asked and answers given on 1 5th April 1 964 about the matter. Honorable members who are interested can have a look at “ Hansard “ of that date for themselves. They will be able to ascertain that the paid time occupied by or on behalf of each political party was on this kind of basis. In New South Wales, the Australian Labour Party received 417 minutes; the Democratic Labour Party received 325 minutes; the Liberal Party had 272 minutes; and the Country Party had 149 minutes. In total television time, the anti-Labour parties submerged the Labour Party at election time. It is because of this and also the fact that, according to predictions in the Press at any rate, the Senate election is about to take place, that I want strongly to recommend that the
Minister should have a particularly close investigation made of the session conducted by Andrea, in which the honorable member for Evans has taken part, because the obvious motive of this programme is to vilify and discredit the Australian Labour Party. I ask the Minister to take action on this account since, already, a large number of people have protested about the fact that this session is being used particularly for political purposes.
.- Mr. Speaker, I remember that only a week or ten days ago the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), in an address outside this Parliament, said that he liked the idea of the cut and thrust of debate in this place. It is increasingly evident that the cut and thrust of debate in this place is taking place within the Government’s ranks, lt has been entertaining this evening to listen, first of all, to the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) tilting with the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten), and the retaliation from that honorable member. This afternoon, we had the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) jousting with the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly). Obviously, the Government is a very uncomfortable coalition. One of the things that is making it uncomfortable is the great concern and unrest among the people of Australia at the inflation which is rife in the community and the measures which are causing it. One of those measures is the increased charges for telephone services for which provision is made in this measure.
Before leaving this matter, I want to comment just briefly on a few of the things mentioned by the honorable member for Indi. He was critical of the attitude of the Opposition towards inflation and in particular of the Chifley Government. He mentioned specifically the year 1949 and said something about the growth of inflation al a rate of 10 per cent. I want strongly to suggest that, although there was some degree of inflation in that year, it certainly was not of the order of 10 per cent. But the honorable member did not go any further and give the reason for that intiation. The reason was that members of the Liberal Party and the Country Party stumped the Commonwealth and fought against the referendum which the Chifley Government put to the people in an endeavour to contain the cost spiral which that Government knew would eventually develop. It came in 1949. The referendum was lost. The parties now in office said in effect that the law of supply and demand would bring about healthy competition and would overcome any tendency to increase prices. How this theory has failed to work out is evident to everyone who has seen the Prime Minister preside over the greatest period of inflation in the nation’s history.
The honorable member for Indi referred to decentralisation. It is admitted that the greatest proportion of outstanding applications for telephone services has been lodged in the capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Over 20,000 applications are outstanding in Sydney and over 10,000 in Melbourne. Surely this position reflects the abnormal and bloated development which has occurred in those capital cities. The honorable member referred to the decentralisation policies of the Australian Country Party and the Government. The tremendous development in the metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne surely must force an admission of the failure of those policies.
I do not want to appear to be parochial and refer only to country affairs becau.se I am a country member, lt is true that this city development has occurred and it is a great pity that the Government has not been able to cope with the demand for essential telephone services in the city areas. After listening to the arguments used in this debate it is quite clear to me that two reasons have been given for increased telephone rental charges. In his Budget Speech the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) gave as a reason, “sound business and commerical practice “. The Postmaster-General also has given the reason that in effect the telephone services and the Post Office should pay their own way. On a commercial basis in recent years, the Government has required the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to pay a fixed interest rate on taxpayers’ money used in the development of postal services. The interest has been calculated over’ a period stretching back as far as 1901. the year of Federation.
I do not have time now to enter into a prolonged economic argument, but it seems to me that the imposition of the interest charge is nothing but a taxation measure to raise £20 million from users of the postal services. By applying the Government’s logic to the Department of
Civil Aviation, which is engaged in the construction and maintenance of aerodromes used by air services, one would expect the Government to call upon the users of the airlines to pay an interest charge on the capital expenditure of that Department, But it does not. In the last 10 years the Government has spent approximately £170 million - £17 million a year - on aerodrome construction and maintenance, and so on, in excess of the amount it has received in fees from the airlines, lt is difficult to follow the logic applied by the Government. lt is quite clear to me that the second reason for the increased telephone rental charges is the desire of the Government to limit the demand for telephones. The words used by the Treasurer in his Budget Speech are very interesting. He referred to an artificial demand for telephones; that is, he was saying that there are a lot of people who have applied for telephones but really do not want them and perhaps should not have them. I would like the Minister to tell me who are the people in this modern age in our civilised community who should not have telephones. Are they the business people in the big cities or are they the pensioners?
I rose to speak in this debate primarily to make two pleas. I shall be very brief. First, I wish to make a plea on behalf of the pensioners who need telephones. Many of them are in my electorate and there are no doubt many in the other electorates. The letters read out tonight by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) should have brought home to the Postmaster-General the need for a humanitarian approach to this problem. Many pensioners require telephones for medical reasons. Surely the Minister can see his way clear to take some action, perhaps on the lines used in relation to television licence fees. A television licence is issued at a reduced rate lo pensioners whose income does not exceed £8 J 5s. a week, and this principle could be applied to pensioners who require telephones.
My second plea concerns postmasters of non-official post offices. Now that the PostmasterGeneral has increased charges he may consider giving non-official postmasters a fair deal. The payments they receive for faithful service to the Commonwealth are ridiculous. Only a few weeks ago the South
Bendigo Post Office, located in a well populated area of that city, closed down and ceased to provide an essential service to the local community because the non-official postmaster was dissatisfied with his payments. For the rental of his building for use as a money order post office, and for everything else connected with the post office, he received the princely sum of £4 a week. He said that it was not good enough for him and closed down the post office. I ask the Postmaster-General to consider increasing payments to postmasters of non-official post offices.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Cram’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Sir John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Hulme) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 1 6th September (vide page 1144), on motion by Mr. Hul me -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
. -I wish to raise one point on this question of television licence fees. When the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) announced in his Budget Speech the intention of the Government to increase the cost of a television viewer’s licence from £5 to £6, he suggested that to some extent the increase would be offset by the Government’s proposal to remove the excise duty on television picture tubes. In essence, in terms of revenue, one proposal will almost offset the other, although the people who will pay the additional licence fees will not be the people who will gain from the removal of the excise duty on picture tubes.
My attention has been directed to an article which appeared in the 19th September 1964 issue of the fortnightly journal “ Nation “, under the title “ Loaded Guns “. I do not intend to go into great detail. Basically, the article suggests that at one stage it was thought that after a television picture tube had been used for a certain number of years it was of no use; but now it is possible, by a process which technically is called gunning, to regenerate an old tube and make it virtually as good as new. Previously, when tubes which had been gunned were sold, the Government collected excise on them. But in 1963 the High Court of Australia decided, apparently, that the Government did not have the constitutional power to collect excise duty on regenerated tubes. Presumably, it is as a result of that decision that the excise duty has been removed. The paragraph in the article to which I direct attention reads -
However, the Tax Commissioner-
Apparently the writer of the article means the Commissioner of Taxation in his capacity of collector of sales tax -
That being the rate of sales tax applicable at present to a new television set, with the exception of the picture tube -
At this stage I wish to ask the Government a question. I realise that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme) is not the Minister who is responsible for what the Commissioner of Taxation does; but I suggest that if an answer to this question cannot be given now, it might be given in another place when this Bill goes there. The question is: Is it now the intention of the Government to impose sales tax on the television set as a complete unit, including the picture tube, which formerly was exempt from sales tax but was subject to excise duty, which is now being removed? As indicated in the Treasurer’s Budget Speech, the loss of revenue from the excise duty would tend to be balanced by the increase in revenue from television licence fees.
I do not know whether there is any reason to substantiate the proposition that we ought to do as is suggested here. I think that honorable members are entitled to some explanation in due course. I simply raise the matter now. If the Minister is not at present in a position to answer my request for information, I ask that my request be noted and that, at an appropriate time, an answer be given by the Treasurer.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Hulme) - by leave - read a third time.
Assent to the following Bills reported -
Repatriation Bill 1964.
Social Services Bill (No. 2) 1964.
Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill 1964.
Motion (by Mr. Hulme) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Mr. Speaker, I wish to take this first opportunity available to me to bring to the notice of honorable members an instance in which, I believe, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) and the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) have seriously misled the House. It will be remembered that on Tuesday of last week the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) addressed a question to the Minister for External Affairs, and I addressed one to the Minister for Trade and Industry, concerning the boycott by the League of Arab States of trade with Israel. Press publicity had been given to letters sent to Australian businessmen who were believed to be taking part in trade with Israel or proposing to take part in trade with Israel. The honorable member for Isaacs andI put our questions to the Ministers without notice. There is no doubt, however, that the Ministers had anticipated being asked questions on this subject and had prepared replies to the questions that they expected. The Ministers gave certain reasons for their inability to deal with this boycott. First of all, the Minister for External Affairs said -
I have seen evidence that an organisation known as the League of Arab States, Council for the Boycott of Israel, has addressed letters to Australian businessmen saying, in effect, that if they trade with Israel they will be blacklisted. I should like to make it quite clear that this League of Arab States is not an official organisation. It has no international standing and is not recognised internationally in any way. It is a private organisation which, for its own purposes, is apparently carrying on this campaign against the State of Israel and against trade with Israel.
To me, the Minister for Trade and Industry said -
The fact of the matter is, as my colleague has pointed out, that the so called committee which operates in this manner, advising the Arab States on boycott measures - as I understand it - is not an official committee. Therefore, it is not a committee to which a government such as the Australian Government could direct communications.
On the face of the letters to which publicity had been given, the organisation was an official one. It purported to speak on behalf of the Arab States and it purported to have authority to make recommendations to them. It advised the recipients of the letters to get in touch with Arab embassies and consulates. There are in the letters at least seven passages in which references are made to Arab countries or Arab States. In particular, the recipients are advised to provide declarations which are to be certified in certain ways and authenticated by the closest consulate or diplomatic mission of any Arab country. In a second passage, the recipients are advised to provide copies of any agency or agreement executed in a certain way and authenticated by “any Arab consulate in your country”. Again, they are advised to provide documentation showing that they had terminated agencies or agreements certified in that way. For many years now, there has been an ambassador in this country from the United Arab Republic and there has been a Consul General from the Lebanon, each of those States being members of the League of Arab States.
I reiterate Sir, that, despite the claims in these letters, both Ministers said that this League was a private organisation. The Minister for Trade and Industry did add the qualification that this was as he understood the position. The Minister for External Affairs made no such qualification. I repeat that he said of the organisation -
As my authority for slating that the League of Arab States is an internationally recognised official organisation, I cite the 1962-63 edition of the “ Yearbook of International Organisations”. I believe that this is the last publication of that year book. It is accepted by the United Nations, the Economic and Social Council, which is known shortly as Ecosoc, and all the other agencies of the United Nations as providing the official lists of international organisations. The Secretary General of the United Nations used to provide for Ecosoc a list of all international organisations, but this practice was discontinued in 19SS because the Council agreed with the Secretary General’s suggestion that the “ Yearbook of International Organisations “ provided all the information required, describing, inter alia, the relations between those organisations and the United Nations and its specialised agencies.
The League of Arab States is listed in this year book among inter-governmental organisations, lt is listed in the same way as all the organs of the European Economic Community. It is listed in the same way as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Central Treaty Organisation, or Cento, the Organisation of American States and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation. Closer to home, it is listed in the same classification as the A.N.Z.U.S. Council, the Colombo Plan Council, the European Launcher Development Organisation, the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the South Pacific Commission and the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, with all of which Australia is closely identified. Furthermore, the League of Arab States is listed in precisely the same classification as organisations in which the Minister for Trade and Industry would be particularly intersted such as the international study groups on coffee, lead and zinc, rubber, and wool, the International Rice Commission, the International Whaling Commission, the international councils on sugar, tin and wheat and the International Cotton Advisory Committee. It is listed in the same way as eight other international organisations of which Australia is a member and five Commonwealth of Nations bodies of which Australia is a member.
In these circumstances how can it bc said that this is a non-official organisation, a private organisation, one which has no international standing whatever? This organisation has had international standing for almost 20 years - ever since 1945. Its Secretary-General is invited to attend sessions of the United Nations General Assembly. This is a case in which wrong information was given to honorable members. I say that these questions were anticipated because the Ministers concerned used the same terms. The replies were obviously concerted, lt may be that the officers of the Department of External Affairs misled the Ministers concerned.
– Then it may be that the Ministers merely misled the House. To suggest that this organisation was not one which the Australian Government could have approached is to cover up the position and avoid responsibility. In every aspect this organisation is on all fours with all these international bodies of which Australia is itself a member. Australia would be the first country, and this Ministry would he among the first of its citizens, to assert that we have the right to approach all these bodies of which we are members and to approach all inter-governmental bodies of which we are not members. This organisation is represented at the United Nations General Assembly by its Secretary-General. It is a body which has had international standing for 19 years. It is a gross evasion of responsibility to say that nothing can be done about this trade boycott, as has been said by the Ministry for so many years, and that nothing can be done about the interception and interruption of mail between Israel and Australia. Honorable members in this House have been misled, and, I believe, either recklessly or deliberately misled.
– I speak for myself on this matter. My withers are tinwrung by the statement made by the honorable Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). I knew something of the question he proposed to ask me. I do not know how I knew of it, except that my staff informed me that he proposed to ask this question. It may be that he was courteous enough to tell my staff. My staff did not tell me that he did so, but 1 was forewarned. As is routine in my office, I asked for departmental advice because it was a matter on which I had no personal knowledge. The advice I received was consistent with the answer I gave. The words quoted by the honorable member: “ As I understand it “, were my way of saying that, “ I am advised”. I used the phrase to make it clear that I was not speaking with positive knowledge. That was my position and there was no consultation between the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck) and myself. If I have made an incorrect statement, I will ascertain the facts and state them. Suffice to say at this time that I certainly did not consciously mislead the honorable member for Werriwa or the House. That is all I have to say on the matter at this stage but it is not my last word. I will inform the House as to the position after I have examined it.
– So far as I am concerned the position is that I also received by some indirect means an indication that a question was to be asked about this matter and I sought information on it. It was a subject with which I was not generally familiar. I gave an answer in accordance with the information given to me. I think - I say this subject to further examination of the points raised by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) - that perhaps he tended to exaggerate a little the purport of the two answers that were given. I think the purport of the two answers given was that there was no body to which the Australian Government, as a government, could make direct representations in the same way as if it were the Government of the United Arab Republic or the Government of the State of Israel. In relation to both of those Governments we would be in a position very readily, and through appropriate channels, to express either a protest or make an inquiry, but in the case of this particular organisation there was no established channel and no recognised means of communication so we could not, if we had wished, have complied with a suggestion that representations should be made.
– We have an ambassador in Cairo.
– If you will permit me to continue - I did not interrupt you. I have just been trying to make the point to the honorable member that if it were a question of protesting to the United Arab Republic - a government - we have an ambassador in Cairo through whom we could have made representations. If it were a case of making representations to the Government of Israel, we have a charge d’affaires in Tel Aviv through whom we could have made representations. I think the purport of the information given to me and passed on by me to the House was that we have no direct means of communication with a nongovernmental body, as I was informed. That was the answer to the suggestion, or the implication, in the questions that we were asked that some sort of protest should be made. I assure the honorable member that this is not a matter that greatly disturbs me. I think he has exaggerated the position by using terms like” grossly misleading “ and that sort of thing. The points which he has made will be carefully examined by the appropriate officers. If there is any extension or alteration to be made to the statements given to this House, we will make them.
– I rise to comment on a statement made by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) last week wherein he attempted to make an attack upon me in respect of a speech made on the Social Services Bill.
– Order! It may be out of order to make this statement from the Chair, but the honorable member for Grayndler is not here because he has been attending his brother’s funeral. He will be back tomorrow night.
– Very well, Sir. I did pass notice on to the Whip that I would be speaking this evening, but I was not aware of the situation concerning the honorable member for Grayndler. I will reserve my comments.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.18 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated -
son asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Why is the concessional taxation deduction for second and subsequent children limited to £65 whereas the deduction for the first child is £91?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The differentiation in the income tax allowance authorised, on the one hand, for one child under 16 years of age and, on the other hand, for the second and subsequent children, dates back to 1941 when child endowment was introduced. Endowment was then payable in respect of the second and subsequent children under 16 years of age but not where only one child was under that age.
When child endowment legislation was placed before the Parliament in March 1941, it was indicated that, in view of the grant of child endowment for the second and subsequent children, income tax deductions for those dependants would be discontinued. Income tax legislation implementing that policy was approved by Parliament late in 1941.
With the introduction of uniform income tax in 1942 an income tax allowance for the second and subsequent children was re-introduced. The amount of the allowance in respect of those children was, however, less than that authorised for the first child. The rate of endowment now payable in respect of the second and subsequent children under 16 years of age is higher than that payable forthe first child under that age and the differentiation in the income tax allowance has been continued. The income tax deduction for the second and each subsequent child was, however, increased in 1957 to its present maximum of £65 and is greater than the allowance authorised at any time before that year.
Overseas Investment in Australia. (Question No. 495.)
s asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What are the Australian industries in which overseas capital has an interest of (a) more than 50 per cent. and (b) between 30 and 50 per cent.?
– The Commonwealth Statistician has advised that no official statistics are available showing the proportion of Australian industry owned overseas.
son asked the Minister for Housing upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1 and 2. The home savings grant is payable in respect of the first home owned in Australia by a young couple after marriage. If one of the couple has, or the couple jointly have, owned another home in Australia after their marriage, a grant would not be payable, regardless of whether the applicant was an Australian citizen or not. If, however, a person, whether an Australian citizen or not, had previously owned a home outside Australia, this would not make him or her ineligible for a grant.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
The Commonwealth Government is at present considering the request of the Western Australian Government for financial assistance to proceed with stage two of the Ord River Scheme. The Commonwealth has not reached any decision on this request but the ‘honorable member can be assured that the relationship to the Northern Territory and to northern development generally of the proposed Ord Scheme is well appreciated.
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
Suggestions have been made from time to time on various aspects of trade and development within the Commonwealth, but 1 am not aware of any specific proposals submitted for the consideration of Commonwealth Governments in the terms outlined by the honorable member. We are of course willing to consider proposals designed to further the well-being of the Commonwealth and its members and we are in fact, as I explained in the Parliament recently (“ Hansard “ 1.8th August 1964), currently examining, in association with other Commonwealth Governments, a number of specific projects aimed at this objective.
m asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
Schedules, as recommended by the Council, was adopted on 11th September 1958, and subsequently brought up to date where necessary.
South Australia: 23rd August 1962.
Victoria: 30th December 1963.”
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. and its associated companies, like other companies, have a wide variety of business transactions with the Commonwealth Government and its instrumentalities. The Commonwealth has seen no reason to identify and bring together all the various transactions proceeding between Commonwealth departments and authorities and the Ansett groups of companies, or any other group of companies. It does not maintain records of the total payments made each year to any group of companies as a result of such transactions. The information sought by the honorable member is therefore not available and an unjustifiable amount of time, expense and effort would be required in seeking to obtain it. However, should the honorable member desire information on particular transactions, perhaps he could let me know and I will see if it is possible to make the information available.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows -
– On 3rd September the honorable member for New England (Mr. Sinclair) asked me a question about teachers in Commonwealth Territories. As I promised, I have made inquiries into this matter.
There is no proposal before the Government to establish a Commonwealth Education Service which would supply teachers to all the Australian Territories, including the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Teacher training is a subject within the terms of reference of the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia whose report should be presented shortly. The Government will consider carefully the recommendations of that Committee.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 September 1964, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1964/19640923_reps_25_hor43/>.