26th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Lucock) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I address my question to the Treasurer. Why, when with overseas dividends it is proposed to take away the right to be taxed at less than 15%, is a proposed to tax interest recipients at only 10%? Would the Treasurer indicate the circumstances whereby, under present arrangements - not proposed new arrangements - interest recipients evade tax in Australia under the current conditions?
– The purpose of the withholding tax was to fit in with the general model agreement adopted by the European Economic Community and on the recommendation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. lt is a model of a kind that is generally accepted throughout the world. What is wanted in these cases is simplicity and certainty. The rate fixed under the OECD model was 10%. What happens is that if a tax is imposed in Australia and then an allowance is given for that amount of the tax in the country of the recipient - in other words the recipient does not pay any additional tax - it is the Treasury or the Chancellery of the other country that loses and the money is an addition to the taxation collected in this country. Nonetheless the honourable gentleman has asked some specific questions that are a little too carefully worded for me to give a specific answer now. I will have a look at them and will let him have a reply.
– Has the Minister for Civil Aviation seen a report which refers to some supposed delay in the construction of the new international terminal building at Sydney airport? Can he throw any light on this report? The report also claimed that the Department of Civil Aviation should know the length of runway required for the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet aircraft. Are these details yet available?
– 1 did see a report in the Press today claiming that some delay was expected to occur in the construction of the new international terminal building at Sydney airport. I have no knowledge of any such delay but this matter, of course, does not really come within the jurisdiction of my Department as it is not the constructing authority. I will refer the question to my colleague, the Minister for Works, and obtain some information on the construction programme.
The second question related to the runway requirements for the Boeing 747 and, I might add, for the anticipated supersonic jet aircraft which may be operating here in the near future. 1 can only repeat what I have said in this House in recent weeks - that at the moment the manufacturers cannot inform us of the requirements. The prototype of the Boeing 747 has not been constructed yet and, in fact, until it is flying and the manufacturers can do a proper evaluation at that time, we will not be able to obtain accurate information. The same applies to the Anglo-French supersonic commercial aircraft and the American SST but as soon as this information is available from the manufacturers, after prototypes are flying, we will be able to do a proper evaluation. Finally, in the designing of the international terminal building at Sydney, as also at Melbourne, consideration was given to the requirements of Jumbo type jet aircraft.
– Is the Minister for Air aware that there have been two fatal crashes involving Fill aircraft on experimental flights in the United States of America? Has the Minister yet received any details resulting from the official inquiries into these disasters, and will the Minister make a statement in this House acquainting the Australian public with the details of these reports when he does receive them?
– I have had a report dealing with the first tragic accident that occurred at Edwards Air Base. The cause of the accident, as far as can be understood at the moment, is that the pilot landed with the aircraft’s wings in the retracted position. Since then, I understand, a modification of the aircraft has been made so that it is not possible to lower the undercarriage when the wings are retracted. The second accident is still under investigation and I am not yet in a position to give the House any further information.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Services and for explanatory purposes refer to the year 1965 when, of the 220,446 womenfolk who gave birth to children in Australia, 2,388 were blessed with multiple births. Will the Minister consider extending the baby bonus for multiple births from $30 for the first child and $10 for each subsequent child to $30 for each child born?
– The honourable member for Griffith has brought to the attention of this House a particular instance in regard to the payment of the maternity allowance - that of a mother who is blessed with more than a single birth but who unfortunately does not receive an advantage in monetary return similar to her gain in the number of children with which she is blessed. At the same time I assure the honourable member that when this allowance was originally introduced there was not then available the same range of hospital and medical contributory lund assistance that is now available. Consequently the original purpose of the maternity allowance has changed somewhat. When it was initiated, there was not available the same amount of Commonwealth assistance to offset the cost of medical expenses and the provision of gear necessary for a new baby as is available now. At that stage it was necessary to make a monetary allocation to help the mother of a new born child. Since then there has been a substantial advance in the establishment of medical and hospital contributions funds. Membership of these organisations and the level of contributions have made the need for other assistance not so necessary. However, I will look at the situation, and the Government will consider this matter within the Budget context.
– Earlier in this session the Postmaster-General informed me that he had received a report in regard to the ex tension of television services to isolated areas. Has the Minister examined the report? Is he in u position to make a statement on the Government’s policy in relation to the extension of television?
– I have closely examined the report and I hope that before Parliament rises at the end of next week I will be able to make a statement to the House.
– I direct my question also to the Postmaster-General. Can the Minister indicate how much was expended on capital works within his Department last financial year and what is the estimate for the current year? Is this expenditure included in the financial statement of his Department? Can he give me an assurance that, as a result of his proposed increases of postal and telephone charges, a proportionate amount of the revenue derived from the increases will be spent on up-grading those telephone services that are not at present fully automatic?
– Speaking from memory, I think that the amount spent by the Post Office last year on capital works was approximately $179m. The allocation to the Department in this financial year for this purpose is approximately $206m. At this point of time it is impossible for me to say what proportion, if any, of any profit received will result from the increased charges and whether any portion of it will be made available for additional capital works. 1 am sure the honourable member will appreciate that the allocation for capital works is determined by the Government and is included in the Budget. I assure him that the Cabinet constantly has before it the problems of the Post Office, particularly the extension of its services to rural areas. The Government is desirous that subscriber trunk dialling, which it believes to be the ultimate in telephone communication for the Australian community, will be implemented as early as possible. This system involves the provision of automatic exchanges at every centre. Unfortunately the manufacturers of this type of equipment can meet only a certain delivery scale; so I cannot express any hope that the ultimate will be achieved in less than ten, twelve or fifteen years.
– Did the Minister for Labour and National Service address the annual convention of the New South Wales Industrial Relations Society at Terrigal on Saturday last, and did he warn the gathering of the effects on the economy of large wage increases? Has a representative of the Government expressed an identical opinion before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, which is considering an application by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and other interested unions for increased wages? Can the Minister say how it is possible to maintain the purchasing power of wages while prices are increasing at the present alarming rate? Has the Government any plan to control prices and so preserve the purchasing power of wages? Finally, if prices can be increased without Government interference, why does a Government representative appear before the Commission and oppose union claims for increased wages?
– I did attend the conference, but what I said is perhaps not given quite the right flavour by the honourable member. Incidentally, I met at the conference a very pleasant chap who, I imagine, is quite a close friend of the honourable member for Newcastle. What I did say at the conference is that we have to make a choice. If in this community we are going continually to increase incomes - whether they be wages, salaries or even the salaries of members of Parliament - much faster than we can possibly increase the output of goods and services and the things that money can buy, there will ensue willy-nilly a considerable rise in prices. If over a period the community wants this - and it certainly appears that wage earners and other people annually seek a much greater rise in their incomes than increased productivity and the economy can possibly stand - rises in prices are inevitable.
I point out, also, that immediately following general wage increases, in the first round it becomes inevitable that there will be an increase in public charges, such as bus and tram fares and hospital charges - and the proposed increases in postal charges, about which I hope to tell the House if I get a chance later this evening. Behind the increased charges is a huge increase in the wage bill, greater proportionately than the increase in Post Office revenues. If what the community wants time and time again is the satisfaction of pushing up the money rates of incomes, wages and salaries, it will not only hinder development but also wreck our export trade, and the country will not progress.
In many countries in the world, such as those in Latin America - and I do not want to criticise these friendly countries - wage rises of 40% per annum are common. People say This is lovely’, and everyone glows with satisfaction. But, afterwards they reap the consequences in higher prices, disorderliness and lack of growth, and generally they are not in a position to share the increased living standards that we in this country enjoy. If anyone wants to read about this matter, I repeat what I said last week: He is very welcome to study a copy of our submission to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and in this way he will learn some of the facts of life.
– 1 ask the Minister for Immigration whether he estimates that the total planned intake of migrants for 1966-67 will be achieved.
– The programme for the 1966-67 financial year provided for 148,000 migrants, divided into two sections - 92,000 assisted migrants and 56,000 non-assisted migrants. So far as the assisted migrants are concerned, we arrange for their passages. We are able to provide a great deal of assistance in making sure that they get their passage and in doing so we ensure that we get sufficient numbers to fulfil the quota. The target of 92.000 assisted migrants will be substantially achieved. I expect that 91,000 will be actually in Australia as assisted passengers by 30th June. On that date about 2,300 will be on the water in transit to Australia. As to the other component, the 56,000 full fare paying passengers, the very description illustrates that we do not have such a great influence over the numbers coming in, but when the target was drawn up about a year ago it appeared likely, on the figures for previous years, that about 56,000 full fare paying passengers would come to Australia. I am sorry to say that the intake will fall short of that figure by some thousands. As a consequence our overall target of 148,000 will not be achieved. This will be due to a short fall principally in the number of full fare paying passengers. I am hopeful that in the ensuing year we will see a large subvention of settlers as full fare paying passengers.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Air. In his statement yesterday on the cost of Fill aircraft the honourable gentleman said that the cost of spare engines for the bombers had increased by about 40%. Will this substantial increase apply to the cost of the engine provided in the aircraft when it is delivered? If so, will this mean some adjustment to the basic aircraft cost? Alternatively, has the cost of the spare engines been adjusted to cover the increased cost of the engine supplied in the basic aircraft?
– The answer to the last part of the honourable member’s question is yes; the cost of the engine provided with the aircraft has been included in the cost of $US5.95m which I announced in my statement.
– The increased costs?
– Yes. The 40% increase in the cost of the engines, to which I referred, relates to the spare engines which are coming along with other spares for the maintenance and support of the aircraft in Australia.
– 1 ask the Prime Minister a question about the withdrawal of British troops from South East Asia. Since Mr Healey, the United Kingdom Minister for Defence, visited Malaysia and Singapore there have been persistent references in certain quarters in London to the fact that the United Kingdom is planning to accelerate the withdrawal of troops from that area. Is it true that the
British are in the process of taking a different view to the stationing troops in South East Asia from the view they announced earlier this year and that they will reduce their forces to lower levels than previously indicated?
– The United Kingdom Minister for Defence and the Foreign Secretary have been discussing, in Washington and in Malaysia and Singapore, British proposals on the basis of the view held within the British Government. We have known all along that following the end of confrontation the British intended to reduce substantially their forces in this area of the world. Australia has been following these developments very closely and has been maintaining contact at all levels - as between Prime Minister Wilson and myself; at other levels of government; and at the Service level. I have had an assurance from Mr Harold Wilson that no final decisions will be taken on this matter until he and I have had an opportunity for direct discussion. This will occur early in June. I understand it is the British desire to be able to make some firm decisions in about July of this year.
– J ask the Minister for External Affairs a question. Are there any signs that the new Fascist Government in Greece might pursue nationalist policies which could cause turbulence in Cyprus, where Australia has contributed men to the United Nations peace keeping force?
– I am happy to be able to inform the honourable member that following the change of government in Greece the Ambassador for Greece in Australia, on instructions, called upon me to notify me formally that the new Government would honour the commitments and observe the obligations of its predecessor.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the Minister for Social Services, by referring to a recent statement he made about the opening of a series of offices of the Department of Social Services in Sydney suburbs. Does the Minister intend to apply a programme of regional development to the suburbs of other capital cities? Has his attention been drawn to the large number of elderly people who are living on the Mornington Peninsula, to the tremendous population growth which has occurred in this area in recent years, and to the complex of major industries that is planned for Westernport Bay? Will action be taken to establish an office of the Department in Frankston, with feeder offices elsewhere on the Peninsula, in accordance with written and verbal representations which I have already made to the Minister?
– In answer to the first part of the question, I can assure the honourable member that other regional offices are being opened in suburban areas in Australia. Last year an office was opened at Fremantle, and one has recently been opened at Ipswich in Queensland. It is expected that fairly shortly an office will be opened at Elizabeth, in South Australia, and it is intended to establish offices in the suburban areas of Melbourne as soon as practicable. It is hoped that before the end of this year an office of the Department will be opened at Frankston, on the Mornington Peninsula. This will be a small office, probably staffed by about four personnel who will be charged primarily with the responsibility of handling inquiries from pensioners and the payment of unemployment benefits and immediate special and other types of urgency relief. The primary aim of the Department has been to bring to people in as many areas as possible the ability to contact regional offices. It is believed that in this way greater facility will be given to the Australian people to learn of the range of social service benefits that are available. As the honourable member has said, a substantial number of people live on the Mornington Peninsula. I understand that about 72,000 people live there, of whom approximately 6,000 are pensioners. However, I would not like the honourable gentleman to hope for any additional regional offices on the Mornington Peninsula in the immediate future other than the one at Frankston.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs noticed the increasing opinion, as evidenced by Arthur Schlesinger
Jnr, in the United States of America, and by other people in America, Europe and Australia that the attitude of the American Government in Vietnam is one of unconditional surrender of its opponents in the North and the South? Can he say whether this is correct? If it is not, what concessions would be made to the North Vietnamese and to the National Liberation Front, or Vietcong, in the South?
– There have been repeated statements, the latest and most formal of which was the declaration at the Manila Conference, indicating the attitude of the United States Government to talks which might lead to a cessation of hostilities or eventually to a settlement in Vietnam. None of those statements has had any of the flavour of unconditional surrender. Indeed, the United States Government has taken every effort to try t’o persuade Hanoi to come to the conference table with the assurance that none of these ultimate matters of the settlement would be settled in advance.
– I remind the Minister for Civil Aviation of a question which was asked of him yesterday alleging that an airline aircraft flew at an unauthorised low height over Sydney. The Minister may remember that he promised to investigate the allegation. In view of the importance of this particular matter to the electors of St George, I ask the Minister whether he is yet in a position to indicate the circumstances of the alleged incident.
– Following an allegation made in the House yesterday by the honourable member for East Sydney of a breach of Air Navigation Regulations, I had an investigation made, and in view of the seriousness of the allegations as they affect the crew of the aircraft concerned and the Air Traffic Control officers of my Department, I feel that the information contained in the report that has been presented to me should be made available to this House. The report reads as follows:
On Sunday last, an Ansett-A.N.A. F.27 aircraftnot a Viscount - departed Sydney for Canberra on flight 59 with a scheduled departure time of 11. OS hours. Take-off was on runway 16 cleared for departure on the 219° diversion track. This track being to the south-west would not take the aircraft in the vicinity of Sydney Harbour. The Captain asked Air Traffic Control for a clearance to proceed via the Harbour at 1,500 feet. Air Traffic Control considered the Captain’s request and gave a clearance to proceed to the Harbour on an initial heading of 060° at 1,300 feet or above. A short time later, because of the other lower traffic from Bankstown approaching to land, he was instructed to climb to 2,000 feet to maintain separation. The aircraft carried out one circuit of the Harbour at 2,000 feet and was then vectored by radar on to the departure track. The clearance given by Air Traffic Control was completely in accordance with normal control procedures. Proper traffic separation was preserved and the height of 2,000 feet demanded of the aircraft was completely in accord with safety requirements of the Air Navigation Regulations.
My department has established these facts by an examination of the tape recordings relating to the radio transmissions between the aircraft and Air Traffic Control. Inquiries have also been made from the Company and it has been established that the aircraft had on board a group of passengers who were from an overseas airline organisation. Members of this group spoke with the Captain of this particular flight prior to boarding the aircraft and expressed the desire to be able to view Sydney Harbour during departure. The Captain expressed the opinion that it was doubtful whether (he clearance to do so could be obtained and that it depended on the traffic situation at the time. As it transpired there was no traffic situation to prevent the Captain’s request being granted, except that the height allowed was 2,000 feet and not 1,500 feet. This was purely because of traffic considerations. Under the Air Navigation Regulations 1,500 feet could be permitted if the traffic requirements would allow. During the circuit of the Harbour a member of the overseas group of passengers was permitted by the Captain to take photographs of the Harbour from the flight deck. This is in no way contrary to any of the safety requirements under the Air Navigation Regulations.
It has been implied that photographs were to be taken of the trial between the yachts Dame Pattie’ and ‘Gretel’ on Sydney Harbour. I have ascertained that at the time of this flight over the Harbour the yachts concerned were ten miles out to sea.
– Has the Prime Minister noted a report that an individual named Sir Edward Warren, Chairman of the AustralianJapanese Business Co-operation Committee, has returned from a three weeks visit to Japan? Is the right honourable gentleman aware that this Committee has made a proposal for a joint shipping line to consist of a fleet of bulk carriers to transport coal and iron ore to Japan? If so, can the Prime Minister tell us whether the vessels operated by this line, if it is established, will be manned by Australian or Japanese seamen? Further, has the Prime Minister noted Sir Edward’s statement that Japanese businessmen are extremely concerned at increases in the basic wage and margins in this country and have expressed the view that any expansion of our market will depend on our curbing such increases? Finally, I ask the Prime Minister whether this gentleman echoes the sentiments of the Government with regard to basic wage and margins increases.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I do have the good fortune to know Sir Edward Warren. I have a high regard for him, and indeed as Minister for Labour and National Service I had good cause to appreciate the splendid work he did by way of leadership in the coal mining industry of this country and the prosperous development he helped to bring to it. I know that he has been doing valuable work in furthering the economic interests of Australia through the body to which the honourable gentleman has referred. I do not have any knowledge myself of the statements to which the honourable gentleman has referred or the views which he has attributed to Sir Edward Warren, but they sound so interesting that I will make it my business to see what 1 can learn about them.
– My question is addressed to the Acting Minister for the Interior. In view of the fact that the ordinary media of publicity would not normally be available to Aboriginals, are steps being taken to ensure that those Aboriginals who are at present entitled to vote appreciate and understand the importance to their people of the question relating to them at the forthcoming referendum?
– I cannot say what particular action has been taken to enable the Aboriginal people to be aware of the nature of the referendum. Unfortunately, in the Northern Territory the natives will have no vote, but as far as I can assess the situation the Aboriginal people in the other areas of the Commonwealth are taking a great interest in the referendum. I should think they would be well aware of their responsibilities and of what they want to do when the time comes. However, if the honourable member will allow me to look at this matter in more detail I will do so and let him have an answer later.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. I ask him: Were very large sums, as much as $80,000, paid as compensation to dependants of the victims of the ‘Voyager’ disaster in out-of-court settlements? Why are the dependants of men killed in Vietnam not given similar treatment? Will the right honourable gentleman provide information on the amount paid to dependants of servicemen who lost their lives in the ‘Voyager’ disaster, and by way of comparison will he give the House details of payments to dependants of men killed in Vietnam?
– The form of the question clearly does not permit of an answer at this moment. I will study the question and see what details can be supplied to the honourable gentleman.
– I address my question to the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry. Has the Minister seen a report in this morning’s Press to the effect that the New South Wales Minister for Decentralisation stated that Australia’s efforts to increase its share of 4% of the Asian market should be intensified? Will the Minister consider recommending further Government incentives to export, particularly to those countries which may be hit hardest if Britain were to join the European Common Market?
– I have seen the statement to which the honourable gentleman refers. Of course, the commodities on which Australia’s trade with the United Kingdom has been concentrated are not those the export of which we could expect to increase substantially even if our trade with South East Asia were expanded. In commodities such as sugar, wheat, beef and dairy products, including butter, there is not substantial room for improvement of the market in South East Asia. However, the substance of the New South Wales Minister’s statement related to the general expansion of Australian trade, and I do think there is in the future certain capacity for considerable expansion.
As the honourable member will be aware, only a few weeks ago an Australian trade mission returned from Asia, and I understand that as a result of this visit a number of new trade opportunities have been opened. Some of the disabilities of Australian businessmen presently doing business in Asia were referred to in the report which Mr Luciano, the leader of that delegation, produced on his return. In doing so he also complimented other businessmen who have established quite profitable business contacts in Asia.
As far as Government assistance is concerned, honourable members will be aware that already, through the Exports Payments Insurance Corporation and the system of payroll tax rebates, the Government provides considerable incentives for businessmen to trade with other countries. The main purpose of overseas trade, of course, is to expand the base on which a business operates. For this reason it is not primarily a matter for the Government to improve the profitability of companies but it is for companies themselves to see the opportunities that exist in Asia and elsewhere so that they can expand their base of operations and their markets and consequently improve their profitability. However, I thank the honourable member for directing the attention of the House to the opportunities that do exist in Asia for the Australian business community.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Is it true that the Government has finally made up its mind not to release the report of the Loder Committee of Investigation into Transportation Costs in Northern Australia? Is this consistent with its refusal last year to release the report on beef roads? If the Loder report is not to be released, is the reason for this the Committee’s criticism of the Queensland Government’s extraordinary road and rail freight policies? If the Prime Minister is reluctant to give reasons, will he at least put an end to the continuous uncertainty that has prevailed over the last two years and either today or in the next few days give a categorical No or Yes to the request that it be released?
– The answer to the first part of the honourable gentleman’s question is no. The rest of the question therefore falls to the ground.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation a question relating to scheduled flights of civil aircraft to Nowra. Has the Royal Australian Navy agreed to the use of its airstrip at Nowra and is it in favour of such a service? Is the 100 miles of road from Nowra through Wollongong to Sydney one of the most congested and dangerous in the world? Would immense sums of money be required to convert this road into a six lane motorway? I ask the Minister whether he will strongly recommend this service to the intrastate committee now looking at commercial air services in New South Wales.
– The reconstruction of the roadway, of course, is not a Commonwealth responsibility but is within the jurisdiction of the State Government. The question of using the Nowra airstrip for commercial purposes has not been referred to me up to this stage. My colleague the Minister for the Navy may have some information about if. I will make some inquiries and see whether I can provide some information to the honourable member.
– Has the Prime Minister’s attention been directed to a statement attributed to the directors of Davies Coop and Co. Ltd, which has charged Viyella International Ltd, the Britishregistered textile group, with attempting to acquire an active profit-earning Australian company at a discount of 55% against book values. In view of the takeovers of many successful Australian companies by overseas financial interests, will the Prime Minister take action to protect Australian companies from the commercial brigandage of overseas companies and thus assure the retention in this country of the control and profits of companies.
– I have no personal knowledge of the details of these transactions. I have seen some references to them in the Press - statements which have come, as I understand it, from the representatives of Davies Coop and Co. Limited, and others which have come from the representatives of Viyella International Limited. But I have no authoritative information on the matter. As to the latter part of the question, the honourable member really invites in it a debate on policy concerning investment by overseas companies in Australia and the rights of Australian shareholders who wish to dispose of their shareholdings at what they would regard as an attractive rate of return. This is not the place, the time or the opportunity to debate matters of that sort. In the last couple of weeks the Opposition has canvassed this subject in a general way. No doubt there will be other opportunities.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the National Radiation Advisory Committee on Biological Aspects of Fallout in Australia from French Nuclear Weapons Explosions in the Pacific, July-October 1966. Honourable members will observe from the final paragraph of the report of the Committee - which comprised a number of distinguished scientists - that after having considered the relevant data the Committee concluded that the fallout over Australia from the first series of French nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific did not constitute a significant hazard to the health of the Australian population.
-I have received from the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) a letter proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The serious level of unemployment in Queensland.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen)
– The purpose of this exercise is to refer to this House the present serious unemployment in Queensland. The Opposition does not attempt to sheet on to the Commonwealth Government all the blame for this situation. We recognise that the State Parliament of Queensland and, indeed, industry and the community generally, are all concerned in this important matter. But it is not possible at this time for it to be raised in the State Parliament of Queensland because that body has been in recess for some time. Over many years the rate of unemployment in Queensland has run at 1% or more above the national average. I think it behoves all honourable members, while recognising that Queensland has a number of peculiar problems, to realise as well that this is not a satisfactory state of affairs and that our attention ought to be directed to improving the situation.
The latest figures available to me record the position as at the end of March this year. At that time 16,086 persons were registered for unemployment in Queensland while there were 2,650 job vacancies. The number of job vacancies for males represented only 14% of the number of males registered as seeking employment. Looking at the State as a whole, this means that 2.5% of the work force is unemployed as compared with the national average of 1.4%. I put it to the Government that if this proportion applied not only to Queensland but to the nation, the Government would be galvanised into some sort of action. We saw this happen in 1962 after the impact of the credit squeeze was felt. We had a record number of people registered as unemployed and the Government took appropriate action to reduce it from that time on. We also saw the Government take action - very necessary action - in the drought of 1965-66 in order to reduce unemployment and to stimulate the economy. What we are asking is that the Government recognise that this is not just a temporary circumstance in Queensland, but is a problem which has been with us for some time. Tt was a problem that existed under the previous Labor Government although not to the same extent, and it is a problem that exists under the present Country Party and Liberal Party Government.
We recognise that Queensland has some peculiar problems. It has the highest proportion of seasonal workers of any State. If we are going to depend on Queensland because of its extensive beef, wool, sugar, wheat and other great primary industries on which the State itself is so reliant, it follows that Queensland will continue to have a high proportion of seasonal workers. The disability is that Queensland does not enjoy, at the same time, an extensive industrial complex or an extensive pool of available casual employment. 1 refer to the immediate situation. The building trades in Queensland are depressed. For some time now the State Department of Works has been sacking carpenters and building workers - skilled tradesmen as well as labourers - and the Building Workers Industrial Union has more unemployed tradesmen registered on its books at present than at any time since 1962. This is at a time when there is a great shortage of homebuilding which not only affects young Australians who are desirous of marrying and acquiring their own homes but also has a deleterious effect on our migration programme.
The metal trades are seriously affected. This is a fairly new development in the metal trades in Queensland because over recent years they have known reasonably good times; but at present a large number of skilled tradesmen in the metal trades are unemployed. Some of this unemployment is brought about not by shortage of work but rather because a good deal of the work at Gladstone and similar places is going to overseas organisations, and a large quantity of prefabricated material is coming into the State. When we take into account that this pool of unemployment exists, at the same time, we ought to recognise that because of automation in several industries casual work is no longer available as it was at times in the past. In any event, it is not a very effective way of using skilled tradesmen when they are obliged to take casual work in the various rural industries.
The position I am canvassing this afternoon is not one that has arisen recently. There are a number of long term trends. For example, for some years now the Queensland Government has been closing down non-paying railways and has also been centralising its workshops and repair facilities. This is tied up with the conversion from steam locomotives to diesel locomotives. It means that the employment previously available in country areas is not available to the same extent. Bulk terminals have been built at most of our sugar ports and the bulk loading of sugar and wheat has been introduced, whereas, at this time in other years, many men previously found employment in loading sugar and wheat.
There is still a long standing need to develop industries in small country cities and towns - a need for real decentralisation. This poses a lot of problems because any entrepreneur who would establish a business would naturally do so close to the greater centres of population - at places where there is an abundance of labour, perhaps skilled labour, and where transport costs are lower. In Queensland there is an abiding problem related to the employment of teenage girls. On a tour of the State which I and others made in the winter of 1962, when discussing matters with development organisations, shire councils, city councils and other local bodies, including chambers of commerce, this was one of the problems we were informed about wherever we went. Many young girls are kept at home or are permitted to stay on the farm because their parents do not want them to leave home. As a result they are not included in the statistics to which I have been referring.
If one refers to the figures one finds that the best employment months in Queensland are August and September and the worst are December, January and February. Probably it is not fair to make a comparison with the figures for December and January, for in these months large numbers of school leavers register for jobs. It follows that even in the best ordered economy, in which plenty of positions are available, it takes some time to place young people at the end of their school days in positions for which they feel they are suited. From February and March onwards to this time of the year the position is usually not good, but then it begins to improve. The serious situation confronting Queensland is that the improvement that usually takes place has not occurred to the same extent this year as in previous years. I have already pointed out that the number of job vacancies for males now registered in Queensland is 1,532 compared with 10,926 at the end of March, which means that the percentage of vacancies to the number of unemployed is 14%. The position is not very comforting, for it indicates that there is no short term hope of placing these people in jobs, particularly as many of them are skilled tradesmen. I know that in the near future the sugar industry in Queensland will begin to get under way and some of the unskilled workers will be absorbed in that industry. I am not criticising that fact, for it is part of the usual pattern. However, it is a great pity that skilled tradesmen may be obliged to take on this casual or seasonal work when there is a nation-wide shortage of skilled tradesmen. Queensland can ill afford o lose her skilled tradesmen to the southern States.
A logical question to ask is this: ‘Where do we go from here, and what ought to be done?” What we are asking for is Commonwealth involvement in this situation. We recognise that it is necessary for the Commonwealth to co-operate with the Queensland Government. We on this side of the House are not in a position to know whether recently the Queensland Government has made any representations on this matter to the Commonwealth. However, as the Federal Government has some responsibility in this field, in paying unemployment benefits and in conducting the Commonwealth Employment Service, we think that if the State Government has not taken the initiative in this matter the time is opportune for the Minister for Labour and National Service to do so. One would not need to be particularly bright to think of numerous ways in which the position could be improved. I have already pointed out that building tradesmen are out of work at a time when the housing situation in Queensland is anything but satisfactory. The Commonwealth, in co-operation with the States, should be able to tailor its building programme to take up the employment slack at this time of the year. As the slack is now abnormal, there is probably plenty of justification for introducing a special programme within the framework of Commonwealth and State financial relationship.
A large employment avenue is open in Queensland in the construction of railways. We recognise that recently some railways have been constructed to enable coking coal and other raw materials to be carried to our ports for export, but other railways are needed to complement the beef roads scheme in such areas as the Barkly Tableland to facilitate the transport of cattle to the Channel country, lt both the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Government were willing to accept their share of responsibility in this matter, a tremendous opportunity would be available to improve the employment situation in Queensland. Finance can be made available to the municipal authorities by way of their loan programmes and grants, so that they may undertake essential works such as water supplies and sewerage schemes. The Commonwealth has its own building programme. Surely some of the 2,143 Brisbane men in receipt of unemployment benefits could be gainfully employed on Commonwealth building projects in the metropolitan area. That would be another way in which the position could be improved.
As I said earlier, this is not an attempt on our part to say that the Commonwealth should accept the blame for a situation that has existed in Queensland for a long time. lt is an exercise to place on the public record the fact that the unemployment position in Queensland is unsatisfactory - that this year it is worse than it was in the immediately preceding years, but that this year it seems to be a problem of greater standing when one takes into consideration that the percentage of job vacancies is at a serious low of 14% of males. We are asking the Minister and the Government to look at this question and, in co-operation with the State Government, local authorities and private industry, to see what can be done to improve the very unsatisfactory situation.
– The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr
Cross) has invited attention to a number of factors, and in his moderate speech he recognises quite freely some of the basic causes. The economy of Queensland is very different from that of any other State. The State’s activities, especially outside the big towns, are principally seasonal in character. This has been part of the pattern for a long time. The honourable member made the point that unemployment in Queensland is worse this year than it has been. It is perfectly true that unemployment has been slightly higher. However, we should not lose our perspective in this matter, for although unemployment is higher in Queensland than elsewhere there are a number of contributory reasons. While we would like to see it reduced, it is still a rate of unemployment which in other countries would be regarded as a low rate. A copy of the United States ‘AFL-CIO News’ that has come into my possession contains a review of the manpower situation in the United States in February and discloses that a 3.7% jobless rate was set for the third month. A review of the manpower situation by the Department of Labour in the United States showed that there was a continued high employment and low unemployment rate. Of course, we have different economies, different people and different ideas; indeed, their conditions are different from ours.
Employment in Queensland is highly seasonal, and employment opportunities in that State are widely dispersed. One reason why unemployment in Australia is so low is that the main variations occur in the capital cities, and when one trade or industry is depressed people flow easily to another. If this were not so and if people were not concentrated in work areas, unemployment rates in this country would be much higher. The unemployment rate is relatively higher in Queensland, although currently it is improving. When work is seasonal unemployment is bound to vary to a large extent. The honourable member for Brisbane mentioned the months of January and February, but apart from school leavers the employment situation is influenced by the large numbers of people who seek to take their holidays during those months before seeking further employment. Further, it is part of the nature of the problem in Queensland that a number of people, mostly seasonal workers, prefer to seek high earnings for a while and then perhaps go fishing while they become eligible for unemployment benefits. I do not blame them, for particularly north of Townsville people have a different mode of life - one which I should say many of us envy. It was not necessary for the honourable member to invite my attention to this matter. I am, in fact, currently making arrangements for my permanent head to accompany me to Queensland, to visit particularly these areas so that we might go into this problem.
– To go fishing?
– There are many other aspects apart from fishing. Basically, as I have said, the reason why we have this problem in Queensland is that the economy is highly seasonal, with people having to travel great distances to find other jobs. But this of course has been the situation for a considerable time, and if this is all the Opposition can point to in the economy we must be in a fairly healthy state. Reference was made to some political aspects. If we are going to discuss the merits of political parties all I can say is that for several generations when the Labor Party was in control in Queensland it did very little to make the economic structure grow. What Labor did in hand outs - in the fields of social payments, and working conditions - was all right as far as it went, but this all adds costs of various kinds to industry. Its land laws rather deterred large scale investment in the development of land. Industry as a whole did not warm to Queensland and the conditions there because growth factors were not present. While I have not the time to elaborate in detail it is quite obvious that, with the change in government, things have improved in Queensland.
As the honourable member for Brisbane said, there are certainly no doubts concerning Queensland’s future, because we can look forward to a continued high level of activity, although currently it is marginally Jess than it has been in the last few years. However, one must take into account that the major industry is the sugar industry, which has been horribly depressed by the fall in world sugar prices, over which neither the Queensland Government nor the Commonwealth Government could have any control. It should be acknowledged, how ever, that the Commonwealth has come to the aid of the sugar industry in the temporary adverse circumstances on a generous and unprecedented scale. Another factor contributing to the present position is that in Gladstone, for instance, much of the development has been completed. The construction of the alumina refineries has been completed. A large army of construction workers in Australia move from project to project, and some of them might stay for a while at the place where they have been working in order to seek other employment. But generally speaking when a project comes to an end the workmen, who have been earning extraordinarily high wages, have a bit of a spell before going to the next job.
Certainly there has been a tremendous office building programme which in recent years has transformed the skyline of Brisbane. Recently, of course, there have been abnormal factors apart from the price of sugar. Heavy floods, preceded by prolonged drought, had a very damaging effect. As a result of sugar prices being depressed, many farmers are not employing as much labour as they otherwise would. The supply of cattle to the meat works has fallen off not only because of the drought. Subsequent rains have brought on the grass to such an extent that graziers are holding much of their stock for fattening. Anyone who knows what is coming up in Queensland can have no doubt about its future expansion and bright prospects. These seasonal factors I have mentioned are inherent in the Queensland economy. Almost every day we hear reports of new developments; indeed even this morning there was the announcement of a spectacular expansion of the alumina refineries, with capacity increasing from 600,000 tons to 900,000 tons a year. This will mean that the Queensland refineries will rank among the largest in the world.
There are other developments, for instance in the coal fields at Moura and Blackwater, which will enable coal exports to Japan to be increased. Then there are the developments at Townsville, where the Commonwealth is playing a major part with the establishment of the complex of Army requirements. The effect of all this on secondary development - on housing for example- does not need elaboration. The brigalow scheme is being extended, as was announced recently in the Parliament. There have been new discoveries of copper, nickel and phosphate. There is a project for taking natural gas from Roma to Brisbane, not only to supply gas to Brisbane but also to supply feed stock for the new fertiliser works on the Brisbane River.
The honourable member referred to home building figures. Of course, he was referring to figures of a few months ago. The number of approvals of new houses and flats in Queensland in January and February of this year was 11% higher than for the same months last year. The value of other new non-residential building approved in January and February this year was 80% higher than for the same months last year. The figure has risen from about $10m to $ 18m. What this all adds up to is the fact that Queensland is going ahead full steam. So far as the last couple of years are concerned, and having regard to all the schemes that are in the pipeline, it may be said that the steam is almost superheated. Apart from being a bit less this’ year than it was last year, the figure of 2.5% of unemployment in Queensland in March was certainly below the average of the last ten years. The number of job vacancies registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service in March this year was greater than the average for the last ten years. The position is continuing to improve. Certainly in one months time fewer people will be registered for employment with the Commonwealth Employment Service.
I remind the honourable member that the figures relating to unemployment must be considered in the light of the population growth in Queensland in the last five years. In that time Queensland’s population growth has been relatively greater than has been that of New South Wales. So although the number of persons seeking employment has been rising, one must bear in mind that Queensland’s is a continually and fast increasing population. The honourable member drew our attention to the fields in which unemployment occurred. We are well aware of what is happening. We have done a great deal to keep track of labour displacement in the sugar industry due to machine cutting of cane. We keep a continuous and close watch on developments. Irrespective of what one does and regardless of the expansion that takes place in Queensland, we cannot get away from the fact that many primary industries, such as the sugar industry in all its aspects, the meat industry, the fishing industry and the fruit and vegetable industry need labour in large quantities for only part of the year.
I will be looking into this problem when I next visit Queensland. I will do what I can to mitigate what may, but usually does not, amount to hardship. I will see what can be done to relieve the problem arising from seasonal fluctuations particularly by encouraging other forms of employment in the areas concerned. The honourable member pointed to our constitutional limitations. These are very real because employment is provided by industry and entrepreneurs, over which the Commonwealth has no control and which governmentally look to State authorities. Compared with the immediate past, the present state of unemployment in Queensland is slightly worse than it has been. The situation is on the mend, but unemployment will not be completely eradicated. The situation will be greatly eased as and when the sugar industry recovers.
– There is quite a serious unemployment problem in Queensland. It is obvious from what the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) has said that the Government proposes to do nothing about the problem. It is a special problem because the situation is more serious than in any other State. The level of unemployment in Queensland on a percentage basis is more than double the level of unemployment in any other State. Yet the Minister proceeds to discuss the situation with the calm detachment of one undertaking an abstract academic exercise. I sometimes think that in a democracy there is a strong argument for compelling politicians, during part of the parliamentary recess, to come down to earth and do manual work, thereby gaining an understanding of the precise problems that press so heavily on low income earners, instead of working in their electorates to keep themselves in comfortable jobs. They should be forced to discover how difficult it is to make ends meet as a manual worker, semiskilled or unskilled worker on a fixed income knows. They should be forced to appreciate the tremendous worries that beset the workers, who have a very real sense of insecurity because of their low income standard and a very real sense of worry that comes with insecurity because of the threat of unemployment that crops up from time to time.
What did the Minister say? He said that Australia has a rate of unemployment lower than exists in other countries. What satisfaction is there in that state of affairs? We are not worried about other countries; we are worried about Australia and in particular we are worried about Queensland. I will refer to only a few of the points made by the Minister. He said that the unemployment figure is artificially inflated because many of the persons registered for employment go fishing. What do the figures show? They show that 16,000 people are unemployed in Queensland. Let us look at the number of people - the hard core - who are in receipt of the unemployment benefit and so must have been unemployed for at least three weeks. The number is starting to rise again. There were more than 8,000 of these people in December last year, nearly 8,000 in January this year, and slightly fewer than 7,500 in February, and in March the number had increased to almost 7,800. It seems to me,, judging from the things people tell me when they come to my office and from my talks with private employers and trade union officials, that the figure is starting to rise again. Does the Minister seriously suggest that a large swag of these people is away fishing all the time? Does he suggest that this large number of people is on holidays and that while they are enjoying their recreation out on the Barrier Reef they are collecting the unemployment benefit? Fiddlesticks! Nobody, not even the Minister, believes such hocus pocus
The Minister said that the number of job vacancies registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service was higher than the average for the last ten years. Let us not get carried away with average figures. They can be terribly misleading. All that are needed are a couple of bad years in the last ten years and we shall get an artificially low figure for the average. Due to the Government’s economic policies we have had several bad years in the last ten years. Average figures are no guide.
What are the current figures for job vacancies? In March there were 2,650. This is not good, because it represents a sharp fall from the 3,000 notified in February and the 3,500 in January. It is true that there are particular problems in Queensland, such as the problem of the recent drought, the notable feature of which was the poor response from the Federal Government.
The collapse of the sugar industry has presented another problem. The State Government rather foolishly overestimated world demand for sugar. Even the Minister for Territories (Mr Barnes), who is interjecting, would agree, if he reflected on the matter, that world demand at the relevant time was a misleading thing because of the games that Cuba was playing on the world market. The Government is doing very little at the present time. I am sure that if 1 had time I would be able to make out a case, which even the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) would endorse wholeheartedly, for the support for the sugar industry. The honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) has been seeking support for this industry but he can get no support from this Government. These are things that can be acted upon. Surely honourable members have heard a little about orthodox Keynesian economics and about priming the pump. Is this not the time to start priming the pump with an injection into the Queensland economy to overcome some of the unemployment in the community? Let us have no more of this airy fairy abstract discussion about unemployment from the comfortable benches in Canberra when there are family groups in this community who are suffering the very serious complications that arise when they are thrown into unemployment, particularly in this modern day when there is such a heavy dependence on hire purchase and this type of commitment.
If the honourable member for Moreton is proud of the progress of Queensland under a Country-Liberal Party Government in that
State and a Liberal-Australian Country Party Government in the Federal sphere, I ask him to make some recommendations for assistance for the Queensland Government to enable it to get over the problem - it is now becoming perennial - of a regular deficit in the Budget at the conclusion of each financial year. The deficit in 1964-65 was over $4m, and in 1965-66 it was S3 .4m. This year the Queensland Government was hoping that it would avoid a deficit but it is in a very serious financial position. The crippling effect of the lack of Federal Government interest in Queensland can be seen in the budget results of thai State. I recently overheard a discussion between some of the State Ministers to this effect. The Queensland Government is laying off a fairly large number of workers in the Public Works Department, and in other departments too. 1 emphasise that I am not referring to the Railway Department, which has a peculiar problem because of developments in that industry. When workers are laid off from the Public Works Department, it is because money is tight. There will not be a break even Budget in Queensland this year; there will be another deficit Budget.
The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) referred to the poor industrial base in that State. It is true that Queensland has a poor record in relation to large scale industries - industries that employ 101 or more people. Only 22.29% of the total number of factories in Queensland employ more than this number of people. This percentage is the lowest in the Commonwealth; it indicates that development of large scale industry has not taken place. There is no indication that anything will be done to encourage this development to take place in the near future. This is the type of industry we want in Queensland. The value of factory production in Queensland in 1964-65 on a per capita basis was S299.ll - the lowest in the Commonwealth. Western Australia, with a per capita value of $326.63, was the next lowest. The figure escalates for the other States of the Commonwealth. Surely this is the sort of industrial base which we should be trying to develop.
Let us look at the opportunities the Government has forgone by not assisting with Commonwealth aid. The Commonwealth Grants Commission report, which is an unimpeachable source, shows that in 1964-65 Queensland received total Common, wealth payments in aid of $72.76 per capita; South Australia, $85.29; Western Australia SI 19.57; and tasmania, $130.58. All these States did far better than Queensland, yet the Minister for Labour and National Service has the gall to rise in this Parliament today and say that Queensland has peculiar problems which are worse than those in any other State. Let us look at the assistance given to Queensland for developmental works. No financial assistance was provided for such projects between 1950 and 1961. Assistance only came after the jolt the Government received at the 1961 election. I refer to page 248 of the Hansard report of debates in the House of Representatives on 22nd September 1966. From 1961 to 1966 grants to Queensland totalled $ 12.64m but loans with interest totalled $61m. This State has a peculiar problem which needs to be overcome. The Minister agrees with this, yet the only assistance Queensland can get in any sort of supply compared with other areas - it is not a great supply but it is the largest we can get - is loaded down with the responsibility of repayments with interest. For how much longer will Queensland have to put up with this sort of attitude on the part of the Government - of sitting back while progress has its head pulled off by a sharp recession and while economic prosperity is lost as extensive unemployment persists.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) reminds me a little of Pontius Pilate, who folded his hands, asked questions and relieved himself of responsibility. The only difference between Pontius Pilate and the honourable member for Oxley is that the latter gentleman stands, waves his hands about, and poses questions about the answers to which he has not the faintest idea. I will bring this debate back to the subject matter before us - unemployment in Queensland. The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) made a couple of points which are worth referring to. They must have been worth referring to because the honourable member for Oxley repeated them. His first point was that he regretted that there was unemployment. There is unemployment in Queensland, but the position in that State has improved far more than it has in any other State. He said he wants some kind of Commonwealth involvement in the matter of employment and unemployment in Queensland, and he dwelt at length upon the plight of the State railways system which, of course, is a great employer of labour.
The honourable member for Oxley comes from a railway town; so if I may I will dwell for a few moments on his concern for employment in Queensland and in the Railways Department. I refer to a question which 1 asked in this House last Thursday of the Minister of Shipping and Transport (Mr Freeth) concerning a statement which had been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) in which he said that he wanted Australian National Line ships to call at more ports in Queensland on journeys commencing and ending within that State. I refer also to a subsequent question which the Leader of the Opposition asked, the relevant part of which is as follows:
What attempts have been made to secure agreement with the Queensland Government for the Australian National Line to operate voyages beginning and ending at ports in Queensland?
Obviously the Opposition would like a reference of powers to enable ships to begin and end their journeys at Queensland ports. What is the significance of this? Railway workers are aghast at this kind of proposal. With greater numbers of ships operating between Brisbane, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville, it can be expected that there will be a drop of at least $5m in railway revenue in Queensland and that between 3,000 and 4,000 railway men in that State will be put out of employment. Clearly this would be the result of their proposals.
– Say that again. I do not think Opposition members heard it.
– They heard it. They have gone into conference; clearly they understand it. The Leader of the Opposition put forward a general proposal that ships should operate between more ports in Queensland. That clearly is implicit in the question. It is logical to expect that the honourable member for Oxley, who is associated with Ipswich where railway workshops are established, would at the first opportunity put railway men out of employment. In Queensland there is a gentleman who was for a number of years the Leader of the Australian Labor Party in that State and who is now the member for Toowoomba West. I refer to Mr Jack Duggan. It is a well known fact, for which there is unimpeachable evidence, that when the present Government of Queensland came to power the then leader of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Duggan - as I said, he is now only the member for Toowoomba West, having been deposed from the leadership in certain circumstances last year - had it in train for 750 railwaymen in Ipswich to be put out of employment. This is understandable because there is a clear pattern running through the thinking of these gentlemen of the Labor Party who say they are concerned about employment. It is along these lines: when you run into any troubles with employment, put the men on the railways out of work.
– This is the Labor attitude.
– This is the ALP attitude, and of course this is something that honourable members opposite do not like to hear. No matter what they may say, these are simply facts and they are part of the history and of the present circumstances of the northern State. I understand that this same gentleman who had it in train to put 750 railwaymen out of work in Ipswich has campaigned in Ipswich on many occasions for the honourable member for Oxley. Of course on those occasions he and the honourable member for Oxley probably embraced one another.
-Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) and the honourable member for Oxley, who have been interjecting, allow the honourable member for Lilley to make his own speech. This applies also to the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant).
– Thank you very much, Mr Acting Speaker. Perhaps 1 should dwell a little more on this problem because I am concerned to keep employment at a high level. The operations of the shipping line, as I have already indicated, would result in a minimum loss of S5m to the Queensland railway system and retrenchment of between 3,000 and 4,000 railwaymen mostly operating from the principal Queensland provincial cities such as Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Maryborough, with some others in Brisbane. If the railways decided not to compete with the centralists of the Opposition who promote these intrastate shipping operations, there would be a loss of revenue of SI Om and up to 2,000 more men thrown out of work. So while Queensland has problems with regard to employment, problems concerned with the distribution of population, which is a unique distribution, it must be borne in mind that more has been done to secure a permanent high level of employment in that State by governments on this side of the Commonwealth Parliament and by the present Queensland Government than has been done by those who, like Pontius Pilate, would pose the question without knowing from what quarter the answer might come.
There are one or two other matters concerning employment in Queensland which are worth considering. I do not intend to enter into a debate on financial relationships between the Commonwealth and the States. The honourable member for Oxley wishes on some occasions to debate economic affairs, but it is quite clear that he is not yet ready for this. In the first place there has been a greater improvement in the employment situation in the northern State than there has been in any other State. There has been a higher rate of increase in average earnings in Queensland than there has been in any other State. These are just the facts. If the honourable member for Oxley knew the northern State he would realise, too, that when there is a wet season extending from January to February to March and to April, the wet itself tends to cause some temporary unemployment. The honourable member just does not know his own State. There are problems in carrying on building operations when the wet comes. There are problems in many other activities when the wet comes. There are problems, for instance, in bringing cattle to the yards. All these things he does not know. If he knew something about what happens during the wet months he would realise that when the rains come there are temporary random movements in the level of employment. But the honourable member does not know this. He went back only twelve months, but it is possible that if he had gone back a little further he would have learned something. However, recent history remains a closed book to the honourable member and his colleagues.
The Government has indicated quite clearly in the past that it has been willing to make unique grants to assist in lifting the level of employment in Queensland. At the end of 1965 it made grants to relieve the unemployment resulting from the drought. It made these grants available to the northern State and they were accepted. They were accepted by local authorities in many parts of the State, but some local authorities in which there were Labor administrations and which have complained about the high level of unemployment did not have the knowledge or the character to apply for these grants which would have assisted them to provide work for local people. Among others, quite a number of such local authorities in northern and western districts failed to make application. Let me give the House an example of such a local authority. Look at the employment record of the Labor City Council in Brisbane. It is one of which I would be ashamed, and it is one of which any supporter of the Opposition should be ashamed.
- Mr Acting Speaker-
Motion (by Mr Bury) put:
That the business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker - Mr P. E. Lucock)
Majority .. ..31
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill - by leave - presented by Mr Hulme, and read a first time.
– 1 move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Mr Acting Speaker, the purpose of this Bill is to deal with the so-called pirate stations that may be established beyond territorial waters but close enough to our coastline to direct their programmes to Australia. I use the word pirate because it describes clearly what these broadcasts are. They operate outside the law; they pirate radio frequencies, the use of which can only be authorised by the Government’s licensing authority. They represent a challenge to the lawful control of radio communications, including broadcasting, and upset the good order and discipline essential to ensure a service, free from interference, for the thousands of lawful users of the various frequencies. These include authorised sound broadcasts, television, aircraft and ship navigation, public communications, police, fire protection and the host of other ways in which radio communications are now utilised. The radio frequency spectrum is public property, and the public is entitled to the assurance that appropriate control is being exercised. The spectrum is very congested with the growth of services, not only as a consequence of the tremendous increase in conventional uses of radio communications but also with new service needs. The developments in space exploration and space satellite communication have created a need for a multiplicity of new frequency requirements.
The allocation, assignment and use of frequencies is a very complex matter. It requires careful study to ensure that all services operate with a minimum of interference. This can be achieved only by expert attention to the proper technical standards and characteristics of equipment to be used by all services. The use of radio frequencies at the international level is also a complex issue. Radio waves do not confine themselves to rigid national barriers. Thus there is at the international level a great deal of regulation. This relates to the broad principles to be followed by countries, to their obligations and to the actual use to which particular frequencies may in fact be put. Australia is a signatory to the International Telecommunication Convention and the associated radio regulations. One regulation specifically prohibits the establishment and the use of broadcasting stations on ships, and another lays down that no transmitter may be established or operated without an authorisation from the government in question. It is therefore necessary - and this applies especially to frequencies used for broadcasting - for special co-ordination arrangements to ensure that frequency assignments made to stations do not give rise to interference to other services. These objectives cannot be met where individual private interests are able to select a frequency at random without the complete knowledge of the characteristics of other services in use. Apart from all these considerations, the indiscriminate use of frequencies greatly increases the possibility of harmful interference being caused to essential services, such as those concerned with safety of life and with navigation.
Unlike other countries, pirate broadcasting has not previously been of serious concern in Australia. Our well established dual system of national, and commercial broadcasting has provided us with an adequate base on which to develop the service needs of the Australian community. In the last year or so there have been a few abortive attempts to establish unauthorised transmitters off the coastline. There are indications of a fresh attempt in the Gold Coast area. Following a public inquiry and report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, the Government authorised the licensing of a broadcasting station for the area. Some persons have announced their intention to establish another station, to serve the area from a ship outside territorial waters. The matter is, therefore, one of greater consequence than the earlier attempts, and the Government has decided to bring down legislation which it is hoped will be adequate to deal with this problem.
Clause 4 of the Bill will make it an offence for a person to establish or maintain a transmitter on a ship in waters adjacent to Australia for unauthorised broadcasting purposes. This clause goes on to make it an offence to assist in unauthorised broadcasts or to render services for the operation of the ship and the transmissions. Clause 5 extends the jurisdiction of the several courts of the States and Territories to cover offences arising from the foregoing activities. Mr Acting Speaker, this Bill will be, as necessary, enforced in full accordance with Australia’s international rights and obligations. The Bill is much less comprehensive than the legislation which it has been found necessary to introduce, for example, in Britain in order to deal with the pirate radio problem in Europe. Nevertheless, it is expected that the Bill will be adequate to deal with the situations which are likely to arise in the Australian environment. However, the matter will be kept under close study, and if, perchance, this legislation is found to be deficient the Government will be prepared to consider more comprehensive provisions. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.
Bill - by leave - presented by Mr Fairbairn, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill aims to continue to encourage the search for petroleum in Australia and Papua and New Guinea and on their continental shelves by extending the period of operation of the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act which was originally introduced in the Senate in August 1959. That Act as amended in 1961 and 1964 has resulted in a significant increase in geophysical surveys and drilling by oil exploration companies. This exploration effort has had some success. lt resulted in significant discoveries of oil and gas - oil at Moonie, Alton and Barrow Island, and gas at Roma, Gidgealpa, Gippsland shelf, Gilmore, Amadeus Basin and Gin Gin. In some cases - for example Moonie, Alton and Barrow Island - production is already established.
The search is now entering a new stage. On-shore, more specific geological targets are being investigated. Off-shore, five or six mobile rigs will be operating on our continental shelf before the end of the year and platforms are planned on the Marlin and Barracouta fields for development drilling and for subsequent production from these important discoveries. More work will be needed before all the present discoveries are fully evaluated. The Government feels that, as the production potential of the probable oil reserves already established will supply only about 10% of our current needs in oil, there is still a real need to encourage active exploration. Current exploration may reveal large reserves of oil and indeed everyone would hope that this proves to be the case. If this happens the need for subsidy would disappear. In any case the Government will keep the situation under constant review and will be watching the results of exploration with keen interest.
The amended Act will extend the operation of the Petroleum Search Subsidy Act 1959-1964 for twelve months, so that operations completed before 30th June 1969 may qualify for subsidy. Subsidy is payable out of moneys appropriated by Parliament for the purpose of this Act. The amount appropriated for 1966-67 is $11,900,000 and on the indications of the size of the exploration effort a comparable amount will be required in 1967-68. Subsidy liabilities are carried forward in respect of approved operations so that there is no break in the continuity of the scheme but this means that appropriations will be necessary for perhaps two years after approvals cease. Since exploration started, about S60m has been paid or committed by the Commonwealth in subsidies, and in addition $250m has been spent by companies and governments on oil exploration on the mainland of Australia. In verv rounded terms this expenditure has established assets worth about $400m in the case of oil, plus about $500m for natural gas.
By its actions in establishing the petroleum search subsidy scheme, in providing for the basic geological and geophysical investigations by the Bureau of Mineral Resources, and by taxation concessions to investors in oil exploration companies and to the companies themselves, the Government has continued to affirm the importance of finding an adequate supply of indigenous oil. This Bill aims to continue the task of assisting exploration at what could be a critical stage in the whole history of petroleum exploration. I commend the Bill to the favourable consideration of the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Luchetti) adjourned.
Bill - by leave - presented by Mir Fairbairn, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to enable the Commonwealth to enter into agreements with the States for the provision of financial assistance which will be used for the purposes of expanding softwood plantings by the States. Honourable members will recall that on 9th March last year I reported to the House that, following careful examination of a series of benefit-cost analyses, the Government had endorsed a recommendation by the Australian Forestry Council that Australia should expand its softwood plantation resource by an average of 75,000 acres per year during the next thirty-five years. The present target is a plantation resource of 3 million acres at the turn of the century, by which time we must have the resources to support some 20 million people, a conservative estimate of our expected population at that time.
The Government has agreed to finance additional planting by the States above a base year acreage for each State. The financial assistance approved by the Government will take the form of loans to be repaid over a period of thirty-five years, but they will be free of interest and repayment instalments for the first ten years. The Government has promised finance for the first five years of the scheme and this is expected to cost the Commonwealth about $20m. Towards the end of the five years we will need to have another look at the programme and consider the question of further support for future plantings.
Following my statement to the House on 9th March 1966, Australian forestry, including this proposed programme, was thoroughly debated both in this House and in the Senate for the first time since Federation. The discussion was conducted at a particularly high plane. There was general support for the programme. The main critical comments made were that the proposed terms were not generous enough and that the Commonwealth had failed to take a more active part in resource development in Australian forestry at an earlier stage. I should point out that in effect, the remission of interest for ten years is equivalent to a grant to the States of about J8% of final costs. Honourable members will be aware that when the Constitution was adopted, control of Crown lands in the States remained with the States. These State Crown lands include the greater part of Australian forest land of good quality. Apart from forests in Commonwealth Territories, the direct control of Australian forests is a State matter.
It recently became apparent that a national advisory body was necessary in the field of forestry. Approval for the establishment of an Australian Forestry Council was given by the Government in 1961 and reported to this House on 18th April of that year by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Freeth) who was then Minister for the Interior and who administered the Forestry and Timber Bureau Act al the time. After discussions with the State Premiers, and preliminary exploratory meetings, the Prime Minister announced the formal establishment of the Council together with its structure and functions in July 1964. The Council comprises the Minister for National Development as Chairman, the Minister for Territories and the Ministers in charge of each of the six State forest services. It is assisted by a Standing Committee of officers. The Council and Standing Committee have considered many aspects of the problems of Australian forestry and future requirements for forest products.
Before the Second World War annual value of forest products consumed in Australia was about $60m, of which $40m resulted from industries based mainly on the native forests and $20m represented imports. The present annual value of forest products consumed is $700m, of which $500m represents products from our own forests and $200m from imports. Most of the imports are made from softwood which could be grown in Australian plantations, processed in our factories, transported over our road and rail systems, and distributed by our business houses.
I wish to stress the fact that products from industries based on our native and plantation forests have increased in value from $40m to $S00m annually in a generation, and to assure honourable members that the Forestry Council is not neglecting the many problems of our native forests. Much study is being put into them and more is needed to devise ways to improve their productivity. The State forest services have spent large sums of money on this work. Nevertheless, all States agreed that the first priority for a national programme should be to increase our resources of home grown softwood raw material.
Honourable members should know that all States made a very significant effort to expand Australian softwood resources before approaching the Commonwealth for aid. Since 1962 they have increased the annual planting rate by 10,000 acres to a record level of about 29,000 acres in 1965, an increase of about 50% in three years. The States said there was a limit on the amount of money they could allocate to new plantings and said that the base year acreage shown in the schedule to the proposed agreement represents this limit, taking into account the demands made by the necessity to give regeneration treatment to some 25 million acres of the better native forest, and fire and other protection to perhaps another 100 million acres of other Crown lands. The provision of this Bill will permit the States to roughly double their base year acreage of softwood plantings. As can be seen from the schedule attached to the proposed agreements, New South Wales plantings are expected to increase to 19,600 acres in the last year of this five year programme, from the base year acreage of 8,100; Victorian plantings are expected to expand from 6,000 acres to 12,000 acres; Queensland from 5,200 acres to 10,000 acres; South Australia from 4,500 acres to 6,000 aces; Western Australia from 3,000 acres to 6,000 acres; and Tasmania from 1,940 acres to 4,900 acres.
The financial assistance to be granted to any State in any single year will be a proportion of the total cost of new plantings incurred by the State in that year up to the acreage limit set by the agreement. The proportion will relate to the factor by which the acreage of new plantings exceeds the base year acreage. If a State doubles its base year acreage the Commonwealth will finance half the total cost. Subject to the Treasurer’s approval, the agreement provides that financial assistance for additional plantings will be available in respect of all normal planting costs incurred after 1st July 1966, including land clearing, road works, protection, tending the crop, and acquisition of land where necessary. The State Auditors-General will be required to report to the Treasurer concerning the correctness of State accounts and to certify that the moneys provided by the Commonwealth have been spent on planting. The foregoing are necessary protective provisions in legislation of this nature.
Provision is also included giving discretion to the Minister for National Development to approve carry overs from one year to another where he is of the opinion that it is appropriate to do so. This power gives flexibility to the arrangement. It will permit the carry over of shortfalls in plantings in one year to a later year when conditions are more favourable to planting, or to use excess plantings in one year to make up for a shortfall in a later year. The Minister also has the right to request information. It is proposed that advances will be made to the States in anticipation of expenditure on programmed plantings. The Commonwealth acknowledges that this is necessary for the effective working of the scheme. The States are borrowing money for enterprises in which they have already had wide experience. The forest services will keep each other and the Commonwealth informed through the activities of the Forestry Council and the Standing Committee. I am confident that Ministers and officials of all Governments concerned will collaborate to make the scheme work.
Following the announcement I made in the House on 9th March 1966, the encouraging parliamentary discussions which followed, and a formal offer made by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr McEwen) to the Premiers on 16th July 1966, the States have proceeded with the 1966-67 part of the programme. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that between State plantings and plantings by private interests our softwood resources will be extended by nearly 60,000 acres in the current year, and our total softwood plantings will pass the 800,000 acre mark. We are well on our way to our present planned target of annual plantings of 75,000 acres. Efficient organisations have been built up in each State and success is assured if this financial support is given.
I have mentioned that the value of forest products consumed in Australia is now $700m annually. At present each four fifths of a cubic foot of log yields commodities worth one dollar. We have had wide experience with the trees that are being planted and know that the plantations will produce an average of at least 200 cubic feet per acre per year for future industry. Our target area of 3 million acres will therefore yield 600 million cubic feet of logs annually, worth, at current values, around $750m. It can be seen from these figures that the potential yield from these plantations alone will be sufficient to base an industry greater in size than our current forest products industry. In addition to their economic value the plantations will be an important source of rural employment. The older softwood plantations in Australia already employ one man to each 30 to 50 acres, which is a very high rate of employment for rural areas in this country. All Ministers on the Australian Forestry Council recognise the potential of the programme as an aid to employment in several difficult sections of our agricultural and grazing industries.
I feel that the measures proposed in this Bill will provide a unique opportunity for this Parliament to assist in the expansion of Australian forests, which are renewable resources and yield raw materials from which a wide range of products are produced. It will be an historic act by the Commonwealth Parliament. It is breaking new ground. Not many of us here will reap the benefit which will accrue from this decision, but posterity will, I am sure, thank us for our foresight. It is therefore with much pleasure that I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Luchetti) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 2 May (vide page 1615), on motion by Mr Howson:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1966-67 affords the House an opportunity to talk upon a wide variety of matters involving policy and the administration of the Government. This Bill, and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1966-67, deals with expenditure still to be incurred in the financial year which will end on 30th June 1967, expenditure which was, for the most part, not anticipated when the Budget was framed. It is inevitable in an economy such as ours that not everything can be foreseen. To take one example, expenditure has been inflated because of the disastrous bush fires which occurred in Tasmania a couple of months ago. Things happen which, obviously, everyone would not want to happen. Their occurrence could not be anticipated. Such happenings from time to time bedevil the presentation of national accounts.
There are one or two items to which I would like to draw particular attention because it seems to me that in default of more adequate information than has been given in this Bill, the Government is, in essence, at this late stage of the financial year rewriting the assumptions upon which it based the Budget it presentedlast August. I think these things ought to be noted, and I draw the attention of the House to some remarks that are contained in the ‘Monthly Economic Letter’ of the First National City Bank of New York for February 1967. I believe this publication is obtained by a number of members of this House. It certainly has a wide circulation in Australia and I think it is now printed as an Australian edition. In the article three ways of figuring Federal budgets are suggested. There is a quotation from Mr Maurice H. Stans, the Budget Director under President Eisenhower, who in a forum in December 1966 at a conference sponsored by the Tax Foundation stated:
For the longer run, we need to restore the somewhat tarnished reputation of the budget . . . lt affects every citizen’s wellbeing, his environment, and his taxes. It is used by economists to project the direction of the economy and to evaluate the soundness of national fiscal and monetary policy. It is studied by foreign nations who judge from it our strength of character and our power to meet international monetary and military situations.
Then Mr Stans goes on to say:
For these reasons, the Federal budget must be impeccably sound in its accounting principles and beyond reproach in its integrity.
It seems to me that there is one item in this Appropriation Bill which points with some dubiousness at least at some of the assumptions that underlaid the Budget a few months ago. It also seems to me that the postal increases that are to be debated later this evening, taken in conjunction with the item that I want to expand upon, amount almost to a little budget without the Government going through the formality of presenting specific documents in the House. 1 find it incredible, in respect of the Post Office, that when we debated the Budget in August last year - and we are now in only the fifth month of the new year, some eight months after the Budget debate - it was thought that, in terms of the current charges of the Post Office both for postal services and telephone services, the charges being made were adequate. Certainly the Government has been subtle enough to make the increases not apply in respect of this financial year, but it has not been subtle in stealing, in terms of time only, a matter of two months instead of making postal adjustments, as they ought to be made, at the time of the next Budget.
The last full year for which figures for what are called the commercial accounts and the telephone services are available was 1966, and the figures are contained in the ‘Financial and Statistical Bulletin’ for 1966. They show that in that year the total earnings of the Post Office on the postal side on a commercial basis were about$116m and on the telephone side $284m. In round figures, there was a total revenue of about $401m. While the proposed increases do not relate to that year, the proportions are much the same. Unless the Post Office is being used as a taxing device, I find the Government’s requirements incredible. The Government discovers, after the expiration of eight months since the presentation of the Budget, that it requires an additional 25% of revenue from the postal side - $30m in relation to $11 6m - and $37m in respect of the telephone side of its activities which is running at almost $300m. On the 1966 figures the telecommunications service showed a commercial profit of $10m. I hope that further explanation will be forthcoming in the debate this evening. The new charges will have to be borne by the public as from 1 July 1967. In my view they should not legitimately have been applied until after the Budget, which will be introduced in August 1967. So the public is being mulcted for almost two months in additional charges.
The second item, to which I draw attention and which seems to me to throw doubt on the forecasts of this Government in August, is contained on the second page of the Appropriation Bill that we are contemplating. Honourable members will note a number of items of additional expenditure listed under various departmental headings. After the item ‘General Services’ appears a little piece of book keeping as follows:
That makes a net debit of $200m and inflates the Appropriation Bill by $200m. In other words the figure for expenditure should have been only about $70 instead of $270m. I suggest that some explanation is called for. Why has the Government at this late stage of the financial year decided to charge into ordinary expenditure an amount for defence? As late as October or November last year the Government anticipated that $300m of defence expenditure would have to be met from loan money.
I want now to refer to what were stated to be assumptions in the Budget in August 1966. It seems to me that the Budget rested on these assumptions: That a sum of $533m would be required to balance the Budget in the sense of all income as against all expenditure, taking into account loan as well as revenue items; and that $533m would be forthcoming from public loans minus redemptions, from borrowing overseas and from resort to central bank credit. The Government, at that stage, attempted an estimate of how the $533m would be made up. It figured that $150m would be net loan proceeds - that is, the difference between new loan raisings minus redemptions - that S270m would be required to be obtained from the Reserve Bank of Australia via the medium of treasury bills, and that $113m would be borrowed overseas for defence expenditure from the United States of America. When the Budget was being debated it seemed to me that the general assumption was that because we were to have recourse to treasury bill finance to the extent of $270m, the overall effect of the Budget was therefore expansionary. In those days, only a few months ago, this was regarded as being good.
As 1 said earlier, in anticipation of that situation the House was asked in October 1966 to sanction the borrowing of $300m on the defence account. Again I think the reasons were that defence borrowings are outside the province of the Australian Loan Council’s arrangements. The Commonwealth can raise what it likes on defence loans without affecting the arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. In those days it was thought that of the $ 1,000m expenditure for defence, which was to be made up of approximately $870m raised internally and approximately Si 30m raised overseas, $300m of the internal expenditure would come not out of the ordinary revenue account but out of loan funds. The effect of this single line in these supplementary estimates is to reduce the borrowing for defence purposes from $300m to $100m and to transfer $200m of what would otherwise have been loan expenditure to ordinary expenditure out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. I cannot view that action as anything but a refiguring , of the Budget. The Treasurer (Mr McMahon) made this statement in his second reading speech on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1966-67:
At the time of the Budget, it was tentatively estimated that net loan raisings and drawings against defence credits in the United States of America would fall short of the excess of expenditure over receipts by about $270m.
This was the figure I quoted previously. The Treasurer continued:
However, mainly because of the uncertainties that attach to the various estimates, particularly the estimate of net loan raisings, it was not possible to estimate precisely the amount that it would be necessary to obtain by way of temporary borrowings to finance the shortfall. Because of this, authority to borrow up to $300m and to use the proceeds to finance expenditure on Defence Services, was obtained in the Loan Act (No. 2) 1966.
I have already referred to that. He then said:
The amount that will have to be obtained by way of temporary borrowings could prove to be substantially less than originally expected-
One might ask parenthetically why it is less than expected: in which case it would not be necessary, in order to make these borrowings, to use to anything like the full extent the existing authority to charge expenditure on Defence Services to Loan Fund. If, however, a large proportion of the total expenditure on Defence Services is to be charged to Consolidated Revenue rather than to Loan Fund, additional authority will be needed for this.
Presumably this is what we are now doing - seeking additional authority to transfer $200m out of the Loan Account into ordinary expenditure. I should think that without some other explanation, this fact alters the assumptions on which the Budget was laid down. If in default of any further explanation $200m of the taxpayers’ money is spent instead of money that is voluntarily surrendered in loans or from resorting to credit bank expansion, surely that makes some difference to the overall functioning of the economy. If anything, I think the effect was deflationary in the same way as I think the raising of $67m in additional revenue by the Post Office through the introduction of higher charges is deflationary.
It would seem, therefore, that whereas four or five months ago the Government thought that the right thing for the economy was a somewhat expansionary policy, it now takes the view that we ought to pull in our horns, so to speak. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) has made available a statement which was presented to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the national wages case of 1967. If one reads it carefully one can see whose horns are supposed to be pulled in. The Minister forecast financial trends for 1967, but they are somewhat different from those forecast for the first six months of 1 967 when the Budget was being contemplated in August 1966. 1 do not know whether the official statement to which I have referred contains the Minister’s words, but certainly the Minister for Labour and National Service has made the submission available through his office, and I assume that it went before the Commission. It contains this statement:
The year 1967 is one in which the balance of forces could tip towards inflation and the Commonwealth and the Commission, each in its own sphere, have a heavy responsibility in the public interest to avoid decisions likely to have inflationary consequences. 1 suggest that the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1966-67 and another measure that we will consider this evening in relation to Post Office charges represent part of the remedy that the Government believes will overcome what it calls an inflationary situation - that is, to take more out of the public stream by way of taxation and to inject into it less by way of credit expansion, and also to make sure that this action is successful by increasing the costs of certain public utility services. If the. situation is as serious as that 1 should think that what we should be debating is not the measure now before us but a measure providing for more concrete proposals. Incidentally, the House seems to be taking the debate on this Bill very casually. Few members are present, and few are listed to speak on the Bill. The reason for this situation might be that the debate was brought on rather suddenly this afternoon in place of another matter. From 2.30 p.m., not knowing until then that this Bill was soon to be debated, I was rushing around consolidating my material. Certainly I had looked at it before this afternoon, but one likes a certain amount of time in which to round off arguments and to put material together concisely. Also, I have to speak this evening on the postal charges legislation, and this has reduced the time available to me for my preparation on this Bill.
The Government should state frankly that it believes a deflationary policy is now necessary. It seems to have been frank enough in its submission to the Commission that it does not think that wages should be increased. To be fair, I do not know that the Department makes this bald claim. However, if members refer to page 12 of the submission they will see this statement:
As the Commonwealth sees it the best means of preserving the real value of wages is to preserve stability of prices. The wage earner, the housewife, the pensioner, all have a common interest in this.
– Hear, hear!
– Like my friend who has interjected, I too say ‘Hear, hear!’ If the Government meant that the best means of preserving the real value of wages is to maintain stability of prices, one finds it difficult to know what contribution to price stability will flow from the proposed postal increases. No doubt all honourable members have, like 1, received a number of telegrams not from trade unions but from industrialists who suggest that this will have cataclysmic effects upon their internal price structure. Again, it seems rather hard to reconcile, and there is also some rather curious argumentation. I hope all honourable members will read the submission, because the Minister indicated in answer to questions yesterday that this document was freely available if anyone wanted it. I ask honourable members to read the rather curious references that seem to be pointed at the Commission by the Government with respect to what it calls the likely effects on prices generally of increased public utility Charges. The admonishing perhaps seems to be that if as a result of public action - that is. Government action on a State or Cornwealth level - public utility charges are increased, that should not be a matter that the Commission should take into account in determining wage claims. I must confess that I would debate that if it were put up seriously as a proposition in the court. Yet it seems to be put up on the part of the Government to the ears of the Commissioners, and I certainly hope that the Commissioners will not heed that sort of suggestion.
We have this rather odd circumstance of what appears to be a normal kind of measure. If there is an explanation for it it is certainly not contained in the Minister’s speech and I would simply say at this stage that it seems to me that these appropriation items are more than simply the consideration of unexpected expenditures not anticipated at the time when the Budget was framed. They have been used subtly to insert this sum of $200m, which dismantles as it were the assumptions on which the Budget was framed. I believe that if the assumptions on which the Budget is framed are dismantled, there should be prepared a much more comprehensive document than this. We had just the same kind of vague ness from the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) the other evening, and I should say that he cannot at this stage say that his accounts will be out by the margin of the projected increases, which are, I am told, some $67m. I have been gratified to read the comments made in a number of the daily journals that I read in Melbourne - that is, the ‘Age’ and the ‘Herald’ - which claim that what is being done in the Post Office accounts is a mere bookkeeping device. I suggested the same thing in this House many years ago, as the honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver) will recall; that was when this item, which I call notional interest, was loaded on to the Post Office accounts. lt is easy enough to say that the Post Office provides a public service and should pay its own way, but that is not so easy to say after one has added a significant adverse item which we hear is $64m. To my mind whether the $64m is contained within the accounts of the Post Office rather than some other item of the Consolidated Revenue makes no overall difference, but it does make a significant difference to the working of what might be called the tax side of the system as against the non-tax side. Are we to allow and continue to allow what is being done in the Post Office accounts? lt is not only being done in the Post Office accounts because there is this rather astonishing item that I shall mention. 1 commend to the consideration of honourable members this very interesting compilation, the Australian National Accounts, the latest issue of which was printed a few days ago. lt discloses details of the national income and expenditure from 1953-54 to 1965-66. On page 63 of the document, in table 59, appears the capital account of all public authorities for the years I have mentioned. This table refers to organisations in this country, government and otherwise, but it must be realised that the only government that is in the luxurious position of being able to adopt this practice directly is the Commonwealth Government. An item entitled Surplus on Public Charges Current Account’ discloses that governments are charging more for the services they provide than the moneys expended on those services. To a great extent this device has to be resorted to by the States in order to get the necessary capital resources for their
State undertakings, but at least the figure has risen from S620m in 1953-54 to SI. 340m in 1965-66. In essence, it is getting towards being one-quarter of the total annual revenues of the Governmental system.
Put one way, it can be looked at as a charge for services; but of course it is an overcharge for services, and the overcharge is justified on the grounds that it enables these undertakings to engage in necessary capital development. I do not seek to canvass the arguments here, but 1 suggest that the premises are at least arguable; that is. whether it is right to charge what the traffic will bear so far as public undertakings are concerned, or whether it is more equitable for capital works to be paid for out of revenue without distinguishing between one sort of capital work and another. Of course, the difference is - and the Minister used the analogy the other evening - whether, as he described it, the taxpayer pays or the user of Post Office services pays. If one could separate these two categories easily there might be something in the argument, but how much difference in many respects is there between the taxpayer, writ large, and the user of the Post Office services, writ small? Until one can disentangle these strands, it is impossible to say. One could certainly say with a degree of finality, but not with any degree of equity, that this is the proper way to balance the national accounts.
Therefore, it seems to me that the Government does have a case to answer concerning this $200m. It rightly explains where the $200m is going, but it does not quite adequately explain where it has come from. We are treated every year in the Budget to this rather curious document at the end; it is called Statement No. 6. I arn afraid that I rather go along with some of the comments of the American economists on this subject; 1 still prefer the cash budget as we knew it and understand it to this rather clever device called the Budget incorporating the national accounts. I have here a quotation by Professor Alvin Hansen, who has sufficient reputation as an economist to warrant respect. His comments appear in the February 1967 issue of the New York First National City Bank’s ‘Monthly Economic Letter’, as follows:
The arguments favouring the cash budget over the national income accounts budget seem to me wholly convincing.
He is in favour of the cash budget; not the national income accounts budget. He continues:
On only one count do our authors give the verdict to the national accounts budget, namely the accrual method of calculating tax receipts, and even here I believe the cash budget scores better than our authors are prepared to concede. And in so far as the time lag does give the cash budget a black mark, this could be cured rather rapidly by speeding up the transition to the current payments basis for the corporate income tax.
I suggest that in many respects the clarity of budget presentation in Australia is being distorted by this annual exercise of looking at a small sum at the end of the financial year. As I pointed out in the debate on the Budget last year, there are quite significant margins of error. The Government’s anticipation in 1965-66 was wrong compared with what finally emerged in that year and I suggest that the item about which I have talked mainly this afternoon indicates that the Government was quite wrong as recently as August last in anticipating what would happen in June 1967. To my mind this situation throws some doubt at least on the economic weapons with which the Government is working. In my belief the thing that still keeps the economy surging forward is adequate purchasing power in the hands of the great masses of the community, but this seems to be the place where the Government is wont to apply stops when the assumptions that it has built into its budget go wrong. It is the innocent who pay for the mistakes of the incompetent.
– The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) spoke about matters of principle, matters of concern to him. His matters of principle have been, 1 think, largely related to budget construction and the economic factors which he notes have apparently brought about a necessity for a review as far as revenue and expenditures are concerned. My concern and my points of principle in the contribution I wish to make take a different line. I want to move on quickly and stress that we have before us four bills. Two of them are Supply Bills and two are appropriation measures. Most honourable members will be aware that the Supply Bills simply present to us a provision for funds based on an arithmetical calculation for the first five months of the next financial year and the calculation reaches back to the amount provided in the Budget for the year now coming to a close.
I have no intention or wish to refer further to the Supply Bills, except to say that when Appropriation Bills Nos. (1) and (2) are brought into the House to deal with the estimates for the new financial year - this occurs at Budget time - this temporary provision is picked up and the Supply Bills become inherent in Appropriation Bills Nos. (1) and (2). So today it is appropriate that we debate the Bills together.
To establish the points of principle I want quickly to refresh the minds of honourable members, as well as my own, as to the methods by which departments and statutory authorities obtain the funds for their operations and the method by which this Parliament approves the supply of funds for the operations of the Government. I refer to Appropriation Bills Nos. (1) and (2) and relate them immediately to what we call the original estimates at the beginning of the year of operation. But the second source to which I refer, to which the departments will turn to obtain funds, is the Advance to the Treasurer, which is for the purpose of meeting requests for advances that will be recovered during the financial year or to provide moneys details of which will later be submitted to the Parliament. This is the purpose for which the Advance to the Treasurer is approved. In recent years we find a provision of $40m for the Advance to the Treasurer. This sum is included in Appropriation Bills Nos. (1) and (2).
The third source of supply of funds is what we have come to know traditionally as additional estimates. The additional estimates are covered by Appropriation Bills Nos. (3) and (4). Additional estimates are prepared by departments to meet the exigencies of the last four months of the financial year. The Treasury lays down the requirement that every department will, by the end of February, determine its claims under additional estimates. I think it is pertinent to say at this stage of the debate that if we are clear in our minds as to the real purpose of additional estimates we should recognise that, if unforeseen expenditure did not occur and if the original estimates submitted by departments at the time of the budget proved to be in all respects accurate, no additional estimates would be presented to the Treasury and no expenditure would occur from the Advance to the Treasurer. This would be an idealistic situation. But at this stage of the financial year we must recognise that unforeseen commitments do occur. Notwithstanding vastly improved estimating achieved by most departments - this I trust has been influenced to a large degree by the activities of the Public Accounts Committee - this is what emerges: there are deficiencies in the provision of funds and the additional estimates have to be anticipated. Because of this, over the years a pattern has emerged. 1 believe it is possible for the Treasury and the Government to follow this pattern and to see that on average a certain sum is probably required at about this time of the year, necessitating appropriation measures of the kind we are now. debating. I believe it should now be possible on that basis to assess with a degree of accuracy the volume of revenue which will be required to meet the additional estimates.
So, quickly reviewing my proposal, 1 suggest that the original estimates are prepared prior to the Budget and the additional estimates are finalised at the end of February. The Advance to the Treasurer is available to all departments and statutory authorities to enable them to draw upon that Advance for those claims which may be made to meet emergency requirements not otherwise covered in the estimating procedure. What has concerned me for some time is the fact that there is an apparent attitude by the Government and the Treasury that adjustments to the revenue or fluctuations in the original estimates of departments will invariably meet the require. ments of the additional estimates at about this time.
To show that there is a fundamental danger in this I pose the question: What would be the situation if there were a slump in the country’s overall revenues, if there were some influence which brought about a real decline in the revenues? Of course, such a situation is not unusual. There have been governments which at times have found revenues falling away disastrously. Also, if there was significant accuracy in the original estimates and. due to care in the estimating processes and a substantially increased claim for this reason under the additional estimates, how would a government, without great embarrassment, submit appropriation measures such as we have before us today? I suggest that, if this set of circumstances prevailed, a minor Budget would be inescapable to any government. Extra revenue would have to be raised, and it could not be raised without a minor Budget. This would be because no open and specific provision of funds for the additional estimates has been written into the national Budget.
From time to time I have asked questions of people who are qualified to give the answers. Unfortunately, in this field not many are qualified, because just as our tax law has become extremely complex so the administration of national finance has become a task for the full time expert. All of us can only express gratitude for what has been done in recent years in trying to make Budget documents a little more intelligible to honourable members. I find they are almost a maze through which one needs to be led very systematically before one can find the answer to his query. I make the point that we provide an advance to the Treasurer as a reserve. We say that there it is necessary to have an advance available, and we set it now at $40m per annum so that this source of funds will be available when the need arises. I ask the question: Why is there no similar provision to ensure the avoidance of embarrassment over the additional estimates money that may be required? I only wish that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) or the Minister assisting the Treasurer (Mr Howson) were present during this important debate, for these are matters of principle.
I emphasise that, at this stage of the provision of funds, the additional estimates are almost as important as are budgetary provisions when the first appropriation measures are introduced. For this reason, I believe that the answers we require from time to time should be readily available. J ask the Treasurer to cause some research to be carried out. I express the hope that something will come from the suggestion to satisfy me that neither this Government nor any future government would be placed in a position of very real embarrassment if these circumstances did occur.
Under Appropriation Bill (No. 3.) 1966- 67 the Treasurer is asking for an additional sum of $270m for ordinary services of the Government and under Appropriation Bill (No. 4.) 1966-67 for about SI 2.7m for capital works and services and other items. I suggest that it is not sufficient simply to ask for this authority from the Parliament and to submit a schedule as to where the money might be going. When Appropriation Bill (No. 1.) 1966-67 and Appropriation Bill (No. 2.) 1966-67 were submitted to this House at Budget time the House had the benefit of all the details of the annual Estimates, the explanatory Budget documents and the informative Budget Speech. This was material which supported the Treasurer’s submissions on that occasion. Surely the additional estimates should not be given scant respect. In my opinion - I think it was the honourable member for Melbourne Ports who emphasised this - this is a revision of the Budget, a looking back at the provision made in August last year and an assessment of the needs which have affected revenues and which certainly have affected expenditure.
These additional estimates represent not less than 12% of the original anticipated expenditure. The additional estimates should always raise these logical queries: Why are funds required? Why was this expenditure not foreseen? What was the accuracy of the original estimates put forward by the departments concerned? The Public Accounts Committee asks that sort of question annually of certain departments which overspend the vote that has been approved in their name or which substantially underspend the funds that have been provided by the Parliament in accordance with their estimate. This sort of discussion in open inquiry takes place to try to influence the departments to be more accurate in their estimating. The same principle should apply to the aggregation of all these claims for additional expenditure moneys when the Treasurer puts them before the Parliament in the form of additional appropriation bills. When this type of analysis is applied to departments by the Public Accounts Committee, some substantiation for the request is sought. The Committee endeavours, in the name of the Parliament, to ask that the department point out why there is no definite justification for certain funds being requested in the first part of the year. We do not encourage simple guesswork, lt seems to me that the Parliament is therefore entitled to satisfactory answers to similar questions from the Government or the Government’s representative when the additional estimates are put forward in this way.
Let us look at the Appropriation Bills and make a quick reference to the Treasurer’s second reading speeches. I have already mentioned that the Bills now before us call for the provision of sums of approximately $270m and $12m and that this represents an increase of no less than 12%. I am not suggesting that a margin of 12% is excessive, but it does involve millions of dollars and, since no revenue proposals have been made to match this figure, it is apparent that the funds must be available either from a more buoyant revenue yield than was expected when the Budget was formulated or from items which it is now clear will not be fully spent by various departments. I note with concern that the Treasurer’s second reading speech makes no reference to the source of funds. He does not explain to the Parliament whence the funds will be actually drawn to meet the additional expenditure. This is probably because the source of funds does not constitute a problem to the Government; but I suggest that it would not be unreasonable for some explanation of this to have been given. I draw attention to the fact that reference is made to departmental administrative expenses amounting to $7.9m, to $1.6m for university scholarships, and to $2. 3m for repatriation pensions and benefits. But the speech goes no further than to cite areas where the additional funds are required. To my concern, it does not advance any cogent argument as to why these amounts could not have been reasonably foreseen in time for their inclusion in the Budget and in the first appropriation measures. Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1966- 67 relates to capital works and services. In the second reading speech on that Bill reference is made to expected savings in other appropriations. The major sources of expected savings and the amounts involved, however, again are not mentioned, and it is my belief that the Parliament is entitled to know at this stage of the year what savings are expected and the reasons for those sav ings. In the speech on this Bill the main financial requirements are mentioned but the reasons underlying them are not mentioned at all. I have a fear, therefore, that this is a blanket request for authority to spend an additional $ 12.8m because the Treasurer says it is necessary to do so. Surely at this point we must consider as a matter of principle that the Parliament should be informed what the funds are required for and why the additional estimates are necessary. I do not believe that the Parliament should appropriate funds unless it is completely satisfied in relation to these matters.
Going a little further into these speeches, 1 raise no objection to the amount of $1.3m that is required for the referendum that is to be held shortly. This, of course, was not a foreseeable expenditure. But I believe that explanations are necessary with regard to other matters. I do not think it is fair to deliver a speech to support an appropriation measure and to assume that every member of the Parliament is aware of the legislative amendments that may have gone through and have had an impact upon the expenditure of one department or another. I believe full explanations should be given as to why the additional items of expenditure are required. Perhaps the legislation for Commonwealth university scholarships - tuition fees and allowances - was amended at a certain time of the year, thus making necessary the funds now being sought as an additional estimate.
I note also that there is no mention of savings except in the global defence group. One is accustomed now to this global grouping of the Defence Services. Then towards the end of the Treasurer’s speech on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) we find the following remarks:
To cover all possible eventualities, therefore, we are seeking authority to charge to Consolidated Revenue up to $200m of the expenditure on Defence Services which we are presently authorised to charge to Loan Fund.
It is not clear just what result this will involve. Will this duplicate the parliamentary approval already in existence? Is the authority already given for the charge to be made to Loan Fund now to be discharged or cancelled, the transaction to be covered instead by the authority now being sought?
This is not made clear. Any person interested in the provision of funds might well say, after reading this speech: ‘There will be a double authority for the Government to handle expenditure between now and 30th June’.
Finally there is a reference to business undertakings, with an additional amount of some $l2m being sought, including §8. 3m for the Postmaster-General’s Department, and the only explanation is that this is mainly required to cover increases in salaries and wages. There is no explanation why the additional appropriation of $2.4m for the Territories, including $JI.4m for the Northern Territory and $0.9m for the Australian Capital Territory, is required. These are simply additional estimates. I believe the Parliament deserves a more complete and frank explanation why these funds are required.
Debates on supply and appropriation Bills in the past have not always attracted speeches along the lines of the basic principles I am suggesting. Looking back into the history of this House we find with interest that debates on supply measures have invariably become grievance debates or open debates on all manner of subjects. Now that we have other opportunities within the forms of the House for the expression of our concern about miscellaneous matters, such as on Grievance Day, we tend almost not to use this particular kind of debate in which the House is now engaged. Let me stress that if we permit appropriations of this kind to be approved without adequately scrutinising them or seeking adequate explanations why these substantial funds are being sought, we will reduce this Parliament to a meaningless symbol.
I have checked the reports of appropriation bill debates and Treasurers’ speeches of fifteen or twenty years ago. I have found, for instance, that in 1949 the Treasurer supported his request for additional estimates with an analysis of the revenues up to the time of his submission, the extent to which those revenues would satisfy the additional needs and an acceptable explanation of the increased expenditures forecast. The speech of the Treasurer in 1952 likewise offered, at least so far as I am concerned as a member of this Parliament, a much more explanatory and detailed presentation of the situation than we are now given.
I do suggest that on the present occasion the Treasurer did not intend to limit his supporting information to the Parliament, but this is what has occurred. Perhaps his advisers simply drafted information in a briefer style than they had done on any previous occasion, and perhaps this was the reason why my attention was attracted to the paucity of the information. This may be a rare occasion but I seem to detect a trend in this direction, and because I believe so firmly in the institution of Parliament and the importance of budgetary provisions, because I believe in the maintenance of the inherent power of the Parliament over any executive government and the duty of the Parliament to look for the correct answers in this important field, 1 want to suggest that any trend in this direction should be halted. Mine is an earnest request to the Treasurer and those who advise him to see to it that in future the Parliament is more fully informed.
The Parliament appropriates funds for the Government, and this is no idle procedure in which we are engaged. If we come into this House and allow a free rein and give ready approval to the additional estimates of the departments to which I have referred, then I believe we are not functioning as we should. I hope to ask some questions in the Committee stage as to why certain funds are required and in what circumstances, and as to why it was not possible for the reasons for this expenditure to have been foreseen at an earlier stage. I believe that if we do not carry out this sort of inquiry we can be accused by those outside the activities of the Parliament of being disinterested in a very vital area of what we stand for as members of a parliamentary institution. We do no more than perform the duties of responsible members when we ask for additional estimates to be substantiated by adequate documentation and explanation.
– I refer to the appropriations covered by this Bill and particularly to item 57 for the Department of Labour and National Service. I want to direct attention to the submissions that the Commonwealth has made in the national wage case referred to by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) and which have been distributed to interested members of this Parliament. The Commonwealth Government has again shown its prejudice against the just claims of the workers for increased wages. Counsel for the Government told the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission that the Government was strongly opposed to any general wage increases. The Government adopted a similar attitude during the 1965 hearing. In fact it supported the employers against the workers. This is the kind of attitude that it is adopting in the present case. It is trying to get the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to do the Government’s own dirty work. Counsel for the Commonwealth asserts that he is appearing in the public interest, whereas in fact the Commonwealth is acting in its own political interest by trying to shift the responsibility for economic control and unpopular measures from itself to the Commission.
The function of controlling the economy is surely the function of the Government and not of the Commission. The primary role of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission is to settle industrial disputes, not to manage the economy. The Government has shirked its responsibility to control the economy: In 1959 the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review advocated a widening of the economic powers of the Commonwealth. Here again the Government failed to act; consequently it still lacks essential powers in the economic sphere. It continues to shirk its job. The unions are finding it increasingly difficult to get wage justice for their members. The present application was lodged in November 1965, and the employers are still adopting tactics to prolong the finalisation of the claim. The claim is based on the movement of prices and productivity since 1953-54, when the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration deprived the workers of quarterly cost of living adjustments.
To give the basic wage the purchasing power of 1953-54, an immediate increase of $7.30 is claimed. The unions also seek the restoration of the quarterly cost of living adjustments. Prior to the abolition of these quarterly adjustments, the worker knew that the amount he got in his pay packet one month would buy the same quantity of goods as it did the month before and as it would a month later or three months later, as the case may be. lt is a fallacy to think that the abolition of quarterly cost of living increases prevents price rises. Recently the Liberal Government of Western Australia amended the State Arbitration Act to prevent the Industrial Commission from granting quarterly cost of living adjustments. That Government claimed that it would keep prices down. However, it did not do so; all it did was to reduce the real value of all wages and salaries. Prices still went up despite the pegging of the State basic wage.
The principles enumerated by the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission in 1961 meant that if the economy produced more goods and services the workers who produced them should get more in their pay packets. Both the 1961 and the 1964 decisions provided that real wages should be increased from time to time to allow the worker to purchase the increased productivity that could be shown to have occurred. These decisions also expressed the view that to make a. correct calculation of what the basic wage should be the wage must first be adjusted for price changes since the last fixation and that productivity gains should then be added to the result. In 1965 the judges, by a majority, failed to stand up to their decisions of 1961 and 1964. They did not increase the basic wage at ali; they merely gave the marginal increase of 14% on the combined basic wage and margin. The man without a margin got nothing. In fact, he received less, purchasing power in his pay packet than he had received in 1961 and 1964, and that position still obtains today. In relation to purchasing power, he is now $7.30 behind what the basic wage worker in 1954-55 was receiving.
Surely a man is entitled to receive in 1 967 as much value in his wage as a worker received twelve years ago. Workers want a wage that is not only just but one that will remain just. How one sided it all is. The Government believes that the price of labour should be controlled, and all the force of the legal machinery is used for that purpose. On the other hand, employers and the Government refuse to exert any control over prices. The attitude of the
Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) today in reply to a question from the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) showed that. The important point is that wage increases of themselves do not and cannot increase prices. Prices rise only when employers and commercial interests - this includes government undertakings - make firm decisions to increase prices without any restriction and without having to justify such increases. Decisions are arrived at in private - in the privacy of the board room - without any evidence. There is no question of public interest being represented. Management does not have to justify any increase it applies. It does not have to listen to any argument or tender evidence before a public tribunal. Its decision to increase the price of what it has to sell is its own decision. Management decisions are based on the fundamental rule that if costs increase then prices, which in the simplest terms determine the employer’s income, must be allowed to rise by at least as much as that required to cover the increased costs.
However, this right is denied to the unions. Until 1953 automatic adjustments to the basic wage protected the worker against an increase in prices. This protection was abolished by the Court at the request of the employers. The unions have to prove their claims for increases, but when an increase is granted the employers and management use this as a means to raise again the price of the products and to increase their profits. Colossal profits continue to be made, and it all comes out of the same source - the national income. While wage and salary earners have to prove their claims, other persons take huge sums by way of profit and interest charges from the national income, without having to justify their actions to anyone.
Counsel for the Commonwealth at the present wage hearing said that any attempt to compensate wage earners for loss of purchasing power in their wages would result only in a price-wage spiral. His attitude was supported by the Minister in the chamber today. No charge is ever made that companies are taking too much from the national income and so endangering the economy and causing production costs and living costs to rise. No responsible trade union movement can be a party to delays in granting wage justice to the worker. Can anyone deny that the basic wage today will buy less in goods and services than did the basic wage of ten or twelve years ago? Adjustments have to be made. I remind honourable members that justice delayed is justice denied. The Australian worker is losing more than S500,000 a week in wages due to the denial of wage justice.
The Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the 1964 judgment emphasised that there was no control over the incomes of employees other than those whose employment was covered by awards, and it said there would be no overall authoritative control of prices while there was a tight control over wages. Mr Justice Moore, at page 66 of his reasons for judgment, pointed out that the previous statement of the Commission that increases in prices were determined by those who fixed prices is a truth that cannot be emphasised enough. Evidence in the 1965 basic wage case showed that average earnings of Australian workers increased in the period from 1959 to 1963 by only 12%. Company income increased from £595m in 1957-58 to £77 1 m in 1962-63, an increase of 29.5%.
Mr Hawke has pointed out that for over a decade the real output of each person employed has grown at an average of 2.21 % per annum, while real wages have risen at an average rate of only 1.83%. Wages have increased at only 80% of the rate of productivity, whereas equity demands that they should rise at least at the same rate. He has said that the wages share in the gross national product was 67.4% in 1952-53 and 62.3% in 1.959-60. The latest official figures show a further fall to 61.2%. Colossal profits continue to be made and they come from the same source, the gross national product. While wage and salary earners must prove their claims, others take huge sums as profits and interest charges from the gross national products without having to justify their actions to anyone. No charge is ever made that companies are taking too much from this source and so endangering the economy and causing production and living costs to rise. Is it any wonder that the workers are becoming disgruntled and are losing faith in arbitration?
The time lag in arriving at decisions has been responsible for reducing the purchasing power of the workers’ wages and has been to the benefit of the business interests and the employers. In 1961, the Commission increased the basic wage by $1.20 to restore the purchasing power of the basic wage to the June 1960 level. Until 1964 the basic wage remained pegged at the figure for June 1961, despite increases in the cost of living. In 1964, it was increased by $2 and in 1966 it was increased by a further $2. Since then the time lag has been evident. The basic wage is still lagging behind the level in terms of purchasing power that it had in 1960 and 1961, and for that matter as far back as 1954-55. How can the Minister for Labour and National Service justify his attitude in opposing the restoration of the purchasing power of the basic wage when he takes no action to control prices and profits?
I turn now to another department, the Department of the Treasury. I am gravely concerned at the lack of consideration shown by the Commonwealth Government to its own employees. I refer particularly to the procrastination in implementing the promised amendments to the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act. While the Government dithers about amending this very important legislation, workers who are injured and their families, or the families of workers who are killed while on duty, are suffering dreadful financial losses when compared with their counterparts in the States. The Act was amended last in 1964. The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) then proposed some very important amendments to the Act. He moved them formally on behalf of the Opposition but did not put them to a vote because he received an assurance from the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) who was the Treasurer at that time, that the amendments would be further considered during the ensuing parliamentary recess. He is reported at page 2819 of Hansard for 11th November 1964 as having said:
He has circulated-
He was referring to the honourable member for Hindmarsh - a considerable number of amendments. 1 had already taken the opportunity of studying them and I was in the position to assure him that these matters would be further considered during the forthcoming recess.
On the same page, the honourable member for Hindmarsh is reported as having said:
I now intimate, on behalf of my colleagues, that we shall merely propose our amendments in order that they may be officially recorded, but we shall not press to a division the vote on any of them. May I express our appreciation of the Treasurer’s handling of the situation.
The Parliament then became a sort of mutual admiration society. The Treasurer congratulated the honourable member for Hindmarsh and the honourable member for Hindmarsh congratulated the Treasurer. Everyone seemed to be getting muscle bound from patting each other on the back. The only people left out on a limb - or without a limb - were the employees of the Commonwealth Public Service. How sadly they were disillusioned. We were misled and the workers were misled. We are all still waiting for the amendments that the then Treasurer said would be studied during the parliamentary recess in 1964.
I have had a question on the notice paper since 22nd February of this year asking for the introduction of these amendments. Other honourable members have also asked questions about this subject. On 1st September 1965 the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) asked a question and received the following reply:
In accordance with the assurances given during the debates on the 1964 Bill, the amendments circulated by the honourable member for Hindmarsh and all other matters raised in the Parliament in the course of those debates are being carefully examined . . . and will be submitted to the Government at an early date.
That was almost two years ago. The honourable member for Bonython (Mr Nicholls) asked a question on 14th March of this year. The answer he received contained the promise that the amendments will be introduced. We have been waiting for two and a half years since the original assurance was given.
When the last amendments were introduced in 1964, they were out of date before they had passed through this House. Since then every State act has been amended to provide improvements to compensation paid to State employees. The only Acts that remain out of date are the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act and similar acts under the ‘jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, such as the Seamen’s Compensation Act. This is to the eternal discredit of the Government. It shows the utter disregard the Government has for its employees, and this is in keeping with its attitude to workers generally. Instead of lagging behind other acts that provide workers compensation, the Commonwealth should be leading the way. For many years it led the field in this type of legislation, but that was in the dim and distant past.
I do not want to go into a lot of detail or to give comparisons with State acts. But let me give a few examples. The weekly payments for the spouse and children where the breadwinner is totally incapacitated is lower in the Commonwealth than in any of the States. In only one State is the payment for medical benefits lower than in the Commonwealth. This applies also to the funeral allowance. Artificial aids, such as limbs, artificial eyes, spectacles and teeth, and the replacement of damaged clothing is provided by the majority of State acts, but not by the Commonwealth Act. I received a letter from a Commonwealth employee who was off duty suffering from a hernia for some weeks. He received $25.60 a week or $51.20 a fortnight as compensation. His fortnightly rate of pay was $93.09. He said that his average fortnightly pay was $110. He pointed out that he lost $41.89 a fortnight or a total of $125.67 for the six weeks he was off duty. Taking his average earnings into account, he lost $176.40. This loss of earnings can be a tremendous setback to a married man. He has commitments for furniture or a home and when his earnings are cut he is placed in a serious financial position. Hire purchase firms still want their payments and mortgage payments must be met. The normal period for an employee to be off duty with a hernia is three months. The employee to whom I have referred had to take his accumulated sick leave after six weeks because he could not afford to remain on compensation.
A worker injured in the course of his duty should receive his average weekly earnings or his award rate of pay; he should not lose financially. No worker or his dependants should be expected to live at a lower standard than that at which he was living at the time of his incapacity. Why should medical expenses be limited to $1,000? No limit should be placed on the amount paid for medical attention, and this is the position under some of the State acts. There should be no limit on the cost of a funeral for an employee who is killed on duty. The Act should also provide for cremation.
I have a question on the notice paper, No 262, seeking the co-ordination of all workers compensation acts in Australia with the object of ensuring that uniform benefits and payments are available to all workers covered by these acts. I have suggested that the Premiers should consider this matter. His Honour Judge F. R. McGrath spoke about this to the Industrial Relations Society of New South Wales recently. He pointed out that the position was shown clearly when major building projects or undertakings were carried out close to State borders. Workmen on the same project doing the same job could be differently compensated for the same injuries, depending on which law was applicable. He said that this type of situation made the least beneficial or narrow legislation appear strikingly anomalous.
I conclude on that note. I ask the Minister for the Navy (Mr Chipp), who is now at the table, to seek an assurance from the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) that the proposed amendments to the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act will be brought down as soon as possible.
Debate (on motion by Mr Peacock) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– I move:
Customs Tariff Proposals No. 12 which I have just tabled relate to proposed amendments of the Customs Tariff 1966-1967. The amendments, which will operate from 11th May 1967, give legislative effect to the recent decision of the Government to extend the scope of Australia’s system of tariff preferences for selected products of less developed countries. Honourable members will recall that, last year, the Government introduced a system of preferential rates of import duties for a range of manufactured and semi-manufactured products of export interest to less developed countries. The purpose was to assist those countries in a positive way to overcome their trade and development problems.
It was made clear from the outset that the scope of the system might be extended from time to time by the addition of further products. Since the system was introduced a number of requests have been received for products to be added. After careful consideration of all these requests the Government has decided to extend quite substantially the range of products covered by the system. Imports at preferential rates of duty will, in regard to the great bulk of the products to which it is now proposed to extend the system, be subject to quota limitations. Brief descriptions of the goods concerned, the level of the quotas and the preferential rates of duty proposed are set out in a summary which is now being distributed to honourable members.
Before the original system of preferences could be implemented, it was necessary for Australia to obtain a waiver of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade ‘no new preference’ rule. Under the terms of the waiver Australia is authorised to add to the list of products coming within the preferential system provided that Australia notifies the contracting parties to the GATT and accedes to- any request for consultations received within thirty days. In effect, therefore, the waiver stipulates that the new preferences shall not be applied until at least thirty days after the notification to GATT. Action is being taken to ensure that these requirements are met with a minimum of delay. Prospective importers of goods under the new preferences will be allocated individual quota certificates, up to the limits of the various overall quotas. However, no quota certificates will be issued in respect of the new preferences until the relevant conditions of the GATT waiver have been fulfilled.
Included among the goods on which new preferences are proposed are certain handmade traditional products of cottage industries. Products of this type which come within the ambit of the system are admitted duty free and without quota limitations. Tariff proposals to give legal effect to these preferences will be introduced when the procedures specified in the GATT waiver have been satisfied. The details of the handmade products involved are included in the summary prepared for the information of honourable members and to which I have already referred. It is expected that it will be possible to operate the new preferences, including those for handmade traditional products, as from the commencement of the new quota period on 1st July 1967.
As a further measure of assistance to the less developed countries, it has been decided to increase the existing annual quota for preferential entry of hand made carpets from $lm to $2m. It is hoped that the less developed countries will be able to take full advantage of this concession. I commend the proposals to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Webb) adjourned.
TARIFF BOARD Reports on Items
– I present- the following reports by the Tariff Board, which do not call for any legislative action:
Air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.
Hoods and capelines (Dumping and Subsidies Act).
Ordered to be printed.
Debate resumed from 4th May (vide page 1807), on motion by Mr Hulme:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This Bill, which is to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-65, has been referred to as a ‘little Budget’ - and that is what it is. It will bring into Consolidated Revenue very nearly the equivalent of a 5% increase in personal taxation. Increased Post Office charges are expected to bring in an extra $67m. The increases will fall very heavily on consumer spending. The main impact will be felt by the lower income groups. Business groups have already warned that the increases affecting them will be passed on to the public in heavier charges. I refer to the report in the ‘Australian’ of 6th May 1967 in which the acting director of the New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures was quoted as having said:
Undoubtedly, the whole price structure will rise - including food and everything else. To put costs up 20 per cent overnight is an extremely bold signal. It’s like a green light to the Test of the business community.
The Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) claims that the increases are to offset the increased, financial losses incurred by the Post Office. He said that these losses could be as high as $45m by 1970-71. How can it be said that the Post Office is making losses? Last financial year there was a loss of $124,1 17, but this was after $60.3m had been passed on to Consolidated Revenue as interest to the Government on funds provided to the Post Office. These figures show an actual net operating surplus of about $60. 2m. The figures are contained on pages 16 and 17 of the last annual report of the PostmasterGeneral. On the Postmaster-General’s own figures, therefore, there will not be a loss of $45m by 1970-71, but a surplus of approximately $20m.
Since 1960 interest has been charged by the Government on funds expended by the Post Office in capital works. Before that time funds for the Post Office were provided by the Commonwealth Government out of revenue raised by taxation and from profits made by the Post Office. Now, the Government provides finance for capital expenditure then charges the Post Office interest on funds that the Government has received from the taxpayers, then it increases postal rates and charges to pay the interest back to itself. In other words, the Government loads the Post Office with about $60m more than the services cost. In fact the taxpayer pays twice. He pays his taxation, and be pays the increased Post Office charges. This method of financing was once condemned by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. At a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in March 1959 he said:
The proposition that we charge ourselves interest, we throw into deficit a couple of great undertakings that we have referred to, and we then raise the wind in order to meet that deficit - because it all comes back onto us. Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of bookkeeping and does not produce one pennyworth of financial results.
That procedure has now been reversed by this Government. Another important point is revealed if we look at page 13 of the Financial and Statistical Bulletin’ issued by the Postmaster-General’s Department. There we find the statement:
The average rate of interest applicable to funds provided to 30th June 196S was 4.885%. Interest has been charged on the 1965-66 advance at the rate of 5.25%.
The current conversion loan discloses the following rates applying: 5.25% with issue price par to yield 5.25% per annum maturing in July 1988 or July 2001, 5% with issue price par to yield 5% per annum maturing October 1976; and 4.50% with issue price 99.75% to yield 4.59% maturing February 1970. If the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) keeps inflating the interest rate chargeable to the Post Office, as he may do next financial year, that could hide any impact that there may be from increased rates and charges. If the increased charges had been imposed at the time of the presentation of the next Budget the Postmaster-General, in accordance with recent practice, would have produced an interim statement of his Department’s finances to assist honourable members in the Budget debate. However, that has not been done now. He has not proved to the Parliament that the increased charges are justified. In actual fact it is quite clear that they have been introduced for an entirely different reason.
During the Budget debate the proposed rates could, have been assessed with all the other financial factors that are debated at that time. The fact is that the PostmasterGeneral has become a tax collector. The Government was hoping to get away with these increased charges - hoping they would be forgotten by the time the Budget session came along. However its colour schemes will be changed. Instead of the Budget appearing to be a dull grey as was intended, it will be a striking black, and the people will get a clear picture of how they have been hit by this Government. If the Bill is passed the ordinary taxpayer will be hit pretty hard, not only because business interests will pass the increased charges on to the consumer but because, in proportion, the postal increases are heaviest on the little person.
Proposed new section 6b provides for reduced rates for bulk postage - for 5,000 and up to. 25,000 letters there is a discount of 5%; for over 25,000 and up to 100,000 letters, a discount of 10%; for over 100,000, a discount of 15%: and in special circumstances there can be a further discount of 10%. This means that discounts of up to 25% are available. Of course the firms who seek these discounts must undertake to do presorting and to add post codes to their mail. The proposed discount for householder mail is 40%, which replaces the existing rate of 30%. This may be of help financially to certain business interests, but it will not help the ordinary little person.
While the rates for hulk postage are to be reduced the rates for ordinary letters, letter cards, post cards, telegrams and telephone calls are to be substantially increased. Bulk users will get big discounts, but what about the rest of the community? For letters, letter cards or post cards weighing not more than 1 oz the postal rate will increase from 4c to 5c - a 25% increase. The PostmasterGeneral boasts that postage was reduced with the introduction of decimal currency, but even taking that into account the increase is 20%. Some rates have increased considerably more. In the proposed rates for ‘other articles’ the increases are as high as 125%.
Let us examine some of the details of the statement that the Minister presented to the House. I refer specifically to statement 1. I have already mentioned that the charge for the first ounce is to be increased by 25%. One will pay more on letters up to 7 oz in weight and then for letters weighing 7 oz and 8 oz he will start to pay less than the existing rate. The reduction continues in respect of heavier letters. For letters weighing not more than 12 oz the rate will be 25c whereas it is now 35c and for letters weighing not more than 16 oz the rate will be 29c as against 49c. This will not help the ordinary customer. It can help only those who post heavier letters. It will not be the mother who is writing to her son or the pensioner who will get the benefit, it will be the commercial houses.
Let us examine also the rates on ‘other articles’. I have already mentioned that in some instances there will be an increase of 125%. On an article weighing not more than 2 oz the increase will be 25% but the charge for the third and fourth ounces will be more than doubled. In respect of registered publications there will be a 25% increase in rates applying to articles weighing up to 6 oz, and on articles weighing 8 oz or more the rate is to be more than doubled - it is to be increased by 125%. The bulk rate increase is 25%. So it goes on. The underprivileged people are going to be hit badly if this measure is passed. The pensioner, the widow and the mother writing to her son will be hit twice. They will have to pay more for postage, more for telegrams and more for telephone calls and in addition they will have to bear the burden of increased prices created by business interests passing on increased rates by way of increased prices for their goods.
In the Parliament the other day the PostmasterGeneral said that he was not Santa Claus. We agree that he certainly is not Santa Claus. A better comparison would be with the celebrated highwayman, Ned Kelly, but even he did not rob the poor. Under the second schedule the charge for telegrams will be increased from 30c to 36c for not more than twelve words and from 5c for each two additional words to 3c for each additional word. This is a substantial increase for a service that is not of high standard. Does the Postmaster-General know that because of staff shortages telegrams are often delivered by taxi in certain areas, or by anyone who may be available to deliver them? A few weeks ago I sent a telegram to somebody living only two miles from this place. It took over two hours to be delivered. I have in my possession a letter I received today from a person who writes:
Enclosed is telegram I lodged at 1.47p.m. Monday May 1st in New South Wales and my wife did not receive the telegram until Tuesday May 2nd.
Is this what the Minister refers to when he speaks of efficiency? Is the increase in telegram charges designed to cover this type of inefficiency?
Telephone charges are being increased. The telephone is now becoming a luxury. How can a pensioner afford the increased charges? Pensioners, of course, are the people who need a telephone. They never know when they are going to be sick. Whereas local calls are now 10c for three calls they will, under the proposal, cost 12c for three calls. Trunk line calls are to be increased substantially. Again the existing telephone users are to be slugged. In fact they are to pay an additional tax. According to the financial report I have before me, last year the Telephone Branch showed a surplus of $10,217,224. When the PostmasterGeneral was referring to postal charges he had this to say:
I believe, and I am sure that honourable members will agree, that it would be wrong to expect taxpayers generally to bear these costs in the form of increased taxation. Rather I believe they should be borne by those who use the services.
But in regard to telephone charges he reverses the argument and makes the existing telephone user pay the additional tax in spite of the fact that in the last financial year the Telephone Branch showed this profit of more than $10m.
The ‘Sunday Telegraph’ of 7th May bears the headline ‘Australia tops List for Mail Costs’. The article that follows sets cut details showing that in almost every respect Australia has higher mail charges than Canada, Britain, the United States of America and New Zealand. Under this new arrangement the Australian telephone user will pay more than his counterpart in the United Kingdom or New Zealand. The following table in the newspaper article is worth recording:
lt costs 5c less for a son or daughter in Britain to send an airmail letter to a mother in Australia than it does for the mother to send an airmail letter to her children in Britain. Indeed in nearly every instance the Australian charge is higher than that in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America and New Zealand. However, the Postmaster-General has had this to say:
The Government believes that it must do everything that is reasonably possible to meet the needs of the Australian public in the expansion and efficiency of the service.
These increased charges will give no guarantee of increased efficiency. For some time now the Postmaster-General’s Department has been the subject of strong criticism from the Press, customers and members of Parliament in this chamber. Almost every newspaper has been criticising the Department. Also, chambers of manufac ture, employers associations and the unions associated with the Post Office have been critical of the lack of efficiency in the Post Office. The criticism is well and truly justified. The facts are that the Post Office is not as efficient as it was twelve months ago and its efficiency has been steadily deteriorating over the past five years. The PostmasterGeneral is not taking the action that is necessary to overcome this inefficiency. Often it takes two days for mail to go from one side of this National Capital to the other; and a similar situation applies in other cities. Does the Minister regard this situation as a sign of an efficient service? The Australian Post Office has been described as a drag on the nation’s progress. In Canberra we have an incredible situation. Instead of mail going from one post office to the other, as it once did, it is delivered to a so-called mail exchange at Kingston that has been aptly described as ‘the land of the lost mail’. Some business firms and professional people have engaged air services and their own couriers to make certain of fast and safe delivery of their mail. This is another statement of the PostmasterGeneral:
To keep costs, and consequently charges,to a minimum my Department is continuing its efforts to improve efficiency through better methods and the development and introduction of the most modern mail handling machinery. The improvement in productivity which has already been achieved is shown by the fact that between 1959 and 1966 the postal staff rose by only 10% to handle a 31% increase in traffic.
Only a few weeks ago we had quite a debate in this chamber about this so-called most modern mail handling machinery. The fact is that it is still chewing up mail. This matter was raised not by this side of the House but by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner). The question he asked on 19th April isworth quoting:
Is the Postmaster-General aware that large commercial firms in Sydney are sending inter-capital mail by air freight on account of the unreliability of the mail services provided by his Department, and that local letters, which are normally posted one day and delivered the next, are takingthree days to reach their destations? I am speaking now of Sydney. Is he still hopeful that the Sydney sorting machine can be sold to friendly countries and that we will still retain their friendship? Does he believe that, despite its demonstrated capacity (or chewing up mail’ matter, it is still just having teething troubles? Or is the fact simply that the organisation of his Department in New South Wales is falling into hopeless chaos?
– What was the answer?
– The answer is there, but 1 do not intend to quote it.
– The honourable memberis not game to read it
– I know what the answer is. The Minister gave it, and he knows it.
– I said that the honourable member is not game to read it.
-I shall not waste my time reading it. If the Minister wants to read it, he may do so. 1 do not. I have quoted what has been said in this Parliament, but the Minister has not yet adequately answered the question asked. This matter was raised not by an honourable member from this side of the House but by a member on the Government side.
It is known, of course, that this machine was supplied by Telephone and Electrical
Industries Pty Ltd which is a subsidiary of the world-wide Polessi group. It is known also that Sir Giles Chippindall, a former Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs is chairman of Telephone and Electrical Industries, and that Sir Charles Davidson, the immediate predecessor of the Postmaster-General, is a director of the company. It does not look too good for a former Minister of the Crown and a former senior public servant to accept high positions in companies that have been successful in selling this mail handling machine to the Government - a machine which, according, to the honourable member for Bradfield, is far from efficient. I emphasise that the Postmaster-General has said that the postal staff rose by only 10% to handle a 31% increase in traffic. There is no question that the Post Office is finding difficulty in recruiting staff, and this is one of the reasons for the inefficiency of the Department. The Postal Workers Union agrees that the staffing situation is difficult but it points out that the rates of pay do not compare with those prevailing in outside industry. Jobs outside are made more attractive by over-award payments and fringe benefits. Workers will not join the Post Office to work a six-day week when they can receive higher wages for a five-day week in outside employment. This is a factor in the difficulty of recruiting staff for the Post Office.
The latest ‘Financial and Statistical Bulletin’ in table 11 shows that the total number of Post Office articles handled from 1961 to 1966 had increased by over 500 million - an increase of 24.86%. Table 40 in the same volume shows that the number of officers grouped under the heading mail officer’ throughout the nation for the same period had increased by 511, or 7.8%. These figures are up to 30th June 1966. The number of mail officers in 1963 was the same as in 1961 - 5,715; but during that period the number of articles handled had increased by over 154 million or 7.53%. This was before the introduction of electronic coding equipment, and it shows how the staff was being allowed to run down in comparison with the amount of mail handled. Although the productivity of the postal workers has improved, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department still increases its postal charges.
Another factor that has reduced the efficiency of the Post Office - and this is not only my opinion but also the opinion of people associated with the Post Office - is the heavy hand of the Public Service Board, which interferes in matters in which it is not competent to interfere. The Public Service Board is the largest employer of labour in the nation and of the departments it handles the Postmaster-General’s Department is the biggest. Of the 250,000 people under the control of the Board 100,000 are employed in the Postmaster-General’s Department, although not one of the three Commissioners of the Public Service Board has had any Post Office experience. The Board has shown a reluctance to take the unions into its confidence and to consult on industrial problems. Although the word conciliation’ comes first in the title of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, it appears to have been ignored. Good industrial relations can bring about improvements in mail handling and deliveries, and this is a matter that the Postmaster-General should face up to immediately. Indeed, the PostmasterGeneral should consider divorcing the Postmaster-General’s Department from control by the Public Service Board, so that it can be run as a business undertaking, on business lines.. The union holds the view that a commission similar to the Australian National Airlines Commission, which controls Trans-Australia Airlines, or the Overseas Telecommunications Commission would give better service to the community and would place industrial relations on a much more stable basis than at present. The policy of the Australian Labor Party provides for the Postmaster-General’s Department being controlled by a commission.
– Since when?
– For many years now.
– Not very many, really.
– I can show the Minister that this is our policy; I have it here. This department should come under a commission. A monolithic structure such as the Public Service Board, with 250,000 people under its jurisdiction, is not capable of controlling the Postmaster-General’s Department; it is beyond the competence of the three Commissioners of the Board, none of whom has had Post Office experience. This is no reflection on the Public Service Board itself; it is just that the Post
Office is too big a department and undertaking to be part of the Public Service. The whole structure needs reorganising; it is suggested that a corporation is needed to manage the Post Office as a business concern.
Question No. 146, which stands in my name on the notice paper deals with this particular matter. However, I have not yet received a reply. In the question I drew attention to the fact that the Victorian Employers Federation had suggested, in relation’ to this matter, that the Postal Department be handed to an independent board with complete powers of internal management. A move is being made in a similar direction in the United States of America; headlines in the ‘West Australian’ of 5th April 1967 declared: ‘Corporation may take over U.S. Post Office.’ Similar moves are being made in other places. For instance, the latest document received from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, No. 2333, is entitled, ‘Reorganisation of the Post Office.’ It was presented to the Parliament by the Postmaster-General in March 1967. In paragraph 3 on page 3 the report stated:
The Government concluded that the process begun in 1932 should be carried to its logical conclusion. A public corporation should be created to run these great businesses with a structure and methods designed directly to meet British needs, drawing on the best modern practice. .
Paragraph 6 of the same document stated:
The Post Office is a major Department of State. Practically the whole of it is involved in the constitutional change. This is an undertaking without precedent. Moreover, Post Office services are an integral part of the nation’s life. In addition to communications, the Post Office provides part of the machinery of the Social Security system, and many other kinds of business are transacted at Post Office counters. The Government’s objective is to create an authority which will: - be responsible for developing the most efficient services possible, at the lowest charges consistent with sound financial policies. - carry on in a worthy manner the Post Office tradition of service to the public. - develop relations with its staff in a forward looking and progressive way.
Very good lessons can be learned from these brief passages. It will be noted that they refer to efficient service and lowest charges, although here it appears that we are getting the direct opposite. The document refers also to the authority developing relations with its staff in a forward looking and progressive way. I suggest to the Postmaster-General thai he might take a lesson from that, because from reports we receive, he has not been co-operating with his staff. The Minister has been charged by the unions with failure to cooperate with them. On the very day he introduced these terrifically increased charges to the Parliament he had a deputation from the unions, who charged him at the deputation. They did not know that these increases were coming, for the announcement was made later. I shall read to honourable members part of what they said at the deputation:
Inefficient and misguided policy in the Post Office, the planned incapacity to meet increasing community needs are all adversely affecting every sector of commerce, industry and the other public services. The responsibility is not the Postal Unions’, not the Postal Administrations’ - it is the Minister’s and the Government’s.
Any failure, today in a service industry to seek out and implement policies designed to achieve both staff satisfaction and responsible and better quality services to the community indicates either planned incapacity or complete indifference to modern staff needs or both.
Whilst there is a very wide agreement between the Post Office Administration and Postal Unions on Service Efficiency and Staff Needs, there seem to be no areas of agreement and understanding between the Postal Unions and the Minister and only minimal communication.
The Unions’ criticism does not apply to the Director-General, Mr Housley, who when manager of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission always followed the policies of staff consultation a ad understanding the rights of his staff to advancement with rising technology. Unfortunately he has not the same freedom in the Post Office. The Postmaster-General and the Public Service Board are too much in the picture. I shall quote again from the British document entitled ‘Reorganisation of the Post Office’, and I refer to paragraphs 51 and 52, which are most important because they deal with staff relations. I shall not read paragraph 51, but paragraph 52 states:
Without detriment to the responsibilities of managers to manage, the Government will expect the Corporation to promote the most constructive relationships between the management and the staff. The new Corporation will nol be taking over an industry marked by bad industrial relations: on the contrary, a fine tradition of co-operation and consultation between the management and the staff has been built up in the Post Office. The Government will expect the Corporation to ensure that this develops further in the new conditions and to set the highest standards in relationships with the staff.
Paragraph 19 refers to safeguards for users of the Post Office. These are very important. They could be just as important for Australia. The paragraph reads:
Parliament and public have a right to expect guarantees that the Corporation will be responsive to the social and business needs of users and sensitive to their opinion. For this reason, the Government attach great importance to the arrangements to be made for user consultation.
Paragraph 20 describes the setting up of a national users council. Members of the council will have to be familiar with the requirements of the various parts of Britain. The council will represent the interests of all users and will make recommendations to the corporation about services. The council will consider complaints made by individual users. A similar body in this country would be most beneficial.
Paragraph 24 of the report states:
The Government intend that the advice of the Users’ Council, as the principal organ of consumer interest, should play an important role in the fixing of the Corporation’s charges and conditions of service.
I suggest that a users council could play an important part in the functioning of the Australian Post Office. I hope that if ever a corporation is established to manage the Post Office consideration will be given to the setting up of a users council.
There is a lesson to be learned from what has happened in the United Kingdom if only the Postmaster-General will heed it. If he wants an efficient Post Office he must have an efficient and contented staff. Cooperation and consultation between management and staff are essential.
A short while ago the United Kingdom Postmaster-General opened a new Post Office at Aberdeen. The report of his remarks on that occasion reads:
Even allowing for its present problems, however, the postal service was delivering 92 per cent of all fourpenny letters by the next day and 89 per cent of all parcels by the day following.
Major automated sorting offices will be capable of handling enormous quantities of mail at very high speeds: concentration will achieve greater economy and efficiency, while at the same lime conserving manpower.
Co-operation (wilh the existing staff) must be deliberately sought if productivity is to be raised. This is the experience of all technological industries and it applies to us as well.
The Opposition will oppose this Bill with every means at its command. We are far from satisfied that the proposed increases are necessary. We accuse the Government of using the Post Office as a tax collector for the Treasury. We accuse the Government of beating the gun, hoping that these increases will be forgotten when the forthcoming black budget is introduced. We accuse the Postmaster-General of blundering and of creating inefficiency in his Department. We accuse the Government of placing the burden of these .increased charges on the consumer, firstly by reason of the increases themselves and secondly because business concerns have said that they will pass the increases on to the consumer.
We will fight this measure with all the means in our power, and not only in this House. We will do our very best to bring about its defeat and, if possible, the defeat of the Government.
– The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) has given us a long litany of criticism of the Post Office. I listened to him with attention. I suspect that he did not put much exuberance into his efforts, but he could have been under some form of political sedation, despite his unveiled threat at the end of his speech.
Criticism does not disturb me and 1 am sure it does not disturb my friend, the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme). But I was a bit put out when the honourable member likened the Postmaster-General to a distinguished Australian character whose feats and exploits command a certain legendary quality. 1 would not be so rude to the honourable member to say so, but I understand, by way of impish rumour I am sure, that he is the shadow PostmasterGeneral. I accept that rumour and I hope that my friend will not be perturbed when I tell him that after having heard that rumour, after having listened to him and after having given him an occasional glance, I saw something distinctly ducal about him. He reminded me, in his role us the shadow Postmaster-General, of the Duke of Athens in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ who declaimed:
The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them.
After having listened to the honourable member for Stirling, even the dumbest of critics would have detected that he failed to produce one constructive criticism beyond suggesting that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should be turned into a corporation - an argument that I will engage in later if possible. This is an incredibly easy suggestion to make. The honourable member would do well to reflect upon the fate that befell that French gentleman Monsieur Pierre Poujardt. He burst upon the French political scene with a very simple political doctrine - abolish all taxation. But the sad thing to relate about Monsieur Poujardt is that he had a very short life in French politics. The moral of the story is that if one’s argument has neither sense nor integrity it will perish. I say to the honourable member for Stirling and to the Labor Party in general: While today you may have your moments, indeed your day of pleasure, at what you regard as being the discomfiture of the Government, in the absence of any constructive proposal from you, your pleasure will pass’. So it will be on this occasion, despite the threats that have been made.
I do not object to criticism, as I have averred. I do not object to a political party seeking to take a political advantage of a circumstance. This is valid and legitimate. It is highly intelligent. But when the cards are down the prospective government must come up with some ideas. What has the honourable member for Stirling advanced this evening? He said we must have a corporation and, ergo, this will solve all our problems. Let’ me go to the beginning of his speech. ‘This is a little budget’, he thundered. I wonder whether my friend recalls that on 21st June 1949 in another place the then Postmaster-General, Senator Comeron, introduced a scheme of revised tariffs relating to postal charges and gave the Parliament and the country nine days notice for the charges to take effect. Whatever criticism may be made by my friend or by any of his colleagues against the tariffs proposed under this Bill, at least they have the advantage of knowing that the increases will not take effect for approximately two months. But, Sir, the honourable gentleman chose to ignore that. It is very difficult to come to grips with the Labor Party’s policy on this Bill. I would like to try, if I may, to get some basis of agreement before looking at the substantial arguments on both sides of the House.
I invite my friend to put interest payments to one side for a moment, although I fancy he may have a moment or two of discomfiture later at the prospect of running a business and paying interest on capital. However, be that as it may. Let me now deal with what can be described as the factual situation. I hope my friend will agree that this is essentially the factual situation, leaving aside interest payments upon capital which are now of the order of $70m annually. I think it is clear that on present indications for the year 1966-67 the Department will lose approximately $18m on postal services. If the loss is not reined in, by the year 1970 it will be approximately $40m. That is the first fact that I put. There may be some scope for argument, although I cannot see it now. What will be the effect of the proposed new tariffs? As I understand the situation, they will push this figure to about $30m in the next year or so. As the Postmaster-General said, one may expect a breaking even on the postal account in the next year or so.
What is the position with respect to the other substantial business enterprise of the Postmaster-General’s Department - that is, telecommunications? The profit made by this section is about $4m per annum. The new tariff will push this up to about $37m. So, in a general sense one can envisage the Postmaster-General’s Department having a profit in the next year or so of the order of $25m. Again I emphasise that for the purpose of this argument I am leaving interest aside. That is the general financial situation as I see it. My friend, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), may find some errors in it. If he does, I will listen to him with the patience and courtesy which he knows are so characteristic of me.
The second fact to which I wish to refer and which I do not think will stir people greatly is that there has been no increase in postal rates in eight years. In that time there has been an increase of 22% on all consumer services. When these facts are taken together they are not unimpressive. What is the effect of an increase in the basic wage? 1 do not argue against wage adjustments. If an argument for an increase has merit it should be accepted; but every time the basic wage is increased by $1 the PostmasterGeneral’s Department must find about $5m to meet the bill. The third fact - I will be surprised if my friend can refute it - is that no other organisation in this country is quite as capital hungry as is the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. One can say that at the end of this year the capital investment in the Department will be within touch of $2,000m. It is extraordinary to reflect on the fact that eight years ago the capital investment of the Department was of the order of $800m. In the next six years it may well be that the capital will double.
There is an incessant demand for capital, as every honourable member knows only too well. I would like to give one or two illustrations of this while I am dealing with the factual situation so that we may be able to appraise the new charges and the arguments for and against them. Let us deal first with telephones. Highly intelligible complaints are voiced in this House from time, to time which centre upon the delay in connecting telephones to private homes. A telephone costs $1,200 to install. I know this sounds crazy, but it is true. The provision of the line, all the black boxes and the capital for the building of exchanges amounts to this sum. How many members in this last week have sought to have a public telephone installed at the corner of Bloggs Street and Baker Street? I would be surprised if there were not at least half a dozen who have scribbled a note to the Postmaster-General saying: ‘My dear PostmasterGeneral, I would be pleased if you would arrange for a public telephone to be installed at such and such a place.’ None of us feels inhibited about this, but the cost of that public telephone to the Department and the Australian taxpayer is of the order of Si, 500, if we take into account the sum of $1,200 for the things that I have spelt out before. That is a simple illustration which we all understand.
Let me mention one or two projects to illustrate the demand for capital. I am informed that the building for the Lonsdale Telecommunications Centre in Melbourne will cost S7m. I could give illustrations from my own electorate. I have been demanding - I suppose pestering would be a more accurate term - of the Postmaster-General and all his officers the construction of a new post office in the suburb of Mount Gravatt. The)’ have succumbed and have agreed to provide it. What will be the cost? It will be $72,000. What is the cost of the Roma Street mail exchange in Brisbane? It is $l.43m. The cost of the Edison Exchange Building in Brisbane is SI. 75m, and of the equipment $2,074,000. The cost of the Toowoomba telephone exchange is $165,000. These are examples of the incessant demand for capital.
There simply is no business in Australia which vaguely competes with the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for capital. I hope that fact will not be questioned. Does this make sense? Of course it does. The country is developing. Whenever a new area is opened up, honourable members know very well that telephones are wanted and that people are not patient about getting facilities there. Facilities are wanted immediately. When a housing commission area opens up the demand is not merely for water, light, sewerage and all the other things we take for granted but also for telephone and postal facilities. Once again, human nature being what it is - no reproach comes from me about this - no patience is shown. We want these things, and we want them straight away.
What is the main argument in this con.trovesy? The honourable member for Stirling and his Party have said, in effect, that the loss of the Department is illusory. If one leaves out of account the interest which is charged, then of course the Post Office runs at a profit. The honourable member assured us that it was the policy of his party to have a statutory corporation to run the Post Office, but he emphasised that he wanted it run on business lines. I invite him to name one business, statutory corporation or otherwise, in Australia that does not take into account interest on capital. Look at some of the statutory corporations. The departments of railways in the various States pay interest. The Overseas Telecommunications Commission, the Snowy Mountains Authority, all the State electricity corporations and authorities - all of these pay interest, and today this interest is of the order of S70m annually.
Some people would suggest that the Government and the Postmaster-General’s Department have swept up some strange new doctrine in the last year or so as a result of which they have decided that interest should be paid on money advanced for capital works. Well, this is just not true. I busied myself for a moment or two the other day, when the critics no doubt were saying: ‘He is loafing”, by going back through the records and looking at the position in 1905 when there was an argument about penny postage. If I may interrupt myself here, when I listened to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) the other day, or read what he had to say, he reminded me of someone seeking to play the Roland Hill of Austraiian politics and wanting to go back to penny postage - and of course he is a little out of date. But listen to this exchange that I have taken from the report of a debate in the House of Representatives in 1905 when an argument was proceeding as to what should be done about penny postage. The then member for Cowper, Mr Lee, was talking about new works and buildings and so forth, and Mr Joseph Cook, who lived to become a Labor Prime Minister, asked: ‘What about the interest payable on that outlay?’. The exchange of remarks then proceeded as follows:
– There is no interest to be paid, because the money is provided out of revenue.
Mr JOSEPH COOK; The State Governments now have to pay interest on the money expended on the transferred properties.
– The States are having returned to them by the Commonwealth more money than they are entitled to, and i think they might very well be content to pay the interest on the loan money referred to.
Mr JOSEPH COOK. ; The interest charges should be included in the accounts of the Post and Telegraph Department, in order to arrive at a proper balance-sheet.
There may be some who would say that that view, expressed in 1905, is a little oldfashioned. Well, let me come up to date.
– It is a sound principle.
– As my friend from Lilley says, this is a sound principle, and sound principles should not be abandoned for the sake of political convenience. But let me come, in this milieu, to a somewhat later period. I come to the year 1 954 and I want to refer to the Twelfth Report of the Public Accounts Committee, which dealt with the Postmaster-General’s Department. The members of the Committee at the time were a very distinguished band. They included the present Postmaster-General and my friend the honourable member for Melbourne Ports and, of course, my very good friend Mr C. B. Byrne, as he now is who was then a senator of this Parliament and who is the Democratic Labor Party Senate candidate in Queensland. I mention this in no sense of disparagement but merely because of statements which have been made by DLP leaders outside this place. I have mentioned three people who were members of the Committee at the time. My friend from Melbourne Ports will remember the compilation of this report, I have no doubt, with rapture. This is what the Committee had to say on the question of interest payments:
The Department stated that originally 31 per cent of the value of the assets was charged in its Commercial Accounts to cover interest on loan funds: this basis was recommended by the Royal Commission of 1910. In time, this amount proved to be less than the actual Treasury payments on loans earmarked to the Postmaster-General’s Department, and, in 1928-29, the Department adopted the practice of debiting in its accounts the actual interest and exchange charges paid by the Treasury on loan moneys used for postal purposes. 1 know this is a bit dreary, but let me continue:
This practice has continued and now, as all capital expenditure since 1942 has been met from revenue, the Commercial Accounts are bearing a debit for interest and exchange on a small and decreasing proportion of the total capital funds.
Now we are moving towards the sort of moment critical:
Further, sinking fund payments are reducing the balance of the loan funds on which interest is charged so that the balance of these loans outstanding at 30th June, 1953, is only £16.3m. If this practice continues, in the not very distant future all this loan liability will have been repaid, and no interest will be debited to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department for its use of loan funds.
All the witnesses before the Committee agreed that this situation should be corrected and to do so, the Treasury, the Audit Office and the Department had arranged to discuss the position. . . .
The Committee endorses the view that the position urgently needs re-examination; indeed, in the circumstances, it is a matter, both of surprise and concern, that the position has not been corrected long since.
Let me put this to my friend from Melbourne Ports: There was no dissenting report at that time and if my friend, as a distinguished member of this Committee, believed in 1954, if not explicitly then certainly by way of heavy implication, that interest should be charged on moneys used for capital purposes, why is it that today he has changed his mind? I would put the same question to the Democratic Labor Party candidate for the Senate, Mr C. B. Byrne, who was also a distinguished member of the Public Accounts Committee at that time, and who then issued no dissenting report. If he believed then that interest should be charged on moneys used for capital purposes, why do we now hear complaints to the effect that it is wrong to charge interest on this money? I at least admire consistency and I confess to being a little puzzled as to why there has been such a marked shift in viewpoints.
I have referred to one authority, that of the Public Accounts Committee in its Twelfth Report in- 1954. Now let us look at another authority, a report known as the Fitzgerald Report. This was a report of the ad hoc committee of inquiry into the commercial accounts of the Post Office. It was issued in 1961. It is actually two reports, a majority report and a minority report, but the difference of opinion between the majority and the minority has nothing, in my view, to do with the question of interest payments. /’-II the members of the Committee emphatically endorsed the view that interest should be charged. Let me take a portion of the majority report as an illustration of the argument in favour of charging interest. It said:
As the Post Office has a virtual monopoly of the supply of most of the services it provides, the concept of a return based upon profits actually earned would seem to give little heed to the fact that governments are able, at the beginning of each year, to decide whether the Post Office should make a loss or earn a small or a large surplus.
That was paragraph 90 of the majority, report. Then I come to paragraph 93. First, however, I wm read paragraph 92, because it is a little more succinct:
The majority, therefore, does not agree that the annual contribution should be in the form of a return varying with capacity to pay. It believes that the proper course is for the annual contribution to take the form of an interest charge shown as a cost in the commercial accounts of the Post Office.
Those who today are joining in the lamentations about the adjustments that have been made, will, I hope, at least direct their minds to the report of the Fitzgerald Committee. It was compiled by people who sat down with the whole of the activities of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department before them and who reached this conclusion. To those who suggest that this is a case of paying twice I simply say that what I have read is what the majority of that Committee had to say. The Committee stated in paragraph 94 of its report: it cannot be emphasised too strongly that, it the Government does not receive a return on the full amount of its net advances to the Post Office, public revenue is so much less, and the level of taxes must be higher to that extent, if a given level of total government expenditure is to be met from taxation.
Let me ask the honourable member for Stirling and the honourable member for Melbourne Ports: Assume that the Government - their Government if they like - cuts out the $70m which represents an interest payment. That is a payment made to the Treasury. How is that $70m to be replaced? Should it come from increased taxation, or do my friends opposite say that it should be pruned from the existing Budget? If it is to be pruned from the existing Budget, from what item in the Budget is it to be cut? Should it come from social services? I doubt whether they would suggest that. Should it come from the defence vote? I would be surprised indeed if they suggested that, despite the view of some honourable gentlemen opposite.
This is one of the facts of life that the Labor Party must face up to, and which the critics in the country also must face. No government relishes the adjustment of Post Office charges. I suppose political life, at any rate, would be convenient, happy and I suppose, comfortable, if one went along in the spirit of Monsieur Poujade all the time; but the end to that sort of doctrine is an unhappy one. There is a clear challenge in this instance to the Labor Party: How would it make up the $70m taken from the Budget? Opposition members cannot excuse themselves by saying: ‘Well, we would make adjustments here and there*. It is a specific and a clear challenge, and it is made with no ambiguity. I hope that before honourable gentlemen opposite settle down and adopt this Bastille attitude they will answer that challenge. How would they make up the difference that is involved in this matter? It represents some S70m, which is a very considerable item.
The last thing 1 want to turn to before I sit down is the criticism made by the honourable member for Stirling, this ducal gentleman who is the shadow PostmasterGeneral. He has compared Australia with other countries around the world. He picked on the United Kingdom, but I remind him that the United Kingdom Post Office is obliged by statute to return an 8% profit. Is it the honourable gentleman’s proposal that (he Australian Government should by statute ask the Post Office to return an 8% profit on its investment? He has referred to the United States of America. Let me say to him that the governments of both the United Kingdom and the United States of America pay interest on the capital that they use. Interest is also charged in the case of West Germany and other large and sturdy industrial States. However, what my friend does not observe when he compares Australia with some of the other countries, particularly with the United Kingdom and the United States, is that Australia has not their density of population or density of communication. For instance, Wales would be about the size of some cattle stations in the Northern Territory. The honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) understands this and signifies his agreement.
When members of the Labor Party make comparisons they should do so on a fair and equitable basis. Why not tell us that if one sends a telegram in the United States from New York across to San Francisco it will cost one like sin, but here in Australia one can send a telegram for standard charges? I hope these things will not be lost upon honourable gentlemen opposite, and I hope they will not be lost upon the people of this country. I finish on this note: The tremendous demand which has been made in Australia for Post Office development in the last twenty years is quite understandable; but I hope those who clamour - and we all take part in it- -will realise that we cannot clamour and we cannot complain without paying a price. The price of insisting on this development, on this expansion, is that we must be prepared to pay realistic amounts for the services which the Department supplies. It is in this sense that the adjustments to the tariffs must be appraised.
– I commend my friend from Moreton (Mr Killen) for his courage, but I would suggest that at times he would be better to stick to his law. I for one would never recommend a client to him in a commercial case. The honourable member has been handling a commercial case here this evening, and he has been doing it, if I may say so, in a very selective way. He obviously has done some of his homework, but not all of it. If he wants always to draw exact parallels he should look at the case of the Commonwealth Railways. He quoted the railways as an example of bodies bearing interest burdens. The Commonwealth Railways is an organisation which, according to its balance sheet, has had the sum of nearly $100m advanced to it from the Commonwealth Treasury, and nowhere in its accounts is there any item for interest on that advance. I simply cite that as one example and as an instance in which- there is not consistency. Again, if the honourable member would like to wander among his idols I suggest that he have a look at what the previous Prime Minister of this country, Sir Robert Menzies, said at a Premiers Conference when it was put to him by some of the States that they should charge interest on money for capital undertakings advanced out of revenues. He said he found it a curious exercise. The Prime Minister said:
You ask me to charge interest on moneys that we have provided without cost. That would have the effect of throwing important public utilities into deficit.
He went on to say: ‘I find that an example of crazy book keeping’. I suggest that the approach taken in this matter both by the Minister and by his deputy on the back bench is an example of crazy book keeping.
The former Prime Minister, at the meeting of Commonwealth and State Ministers held in March 1959, said:
The proposition is that we charge ourselves interest. We throw into deficit a couple of great undertakings that have been referred to, and we then raise the wind in order to meet that deficit, because it all comes back on to us. Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of book keeping that does not produce one penny worth of financial results.
I suggest to the honourable member for Moreton, who strayed out of his field, that his Government ought to be consistent in all respects. However, I agree with the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) that the Post Office is an efficient organisation, and and I would be the last to want to reflect on it.
– That is not what the honourable member’s colleague said.
– I do not mean that it could not be more efficient, which is what the honourable member for Stirling said. I suggest the Minister could be more efficient, too, and so perhaps could I. All I am saying is that I agree that the Post Office is an efficient organisation, which has on many occasions proved its ability to absorb quite substantial cost increases without an adjustment to wages. The Minister said, rather tentatively, that this situation cannot be continued indefinitely. He stated:
The adjustments now proposed-
And this is where I disagree with him - have been considered carefully and the proposed rates represent reasonable charges for the services provided. 1 say that nothing has been advanced to prove either that the proposed adjustments have been considered carefully or that the proposed rates represent reasonable charges for the services provided. I would like to start by dealing with what are called the commercial accounts of the Post Office, and I throw this back again to the honourable member for Moreton. As we all know, or should know - I sometimes think that all of us do not know - there are differences between what are called the cash accounts and the commercial accounts. The last set of commercial accounts available are for the year ended 30th June 1966. The next set will not be available until after 30th June 1967, and that is why I suggest that the new rates are premature, are in advance of the event and cannot be said to be carefully contemplated. In some sense, this is a panic, and in the view of the Opposition it is an attempt by the Government blatantly to use the Post Office as a taxing machine. There are sometimes difficulties in adjudicating between the two sides of the Post Office. On the one hand, the Post Office is a great public utility. On the other hand it is a developmental agency. Plenty of examples can be found in State and Commonwealth activities, and also in local government activities, of developmental agencies where the criterion of expenditure matching revenue does not and should not apply. If it did apply, many injustices would be caused.
I quoted the commercial accounts for the year ended 30th June 1966 this afternoon. The activities of the Post Office are divided into postal services and telecommunication services. On the side of the postal services, the commercial accounts show a loss of SI Om. On the side of the telecommunication services, they show a profit of $l0m. So the Post Office overall ran evenly; expenditure and revenue matched. I do not suggest that should bc the final test. AH I suggest is that on a commercial basis for the year ended 30th June 1966 a break even point was reached, and this must be considered in terms of total expenditure of $400m. What we are asked to accept now is, in the words of the Minister, that after being carefully considered the proposed rates represent reasonable charges for the future.
The honourable gentleman from Moreton threw millions of dollars about, and I suggest he had no perspective of what the millions were. In simple terms, if this legislation is carried through both Houses, the imposts which are to begin on 1st July 1967 will require additional expenditure by the public of S67m. This is $1,250,000 a week or, to simplify it even further, on a per capita basts it is 10c a week for each person. Put that way, it has the majesty of simplicity, and commercially I am sure the honourable member for Moreton will follow the point. But this does not reveal the whole truth. What it does reveal is that we are supposed to assume that the situation of (he Post Office has deteriorated to the extent of $67m since August of last year when the House considered in the Budget the transactions of the Post Office and was then satisfied that the situation to the end of June 1967 would be satisfactory with the existing tariffs on both the postal side and the telecommunications side. In other words, although the position was considered in August 1966, the Postmaster-General on 1st May 1967, after a careful examination, sees a deterioration of S67m in terms of gross expenditure of S400m. Candidly I do not believe that. The figures given for the telecommunications services show that palpably this is not true, because, even if there were no change in the telephone services during this financial year, they would still show a profit of $5m.
– There is also the capital side.
– I will come in a moment to the separate argument relating to what should be done about capital transactions. At least, in terms of commercial transactions the telephone services, without any adjustment, will show a profit of $5m. But we are told that it is equitable, reasonable and decided after careful consideration that in the next twelve months the users of telephones should be charged another $37m. I suggest that the Minister’s exercises in bookkeeping are a little bit free and easy. I am trying to look at the position as we find it. The Minister has intruded with the reason that what we are doing is to ask the users of telephones today to pay for those who want to use telephones tomorrow. I have put this to the House before. In my view that is a dubious and arguable proposition. This is how the Minister expressed it:
An important factor, therefore, in telecommunications charges for the future is the extent to which telephone subscribers may reasonably be expected to contribute something extra, over and above the overall operating costs of the service, to help in meeting the costs of developing and expanding the service, especially as much of the new capital will be required for the facilities needed to give effective and economic service to the existing 2,200,000 subscribers.
For a considerable number of years now the telephone side of the activities of the Post Office has shown a profit, if we call a profit annual revenue matched by expenditure, including what I have called notional interest, which has been imposed now for some four or five years. I want to have a look at that argument separately in a moment. I think these matters are worthy of examination. As I said this afternoon, I am gratified to find that quite a number of the leading newspapers are prepared to agree with the view of the former Prime Minister and the view that I have expressed in debate here for a number of years, that it is crazy bookkeeping suddenly, in the midst of the history of an organisation, to load onto it a cost which this year has reached $64m and then blithely to say that the organisation is not measuring up in terms of efficiency. I will concede to the Postmaster-General that commercially a private venture cannot survive unless it makes at least a minimal profit. It does not survive if its expenditures exceed its revenues. But the reason why revenues have to exceed the expenditures in that case is that something called private profit is intruded into the situation.
I do not believe that public undertakings and public utilities, and things in the nature of national monopolies, have to make a profit. I think that as reasonably as possible they should cover their costs; but that is all. I sometimes wonder how much it is the community as a whole that can be said to make these decisions. I was speaking with a group of members when somebody said rather casually: ‘How many letters would anybody in my electorate write? What will be the effect of increasing the postage rate from 4c to 5c?’ I must bully the PostmasterGeneral a little here. He certainly crowed when decimal currency was introduced and his Department reduced the letter postage rate from 5d to 4c. He did not do what the newspapers did. They increased the price of a newspaper to 5c. The Postmaster-General crowed at the time that the Department was lowering the letter rate from 5d to 4c. I think that most of his colleagues now think it would have been wiser to increase the charge at that time and take the rap, as it were, then, rather than do what he is doing and have to face this trouble now. It is fair enough to wonder about the number of letters an individual may write. Most people would make few trunk line calls, ls it equitable for the rest of the community - taking it on a capital basis - to pay so that people living in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide or any other capital city may be able to dial direct to another capital city? It is very convenient for Federal members. It costs us nothing to make such calls so long as we dial from our office. But is the Australian community as a whole advantaged because theoretically I can ring somebody in New Orleans or in darkest Africa or coldest Greenland? I think at times we get carried away by our own enthusiasm. If, as the PostmasterGeneral says, the post office is capital hungry, then in whose interest is it capital hungry?
I remember an experience I had when the Postmaster-General and I were colleagues as members of the Public Accounts Committee. At that time I think the ordinary letter rate was 3d. I was given to understand, even in those days, that the carriage of the simple letter was one of the most profitable activities of the Post Office. The standard letter rate, which is now 4c but will be 5c after this Bill is passed, was highly profitable for the Post Office. On the figures that the Postmaster-General has given, the increase from 4c to 5c in the cost of posting a letter will bring in near enough to another $5m annually to the Department. Again, who is being asked to subsidise one. section of the Post Office as against another? It is still quite clear now, as it was before, that one of the most subsidised ventures carried out by the Post Office is the handling of newspapers and periodicals. At one time, before we had the blessings or disadvantages of television, in remote areas the newspaper was a much more significant item than it is now. People living in most country towns in Victoria, for instance, can now obtain Melbourne newspapers in the mornings at the same time as most city people. Nevertheless, there is still a considerable loss in certain parts of the postal service.
I am not arguing that at times there is no case for certain adjustments in postal rates. But certainly no evidence has been brought forward to date by any honourable member on the Government side to justify these increases when they are viewed in the terms of the totality of Post Office accounts. In the last commercial accounts the Department virtually broke even. The PostmasterGeneral even said that the Department will show a profit because of the increased revenue from telephones and other services. He justified the increases by saying that the Department is using the money to pay for capital expansion on the telephone side. I am suggesting that there are times when we ought to question whether we may not be going too far too fast in certain directions as far as telephones are concerned. By all means let us give facilities to country areas so that people can communicate with their immediate neighbours. Let the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull), who is assiduous in this regard, telephone his constituents. But I am sure that he would not want to telephone somebody in the centre of Australia. People living in thi centre of Australia mostly want to ring people in reasonable propinquity to themselves.
– Oh, fair go.
– The honourable member for the Northern Territory can defend the opposite proposition if he likes. I am suggesting that the majority of his constituents want to telephone each other rather than ring people in other States. I would have thought that the provision of country telephone exchanges was more important than linking one capital city with another by automatic services. 1 may be wrong about this. I have my doubts, and until those doubts are resolved I am entitled to be critical. All I want to do is to contrast the kind of scrutiny that the Postmaster-General seems to want to put upon certain aspects of the Post Office with some aspects that he seems to want to keep in the dark. I refer to a question asked by my colleague the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) which appears at page 1724 of Hansard of 3rd May. The honourable member asked:
What was the cost of providing the coaxial cable between Canberra and Sydney and Canberra and Melbourne?
The answer given was: ‘Nearly $14m.’ The next question asked by my colleague was:
What is the rental paid by General Television Corporation Ltd, Melbourne, for the lease of the cable?
The answer was:
The annual rental received by the Post Office from General Television Corporation Limited, Melbourne, is the subject of a written agreement between the two parties and it would not be proper for me to release publicly in the House the information sought by the honourable member.
If public transactions of that size can be carried out without public scrutiny, how can public scrutiny properly be given to other activities of the Post Office? This is part of the capital undertakings of the
Department whose large expansions we are told, is the reason why the public has to pay these increased costs. We are told that a coaxial cable has been constructed between certain capital cities at a cost of SI 4m but we are not able to find out how much the user is charged for that service. Accounts are loaded for notional interest but we cannot evaluate whether, on a commercial basis - to use the words of the honourable member for Moreton - this firm is paying a reasonable charge for services provided at public expense. 1 ask whether the Postmaster-General would justify this kind of secrecy. To my mind there should be no secrecy. A television company exists only by reason of a licence that is publicly granted and it uses a publicly provided service, yet we are told that we cannot find out how much it is costing the company to use that service. The Bill contains a schedule that indicates what every ounce of mail shall cost in every circumstance and what every private telephone charge shall cost in every circumstance - whether it is a call between one street and the next street or one State and another State or from the most remote capital city to anywhere else in the world. Yet we cannot be told what it costs a television station to have monopolistic use of a facility provided at public expense.
– Does the honourable member think that I should disclose what the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd pays in telephone rental and telephone charges?
– If the Minister wants to ask questions like that I would submit that at times it is not reasonable for any organisation to assume, though it may want to do so, that its activities are restricted and private. If the Minister would like it, I would go on record as saying with respect to newspapers, for instance, that everybody knows that a newspaper survives not because of its daily sales but because, in most cases, more than half of its revenue is derived from advertising.
– That is begging the question.
– I am answering the question in my own way. It would not be an infringement of privacy, but would be a great public service, if every month, or every quarter, or even annually, every newspaper in Australia were obliged to publish a supplement showing not only the total amount it derived annually from advertising but how much it received from every advertiser who spent more than $10,000 per annum. I do not think that this would be an infringement oi privacy, lt would indicate the hollowness of the rather glib slogan: ‘lt pays to advertise’, lt would indicate who gets paid, and who thinks it is worth paying. I think that the same sort of consideration should apply in the case we arc discussing.
This is not a private contract. When a concern as big as one of the four television stations in any capital city monopolises, as it does for hours at a time, facilities that are provided at public cost, it is flying in the face of reality and is making humbug of the suggestion that the charges now under consideration are arrived at after careful study and after reasonable evaluation of all the circumstances to suggest that the information should be secret.
I do not believe that the proposed Post Office charges have been properly determined. To my mind they are more than excessive to meet the current needs of increased postal costs. The Minister pointed out that there had been an increase in the productivity of postal workers. He said the fact that wages rose by 5% was no indication that costs rose by 5%. I think he quoted an example of where labour efficiency had increased by more than onethird over a period of years. No case is proved merely by saying that because wages have increased there is justification for costs to rise. The Post Office is labour intensive, but some half of its costs are for other than labour. The Minister certainly has not justified the need to gain an additional $30m from postal services and an additional $37m from telephone services. In fact his own figures prove that telephone charges are excessive and will enable the telephone side of the undertaking to make profits of about $30m, which will be more than enough to offset whatever the postal losses may be. 1 support my colleague, the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb), who has indicated on behalf of the Opposition our intention to oppose the Bill. There has been a glib sort of suggestion that it is a money
Bill. It is not a money Bill and I ask anybody who has any doubts on the matter to read section 53 of the Constitution; if he looks at the Bill he will see that the letter M is not imprinted on it.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I begin by congratulating the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) on his eloquence. I should imagine that he is likely to be the most respectable exponent of Labor’s attitude. No doubt when he and the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) were together on the Public Accounts Committee they made a magnificent match. I have no doubt that the particular matters he has raised will be ably and completely answered by the Postmaster-General himself, but one or two points deserve mention, particularly the strange doctrine that individual subscribers should have their accounts and dealings with the Post Office revealed. Apparently this is the principle to be applied if the person or body concerned excites public interest - his accounts and his business transactions with the Post Office should be revealed.
The Postmaster-General posed the question: Does this doctrine mean that the accounts of the Broken Hill Co. should be exposed to public scrutiny in all these aspects? The honourable member for Melbourne Ports answered quite honestly: ‘Yes’. But how far does this doctrine take us? The honourable member suggested that the accounts of newspapers - the ‘Sydney Morning Herald”, the ‘Age’ and all other newspapers - should be scrutinised. But where do we finish? What about the telephone accounts of the headquarters of the Australian Labor Party? I should think they would be a matter of great public interest. It would be very interesting to know where all the trunk calls from there have gone, between what persons they have been made, and much else. This doctrine is capable of the most fascinating extension, but it is not a doctrine that we could, on careful reflection, regard as being in any way acceptable.
The honourable member very rightly pointed out that there is a mixture of conception about the Post Office. On the one hand it is, very importantly, a commercial undertaking - the largest and most important commercial undertaking in Australia. It also has a social aspect, which we recognise, and a developmental aspect. It is important for decentralisation policies, for instance, that country rates be cheaper relatively than city rates. We accept this for obvious developmental and social reasons, particularly in distant parts, but we have intelligently to disentangle the two questions. If the social and political angles are to dominate the Post Office, as I will mention later, the result can only be deleterious to its operations. I believe that the Labor Party is pursuing a gross form of expediency. I do not apply this to the fact that it is opposing these charges, but I do apply it to two other arguments it used. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports said - perhaps quite rightly, but really rather spuriously - that this is not a money Bill. In the strict legal sense one might say it is a rates Bill, but in essence it is a money Bill. If the opposition in the Senate is. successful - and it has been reported that the Senate will oppose the Bill - the effect will be a considerable loss to public revenue.
Often on behalf of the Labor Party it has been openly and repeatedly proclaimed that the Senate should not reject money measures sent forward to it by this House. I have listened to the previous Leader of the Labor Party, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), most eloquently and continuously in the name of the Labor Party support this doctrine. Now, for completely expedient and spurious reasons, the party does not regard this as a money Bill, lt claims that it is a rates Bill, and it is reported that the party intends to use its power in the Senate to defeat the measure. This is cynical expediency. The former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Calwell, has expounded this policy many times and has been supported by other Labor speakers - even, I recollect on some occasions, by the present Leader of the Opposition.
Another argument that has been used is that it is wrong to introduce these charges before the Budget. I gather that this is also a prime Labor Party reason for opposing the Bill in the Senate. But memory is short. The last occasion and I think the only occasion in its term of office, even though it was a short one, on which the Labor Party imposed steep, sweeping increases in postal charges - always an action requiring courage - was when the Right Honourable J. B. Chifley did so before a Budget was brought down. A separate measure was introduced to become effective on 1st July 1949, well before the Budget was brought forward. Therefore it was not part of the Budget. These things can be forgotten, but they certainly invite comparisons. Whatever else he might have been, Mr Chifley was certainly a strong man. This proposed action of expediency in the Senate, this spurious denial that in effect and in essence this is a money Bill, invites a comparison with a long established principle of the Labor Party. This alienation of policy, this short term expediency, inevitably makes us compare one leader with another. It induces us to compare a new, unproven leader with the former leader. It remains to be seen whether it is a question of glamour outside and blubber inside. In this respect the action that is now being taken by the new leader is not an indication of very satisfactory performance in the future.
Why in this whole movement of prices and costs in Australia should the Post Office be singled out and told that it may not increase charges? Apparently, the rest of the world may move on, but not the Post Office. The attitude is that these charges should be kept stable, come what may. So the Post Office is left behind by the rising tide of prices and costs. There is no doubt that if one compares the present economic situation with the time when the last increases occurred in 1959, the capacity of the community to pay has improved considerably. In December 1959 the average weekly wage of a male adult was $42.46 a week. In December 1966 he was receiving S62.30 - an increase of 46.7%. The maximum proposed increase in postal charges is 25% against an increased capacity to pay of 46.7%. What happens if the Post Office is left behind and charges are not increased as time goes on? We have one example of what can happen - the United States Post Office, which currently is running a huge annual deficit of, I believe, $US750,000. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this figure, only for’’ the fact that there is a huge annual deficit.
The end result of having a public utility that is not allowed to apply commercial factors adequately is demonstrated by the case of the United States Post Office which is the least efficient organisation of its kind and provides the worst mail service of any advanced country in the world. If over a period of time Post Office accounts here were treated in a similar way, a similar result would be achieved in Australia. I emphasise this fact because a Labor Government under Chifley and successive governments of the parties on this side have stood up to the political difficulties involved ana faced the necessity of making increases in charges from time to time. If this action were not taken, what would happen? Instead of the user of the service paying, the higher cost would be loaded on to the general taxpayer. These costs cannot be escaped. Whatever is not collected from those who use the service must be loaded on to the general tax rate.
The attitude of the Government in this matter is quite plain. It certainly deplores the need to increase Post Office charges, but also, and perhaps even more so, it deplores the general increases in cost levels that have made this action necessary. The proposed increases are one aspect of the broader economic effect of higher costs. Over the years the Government has constantly emphasised the dangers to the economy of continually rising cost levels. It has taken a series of steps, often highly unpopular, to curb the development of situations conducive to cost and price inflation. If honourable members want to acquaint themselves with the Government’s position in this matter, again I invite them to read its submission to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. A number of members have already gone to the trouble of doing so. Year after year the Government has called the attention of arbitration tribunals to its view. Of course, the Government is only one of the parties before these tribunals, which have the function of dealing with the vitally important question of wage determination. It has stressed the effect of rising costs on our overseas marketing, on the terms of trade and balance of payments, as well as the effect on people in receipt of fixed incomes, pensioners and all other people who are not able to increase their incomes. Also, the Government has stressed the importance of considering the general stability of the economy and its effect on business psychology. In addition to this task the
Government has preached the gospel of greater productivity as an important means of containing, as far as possible, cost increases.
As I shall show, the Government has applied its own precepts in the Post Office. A heads in the sand attitude to this problem does not avoid any deleterious effects. The time arrives when in spite of all efforts cost increases have to be passed on. When they are - I am thinking now especially of government charges - there is always an outcry. People want to avoid the consequences of their own acts or the acts of others in which they freely acquiesce. I see this attitude mainly as symptomatic of an unhealthy state of affairs. As a nation we have never had it so good. We have full employment, with all of its blessings, and we certainly want to keep it that way. However, as exemplified by members on the other side of the House, a high degree of irresponsibility is prevalent in the community. Everybody knows that wage levels have a major influence on total costs, especially in labour-intensive industries of which the Post Office is a prime example. At the same time we are continually plagued by a hand-out attitude.
Undoubtedly in some quarters there is a notion that we can shut our eyes to the consequences of wage and other increases on costs and prices. We hear it said that affluent industries should pay higher wages, and pressures are applied to management to shell out to employees. They do so quite often, but they pass on the higher wages to others in the form of higher prices. In the end everybody pays more for the higher wages when purchasing the goods produced in the factory where the higher wages were granted. Unfortunately many people who adopt this attitude never seem even to pause to think that when they consider applying pressure on the affluent industries they should apply pressure to have the prices of the products of these industries reduced with consequent benefit for everybody. I mention this because it has a bearing on the total problem. In fact, we need a lot more clear thinking on what are plainly the basic facts of economic life. We certainly cannot describe our Post Office as an affluent industry, yet it too has been subjected to heavy wage cost increases. The day of reckoning is inevitable. It is argued that instead of basing Post Office charges on increased costs, increases in costs should be borne by the taxpayer instead of the users of the services it provides. We might suggest that members of the business community who have responded so vocally to increased charges take the line in their own businesses that when costs rise beyond the point of absorption they should not put up the prices of their goods but instead should maintain their dividends and borrow money to do so. This is the logical extension of what honourable members opposite suggest we should do in respect of the Post Office. The truth is that large numbers of people want to eat their cake and have it too. Too many people will not face up to the consequences of this prevalent handout attitude.
Turning now to an examination of the postal charges, the last general increase occurred in 1959, eight years ago. Subsequently in 1964 some smaller adjustments were made to telephone rental and connection charges. But the biggest increase in charges last week amounted to only 25%, lifting the standard postal rate from 4c to 5c. Let us keep this in its proper perspective. The 1959 increases were designed to produce an extra $32m revenue; the 1964 increases were designed to produce an extra $19m; and last week’s increases were designed to produce an extra $67m. When those figures are totalled one arrives at a figure of SI 18m. Looking at one aspect, the direct wages cost of the Post Office, in 1958-59 the total wage bill of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department was $ 160.2m; in 1966-67 it is S287.7m- an increase of $127.5m or 79.5%. Over the same years the total full-time staff of the Post Office has risen by 12%.
If one examines these figures on average per capita staff basis, the increase has been from S1.818 to S3,011 or 60%. Therefore, on the one hand, since 1958-59 there have been three revenue increases designed to produce an extra $118m; on the other hand a rise of no less than SI 27,5m has had to be borne by the Post Office in respect of one item alone - wages. In addition, the total purchase of the Post Office from suppliers for stores and materials in 1958-59 cost $68m, but by 1966-67 this cost will be SI 42m. Here again wage cost is a large element. When I emphasise these increases in wage costs, I am certainly not suggesting, to use the old phrase, that the labourer is not worthy of his hire; nothing of the sort. Further, I am not saying that there should be any let-up in the Post Office drive for greater efficiency. Clearly the Post Office has increased its efficiency, and I believe that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) rightly and properly suggested, if I heard him correctly, that the Post Office is by and large an efficient organisation. However, the figures I have just given tell their own story.
Without this very greatly improved productivity, increases in charges of a greater magnitude would have been inevitable. In short, what 1 am saying is that the current problems of the Post Office are a nice illustration of what happens when wage increases outstrip productivity - which is in fact what has been happening. It is no use trying to escape from the inexorable consequences of these excessive wage and other income increases. They are what happens when income increases continually outstrip increases in productivity.
A great service would have been done to our community if the underlying reason for the recent increases in postal charges were understood and public attention focused on what is one of the basic issues of our economic life.
– At the outset I should like to invite attention to the fact that this measure is in two parts - it is a Bill for an amendment to the Post and Telegraph Rates Act but also deals with telecommunications tariffs. The House will be dealing mainly with the posts and telegraphs aspect but, as the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) said in his second reading speech, the Government has taken the opportunity to include amendments dealing with telecommunications tariffs. A dissection of the Minister’s speech discloses that the Government proposes to increase the charges for postal services to meet certain costs. The increases in telegraph rates are expected to gain an additional revenue of Sim, although, as the Minister says, this section of the Department will still be losing. Certain adjustments to the telecommunication rates are proposed and the Minister has submitted an addendum. I make it plain that the House will not be voting on this aspect, but I wish to put my views oh the adjustments to telecommunications charges. The last few pages of the Minister’s circulated statement deal in some detail with the rates of postage within Australia and to overseas countries, as well as with discounts on letters and other matters. The last page mentions the proposed telecommunication tariffs, which are not encompassed in the Bill, although no doubt this will be done apparently by regulation at a later date. I shall deal first with the postal section and the proposed increase in postal charges. I am not attempting to deal exhaustively with this section, and I propose to confine my remarks, as in years gone by. to the telecommunications aspect, which was mentioned by the Minister in his speech and requires some answers. The Minister said that the existing postal rates ‘for other articles* for . the first and successive weight steps of 4c and 3c will he increased to 5c and 4c respectively. An increase from 4c and 3c to 5c and 4c appears to be relatively minor compared with the other increases, but the Minister continued:
In addition, the first weight step of four ounces will be divided into two two-ounce weight units.
There is the catch in the proposal. 1 have a letter here from the Managing Director of Seven Seas Stamps Pty Ltd. Staling Street, Dubbo, which merits a lot of consideration. The writer refers to certain proposed increases and says:
We wish to draw your attention to a serious anomaly in the new postal rates. . . . This is in respect to the rates for ‘Other Articles’ where the amendments will result in an increase of 123”% in rates - against a general increase of 20% to 25% on all other postal charges.
I ask the Postmaster-General to examine this claim carefully because if this is a fact, the increases are hitting a decentralised industry which has made great progress and which has been assisted in its further expansion by the New South Wales Department of Decentralisation and Development. This is a most successful industry. The proposed increases are a blow not only to its possible advancement but to its present stability. The writer states that he is not complaining so much about the increase in rates as about the dissection of the first 4 oz. He writes:
For example, one of our mail order divisions each week mails out approximately 4,000 small packets of approval selections each weighing about 3 oz. The lost at present is 4c each. Under the new schedule this will jump to 9c each, representing a sudden increase of 125% and raising our weekly postage bill on this item alone by $200. Other sections will be similarly affected and we assess that the total increase for our various routine mail order operations will be in excess of $400 per week - none of which can be recouped in any way since our business is a traditional one. . . .
The letter continues:
Our contract mailings for other clients will also be seriously affected. For example we are at present carrying nut a large premium packaging scheme for an Australia-wide company. The second stage of this scheme requires us to mail direct to (he firm’s customers between July and September 50,000 small stamp albums. All costing for the scheme »w done on the basis of each mailing costing us 7c.
That was on the old basis -
Under the new schedule the cost jumps to 15c each and will involve us in a nett loss of $4,000.
As we are a decentralised industry, the mail order side of our business has always been dominant. At the present time we employ more than 70 staff (full time) plus a part-time labour for:e of approximately 90.
It is not an insignificant business. The letter continues:
The very existence of our whole mail order operation is now threatened by the sudden imposition of a 125% surcharge on one of the basic cost items.
I do not have time to read all of the letter. I will send it to the PostmasterGeneral, asking htm to give it very serious consideration because I think the matter referred to in the letter represents an anomaly in the proposed increases. There does not seem to be any reason for this particular increase. It is out of all proportion to other increases.
The Postmaster-General has said in broad effect, although not in these words, that the Post Office is broke. His answers to questions asked in the House indicate that in his view the Post Office is broke. In reply to a question asked yesterday he said:
The Government has done nothing more than industry normally does. When costs reach a point at which industry does not obtain a profit, it increases charges. I cannot see any difference between that approach to the Government’s approach in this case, except that a mere decline in profit is not the reason for the increased charges. We have reached a loss situation.
I venture to say, with respect, that if a business of even moderate size - the Post Office is claimed to be one of the biggest business undertakings in the Southern Hemisphere - tried to increase charges every time it found itself confronted by an unsatisfactory cost situation, it would go broke quick and lively. The Post Office is one business that can increase charges provided it gets the approval of the people - of the Parliament in other words. I represent the people of country districts who will be forced to pay these increased charges. They have just gone through a two years drought during which they suffered pretty badly and they face the prospect of another drought. They cannot increase their charges or the price they get for their products. They have to accept increased costs and offset them by becoming more efficient, by screwing things down to the limit. This is the situation facing people in country districts at the present time.
When the head of a big organisation such as the Post Office says in effect that the Post Office is broke, something should be done. It may be worth while employing a firm of business consultants to investigate the affairs of the Post Office. We are frequently told in the House of measures that could be adopted to improve the efficiency of the Post Office, lt has been claimed tonight that costing methods employed in relation to the Post Office are wrong and that the Post Office should not be paying interest on capital provided by the Treasury. It may be that a proper investigation of Post Office procedure would be worth while.
Some interesting facts concerning Post Office operations have come to our attention. For example, a few years ago the Post Office was just about breaking even in its operations. Although some sections of the Post Office were losing money, others were operating at a profit. In 1964-65 the postal side of the business showed a loss of $2. 6m, but the telecommunications side showed a profit of $6.8m. These figures are taken from the annual report of the Post Office for the year ended 30th June 1966. In 1965-66 while the postal section suffered a loss of SIO. 3m, the telecommunications section made a profit of S 10.2m. In the two years 1964-65 and 1965-66 the postal section suffered a loss of SI 2.9m while the telecommunications section made a profit of SI 7m. It has been estimated that the total loss by the Post Office this year will be Si 8m, that by 1967-68 the figure will have increased to S25m and that by 1970-71 it could have increased to S40m or $45m. It is clear that unless something is done immediately to rectify the situation the Post Office cannot continue to give the service that we expect of it.
Yesterday the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) was asked a question about charges for trunk telephone calls. He replied:
I am advised that rentals in country towns and rural areas are already considerably lower than in capital cities . . . depending on the size of the country network.
That statement creates a wrong impression. It may be true in fact, but it is generally understood that telephone rentals are based on the number of subscribers available to any particular telephone subscriber. In many country areas subscribers have access to relatively few other subscribers and as a consequence they pay a lower rental than is paid by a subscriber in Sydney who is able to contact readily thousands of subscribers. On the other hand, there is the qualification that the costs to the Post Office of country telephone services are generally higher than the costs of metropolitan services. That may be quite true, but surely it is a service and should be compared with social services, which are provided to people who are out of work, who are sick or who are entitled to benefits for other reasons. These are general services to help country areas. The Postmaster-General admits this in his second reading speech, but he is not very fulsome in his statement about giving an opportunity to people to take advantage of it.
The main point that 1 am concerned about in this debate is whether the people who will be called upon to meet these costs will receive the benefit to which they have been entitled for very many years. So the third question that was asked attracts me particularly. A question was asked as to whether there was a deterioration in postal services, and the Postmaster-General replied as follows:
The postal services are not deteriorating and telephone installations are not lagging.
For nearly eighteen years I have battled to try to bring telephone services to country people up to a fair condition, and over those years I have urged particularly that nonofficial officers should be dealt with. When a non-official office, which may be on private property, has to close because the property is sold or the people living in the house and renting the office are old and do not wish to carry on, the service is affected because no foresight has been used. This has happened many times in my experience. When the office closes the subscribers are put on party lines, are connected to another exchange, or something of that sort. I will quote a few examples. I have a precis of considerably more.
Many non-official offices give a part time service, as they are closed at nights and over weekends. This is another reason why one would not expect people in country areas connected to country exchanges to pay the. full rental. There is a complete closure when a non-official office closes for one of the many reasons which are obvious to those living in country areas and which are surely obvious to the Department. I have been hammering this home for eighteen years. In 1955 it was planned to extend automatic operation to Stuart Town, but we were told that the matter would be held up because of a shortage of equipment. A shortage of equipment and not a shortage of money is given as the reason. Often we are told that it is because of a shortage of equipment, a lack of cable, or a shortage of automatic telephone services. I recollect that the Postmaster-General said a couple of years ago that a certain number of automatic telephones would be installed and that the number would be increased. My estimate at the time, which went unchallenged, was that at the rate we were proceeding it would be twenty years before the lag was overtaken. So I cannot go along with the story that telephone installations are not lagging.
At Gunnamarra a small exchange was closed and the subscribers were transferred to an exchange at Canadian Lead. That exchange was closed. At the time a chap was wandering around the mountains armed with a .303 rifle. What did the women think, isolated in the bush as they were? It did not matter that he might drop in and demand food and lodgings and if he was not given these things he. might put a bullet in someone’s head. When the Canadian Lead exchange closed the subscribers were connected to an exchange at Home Rule. After a few months this exchange was closed. This is the type of thing some country areas have had to tolerate, yet we are told that the services are not lagging.
For forty-five years or more the people at a place called Grattai had an exclusive and continuous service. The property was sold and the exchange closed overnight, leaving the subscribers without a service. I am not blaming anyone in particular but am merely taking the opportunity to instance what 1 have been trying to drive home for years - that people in country areas are not getting the benefit of things to which they are entitled but are asked to pay ever increasing charges for the use of the equipment they have, some of which is not as good as it was many years ago. The exchange at a place called Mebril was closed and the subscribers were transferred to another exchange at Goolma. An automatic exchange was promised but it has never eventuated. This was in 1961 or 1963. In 1965 a town called Trundle in my electorate had forty-three potential subscribers. Six of them had no service, and fifteen were on a single line. How would any honourable member like to be connected to a line with fourteen other subscribers?
– A bit of scandal was talked there, eh?
– That may be so. Not only would there be scandal; there would be a lot of frustration. If one subscriber wanted to ring when all the others wanted to talk, how would he get on? At Narromine, where a relative of a member of this House whom I shall not name lives, a line has been in operation since 1905, and there have been repeated demands for an automatic exchange. I am not saying that the system has not improved or that the people are not appreciative of the benefits they have received through the Department. We must be fair and say that tremendous strides have been made. But never let it be said that everything has been done. I can sit in my office and dial numbers in Melbourne or Sydney, or perhaps a subscriber in a big town in my electorate, but the people in the country cannot raise their own exchange to get in touch with me. That is the complaint they have.
Subscriber trunk dialling is a fine thing, but in the proposed schedule of costs that are to be introduced there is a charge for manual connections and one for subscriber trunk dialling. If one looks at the second column, which relates to the charges between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., one finds that up to 200 miles the charges for manual exchanges are higher than the charges for subscriber trunk dialling. Why is that? Every manual exchange has a disability. Some have only a half-time service. These are the things that need looking into. People would not mind paying if they got the service to which they were entitled, or the things they have been promised. They would not complain if they got automatic telephones in the quantity in which they feel they are entitled to get them. I am not saying that they are not getting them, but they are not getting enough.
In a letter the Director of Posts and Telegraphs has said:
The whole of the Australian network will be automatic but a great deal still remains to be done. There are more than 4,000 places throughout the Commonwealth where manual operation is in force . . must give priority to places with the most urgent need. These include localities where telephone service is not available at all or where subscriber development can be met only by replacing the existing exchange by automatic equipment.
What happens? The people who are being told that they have to give way to those who have no telephones find that when these people get telephones they are modern whereas those like the man who has had a line since 1905 have to put up with a mediocre type of service. That is not fair and it is not reasonable. I have a letter here in which the Director says that the Department is aware that existing trunk line circuits between certain towns are insufficient to meet present demands. There is an acknowledgment that this kind of situation exists, and this is what prompts me to rise in this House and tell the story of the people of the outback who deserve so much and are getting so little.
I have another letter which came to me recently from the Postmaster-General and which has worried me considerably. It is typical of the letters received by members who are asking for some improvement in the conditions under which their country constituents have to live. It is all very well for members of the Opposition to interject. Those who live in and around the cities have a lot to say for themselves, but all they have to do is to pick up a telephone and dial a number in order to get service. If they lived in some of these back country places they would find it a totally different matter. The letter I referred to came to me recently. First it gives a certain amount of gratuitous information as to how these non-official post offices are arranged, and it goes on to say:
When a resignation was received from the Office Keeper at Bogee-
I may say that Bogee is one of these places at which the post office was just closed up, and everybody who had previously been served by the exchange there had to make his own arrangements. The letter goes on: the Department arranged a meeting of the subscribers to discuss ways and means of maintaining service. In this regard, I am informed that two subscribers advised they were willing to conduct the exchange, but it was not practicable to accept either offer. Both reside about six miles from the exchange, and the high cost of removing the office such a distance could not be justified, as much of the line plant involved would be likely to become redundant on the ultimate installation of an automatic exchange to serve the area.
Let me say that many is the time 1 have had letters stating that it is up to the people in the area to find somebody to take over the exchange in question. Is this reasonable, when people are being asked to bear increases in costs of 20% and more for a service that is deteriorating? The letter goes on:
In the circumstances, unless it is possible to obtain the services of a suitably located resident, the Bogee exchange will be closed temporarily from the 11th May, and the trunk facilities thrown spare will be utilised to maintain a measure of service for the 20 subscribers. Initially, 10 subscribers will be connected on one line to Rylstone and the other 10 subscribers will share a line to Glen Alice.
That means there will be ten people on each of two party lines, people who have had an exclusive service for practically the whole of the time they have been in residence there. There is not sufficient time for me to read ali of this letter, but I will read other portions of it:
At a later stage, four additional circuits will be provided between Bogee and Rylstone. . . . lt is not practicable, at this juncture, to indicate when the extra Bogee-Rylstone circuits will be installed as this will be dependent upon materials being supplied and on work being completed. . . .
As mentioned previously, it is proposed to install an automatic exchange at Bogee eventually but the needs of this area must be considered in relation to other places where automatic equipment is urgently required.
I believe the country people 1 represent would willingly pay extra if they could get a service. An exchange was built in Narromine eight years ago and it has not yet had equipment put into it. A reservation was made in Dubbo more than eight years ago for an exchange. A temporary exchange was put in and now the permanent exchange has been authorised but it has not yet been built. This is the kind of thing that is going on all the time.
Undoubtedly the Post Office needs money, but if it gets money 1 hope and trust it will be because it is prepared to make these improvements which are necessary, and that it will not fob off the members of this Parliament and the electorate by saying that there is no lag. We are continually told that there is no lag in telephone installations, but from my experience and that of most other people in country areas there certainly is a lag, and a serious one. This position has existed for years, and it has persisted through years when the Post Office was making profits of about $10m. The lag has existed right up to 1965 and 1966 during which these profits have been made. That was the time when the lag should have been overcome, but the necessary work was not done, and that is why I rise tonight to say, for about the fifteenth or sixteenth time, that the Government should give these people who are producing Australia’s export earnings a better spin, not only with postal installations but also with telephone installations. I am aware that the Bill before us is a postal matter only and I have had little to say about postal matters, but I have taken the opportunity to make a plea for country telephone subscribers.
– At the outset I wish to protest at not having been called directly after the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) made his speech. I understand that this was no fault of yours, Mr Acting Speaker, but I wish to protest against the arrogance of the Liberal Party Whip, the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Erwin) in giving you a list of speakers without first consulting the Labor Party Whip (Mr Duthie). The Whip for my Party instructed me to follow the Minister for Labour and National Service in the debate, and I may say that I was particularly cranky when I failed to get the call.
I have listened with interest, however, to the honourable member for Lawson (Mr Failes) who made his contribution with a good deal of warmth and human qualities. I heard his pleas on behalf of country subscribers who have to share a telephone with nine others. The honourable member brought forward the problems being experienced by people in his electorate, and of course he was critical of the Government, because in this case we see another instance of a Liberal Minister, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme), starving the Country Party of necessary funds.
When the Minister for Labour and National Service spoke on behalf of the Government we expected him to give some reasons for this new economic proposal. He made a statement to the effect that if we do not charge the users of -this public utility, that is, the users of telephones and postal services, we must load the general taxpayers with the cost of running the Post Office. 1 ask the Minister: Who are these general taxpayers? Who are the masses of people who use the postal services? The people who are the main users of the postal services are the 80% or more of taxpayers who earn $59 a week or less and who, of course, do not control the wealth of this country.
Let me ask the Minister this question: Who in reality will have to meet these extra charges? It has been said that industry will incur greatly increased charges, but of course industry will pass on these increased costs by increasing the price of manufactured articles. What will the major newspapers do to cope with the greatly increased costs that they will incur because of these new charges? There are two courses open to them; they will increase either the price of newspapers or the cost of advertising, and in either case it will be the great bulk of the people of Australia, that 80% of taxpayers I have been talking about, who will really have to pay.
The Minister gave certain reasons for the imposition of these increased charges. He said that the cost of labour was increasing to such an extent that money had to be found to pay the wages of Post Office workers. Let me refer the House to the Minister’s speech. This is what he had to say:
The improvement in productivity which has already been achieved is shown by the fact that between 1959 and 1966 the postal staff rose by only 10% in order to handle a 31% increase in traffic.
Labour was increased by only 10% in that period to handle 31% more traffic, yet the Minister for Labour and National Service says that the increase in labour costs in the Postmaster-General’s Department is a reason for this proposed increase in postal charges. I now desire to quote from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald’ of 6lh May 1967 headed ‘Budgeting All By Mirrors’. This article, written by the financial editor, states:
We were certainly entitled on Thursday night to have the Prime Minister or (he Treasurer tell us something about the economic thinking behind the new PMG charges. It was more than a departmental decision that Mr Hulme was called on to announce. The decision has wide economic significance and it evidently carries undertones of meaning about the Government’s assessment of the outlook, if not about the state of its economic morale.
We are entitled to ask why this action was taken. Out of the thin air rumours spread through the corridors of Parliament House on Thursday night last that the Government proposed to increase postal charges. We now find that the increase will amount to $67m. As I sat and listened to the Postmaster-General my mind wandered back to the night of 11th November 1960 when the Government took such drastic economic action that it frightened hell out of the financial institutions throughout Australia. Remembering the Government’s mistakes in its horror Budget of 1952, its little horror Budget of 1956, and in the disaster of 1960, I wondered whether it had learned anything. One might ask: Is the Government going to take a gradual approach, as we have been challenging it to do for so long? Instead we have this onrush, with the Government suddenly announcing these increases.
This afternoon and again tonight the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) raised the question as to why this action was not taken in budgetary considerations last August. This is only one of the taxation increases that are to be made by this Government as part of its general economic policy. The Government is concerned in part about the fall in its overseas reserves, which since 1st July last year have fallen by over $200m to $1,1 74m, the lowest since March 1963. This might be one of the reasons for this sudden decision by the Government to impose this increase of $67m in postal charges. I should like to have heard the Minister for Labour and National Service give some explanation of the Government’s attitude in opposing the current application of the Australian Council of Trade Unions before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for increased wages and wage justice. The Government has opposed wage increases at this stage. Is this another part of the Government’s economic policy?
The honourable member for Melbourne Ports made it clair this afternoon that loan money amounting to approximately $300m was to be set aside in the last Budget for defence expenditure. We find that only SI 00m is to be used, with the remainder of S200m to come from taxation revenue. This might be another way of withdrawing money from circulation.
As the ‘Sydney Morning Herald* has asked, why has the Prime Minister or the Treasurer not made a statement about overall economic policy as related to these postal charges? Surely we have the right to ask why this explanation has not been made.
I referred earlier to falling overseas reserves. The Government has already made statements about a reduction in withholding tax to 10% for certain overseas investment in Australia. We know that the withholding tax is now 15% in relation to countries such as Canada, the United States of America, New Zealand and Great Britain. All other countries pay 30% withholding tax. However, for some reason or other the Government has now dropped the rate to 10%. We know that one of the reasons for the fall in overseas reserves is that there is a drying up of the main sources of supply of foreign investment - Great Britain and the
United States of America. Consequently we are trying to find fixed interest capital from other parts of the world. I believe that this increase of taxation by way of increased postal charges is associated with the Government’s economic policy, and I predict further increases in indirect taxation in the next Budget. I predict that there will be an increase in petrol tax; we had it a couple of years ago, and we will get it again. An increase of 3c a gallon would yield an income of $50m for the Government, whereas an increase of 24% in income tax would return only about $40m. It seems to me that this dishonest and sectional Government will use indirect taxation in other fields as it has in respect of postal charges. The Government has used this method with postal charges because such charges are transferable. Major business undertakings will transfer the cost to the mass of consumers. The Minister for Labour and National Service said that the users are the ones who should have to pay. The people on low incomes will have to meet the real burden of these increased postal charges. This is an indirect tax. The actions of the Government are not in the best interests of the community. It prefers to impose indirect taxes and these are inflationary taxes. Its attempt to solve the problem that f ices it may in fact aggravate its difficulties. The Government has become more and more a government that favours indirect taxes, and these place a burden on the cost structure. Industry is called on to pay these taxes and industry passes them down the line to the consumers.
I want to examine the history of Post Office trading balances as disclosed by statements of income and expenditure. These figures are found in what is known as the White Paper. In the last year of the Chifley Administration, the Post Office had a deficit of some S6m. In the days of the Chifley Administration and even in the early days of this Government’s term of office, the Post Office was considered to provide a service to the community. In 1949-50, the Post Office had a deficit of S6m. In 1950-51 it had a deficit of Si 4m; in 1951-52 a deficit of S4m; in 1952-53 a deficit of $4m; and in 1953-54 a deficit of S2m. It was not until 1954- 55 that it broke even, but again in 1955- 56 it had a deficit of S8m. The policy of providing a service to the community continued and it was not until the end of the 1950s that the Post Office was used as a means of raising revenue. In 1961-62 there was a surplus of $44m, and then something most unusual happened. The figure for the Post Office disappeared as a single item in the Budget Papers of Income and Expenditure and became bracketed with all other public authorities. About this time a new formula was used. Interest was charged on the funds made available from Federal revenue to the Post Office. In the last financial year it paid interest of $64.4m to the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Its profit and loss account discloses that last year it suffered a loss on all services of $124,000, but in fact it paid interest of $64.4. If the policy that was followed in the last year of the Chifley Administration and by this Government right through the 1950s had still been applied, the Post Office would have had a surplus of $64m last year. But that is not good enough for the Government. It has decided to use the Post Office to raise another $67m. Next year if we were to continue the former accounting system the Post Office would probably show a deficit of $130m.
The Government is now using the Post Office as a means of imposing taxation. Members of the Australian Country Party speak about bad postal services in country areas. They should face up to their responsibilities. Many of the additional charges that will now be levied are a burden on the country people. I will give an example. In his second reading speech the PostmasterGeneral said: . . the existing general rate for registered Australian books, newspapers and periodicals of 4c for each eight ounces will become Se for the first six ounces and 4c for each additional six ounces. The rate for these publications, except books, when posted in bulk, will be increased from 4c for each twelve ounces to 5c for each twelve ounces, on the total weight of the consignment. In addition, the following minimum charge for each postal article will be made: ic in the case of postal articles weighing one ounce or less; 2c on postal articles weighing between one and one and a half ounces, and lc on postal articles weighing more than one and a half ounces.
Surely members of the Australian Country Party realise that people in country areas need periodicals. The honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) may laugh; he does not have much in his head. People in the country areas want to read periodicals and books; this is a means of keeping in touch with the rest of the community, and there are people in the Australian outback who are interested in gaining further knowledge.
I will give some examples of the way that additional revenue is being raised. The rate for a letter will be 5c for the first ounce instead of 4c and the charge for each additional ounce will be raised from 3c to 4c for each additional ounce up to four ounces. In 1966, the Post Office handled 1,893 million letters. If an additional lc is charged on each of these letters, at least a further Si 8m is collected each year. We hear talk of the turnover of Woolworths Ltd and G. J. Coles and Co Ltd. Certainly they are not in the race with the turnover of the Post Office. Profit comes from turnover and even an additional lc on a letter will raise between $18m and $20m a year. For instance, 2,103 million local telephone calls were made. The price charged was 10c for three calls. Now, under this Bill, the price will be 4c a call. So the Department will receive an additional 2c for every three calls. On a conservative estimate this will result in a SI 4m increase in revenue to the Postmaster-General’s Department. A few years ago - prior to February 1964 - the price of a public telephone call was 4d. Since then the price has increased by 50%; it is now 6d - 5c in decimal currency. Last year 147 million public telephone calls were made. Again, the increased charge will mean something like S2m more to the Department.
More and more this Government is using the Post Office as a means of raising taxation. lt is using the Post Office to levy indirect tax. It is using the Post Office to syphon S67m from the community into central revenue. The Government has not explained its overall economic policy. We do not know whether these increases form part of its economic policy or whether they are designed just to gather in more money. I believe the real fear of the Government is the continuing fall in its overseas reserves. Because private capital inflow from the United States of America and the United Kingdom was drying up as a result of balance of payments problems, I believe the Government felt that some internal remedy was necessary, lt did not want to take the same drastic steps that it took in
November 1960; but it will try other remedies. There should have been an explanation about these matters by either the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) or the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt).
The Opposition will oppose this Bill lock, stock and barrel. We will defeat it in the Senate. The Government, of course, will attempt to use snide methods to try to put charges up by way of regulations but it will be exposed by the people of Australia. The Government will find that it cannot use dishonest taxes and indirect taxes to impose burdens on industry and on the people.
– Why is it dishonest?
– As far as I am concerned all indirect taxes are snide and dishonest taxes unless the money raised is used to combat social evils. If the Government imposed indirect taxes on such things as tobacco, cigarettes and liquor and used the money for social services, then they may have some basis of honesty. But taxes such as those imposed in this legislation will add to the cost structure and in the long run will have an inflationary effect.
– I apologise to the honourable member for Reid for the confusion of the call but, as he intimated, I called the honourable member for Lawson in good faith.
– I listened as attentively as I could to the speeches made by honourable members on the Opposition side tonight in order to make an attempt - and I must admit it had to be a valiant attempt - to deduce any reasonable argument against this legislation. We have just heard the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). I might best describe his speech, without disrespect to him, as a series of excited exclamations - that and no more. There were other speakers on his side of the House who, perhaps, did a little better. I will try to summarise, if I can, what I understood to be the burden of their argument - if it could be called an argument. As I understand it, the main point taken on behalf of the Opposition is that this is a taxation measure.
– Hear, hear! An indirect taxation measure.
– The Opposition says that this is purely and simply a taxation measure.
My trusty friend the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith pays me the compliment of saying: ‘Hear, hear.’ Implicit in the claim by the Opposition that this is a taxation measure is this proposal: That it is a measure designed to raise revenue for uses unrelated to the Post Office and the services provided by that organisation. If the Opposition claims that this is a taxation measure then that phrase, in the context in which it is used, must mean that, and only that. So we have to examine the Opposition case - such as it is - to see whether there is any evidence that this measure is designed to produce revenue which will be used for purposes other than the purposes of the postal service.
The other argument put by the Opposition is not put with any great exactitude and is not supported by any attempt at reasoning. So far as it goes, this is the agrument: The interest charge in the Post Office commercial accounts on the net advance from the Treasury for capital expenditure should not be levied. The. Opposition does not say why. I can quite understand, for a number of reasons, why it does not. Firstly, may I cite a little history. It was in 1942, under a Labor Government, that a change came about in the method of advancing capital expenditure for the Postmaster-General’s Department. Prior to 1942 the financing of capital expenditure in the Department was by recourse to loan funds on which the going rate of interest on the loan market had to be paid. In 1942 there was a change of policy. Then, under a Labor government, the capital expenditure of the Post Office commenced to be financed out of advances from the Treasury - that is, from Consolidated Revenue. Under a Labor government the practice of charging interest on the net amount of the advances was developed and continued. So it is rather strange, to say the least - inconsistency, of course, is a frequent visitor to the Opposition benches - to find the Labor Party claiming tonight - perhaps in rather muted terms, which is quite understandable - that this notion of charging interest, which amounts to S70m this financial year, on the net advance from the Treasury is a wrong notion.
Well, if it is a wrong notion, let us examine the alternatives. I disclaim completely the proposition that it is a wrong notion that this interest should be charged. I will show that this is the only practicable course consistent with commercial commonsense. If the interest is not charged in the Post Office’s commercial accounts where are we going to make up the deficit in Consolidated Revenue? Because if we do not charge interest there is necessarily a deficit equal to the amount of the interest not charged. Where is it to come from? My honourable friend from Moreton (Mr Killen) made this point very strongly and powerfully in his usual way, but it is worth making again because nobody on the Opposition side has answered this question and one suspects that honourable members opposite have not tried to answer it because they know full well that there is no answer.
If interest is not charged, what is to be done about making up the deficit? ls it to come out of increased direct taxation? Is it to come out of a reduction in the vote for social services, for defence or for national development? These are the alternatives. I suppose I could suggest other alternatives, but the sum total of the alternatives comes to this - that if we do not charge interest, the Budget each year will have to make alternative provision, which means a consequential reduction in much needed expenditure on desirable services of one kind or another. So much, I suggest, for the argument that interest should not be charged on the amount made available by way of advances from the Treasury towards the capital expenditure of the Post Office services.
The question which next arises is the main argument advanced by the Opposition - that this is a taxation measure. To examine and to attempt to evaluate the worth of that argument, I want to look briefly at the background of this measure. We all know that the purpose of the Bill is to raise annually, by way of Post Office revenue, an increased amount of S67m. Why is this necessary, as I fully believe that it is? It is necessary for a number of reasons, and they are reasons which were fully and clearly explained by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) in his second reading speech.
The first point of background that I should mention is one which, I am happy to say, was very fairly conceded by one of the principal spokesmen of the Opposition tonight. I refer to the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean). He conceded - and, indeed, it is ungenerous to call it a concession because hs really claimed it - that it is his strong belief that the service of the Postmaster-General’s Department is efficient, and with that I fully agree. That is the first point. Secondly - and this was really conceded by the honourable member for Reid because he passed it by - the postal service has an enviable record in terms of productivity. This is part of the overall picture of its efficiency. In 1965-66 a 4.1% increase in postal business was handled with a 1.8% increase in staff. In his second reading speech the Minister gave very pertinent illustrations to demonstrate the undoubted and admitted fact that the Post Office has a proud record in terms of productivity, but this, of course, is the agreeable side of the picture - efficiency.
On the other side of the picture - and this is a matter which reflects no discredit on the Government at all - there has been a significant increase in wages which has necessarily been reflected in increased costs of running the postal service. Let me illustrate. As a result of the basic wage increase in the middle of last year when §2 was added to the male basic wage the postal service incurred an additional wages bill amounting to $l7m a year. But the story does not end there. As a result of the interim margins increase which became effective in February of this year the wages bill of the postal service was further increased by an amount of, I think, $2£m a year.
In any event, whether the last figure of $2im is precisely accurate, the substantial truth of the matter is that as a result of the basic wage increase last year and the interim margins increase early this year the Post Office has had to foot an increased wages bill amounting to approximately $18m a year. In addition - and this is a third factor in terms of increased wages - there have been other increases in award rates applicable to employees in the postal service, and this has added yet another $2im to the wages bill of the Post Office in the current financial year. The Post Office has to cope with an increase in its wages bill amounting to nearly $20m a year.
Of course, that is not all of the problem. The price that the Post Office has to pay for the goods and services it needs to run its operations, apart from direct wages, also goes up constantly with increases in the basic wage, increases in margins and increases in other award rates. 1 am not standing here to criticise the increases that have taken place. I am as firm a believer as anybody on the other side of the House in wage justice. Whether on balance real wage justice is obtained by wage fixation which does not take, in my view, sufficient regard of the economic implications that will flow from the increases is a question for another day, or another night; I will not enter into that now.
To sum the matter up: the Post Office has to cope at the present time and in the foreseeable future with very real and substantial increases in direct wages and in other costs. It was pointed out by the Postmaster-General that between 1959-60 and 1965-66 the wage rates of postmen and mail sorters rose by about 40% This is a 40% increase in six or seven years. The wage rates for postal workers rose by over 50% in the same period. What effect have these increases had on the profitability and revenues of the postal services? Let me run through them briefly because they are a necessary part of the background that must precede an examination of this problem.
In 1965-66 the postal service, as opposed to the telecommunications branch of the Postmaster-General’s Department, incurred a loss of SI 0.3m which was S7.7m more than in the preceding year 1964-65. It is estimated that if rates remain as they presently are the losses in the current financial year on the Post Office service - leaving aside telecommunications - will be $18m and in the next financial year 1967-68, $25m and so on. The increases proposed in the Bill, so far as they relate to the postal service, amount i.n one full year to $30m. It is evident from the figures I. have quoted that the proposed increases will, as the Minister said in his second reading speech, do no more than ensure in all probability that the postal section of the Department will break even over the next three or four years. In the light of that undoubted fact can it seriously be suggested that the increases proposed in the Bill, so far as they relate to the services of the Post Office, represent anything in the nature of taxation? They represent no more than an attempt to ensure that the charges made by the Postmaster-General’s Department for postal services will be reasonable. I understand it to be not seriously in dispute that it is the proper function of this Department of State, presided over by the Postmaster-General, to charge reasonable prices for the services it provides on the basis that the Post Office is to be conducted as a commercial undertaking. I do not think - I hope not anyway - that any member on the other side of the House will be heard to deny that proposition. If he does, his denial will sound rather strange in the light of what Opposition members said long ago when they were in government - perhaps so long ago that they do not remember making such a statement. I should like to turn for a minute to what was said at the end of June 1949 by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), as he now is, when as the Minister representing the Postmaster-General in this House he introduced a Post and Telegraph Rates Bill that was to come into operation on 1st July, about a week later. It is rather ironic, indeed it is one of the little ironies of life, that this Government is being criticised for bringing into the House early in the month of May a Bill to increase postal and telegraph charges that are not to take effect until two months have elapsed. Time seems to have dimmed the memories of members on the other side of the House. When it comes to evaluating the arguments put forward tonight by the Opposition it is well to recall what was said by the honourable member for Melbourne, then a Minister of the Crown, when he introduced the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill on 21st June 1949:
. the only courses facing the Government in the light of the inescapable increases in costs were -
– Who said that?
– The honourable member for Melbourne, who was then a Minister of the Crown. Let us look at how he dealt with these three alternatives. In the light of the arguments that have been advanced by Opposition members in this House tonight bis proposals are most interesting. The first course was to reduce expenditure by withdrawing or restricting services. The honourable member for Melbourne said about this course:
The first course has to be dismissed in the public interests. The withdrawal of facilities and the restriction of services at a time when the demand for an expansion of these facilities is at the highest level in history would give rise to justified nation-wide criticism.
I would not expect to hear any Opposition member tonight gainsay what the honourable member for Melbourne said in June 1949.
– Was the honourable member for Grayndler here then?
– If time permits I shall come to the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly). The second question asked by the honourable member for Melbourne in 1949 was whether to operate the Postal Department at a loss. He had some firm views on this point, and I am happy to say that they accord entirely with those of the present Government. Sometimes commonsense can over-ride political barriers except when expediency, the urgency of debate or the fun of the chase moves the Opposition to be a little fractious in their arguments. The second alternative was dealt with by the honourable member for Melbourne in these terms:
The operation of the Department at a heavy financial loss would place an added burden on taxpayers generally, whereas an increase of charges for the services rendered means that the users of these services will make the necessary increased contribution. Equity demands that the last course be followed.
– Is that an extract from my second reading speech?
– What I have read is almost an exact paraphrase of what the Postmaster-General said in his second reading speech a few nights ago. There is almost exact identity of thinking. One does not have to stop at what the honourable member for Melbourne said in 1949. I shall go further and refer to what some other Opposition members had to say at that time. Before I do, may I come to one other point? It is apparent from the Minister’s second reading speech that the Bill has two purposes. The first of them is to overcome losses that arise from higher costs, the increases being due to substantial rises in wage levels. The second purpose is to ensure - this applies particularly to the telecommunications services of the Department - that existing subscribers will make an equitable contribution to the maintenance and improvement of the capital works from which presently they derive an advantage and will make an equitable contribution to the provision of new works that will be available for use by new subscribers. Because they are made available for new subscribers they will bring an additional advantage to the users of existing services. May I illustrate this simple point? If I have a telephone and there are only 100 telephone subscribers in the whole of Australia, the service I receive is substantially less than I would receive if there were 2,200,000 subscribers in the nation. Obviously I could then telephone more people. Insofar as capital is applied towards the provision of new services that are available primarly to new subscribers, the old subscribers reap a corresponding and a consonant benefit. Is the second main purpose of this measure a good one? I believe it is. Indeed it is abundantly clear that it is, and in supporting my case I can do no better than quote what was said as recently as 1965 by the present Leader of the Opposition. It is recorded at page 235 of Hansard that on 19th August 1965 when he was speaking on telephone services during the Budget debate, he said:
My own simple attitude towards the financing of telephones is that the persons who use the service should pay for them.
That is a profound and simple truth, with which I would be the last to disagree. One knows, of course, that disagreements are apt to break out on the Opposition side, not only inside the Parliamentary Party but between the Parliamentary Party and that body called the Federal Executive, which I understand had an ad hoc meeting in this Parliament building yesterday. If I may make a facetious remark, I doubt whether the invitation that must have been extended to the Federal Executive by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) is likely to be extended to it again, having in mind the drubbing he received at its hands. However, I agree wholeheartedly with what the
Leader of the Opposition said on 19th August 1965. On that occasion, he said:
They should pay for the capital and pay for the running of the service. I adopt that attitude on the very simple thesis that every man’s telephone is more valuable to him if more people have a telephone. The more people who can ring a subscriber or whom the subscriber can ring, the more valuable the telephone is to that subscriber. I do not want to engage in any philosophical argument about interest.
The difficulty of members of the Opposition tonight - so far as we have heard from them - is that they try to be philosophical about this question of interest without having a philosophy of having thought the matter through. I challenge any member of the Opposition to rise and tell the House how he would make up the inevitable deficit in Consolidated Revenue which would result if the interest charge were abolished from the Post Office’s commercial accounts. I suggest that the fate of this measure might well rest there. This is a Bill designed for two simple and necessary purposes: Firstly, to overcome an indisputable and undisputed increase in postal costs; secondly to ensure that existing subscribers shall pay an equitable share of the costs of providing the service they enjoy and are entitled to enjoy. I fully support the Bill.
– The honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes) has just delivered what might be described as a typical speech from a smug, complacent city representative on a most disturbing and tragic statement affecting posts and telegraphs in this country. He is complacent and compliant and has shown no spirit in dealing with the problems facing this country or the charges that must inevitably place a heavy burden upon all sections of the Australian people. Whether one approaches these increases from the viewpoint of the city or the country; the great organisations involved in the financial, commercial and economic life of this country; or the villages, towns and rural communities, the story is the same. It is a condemnation of not so much the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) but the Government. I believe that the Minister must be absolved from the main criticism because he has come to this Parliament to present legislation on behalf of the Government, lt is not the Minister’s legislation; it is the HoltMcEwen legislation - the legislation of a coalition government that is completely out of step, out of tune and out of harmony with the people of Australia. This legislation does not measure up to what is required for an expanding economy. It does not in any sense have any consideration for the needs of the growth of this nation in our rural sector or for the development and decentralisation of industry anywhere. The honourable member for Parkes seemed to be oblivious, as so many city members are, to the problems of this nation. He was contemptuous enough to give a blessing to this notorious piece of legislation which so grievously affects every man, woman and child in this country.
When we think of post and telegraphs our thoughts go back to a service organisation which served the people, first of all, in the United Kingdom, in the Western world and ultimately in Australia. This service organisation was able to bring a measure of communications between people. In the early days of the history of this nation the postman always went in to the remote villages deep in the hinterland, the gorges and the gullies or on the arid plains. Everywhere, there was a post office .md mail delivery. In the course of time there followed telephones and telegrams which provided a service to the community. What have we heard from the honourable member for Parkes who has left the chamber? Not one word about this service. Nol one syllable, not one sentence, not one sentiment was uttered by him regarding the service in order to justify the grab, through the Postmaster-General’s Department, of the taxpayers’ money in order to sustain a Government that is unworthy to be kept in office.
When we think of this matter and reflect back over the years on the new trends (hat have taken place regarding the keeping of accounts of the Postmaster-General’ Department, we find this new system whic provides that all the money that has been handed over to the Postmaster-General’s Department, not in the way of loans and not from borrowings, but from the pay envelopes and annual returns of workers, farmers and those engaged in industry shall be channelled into Consolidated Revenue. Yet it was handed to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department so that it could do a job for the people of Australia. The people are called upon to pay interest on their own money. This money has been given to the Government by people who have toiled through a depression, through the Second World War, through the First World War and through the history of this country. These are the funds upon which the people of Australia are called upon to pay interest today. I reject that proposition, and I am not alone in rejecting it. I come within a class of distinguished people. Among them was the former Prime Minister of Australia, Sir Robert Menzies, who at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers in March 1959 said:
The proposition is that we charge ourselves interest, we throw into deficit a couple of great undertakings thai have been referred to, and we then raise the wind in order to meet the deficit - because it all comes back onto us. Therefore, charging ourselves interest is merely a complicated piece of book-keeping and does not produce one pennyworth of financial results.
That was the point of view of the former Prime Minister of Australia, but it has gone unheeded by this administration. We charge ourselves interest on the money that is taxed from us. It would be understandable if the Government went out and said: “We will not tax the Australian people. We will leave them go unscathed as far as the Postmaster-General’s Department is concerned. We will make this in every sense a commercial organisation. We will raise the money on the market and then we will charge the people interest on this money.” But this is not being done. They have been taxed and on the money that they have paid in taxes they are being charged interest.
Earlier this evening I had an interesting discussion with the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr J. R. Fraser) who brought to my attention a most important matter. He pointed out that even if only one taxpayer were using the post and telegraph services of this country and even if only one person were engaged in the commercial life of this country - we could not imagine such a situation - the Government would be obliged to maintain its post and telegraph services in the interests of the people of Australia and the defence of this country. Although we must have these services for defence, for government and for the life of the country, it is the poor, obscure, unknown and unwanted person, uncared for by the Government, who has to foot the bill. He is charged an increasing amount to maintain this service essential for the country. This is not good enough. Without any inhibitions or reservations I claim that any member of this Parliament who claims to represent country people is not doing enough by merely speaking against this notorious, pilfering, Ned Kelly, bushranger type of legislation which plunders the purse of the Australian people; it is essential that he vote against it. He must stand up and be counted on this matter. I am sure that throughout country areas tens of thousands of people - perhaps hundreds of thousands - would speak as I do on this matter. Would the Commissioner of Taxation allow as a deduction a claim for expenses incurred in connection with telephone charges? The man in the street pays taxes into Consolidated Revenue. The Treasury advances to the Post Office sums from those tax collections for the capital services of the Post Office. On those sums the Treasury charges the Post Office interest. But when the Post Office, because of these interest repayments, finds that it cannot make ends meet, it increases its charges to the taxpayer.
The increases proposed in this Bill will be a great burden on country people. They will be a burden on those who are attempting to establish industries in country areas. All this talk of decentralised industry, diversification of industry and the need to expand industry is so tiresome. Any honourable person must ask how honest are the Government and the people who advance these arguments about the need for decentralisation. Throughout Australia we have seminars, symposiums, conferences and meetings at which speakers postulate the glorious theories associated with decentralisation of industry. Every mayor, every shire president, every chamber of commerce president and every person interested in the development of country areas will tell one that the major problem affecting the development of country areas and the decentralisation or diversification of industry is the problem of dear telephone charges. This Government, with a full knowledge of all these circumstances and of all the facts, ignored the need for decentralisation. The Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) has said that there is little that the Commonwealth can do. There may be little that it can do, but there is a lot that it ought not to do. One of the things it should not do is to increase telephone charges.
Let us examine the proposed increases in charges for telephone calls. I shall mention only calls made between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. The charges listed apply to three-minute calls. For calls over distances exceeding SO miles but not exceeding 100 miles, the existing charge is 40c for both manual and subscriber trunk dialling calls. The new rates will be 50c for manual calls and 48c for STD calls. The next group is calls over distances exceeding 100 miles but not exceeding 200 miles. Calls within this -range of Sydney would take in centres in the central districts of New South Wales such as Bathurst, Orange and Wellington, which are striving to retain their population and to stave off the drift to the cities, because they need to develop and to attract industry. What is the story here?
– The honourable member seems to have a special interest in Bathurst.
– I have indeed. Historically, it is one of the most important parts of Australia. It is a centre that deserves special consideration. The existing charge for calls over distances exceeding 100 miles but not exceeding 200 miles is 60c for both manual and STD calls. The charge is to be increased to 80c and 72c respectively. The existing charge for calls over distances exceeding 200 miles but not exceeding 300 miles is $1 for both manual and STD calls. In our old currency, that is 10s for a threeminute conversation. What does that mean to the principal of an industry established in a country centre who has to make repeated calls to a city office throughout the day seeking information on business deals and transactions?
– What effect will the increased charges have in the electorates of Calare and Gwydir?
– Those electorates will be grievously affected. The new charge for calls made over distances exceeding 200 miles but not exceeding 300 miles will be $1.20 for both manual and STD calls. The current rate for calls made over distances exceeding 300 miles but not exceeding 400 miles is $1.20 for both manual and STD calls. The charge is to be increased to SI. 45 and SI. 44 respectively. We either agree with the proposals for increased charges or disagree with them. If we disagree with them, we vote against them. If we approve of them we vote for them. We shall be counted as we vote on this issue. If there is one thing that completely destroys the possibility of decentralisation it is a notorious proposal such as this. I absolve the PostmasterGenera] of direct blame, because I believe that he does not want to impose higher charges. I believe that he has brought in this Bill because the Holt-McEwen Government has instructed him to do so. Acting at the direction of the Government he has presented this measure.
– I rise to order, Sir. Is the honourable member in order in mentioning something that is not relevant to the Bill?
Order! The Chair has been exercising a degree of latitude.
– I wish to take another point of order, Sir. Is the PostmasterGeneral in order in leaving the chamber while the honourable member for Macquarie is discussing the proposed increases in postal and other charges?
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– I ask for a ruling, Sir.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– I thank you for your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am in no way concerned at the fact that there is not a Minister in the chamber at the moment. That is a matter for the consciences of Ministers in their approach to the conduct of the affairs of this House. Their attitude is clear to us all. The Government has attempted to make out a case by saying that it has to impose the higher charges because it needs money. Let it be remembered that even with the bookkeeping methods at present adopted by the Postmaster-General’s Department, which were condemned by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, the Department last financial year had an operating loss of only $124,000. It paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund $60.3m. Does this indicate that it needs special assistance?
The only Minister who is in the chamber at present to represent the Government is the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz), who sits at the far end of the front bench, no doubt studying health matters. Surely he and his colleagues in the Government appreciate that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is pouring substantial sums into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Last year the Telephone Branch paid $10m profit back to the Department. This clearly indicates a very healthy stale of affairs. There is no justification for imposing these increased charges now. If there is any need for a consideration of the financial affairs of the Government, there is one time in the year when these matters should be considered - that is, when the Budget is presented to the Parliament.
This legislation has come as a great shock to the Australian people, and it is a great disturber of the economic balance of this country. Companies and other organisations have budgeted for the normal usage of telephones, telegrams and postal facilities and have arranged their estimates accordingly, yet this Government has introduced these new charges without warning. There was no indication in the Government’s policy speech and no statement was made anywhere inside or outside this Parliament that charges would be increased. I refer the House to the following passage - at page 13 of the report presented by the Postmaster-General:
The total interest charge for 1965-66 was $64,401,139, made up as follows:
This is a story of disgrace, of failing to keep the peace with the people of this country and of failing to honour election obligations. It shows that this Government cannot be trusted.
– From what document are you quoting? Is it an official document?
– I am quoting from the Financial and Statistical Bulletin 66’, which was presented to this House by the PostmasterGeneral. The Postmaster-General, as members of the Government do on every matter of this kind, has directed attention to wages and salaries. As always, the Government’s great enemy is increased wages and salaries. In another place the Government is putting forward the view that wages ought to be contained. Its complaint is that wages and salaries have risen.
One of the greatest ingredients in building up the costs of electronic industries - the Postmaster-General’s Department in particular - is the price of copper. What has the Government done about this? Certain honourable members on the Government side have directed attention to this matter and have asked one or two penetrating questions about it. It has been raised repeatedly on this side of the House, but what has been the attitude of the Government? The Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) has repeatedly told the Parliament about the right of the people in industry to get their pound of flesh by getting what they can out of the sale of copper. He has said that it is entirely a matter for them. In replying fairly recently to a question asked by the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson), he went on record as saying, in effect, that the copper producers were entitled to receive whatever price they liked because during a certain period they did not demand the full price that they might have obtained.
Let us consider this matter. When things are bad we subsidise the price of copper; we build up the price of copper; we keep copper producers in business whether they be in Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales or anywhere else; we maintain the price of copper by subsidising the copper producers up to a price. The high price of copper really hurts the economy of this country, and particularly hurts the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. But will the Minister for Trade and Industry and the Government do anything about it? Of course they will not.
These figures, which tell the story, have been verified. They have been made available not only from statistical sources but also from the Local Government Electricity
Association of New South Wales. These are the facts about the price of copper: On 6th August last year the price was increased by $380 a ton- from $870 to SI, 250. On 16th August last year it was reduced by $100 a ton- from $1,250 to $1,150. On 24th August last year lt was reduced by $200 a ton- from $1,150 to $950. On 3rd October last year it went up by $100 a ton -from $950 to $1,050. On 19th October last year it went up by a further $100 a ton- from $1,050 to $1,150. The price of copper increased, but the Government refused to act although this is an important matter affecting the costs of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and an important ingredient in the costs of telecommunications and the electronics industry generally.
What did the mighty Leader of the Country Party do? He gave the increase his blessing. He said: ‘This is something that should happen. The copper producers are entitled to increase their prices or to reduce their prices. They are entitled to charge what they will.’ Despite the fact that, when the price of copper on the London Metal Exchange was low, the taxpayers of Australia maintained the price so that these producers could remain in business, nothing was done about the subsequent increase. Surely this was a matter in which the Government should have intervened not only on behalf of the Postmaster-General’s Department - one of its own departments - but also on behalf of the whole Australian economy.
– How could the Government intervene when Mount lsa Mines Ltd was paying so much into the Country Party campaign funds?
– The honourable member for Hindmarsh has made a statement about a matter with which he is very familiar. He knows something about that; I am not particularly versed in it. However, 1 know that one of the last companies to increase the price of copper was Mount Isa Mines Ltd and that the Mount Lyell organisation in Tasmania wai one of the first to demand an increase in the price of copper. In any case, the price of copper increased, but no action was taken. This certainly interfered very severely wilh the economy of this country.
Could the Government do anything? Of course it could. When iron ore prices were not high enough and iron ore was to be exported from Australia at below the correct price, the Minister for Trade and Industry intervened and said to the exporting companies: ‘You will not export iron ore from Australia unless it reaches the correct price.’ The Government could do something similar in this instance. If wise economic practices were followed in this country, the Government would say to the copper producers: ‘You must satisfy the Australian market from our own resources or our own reserves at the correct price. We will de exactly what is being done in the United States.’ It has been possible even in the dense economic jungle of the United States to control the price of base metals. The story is to be found in a most interesting form in the ‘Harvard Business Review’ for November-December 1966 in an article Gamesmanship with Guide Posts’ which sets out very clearly and thoroughly what the United States was able to do in controlling the price of copper and other metals. It may be said that the United States is the home of capitalism, but whatever it is, at least it has sufficient control of its economy to ensure that the prices of base metals essential to the economic well-being of the country are kept at a level which will enable the country to build its economic structure progressively and with certainty in the interests of all the people of the country. In this country, with its wealth of minerals of all kinds, can we expect this Government to take similar steps? Of course we cannot.
So we come, to our present situation and we find that postal and telegraph charges are to be increased. Of course the victims are to be the Australian people. They will suffer as they have suffered in the past. They have had their industries and resources plundered and now they will be burdened with higher charges for postal and telegraph services, telephones, telecommunication services and everything that has to do with the means of communication so necessary in an island continent like ours extending over 3 million square miles. We see the Government of this country, which depends upon the Country Party, the rural party, the man on the land, which has said so much about decentralisation, selling out on this vital principle and betraying the Australian people to overseas countries and to those who exploit the resources of our land.
Thursday, 11 May 1967
– I want to make it quite clear at the outset that I support this Bill, even though I find it a bitter pill to swallow, coming as I do from a country area. Any increase in costs is something that has to be absorbed. No-one enjoys having to pay these increased charges and no-one enjoys imposing increased charges. It is obvious, however, from everything that members of the Opposition have said that they have nothing constructive to offer as an alternative. The only single constructive suggestion I have heard from the Opposition throughout this debate - and I think it was a good suggestion - came from the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb). He made the suggestion, which is in no way novel, that the Post office be incorporated perhaps as a public company wholly government owned. This is not a new suggestion; in fact this is virtually what is happening to the Post office in England right now.
Many members of the Opposition spent a considerable time this evening declaiming about the business-like operation that would inevitably be produced by making this undertaking a corporation. Other honourable members have gone so far - and I am afraid even the honourable member for Stirling did so - as to object to what they called the inefficiency of the Post office. The honourable member for Stirling is certainly not alone in making these allegations. Several Opposition members have stated that in their opinion the Post Office is and has been proven inefficient. This is an interesting comment coming from members of the Opposition because, as the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) pointed out, we are dealing with a labour-intensive industry. A great number of high priced executives are not to be found in this industry. It is composed very largely of a great number of people in the middle and lower income groups. These are the people at whom the members of the Opposition must be regarded as directing their charges of inefficiency. Yet. the members of the Opposition have occasionally led us to believe that these are the people to whom they look for support. This is no longer true as many of these people are now much more aware of the political and economic problems of these days. They are voting now in a more enlightened and mature fashion for members of the parties that are presently on the benches on this side of the House.
Just as the honourable member for Stirling was neatly contradicted by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports on this question of efficiency or inefficiency - 1 remind the House that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports went out of his way to compliment the Post Office on ils efficiency - the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) referred to these increases as a new form of taxation. He was by no means the first honourable member to do so. He called them ‘taxation increases in disguise’. He labelled them as taxation increases’. He also referred to the lack of necessity for any interest payments. The honourable member for Macquarie does not seem to have heard a single word that was said so very ably by my friend, the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes). The honourable member for Macquarie does not seem to have absorbed anything that his Leader, the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Whitlam) had io say on this subject in 1965. The present Leader of the Opposition as a responsible Deputy Leader of the Opposition at that time pointed out that the people who used telephones should pay for them. As my friend from Parkes said, the Leader of the Opposition was not going to enter into any philosophical discussion about interest. This was his clearly thought out point of view. It is a pity that the Opposition has demonstrated in the debate tonight that it has no really clear cut point of view. Opposition members have been criticising the Bill from one angle and then from another and no constructive suggestions have been made whatsoever except the idea which would not be unreasonable, subject to examination in detail, of incorporating the Post Office as a public company.
But let us look at the facts briefly. They have been set out very well by the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme), who is sitting at the table, in his second reading speech. Much has been made of these facts by members from the Opposition benches. They have neglected to emphasise, obviously, as some of the Government speakers have, that no increase has taken place in postal rates for about eight years. During this time, as the Postmaster-General mentioned, almost every consumer service in Australia has risen by about 22%. If honourable members go through these increased postal charges - without citing them ad nauseum - they will see that the overall charges have increased by approximately 15%. So, on that basis, we ari still some 7% better than the general tendency towards price increases in other consumer services. I remind those members of the Opposition who object so much to this increase that during the same period wages have increased by over 40% in the case .of postmen and mail sorters and about 50% in the case of postal clerks.
– Will you say this on your television session this week?
– Would you like to come on with me?
– 1 will go on with you any time you care to invite me.
– I will do that if I can find an appropriate opportunity.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Fox)Order! The honourable member will address the Chair.
– This week?
– I am sorry the honourable member opposite is so upset about this, but the facts are sometimes a little upsetting, particularly when, as in this case, the honourable member himself has nothing of a constructive nature to offer in this debate. However, just to show that members on this side of the House are not afraid of making constructive suggestions, I shall make one in the interests of decentralisation. In the financial year 1965-66 the revenue from local calls and subscriber trunk dialling calls totalled some $82.6m, of which about S8.5m was derived from STD calls. In the same year, revenue from trunk calls was $7 1.7m, this being the revenue from trunk calls other than those recorded on the STD metering apparatus.
In order to make this position clear we should probably refer in future to metered calls and unmetered calls. If we did this, we would see that some SS2.6m had come in from metered calls and some $71. 7m from unmetered calls. As there were 2,103 million metered calls in this period the average revenue was 3.926c, which is close enough to 4c; and as there were 116.6 million unmetered calls the average cost was 61.514c or, say, about 62c. The total revenue this year was Si 54,303.000, for a total of 2,219.6 million calls at an average revenue of 6.95c per call. As the call box charge at present is 5c and the domestic rate for subscribers who rent telephones from the Department is 3;c and will be 4c after 1st July, it is quite apparent that it would be feasible to gather the revenue from unmetered or trunk calls by a small increase in local or metered rates. However, this raises a number of technical details. Obviously it is not the sort of thing that could be done overnight at this stage or at any immediate stage in the development of such a large industry as the Post Office.
I do not want to say anything at this stage about telegrams or overseas telephone calls. The major point 1 wish to make from the standpoint of decentralisation is that we should be progressing as rapidly as possible towards an equalisation of communication costs along the lines already established in partial equalisation of petrol costs in the general and basic interests of decentralisation. There is already a good precedent within the Post Office itself in that the rates for postal services are equal in all parts of Australia. The Post Office has a responsibility to provide better and less expensive services on a progressive and continuing basis, yet tonight we are debating a Bill which will increase postal, telephone and telegraph charges. In the interests of country areas. I submit that this is not good enough, unless there is some clear policy which states expressly an intention to equalise these costs in the future.
– How is the honourable member going to vote?
– For the Bill, of course, and for very good reason. Honourable members on this side of the chamber are capable of developing policies of the type I have mentioned to which people in country areas can look for some kind of relief. It is not possible to talk realistically about decentralisation without considering also some equalisation of transport and communication costs.
It may sound impossible to equalise charges and reduce unit costs while at the same time increasing revenue or maintaining revenue nl a point where it can cope with rising costs and expanding services. Although I h:ive not had as much time as I should have liked to research this matter, it is quite evident that theoretically if so-called local calls or short distance calls were metered on a time basis as well as a frequency basis - this is now being done in the United Kingdom where I believe it began in 1958 - it would be possible to retain or even reduce the present charge for an unlimited call. For example, there could be a charge of 4c for one call of up to two minutes within, say, a fifteen mile radius. Then the same rate could apply, with decreasing units of time down to, perhaps, four seconds, for calls to places anywhere in Australia. Although we cannot predict with any accuracy that this method would return the same revenue, this kind of thing could be developed increasingly with experience.
Although 1 am asking for a long term policy on equalisation and suggesting that it is necessary for country areas, I am conscious of the fact that we have in the Post Office a very efficient and rapidly developing industry. This is obvious to anyone who looks at the annual balance sheet of the Postal Department for 1965- 66 and sees the very large amount which was spent on telecommunications. About $145.6ra more was spent on telecommunications plant in that year than was spent in the previous year and this amount represented more than two-thirds of the total increase of expenditure on fixed assets for the year. As other honourable members have said, if we want a rapid increase in the technical machinery we must pay for it. I feel that the progress that has been made already has not been fast enough to satisfy everyone. Some areas within my electorate are continually on my back and I am continually making representations to the Postmaster-General on their behalf. There are still some areas that suffer from a shortage of telephones. I refer specifically to the south coast of New South Wales, where we have very special problems from the enormous seasonal increase of population. I think we have a special case for additional telephone services there. A number of smaller country areas in my electorate still have relatively large and continuing problems from the shortage of telephones. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the general situation with telephones, even in my electorate of EdenMonaro, has improved in recent years. I look forward with confidence to a considerable improvement in the next few years. I base my confidence particularly on the way in which the Postal Department is discharging its obligations.
In advocating the equalisation of charges, I would like to make one point clear. The Postal Department has already gone a considerable distance towards meeting my suggestion. I understand it is now possible, by using subscriber trunk dialling, for a person in Sydney to ring Melbourne. The present charge is 3ic for four seconds and it will later be 4c. If the caller is quick enough, he can make contact, book a hotel room or tell his mother in law about the new baby and have a very good excuse for hanging up without further discussion. He will be able to do all this for 4c. That is the kind of technology that we can use to provide the equalisation of charges that I have suggested; but it is not possible without this sort of technical development. I hope Opposition members will realise from the figures that I have given that this is at least a possibility and can in future become a fact. I hope that they will also realise that I am disappointed because in this whole debate they have not produced any constructive suggestions apart from the one that I mentioned.
– An amount of S60.3m over and above operational costs was paid into Consolidated Revenue during the last twelve months as a result of the operations of the Post Office. I think nobody denies that. Between 1941 and 1947 a sum of £3 6m was paid into Consolidated Revenue as the result of the operations of the Post Office. That was money received over and above the operational costs of the Post Office. During that period the governments of the day did not specifically charge interest upon capital expended on postal services. In 1949, the
Government, then a Labor government, in the aftermath of war found it had to secure extra revenue to provide postal services, which were becoming more and more costly. It was not able to show a profit on operational costs and decided to increase postal charges. I introduced this matter only in order to tell the House exactly what a gentleman who was then the honourable member for Fawkner and who is now the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) had to say at that time. This is what he said:
Here we have a Commonwealth owned and controlled socialistic monopoly that handles our postal, telephone and telegraphic services. The Government has for many years, as possibly have other governments in the past, referred with pride to the achievements of this socialist enterprise. For many years this Government monopoly earned very substantial revenues and showed an excess of revenue over expenditure, amounting to many millions of pounds. Between 1941 and 1947 the excess of revenue over expenditure, after taking into account various capital charges, was, I understand, about £36m. The first comment that I desire to make on that position is that our postal and telegraphic services, fo lowing upon the additional war time letter rate of id and other increases, have been used as revenue earners. It has not been a matter of providing a service and making a charge to cover operational costs.
In other words he said that what he described as this socialistic monopoly was entitled only to cover operational costs. Then he went on to say in this admirable address that I have before me that prior to increasing rates in any way whatsoever the £36m excess of revenue over expenditure between 1941 and 1947 should be used up. That was what he said then, but tonight we hear stories that are altogether different. We hear gentlemen on the opposing side say that we must run this socialistic monopoly upon business lines. We hear the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Hughes) say, with awe and reverence in his voice-
– He thought that he was getting 100 guineas a day.
– Yes. He said that commercial principles must operate in the postal services. What are the commercial principles that operate? If I send a postcard from my address in West Brunswick to the next street, which is carried by a mail carrier from the receptacle in which I put it and from the post office to the address upon the postcard - a distance of a few hundred yards - I am charged exactly the same amount as if I send a postcard via the airways of this country as far as Darwin. However, although if I have a telephone conversation with a person in the same suburb I am charged 4c - something like that, anyhow - if I have a telephone call to somebody in Mildura or Darwin I am charged thirty or forty times as much. In one case exactly the same charge is levied despite the greater service rendered. In the other case, although the service rendered is not nearly as great as that involved in the conveyance of a letter, thirty or forty times as much is charged. This is the application, as the honourable member for Parkes said, of those sacred commercial principles for which he stands and which, he demands, must not be violated under any circumstances. If I send a telegram to somebody living in the street next to mine I have to pay exactly the same amount as if I send a telegram 400 miles. Yet the honourable member for Parkes says that those operations, those prices and those charges, are a vindication of the sacred principles of commerce. How utterly preposterous and absurd that is. -
The point I want to make is that what the Labor Party says is right: This is not a question of charging for services. If the principle merely is that the Department should charge for its services, then it should charge a lot more to send a letter from Brunswick to Mildura or to Darwin than from the Brunswick Post Office to an address in Brunswick. If one sends a telegram from Melbourne to Mildura, no greater service is rendered than when a telegram is sent from the Melbourne General Post Office to an address in a Melbourne suburb. There is no greater service rendered by the Department when 1 telephone Mildura than when I telephone an address in the street next to that in which I live. Is that not right? Of course it is. These things have been done for years. Honourable members on the Government side invoke the sacred name of commerce, of commercial principles and of big business, on every occasion in order to justify every absurdity that occurs. But, Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not hope to convince the legal eagles who sit on the other side of this chamber. They have received their briefs and have to stick to them. I can see by the appearance of the honourable member for Parkes, the particular legal eagle who has been trying to interrupt me, that he agrees with everything I have said. He knows there is not one fallacy in my argument.
– There is no argument in the honourable member’s fallacies.
– The honourable member for Maribyrnong is not a legal eagle by any means. Despite the fact that the honourable member for Parkes agrees with me he has to stick to his brief and has to speak in favour of the interests of private enterprise and these so-called commercial principles. In reality, in Australia this same principle is not applied in the same way for every service provided for the public. I am not speaking specifically of this Government now. For example, members and supporters of the Country Party who live far out in the hinterland, far from the amenities of our cities, today enjoy the advantage of having electricity available. They get that electric current for exactly the same charges as I am required to pay in the metropolis of Melbourne Some ask: Why should they not?’ I say that is a different principle from that which the Government is applying in connection with telephones. The principle applied to the telephone service is to charge more to ring Mildura than is charged to ring a street nearby. Take as another example the supply of water for the purpose of irrigating the farms of the Country Party members. The Government of this country pays from the consolidated revenue of this country vast amounts of money to build reservoirs so that this water can be supplied, and the reservoirs are not a charge upon the water users; they are a charge upon the general community. Therefore I point out that what this Government does through its charges in connection with postal services is to impose taxation.
The Government apparently agrees that those who enjoy the postal services should pay for them in full If I have a telephone service, then I should pay in full for that service. If I send a letter from Melbourne to Darwin, I should pay in full for the convenience of sending that communication. That is what the Government believes should be done in connection with the telephone services but, despite that, the
Postmaster-General, when introducing this measure, said this:
I have said before in this House that the role of the Post Office is one of a national business which should pay its way, although I am not unmindful of its obligations to the community as a whole, especially in the outback and developing areas. The regular delivery of mail to scattered communities and the provision of telephone and telegraph services over great distances to serve relatively few people are very expensive. In many cases those services are provided on terms well below cost. However, the Post Office accepts this as being inevitable and, indeed, regards it as a contribution to development generally. (f that is a contribution to development generally, then why should the users of postal services in the city of Melbourne, in proportion to the extent to which they use the services of the Post Office, contribute to the subsidisation of the interests of the outback? Surely if these electors of the honourable members of the Country Party must be aided then they must be aided by the whole of the community, not merely by those who use telephones or those who send post cards or mail through the post.
If the Government is to deviate from the principle that the whole of the community should bear the responsibilities of the community in proportion to their ability to pay for them, surely if those who use the telephone and telegraphic services and those who use the mail services of this country are going to be charged to subsidise the interests of those who are in less developed areas, they should be charged somewhat equally, not in proportion to the stamps they buy. The Government should not say that in proportion to the use that people make of telephone services and postal services they must make their contribution to the development of the postal services of country areas. The Opposition claims that by so doing, the charges for postal services would be a means of taxation.
Can it be regarded as other than a method of taxation if the people who use the postal services are told: ‘In proportion to your use of these services you shall contribute to the development of another section of the economy of this nation’? That is the difference between taxation and charges. If I purchase an article and if a person represented by a member of the Country Party purchases a similar article we are charged the same amount. We are charged for what we get, and we are charged the cost of what we get. But if services and equipment are charged for as a means of subsidising a section of the community then it ceases to be a charge and becomes a tax. This should be obvious to all members. Charges for postal services are a tax upon those who use the postal services. The charges are a tax additional to the tax they pay in order to provide services in other parts of Australia.
On 13th June 1949 the present Prime Minister referred to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department as a Commonwealth owned and controlled socialistic monopoly that hands out postal, telephone and telegraphic services. He said that the money it made over and above the cost of operations should be utilised for the purpose of reducing costs and charges. He said that from 1941 to 1947 an amount of £36m above the operational charges of the postal services went into revenue. When the Labor Government suggested increasing charges he said: ‘First use that £36m We say that $60.3 m had gone into revenue as a result of the charges made last year. This was over and above the operational costs of the postal services. The Government should do with that S60.3m what the present Prime Minister, then a member of the Opposition, said on 13th June 1949 should be done with the £36m.
Mr HALLETT (Canning) [12.45 a.m.)At this hour of the morning we are discussing a Bill to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902-1965. As has been indicated by previous speakers, this is quite an important measure. The provision of means of communication in any country is a very important industry - if one can call it an industry - which I believe must be considered in relation to the nation as a whole. This applies especially to Australia which has an area of some three million square miles. Providing communications for such a large area presents many difficulties but even this factor should not lead us to pay regard only to the major populated areas. We should think of the nation as a whole. If we want to do our job properly, surely we must consider the people in the country areas and see that they are given reasonable means of communication without loading them too heavily with charges.
Let me deal with postal rates. We can post a letter anywhere in Australia for the same fee. That is a good idea. Looking at the postal service profit and loss account for 1965-66 we notice that there was a loss of some SI 0.3m whereas in the previous year there was a loss of some S2.6m. Turning to the general situation we find that there was a rapid turn down in that period of twelve months. Although total earnings increased by about $4.5m. total expenditure increased by about Si 3.5m. It is obvious something must be done if the situation is to be retrieved.
When the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) introduced this Bill into the House he indicated that the proposed new charges will bring in revenue of something like $30m a year. He said:
The postal service was able to maintain a break even financial position over the five year period from 1959-60 to 1963-64, averaging a profit of about $0.9m annually.
With current postal tariffs and allowing for continuation of recent cost trends, losses of $18m this financial year and $25m next year are likely. These losses, by 1970-71. could rise to $40m or $45m.
These are pretty large sums of money, so it is perfectly obvious that some adjustment must be made on this side of the activities of the Post Office.
Any increase in charges in the field of communications is most unfortunate for many reasons. In our democratic way of life communications are most important to the people. I think everyone will agree that the more people communicate with each other the better will be the understanding, not only between people but between nations. The crux of the troubles in the world today is that people do not know each other well enough. This can happen in a nation as large in area as Australia. For instance, I often think that many people in the eastern States of this great country hardly know where Western Australia is or what happens there because it is so far away.
– Cut that out.
– It is true. That is a fact. The better the means of communication, the better it is for everybody in the nation. However, if we increase the cost of providing the means of communication in all branches of the Postmaster-General’s Department, or for that matter even if we increase train and air fares, people may see less of each other or communicate less with each other. Therefore, I regret any increase in charges for postal services. However, it would seem from the figures I have quoted that some increase must bc made if the Department is to function economically.
Continually inside and outside this House, especially in industry, mention is made of the need for research. Indeed, a year or so ago in this House I pointed out when debating a measure dealing with this problem that the need for research is ever present. Millions of dollars have been spent on research in the primary industries with a view to increasing production and lowering costs. It should be obvious to everyone that much success has been achieved from the application of the results of research in many industries. The simple fact is that we would not be in business unless such results had been achieved. In view of the rapid increase in the expansion of services provided .by the Postmaster-General’s Department over the period I have mentioned, it is essential that research be conducted in this field as well as in industry. If it is fair to spend millions of dollars in this way to keep costs down and to increase production, it is clear that it should be equally fair to do so in respect of the postal services. Only a few years ago the price of wheat was reduced in Australia and the reduction in price was directly attributable to the results of research.
As a general rule it has been found in industry that the greater the production on an assembly line, the lower is the cost of each single unit produced. A similar result should be achieved in the postal branch. I should think that it would be a reasonable assumption that, coupled with the introduction of automation, the larger the number of letters, parcels and other goods handled by the Post Office, the handling cost per unit should be reduced. Will this in fact occur in the Post Office? It is essential that such action be taken to enable these services to survive. In view of the rapid rise in the cost structure of the Department, it is reasonable to assume that the Postmaster-General will be on the lookout for anything that can be done to reduce costs. During his second reading speech the
Postmaster-General referred to telecommunication charges. The situation here is a little different from those applying to the postal services. The accounts of the Department reveal that in 1964-65 telecommunication operations showed a profit of S6,830.581 and in the financial year 1965-66 $10,217,224, making total profit over the two years approximately $17m. It is interesting to note from the accounts that total earnings in these two financial years increased to S27m with total expenses rising to S23m.
In his second reading speech the Minister stated that increased charges for telecommunications facilities and services will earn an additional $37m in the next full financial year, lt is therefore with some alarm that I speak on this point this evening. I have had a thorough look at the percentage rises to take place in the various fields and I cannot accept the situation presented to the House in the Minister’s second reading speech. Since I have been a member of this House I have been working very consistently to improve telephone communications in my part of the world. Many hundreds of new telephones have been installed in Western Australia. Of the total number of deferred applications for telephones in Western Australia, 50% were lodged by people in my electorate. Perhaps it could be said that I have an eight to one right to speak on this matter this evening.
A tremendous amount of development is proceeding in Western Australia. For many years before coming to this Parliament I said that Western Australia had lost a lot of ground in respect of telephone installations, and our telecommunications systems are still far from up to date. In country areas of Western Australia there is a great lag in telephone installations, involving much hardship for many country people. Some existing services in country areas have not been improved for many years and in many cases deterioration has occurred. It is a tremendous problem to supply adequate telephone communications in a country as big as Australia, but we have to do everything we can to see that the present situation is improved.
I have said previously in this House that the main trunk cable across this nation should not necessarily be a charge against the Postal Department and I have good reason to make that statement. In a nation as big as Australia the necessity of bridging its great area with main cables or any other system of communication should not be a charge against the Postal Department. It should be a charge against the Government of the day.
– Has the honourable member put that proposition to the Government?
– If the honourable member likes to check Hansard he will see that I have raised this matter previously. This tremendous charge on the Postal Department eventually is made against telephone users, but not only the telephone users in Australia today get the benefits from the communications system. Benefits accrue to the entire nation. This Bill deals with the postal and telegraphic charges and not with telephones.
– Then do not talk about them.
– The Minister referred to telephones in his second reading speech and I hope that I will not be ruled out of order for referring to them. Because of the size of this nation I believe that the government of the day should bear the costs of the establishment of a communications system. At the moment a microwave system of communications is being installed between Adelaide and Perth and will link Western Australia with the Eastern States. I think the microwave link will extend from Cairns to Port Hedland. Its installation is a tremendous cost to the Postal Department. I am submitting that, because of the length this will be a costly line. As its construction is necessary to serve not only the people in the area but also apart from anything else, defence purposes, it does not necessarily mean that the members of the public who use it should bear the full cost. I thoroughly endorse the construction of the line, for I agree that it is a necessary part of the skeletal backbone of the communications of this country, and until it is constructed we shall be unable to surmount our present problems. We must have it, but I cannot agree that the expense should be a charge against the telephone users.
J have worked out the percentages by which the rates mentioned by the PostmasterGeneral have been increased, and I cannot agree that we can justify the increase in some cases of up to 33% - indeed, to 50% in one instance. I cannot agree that we are justified in lifting these charges as high as that. If at least a percentage of the burden were placed on the nation - and the whole nation is gaining a benefit - we would not be faced with this particular situation. The Postmaster-General referred to the change that is taking place; in his second reading speech he spoke of the requirements of capital. I think he agrees with me that that is what he said. Previously the Treasurer has found it necessary for the capital of the Postmaster-General’s Department to be repaid with interest, with provision for sinking fund and so on. As a result of the increased charges $30m will be gained by the postal section; the Minister said that this would result in its being able to break even over a number of years. However, the increase of $37m which will be raised in respect of the other activities of the Department, makes it obvious, in view of the figures I have mentioned, that some of this money will be used for capital purposes.
My point is that, if this suggestion were taken up and the Commonwealth Government as the Government of the nation supplied some of this capital for these main routes, these charges would not be increased by anything like 20%, 25%, 33% and 50%, because the Postmaster-General would not be asked to find the tremendous amount of capital necessary for the construction of these main links between the various States of this great country. It is the responsibility of any nation to provide the things needed to make the nation tick, and it will be found that these things are used by the whole community. If one examines the items that are necessary to make a nation tick one sees that they are coupled quite often with transport and communications, whether through a wire or a pipeline, by road, rail, ship or ports. These are all transport requirements, without which a nation cannot function. For instance, the standard gauge railway that we are developing by degrees across Australia and our air services and transport services are necessary for the functioning of the nation. We must have communications through the telephone system, which is a benefit to every person in the country - not only to the people who use the telephone system. Although each individual does not use the telephone system, he must receive a benefit from it. Research is carried out not only by the Postal Department, for we spend millions on research in certain fields. From papers I have been reading recently I have learned that the telecommunications section of the Postmaster-General’s Department is carrying out certain research. This is good, and I feel that we must do this if we are to reduce these costs - and we must reduce them. I would be very disappointed in our ability as a nation if we could not reduce costs when we get these main links coupled across Australia. The volume of traffic should enable us to reduce our charges. This is exactly what should happen if the connections are large enough.
Of course, as I have mentioned - and I shall return to the more individual cases - we have many problems within this nation concerning telephones. Nobody is more aware of this fact than is the PostmasterGeneral himself. I think I heard a colleague say earlier this evening that people would be willing to pay more if they were provided with a better service. I think that one has to be associated with this situation in some of the country areas in order to realise just what the service costs in some particular areas. We are trying to develop vast areas of country in which there are no communications whatsoever. Vast quantities of plant, which is worth tens of thousands of pounds, are operating in these areas. If it breaks down, people might have to travel thirty, forty or fifty miles to the nearest telephone. This is not good economics. In fact, it is bad economics.
The cost of extending a telephone service to these areas is a very considerable one. Of course the Postmaster-General’s Department has various systems under which it extends a telephone service, but when we come to the very remote areas and to the not too remote areas also, if an exchange is required and if the money available to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has been expended before all the links are made, then it is up to the individual subscribers in those areas to build their own lines. Could anyone imagine anybody in Melbourne or Sydney forking out of his own pocket from $300, $400, $500, S600 up to $1,000 in order to build a telephone line which could be connected to the Department’s line? An honourable member interjects and says that the cost could be much higher. I know that. But the costs which I have given are quite common for the building of a telephone line. This is a tremendous expense to the people in the country. People in the city do not know about it. I appreciate the circumstances which bring this position about. lt is often said that rentals are lower in the country than they are in the city. This is true. But how many subscribers can a person dial in the city? Simply for a unit charge a person can talk for a week if he wants to. But in country areas with small exchanges the number of people whom a person can dial and contact is very minute when compared to the number that a person can dial in the cities. It is only fair that the rentals should be lower in the country than in the cities. Perhaps if we would like to work out the economics we would find that the rentals in the country should bc even less than they are. One has to consider the amount it costs these people to put a telephone call through. Because of the extended local services area system, in many country areas in Australia an individea, has to make a trunk call in order to rim- Ivs main centre. In other words it costs him, perhaps, 40c for the call. He does not get through for the cost of a unit call. This is part of the ELSA system. lt is something that we have accepted. But the fact remains that in many cases although a person has built many miles of line himself, he still has to make a trunk call in order to ring his major centre. This is a tremendous cost. This is why I say tonight that not only for this reason but for many other reasons I am not prepared to accept the 50% or 33i% rise in these particular charges.
These factors are important to people in the country. All the time we are striving to reduce costs so that we can compete on the world markets in order to keep this country going. If we do not do this, what happens? Approximately 80% of the produce that is exported from this country comes from the primary industries. Should not we consider this fact when we consider this question of telephone charges? Reduction of costs is a national project, not a project solely for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. We must endeavour to reduce the costs to country people. The tremendous cost of linking the States and centres such as Cairns and Port Hedland, where tremendous development is taking place, is a matter for the nation and not just for the Postmaster-General’s Department. The nation itself should help in this tremendous programme and thus help to keep down the costs of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. If we do not keep these costs down we will set a pattern for other costs to rise and this is something we should not do. This is a reasonable request for the Government to accede to, having regard to its desire to obtain greater export earnings and increase production.
How can we increase production and sell more of our goods overseas if we set a pattern, as we do in these charges, of increasing costs by up to 50%? As I mentioned earlier, the wheat industry has spent millions of dollars in endeavouring to reduce its costs while seeking greater production. The wool industry is at present in trouble because of the returns from its sales overseas. All these things are of great importance to the nation. Telephone services in country areas must be improved greatly in the next few years. With the increased revenue derived from these new charges what will the Post Office do to increase the number of automatic exchanges and the number of lines in country areas in order to get rid of the bottlenecks which now exist? Only a few days ago [ had a letter from a shire council in the country stating that it was quicker to drive a distance of 30 miles to contact a party than it was to use the telephone for the purpose. When may we expect an increase in service proportionate to the proposed increase in charges?
In my opinion the Government should reconsider the proposed new charges. They are far too high for many people to pay, especially people in areas where the service is anything but 100%. I am sure that it will be some considerable time before anything can be done to improve the service. I would like the Postmaster-General to tell me whether he will be able, when he has his extra funds, to obtain the skilled manpower required to make the best use of the funds, because, as we all know, in Australia today skilled manpower is a scarce commodity. The improvement of services does not always depend on the availability of money, cable or machinery; it depends more on the availability of skilled technicians to install the complicated machinery. I would like the PostmasterGeneral, if he replies to the debate, to give me his views on the availability of technicians to carry out the work which he has in mind.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, like some of the honourable members who interjected while the honourable member for Canning (Mr. Hallett) was addressing the House, I am wondering what he will do when the division bells ring later in the morning. I shall be very interested to learn how he and his colleagues in the Australian Country Party intend to vote on this measure. The people most affected by it will be their constituents, who will have to pay substantially increased charges for trunk line telephone calls. It will be interesting to see whether members of the Country Party are just bags of wind and whether all they can do is talk without doing anything effectively. I believe that the forthcoming division will disclose that this is just what they are.
I, like other members of the Opposition in this place, and, I believe, in another place, will vote against the Bill. We consider that the proposed increases, which are exceptionally heavy, are unnecessary. They are directed against people who can ill afford to pay them. We view these proposals, in effect, as a little Budget and the forerunner of something worse to come when the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) presents his next Budget in this place some time in August. The Government is trying to spread the load so that the full impact on the economy will not be felt all at once. This is the reason why the Government is now adopting measures that will withdraw about $67m from the economy in a full financial vear. We can take it as read that in about another three months the Treasurer will present a Budget that will provide for a substantial surplus, though I do not know what the magnitude of that surplus will be. In this way the Government, at the present stage of the life of this Parliament, is embarking on a credit squeeze the dimensions of which can be known only to the Government itself.
At question time today I asked the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) a question about wages. Addressing the annual convention of the Industrial Relations Society of New South Wales at a palatial hotel at Terrigal, on the New South Wales central coast, recently he spoke of the bad effect on the economy that a wage increase would have. He said he would not influence the findings of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, but he emphasised that it would be very bad for the economy to impose on it the burden of an increase in the basic wage. He said nothing about the action of the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) in loading the economy with the additional burden of the higher charges now being provided for, which will withdraw from the economy an additional $67m in a full financial year. These are things for which the Government has to answer. When the Postmaster-General delivered his second reading speech in this chamber last Thursday he did not give any figures that indicated to me or to anybody else any reasons why postal, telegram and telephone charges should be increased as ruthlessly as he proposes - or perhaps I should say hopes’, because we on this side of the House are confident that the Government will not be able to get this measure through another place. I assume that the report appearing in the Sydney newspapers this evening is correct. They state that if the Government cannot get this measure through by fair dinkum methods it will introduce the increased charges through the back door by imposing them by regulation. This will mean that the Parliament will be unable to do anything about them until some time in December. Evidently the Government proposes to get around the will of the Parliament by sneaking these increased charges in through the back door. It should be strongly condemned for this.
Postal charges have always been a contentious subject. For too long we have listened in this place to much talk about what this Government has done in the field of social services and what the Australian Labor Party did when it was in office. It may be of interest to honourable members
If I recite a few figures relating to the postal charges that were imposed when the Labor Government was in office. From 1941 to 1949 postage rates were increased by the Curtin and Chifley Governments only once. The basic rate was raised from 2d to 2id an ounce. The increases made by the present Government will now total 3 id an ounce. When it took office in 1949 the basic rate was 2 id an ounce. Now it will be Se, which is 6d in the old currency. So we can see that in the few years this Government has been in office it has more than doubled the cost of postage. If the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) were here now I would have been pleased to relate these facts to him, but at least he may read them in Hansard at some time or other.
I find great difficulty - I am certain that the Minister must have had similar difficulty - in justifying the increases contained in this little budget. If one examines the profit and loss accounts of the two sections of the Postmaster-General’s Department, namely the postal and telecommunications sections, one finds that in the last ten years the postal section has shown a deficit of $16,919,000. The figures I am giving were supplied to me by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Statistical Service. In the telecommunications section there was a surplus of $47,688,000. Yet the Minister has seen fit to increase postal charges to net $37m and to increase telephone charges to net approximately $30m. I ask: What is the real justification for this increase? Is there any real justification for it? Or, as we have said, is the increase only another form of taxation introduced by the Government in the same way in which, in its last Budget, it used an increase in petrol tax as another form of tax?
When he was the Treasurer, the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) indicated in reply to a question that the Government was just as much entitled to impose a petrol tax as it was to impose income tax or company tax to raise revenue. So it is obvious that the Postmaster-General is using postal, telegram and telephone charges as a means of raising taxation. This forms part and parcel of the Government’s little budget. The Government, and the Postmaster-General in particular, have got into this financial trouble as a result of their own mismanage ment. We all remember that six or seven years ago a committee, including representatives of the Treasury and the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, was appointed to inquire into the finances of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. The Treasury representatives brought down a majority report and the Postmaster-General’s representatives brought down a minority report. Obviously the Government adopted the majority report, and the result has been that in the last seven years the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has paid to the Treasury $323,198,727 in interest on money advanced to it. In 1959-60 the total paid was $30,694,000; in 1960-61. $35,290,000; in 1961-62, $40,171,000; in 1962-63, $45,397,000; in 1963-64, $50,455,000; in 1964-65, $56,789,000; and in 1965-66, $64,401,000. So a mammoth total of approximately $323m was paid in interest in seven years. That is where the Department’s money is going today. This is the real reason why the Postmaster-General’s Department is in as much trouble as it is in today. This is why the Government is asking the Parliament to approve these ruthless increases in postal, telegraph and telephone charges.
If the Postmaster-General’s Department wants to run as a business undertaking it has to look at the whole question of finance, including charges and the compensation that it is receiving for handling the social services, electoral and national service training business that it handles. There are many fields in which the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is the agent for the Commonwealth Government, ls it being adequately compensated for all the work it is doing? If it is not, why is not a financial committee appointed to investigate this matter and to determine what the true return to the Department should be? If the Government wants to run the Department as a business undertaking let it run it all the way as a business undertaking and make sure that it levies charges on all the other departments for the work that it does for them as their agent. If that were done the Government could claim that the Department should pay interest on money that was advanced to it.
I believe that the Postmaster-General’s Department and public transport services - trains, trams, buses - should operate as a service to the people. At some time or other it may be necessary for grants to be made out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to keep such services in a state of solvency. These are some of the matters that have to be looked at by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, the Treasury and the Government as a whole.
In the time available to me I want to consider a few of the points that the PostmasterGeneral brought forward when he made his second reading speech last Thursday night. At one stage he said:
A substantial concession is being retained for registered Australian publications. At (Ite present time the cost of handling the average newspaper or periodical posted in bulk is 7c, and the average revenue derived is about 1.75c. The aver;,pe subsidy is more than 5c for each individually addressed newspaper and periodical. This subsidy will bc reduced by less than 15% under the proposed rates.
What is the real reason for subsidising the carriage of newspapers to that extent? Is it an advantage to the Postmaster-General’s Department to carry this type of mail? We know that it is economic for electricity reticulating authorities to have an off peak ra e to encourage industry and private individuals to use electricity at off peak times, such as in the middle of the night, when power is being generated and not being used. In those circumstances it is all right to sell that commodity at cost. 1 should like the Minister, in his reply, to give me the necessary information on whether it is of any advantage to the Department to carry newspapers at such a low rate and obviously at a loss.
The Postmaster-General went on to to point, out that other countries, such as the United States and Canada, provide a similar subsidy and, like Australia, lose many millions of dollars on the carriage of this type of mail - second or third class mail - at such a low rate. Great Britain and New Zealand do not give this type of concession. The Postmaster-General quoted the following case - I use his words to emphasise the point:
A British publisher distributing 1,000 separately addressed papers, each weighing 1 oz., would pay postage equivalent to $31.25. At the bulk rate in Australia, a publisher would pay $3.33 for the same service at present, and $5 at the proposed rate.
He gave other examples. For instance, to a similar publisher in New Zealand the cost would be SA20.83 compared with the Australian charge of $3.33 at present and $5 at the proposed rate. I find it a little difficult to accept this state of affairs, particularly in relation to newspapers, when 1 read of the profits disclosed each year by the various major newspaper companies in Australia. Nol one daily newspaper company in Australia - whether it publishes a morning newspaper or an evening newspaper - is not making at least 20% profit on its capital investment. Some of them have been making profits as high as 36%, 38% and in the 40% bracket. What right have the people of Australia to subsidise the delivery of the newspapers of companies which can make such exorbitant profits? Tonight wc are here debating whether we will increase postage rates as a whole, yet we are prepared to grant that type of subsidy to these newspaper companies.
The newspaper companies also get similar kinds of concessions in respect of charges for telephones and telegrams. These are matters that should be carefully looked at by the Government. 1 would like the Minister to tell us just how much his Department has lost in respect of bulk rate postage, particularly in view of the disclosures by the Ad Hoc Committee of Inquiry into the Commercial Accounts of the Post Office. In its report published in October 1961 that Committee said that between 1901 and 1958-59 the Postmaster-General’s Department had lost £56,799,000 in bulk rate postage concessions. In the last year for which figures were available. 1958-59, the loss amounted to £2.730,000. I think the Minister should tell us just what is taking place in respect of this item. Just how much is the Postmaster-General’s Department losing and how much will it lose in the next twelve months and the years to come?
I think some account must be taken of the accumulated profits of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. One might gain the impression that the Department was operating at a loss, that its accounts were in the red, but figures available in the Financial and Statistical Bulletin for 1966 clearly disclose that accumulated profits at 30th June 1966 amounted to S58.822.0I0. What is wrong with using up some of this surplus? These are matters on which I would like some clear declaration from the Minister.
Let me now deal with telephone charges. Similar considerations apply here as apply to postal charges. The Department has been going along quite well. The telecommunications section of the Postmaster-General’s Department - and I emphasise this point - has shown in the last ten years an accumulated profit of $47,688,000. In 1965-66 there was a profit of $10,217,000 and in 1964-65 the surplus amounted to $6,830,000. Yet the Minister comes here and asks us to approve an increase in telephone charges which will return the Government an additional $30m in the next full financial year. Why? What is the real reason for it? This is a question which I would like the Minister to answer when he replies later in this debate, because it seems to me that there is no justification for these increases.
If the Government feels that there will be an increase in the cost of administering the telecommunications section, it should at least eat up some of the accumulated profits first. Use up some of the $47m that is lying idle instead of loading the economy with an additional burden of $30m in costs. The Government is all the time complaining about increases in costs. It has arranged for a legal representative to appear before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to present a case in support of the proposition that the Commission should not grant any increase in basic wage or margins. The Government does everything in its power to keep the wages of postal employees down to the absolute minimum. When it installed its mixmaster at the Redfern mail sorting depot it brought in women for mail sorting work for the first time, but did it observe the principle of equal pay for equal work? Of course not; it engaged those women at the lowest possible rate. The point is this: The Government has nothing to be proud of regarding the payment of wages to its employees. It has nothing to be proud of regarding its handling of the economy of Australia. These proposed charges will contribute something towards the inflationary spiral that it is obvious is taking place at the present moment.
Let me turn to the question of the proposed increased charges for telephone services. I have taken out a few figures to show what these increases represent. I, like some other members of this House - particularly members of the Labor Party - am con cerned with the effect on country areas of these serious increases in the price of trunk line calls. Once again, I will be interested to find out what our friends from the Country Party will do on this subject. Will they line up with the Labor Party and oppose the legislation? Will they vote with the Labor Party and reject the increase in trunk line charges?
– I bet a £1 to a peanut that they do not.
– I would not be in that bet under any circumstances. These Country Party members will vote with members of the Liberal Party to increase trunk line calls. This increase will affect people in their electorates more than it will affect people in the electorates of any other members of this Parliament. So, it will be interesting to see what members of the Country Party will do concerning the proposed increases in charges for trunk line calls.
There are several aspects of these increases at which one can look, compare with other charges, and wonder. These are just a few that concern my own electorate. The distance from Sydney to Gosford is about 50 miles. Newcastle and Gosford are about 50 miles apart also. A Sydney subscriber can phone a Gosford subscriber or a Gosford subscriber can phone a Sydney subscriber for 1 5c. If a Newcastle subscriber wishes to make a phone call to Gosford or a Gosford subscriber wishes to make a phone call to Newcastle the cost of the call is 20c. Why? Why is there a difference of 5c in the charges for calls between these towns which are the same distance apart?
– Is it a different 50 miles?
– There is no difference in the distances of 50 miles. This is another matter about which I would like some explanation. Why should there be a difference of 5c in the cost of calls between Newcastle and Gosford and the cost of calls between Gosford and Sydney? The same distance is involved in both instances.
I turn to the question of decentralisation. This is one of the subjects that our friends from the Country Party have bandied around and talked about. Members of the Country Party have talked about decentralisation ever since the Country Party was established but they have done nothing about it. This is an opportunity for honourable members from the Country Party to do something to assist their electorates. Why do they not press for the introduction of a scheme concerning trunk line calls similar to the scheme introduced for the equalisation of petrol prices? The Country Paty is a part of the Government. The Deputy Prime Minister who is leader of the Country Party and Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) is supposed to be a powerful man in Government affairs. The Country Party is supposed to be a partner in the Government. But what are the members of the Country Party going to do about the suggestion that I have just put forward?
Will Country Party members press for the introduction of some sort of scheme to provide equalisation in charges for trunk line calls similar to the equalisation regarding petrol prices? They did nothing about equalisation of petrol prices until the Labor Party put the scheme forward in its policy. Then the Government parties took up the idea. Members of the Country Party can laugh. They can caw like the old crows that they represent. But the truth is that nothing was done about this scheme until the Labor Party put it forward as a part of its policy. So, I challenge members of the Country Party to vote against the proposed increase in trunk line calls and to support the introduction of a system of equalisation of charges for trunk line calls similar to the scheme to equalise petrol prices. The scheme to equalise petrol prices is costing between $14m and $18m per year. I do not know what it would cost to introduce a scheme to equalise trunk line charges but at least it is worthwhile having a look at the matter if members of the Country Party really want to bring about decentralisation.
With the National Development Committee of the Australian Labor Party I have travelled through country centres and spoken to people about this question. Every person who has tried to run an industry of some type in the country has always made the same statement. It is this: ‘Every time I pick the phone up it costs me a dollar.’ That is the minimum amount that is costs these people because I would say that when they have to make trunk line calls those calls are to Sydney or one of the other capital cities. This is one of the substantial costs that they have to carry. Therefore, the Government has the opportunity to do something about it. Some people now get three minutes, allegedly, for 4c. We can talk for an hour or two hours or three hours if we want to, but the country fellow on a trunk line call has three minutes and then he either puts in again or discontinues his discussion.
There is nothing fair or equitable about the general principle of this thing. Why should a person in Newcastle telephoning Sydney, a distance of less than a hundred miles, have to pay 50c when a person can ring Perth from Sydney, a distance of some 2,000 miles, for $1.80? There is nothing fair and equitable about that. These are some of the things that will have to be looked at by the Government and by the Country Party. Something must be done about the position. If members of the Government Parties really support decentralisation, an alleviation in this respect would be one of the positive things they could introduce to assist in the development of country industries. I am not saying that this concession should be given to everyone, but I think some system should be introduced in this regard.
A couple of years ago I questioned the Postmaster-General in relation to a comparison between telephone charges in Australia and those in New Zealand and he pooh-poohed the idea of a comparison and said that it was a different set-up over there. However, we find that in some instances New Zealand’s postal charges are higher than ours, whereas telephone charges are higher here than they are in New Zealand. What is wrong with having a real look at this question and determining how a better and fairer system can be introduced whereby everyone carries the load?
If the Government is fair dinkum and if it realty believes in decentralisation of industry, it should make a grant out of general revenue to the Postmaster-General’s Department as it is doing in respect of the equalisation of petrol prices. That load is not being carried by any one consumer. The metropolitan users of petrol are not being asked to carry the full cost of the equalisation scheme, and indeed there has not been an increase in city prices of petrol because of the equalisation. The amount of S14m to S18m per annum to which I referred is being found out of revenue, and the same could be done with regard to telephone trunk line charges. The Government could reduce those charges and institute a fairer and more equitable system of charging than exists at present. In this way it would be doing something for those people who need assistance.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I oppose the legislation to increase these charges because I consider them unfair. The charges are exorbitant, and there is no justification for them. The Government is now introducing a new system of finance. Just as it used the petrol tax as a means of raising revenue it is now using postal, telegram and telephone charges to raise revenue in an unfair and harsh manner.
– The honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) is right in one particular: the Country Party did achieve success in bringing about uniform prices for petrol. However, he was wrong in several other respects. He tried to equate telephone charges and postal charges in New Zealand with those in Australia; but I know that most of New Zealand would fit into my own electorate, so the comparison is just impossible. No country in the world other than Canada and the United States of America offers conditions comparable with those in Australia, so any comparison the honourable member draws in that respect is quite wide of the mark.
The honourable member also indicated that members of this chamber would be voting on the proposed telephone charges. That is not true, for that provision is not in the Bill. The honourable member has not read the Bill, and again is very wide of the mark. As a third example of his misstatements and wild statements, he said that the Postmaster-General’s Department could be accused of mismanagement. From my experience of the Postmaster-General’s Department dating back quite a few years to the time before I entered this place - it is the most efficient organisation of a large size in Australia. It is a magnificent organisation by world standards. In terms of integrity and “ efficiency it compares more than favourably with any postal or telephone service in any country. It is something of which all Australians can be proud indeed. If anyone should have doubts about this statement - I agree that it is a sweeping statement - I suggest that he make a few inquiries about conditions and charges in the United States of America, Canada and other places.
The proposed postal charges in the Bill are regrettable. We all regret any increase in costs, from whichever quarter it comes, but this is a feature of the world in which we live. In a labour intensive industry such as the postal service we must expect from time to time to have increases in charges, just as we have come to expect increases in wages. The peculiar feature of increases in postal charges is that they cannot be made with the frequency with which wage increases can be made, so they go up in rather large steps at longish intervals and they are, consequently, rather a shock when they do come. But come they must, so long as we live in a world in which costs keep on increasing gradually through the years and wages keep going up. I am quite sure that most people have already accepted the increased postal charges as being a necessary, if not desirable, step in order to finance the operations of the postal service.
This is not quite the situation with the telecommunication services because there the increased costs are not so directly related to wage increases. There the capital costs are a far more significant factor than wage costs. But, as I believe the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) pointed out in his second reading speech, the Post Office has great plans for future development in this branch. For example, the Post Office plans to decrease manual exchanges by half in the next six years. It proposes an increase in the next six years of 100% in the number of subscribers to country automatic exchanges. Trunk line channels are to increase by 50% in the next three years. The number of country subscriber telephone trunk dialling services will increase by more than three times in the next three years. The number of telephone services will increase by 750,000 within six years. The Department has stated its objective to achieve 66% of all trunk traffic on subscriber trunk dialling by 1957. The figure is now 15%, so that is a very substantial programme to meet. It will require a great deal of modern equipment and new equipment which must be financed. If we want this programme to be completed we must be prepared to help the Post Office to finance it. This is where we from the country areas find ourselves in a dilemma. We are confronted by two conflicting interests. On the one hand we want decentralisation and lower costs, and on the other hand we want to see an acceleration of the present rate o. progress of the Department’s plans to give us improved services. We urgently need the replacement of party lines with direct individual lines. We urgently need more country automatic exchanges. We want subscriber trunk dialling services throughout the country and we want continuous telephone services in country areas. These matters constantly press upon us in the country and we are determined to do everything in our power to help the Department to accelerate its rate of progress wilh its plans to give us the kind of service we need.
Which is the best way to reconcile these conflicting interests? I a.ree that we in the country should pay a proportion of the charges that are necessary to provide the money for these developments. I think this is preferable to an overall increase in taxation for this purpose. But at the same time I do not agree with the scale of charges tentatively put forward by the PostmasterGeneral. As the honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett) said, these charges really consist of four separate scales, which contain a number of anomalies. Some rates have been increased by 50% and others by 20% or less. We should re-examine the scales and bring them to some degree of uniformity so that we will not have the inequities that will exist if these scales apply generally throughout the country. It should also be the Department’s long term objective to obtain a uniform rate for all trunk line calls throughout Australia. We should work towards this objective. It may be remote, but we should attempt to trim off the charges at the bottom and at the top of the scale to achieve a uniform figure that can apply throughout Australia. 1 strongly prefer to see a different scale of charges for trunk line telephone services from the one that has been put before us by the Minister.
As I said earlier, we are living in an age when costs are increasing not only because of the peculiar way we manage our economies in this modern age but also because Australia is a vast, rapidly developing country which is very difficult to service with modern communications. We want the best. We want the most modern of equipment. For these reasons we can expect a constantly rising bill from the Post Office on the postal side and particularly on the telecommunications side. It is necessary in these circumstances for the Department to continue to operate as it has done in the past by ensuring, first, that it achieves the maximum degree of efficiency in its operations in order that our money goes as far as it possibly cun; secondly, that these costs are apportioned as fairly and equitably as possible; and thirdly, that they are apportioned in the best long term interests of Australia. I am in favour of the subscriber who uses trunk line services bearing a proportion of the increased cost of the telephone services because I think that this is preferable to an increase in taxation or a flat rate increase in rental charges. It gives the subscriber an opportunity to make savings.
Savings can be made. Country industries have been referred to tonight. I know of one that uses the Telex system extensively. It puts through fifteen minutes of messages in the morning and gets back fifteen minutes of messages at night. Its entire business over telecommunications is done in those two fifteen-minute spots and it has achieved very substantial economies. These things can be done by other industries in the country. Similarly, people can take advantage of the night rate if they find it convenient, in order to make a saving, or they can abstain from ringing at all in order to make a saving, whereas if the method used to increase the revenue were increases in taxation or rental charges these people would be obliged to pay whether they cut down their use of the services or not. An increase in the tariff, provided it is in a moderate degree, is the fairest way of apportioning the increases that are necessary at the present time. I fervently hope to see the plans that have been outlined by the Post Office implemented as rapidly as possible. I am confident that as they are implemented the efficiency of the service provided by the Post Office will come to be more widely recognised and acknowledged by Australians everywhere.
– I do not think that anyone in this House would suggest seriously that any government or any minister would honestly want to raise the costs of services, particularly of essential services provided for the people of this nation. I can assure you, Mr Acting Speaker, as one who lives in and represents an area where costs of most things seem to be prohibitive - whether they be ordinary daily consumption items, whether they be essential services or whether they be fares or transport - that we pay the penalty for living in these areas. Hence I feel, as most of my people feel, at first glance, that these foreshadowed rises in postal and telephone charges are quite unacceptable. However most of us, if we are reasonable, will appreciate that rising costs have to be absorbed. What interests me is the manner in which they will be absorbed. Will the increases be applied in such a manner as to affect all parts of the community equally? Or will they be applied as a further infliction on those who live in the frontier areas of this great nation of ours?
The public will accept these charges provided that they are applied equally in all parts of Australia and provided they result in services commensurate with the fees. 1 do not think that anyone living in the inland and the more isolated areas of Australia - whether they be inland or otherwise - who uses a telephone extensively would put in a call to another subscribed within the 400 mile limit. Hence we must regard these charges more precisely as being the maximum charges which inland people and those living in remote areas will have to meet. It is on this basis that I view the proposed increase.
Fundamentally tied to this matter are other considerations. The people in isolated areas represent what might be called a strategic population. By that I mean that people who live in the inland and northern areas of Australia do so because they are serving one of the great primary industries and, in rare cases - far too rare - some of the secondary industries which are associated with primary industries. Almost all the people who live in the isolated and farflung parts of Australia are doing a job which is important to Australia. They should not be penalised by having to meet higher costs for essential things like telephone and telegraph services. They should not have to meet costs which are not commensurate with those applied in the more populated areas. Let us face up to the fact that some of the existing facilities in the inland areas are pretty archaic. On the other hand, over the last seventeen years there have been additions and installations which far exceed anything done before that period. Before then the inland areas were forgotten. I will speak on this subject in the House at some time in the future.
I will mention a few specific places where these archaic installations still exist. In central Queensland there is a small but interesting area called Rubyvale. It is interesting because it has become a tourist centre, one which would probably compare with the great Northern Territory and all that it has to offer - including the new member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder). Rubyvale is becoming popular because amateur mining experts are pouring in to look for rubies, opals and other gem stones. The telephone communications there consist of a wire strung from tree to tree. In the near future it will be my duty to place before the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) a case for the installation of far more modern telephone equipment for that area.
I shall mention another instance to show honourable members how people living in strategic areas can be penalised to the advantage of the many thousands, and in some cases millions, who are clustered around the more favoured areas of Australia. On the fringe of the brigalow country there is a place called Orion. Until some days ago there was a telephone exchange there which dealt with twenty-five subscribers. Now the exchange has closed. There are six subscribers on one party line, six on another, and the other thirteen are no longer connected. Those thirteen subscribers have telephones but they cannot be used. Honourable members will realise that if country people are to pay these increased charges they want to see a lift in the general, casual attitude which many of the departmental officers adopt to the question of providing efficient telephone services in isolated areas. On the other hand, we have seen some tremendous advances. Here I would like to pay tribute to the frontier postal employees, particularly the linesmen who live out in the wilderness there and who maintain the service to such places as the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Barklay Tableland and the Northern Territory. These men lead a very isolated life and do a tremendous job. I do think it will not be very long before we see electronic and other advances which will raise the whole standard of our communications in those areas.
Associated with this foreshadowed rise in charges is the question of television. If the Postal Department is now going to balance its budget far more efficiently, I assume that funds will be more readily available for the extension, at long last, into the inland areas of the State of this amenity which is purely taken for granted in places where the people have everything else. I think I said before that in the metropolitan areas one can sit on the beaches and readily enjoy the scenery. In addition, one can go home at any time one likes, switch on one’s television set and have the choice of viewing one of three or four channels. This is something we do not have in the inland. It is something we are striving for and it is something we hope to get very much closer to when the Department is able to balance its budget far more efficiently
Associated with this is the fundamental tragedy, if I may use that word, that is occurring in the inland areas of the State - the drift to the coast. Telephone and telegraphic charges are tied up minutely and intimately with the general penalties of living in these inland areas. I do feel that when the final rate is decided matters such as this should be taken into consideration. There has been much discussion about these proposed rises, and there has been the immediate assumption that they are going to be applied to the detriment of the people. But I think that in all fairness it must be readily acknowledged that costs are rising everywhere. We have heard this said time and again in the House today. The final comment I would like to make is this: We will accept the proposition that these rising costs have to be absorbed, but in no circumstances will we accept the proposition that they should be absorbed to the detriment of the people who are living in the inland and isolated areas of the State.
I rise to say two things: Firstly, I oppose these increases for the reasons that I believe have been adequately put before the House by those members of my party who have spoken already tonight. Secondly, 1 oppose this method of legislation by exhaustion. I come to this Parliament to represent the people of my electorate whom I hope are now safely home and asleep in their beds. I do not believe they expect me to be up at twenty minutes past two in the morning discussing this legislation, and by way of protest I resume my seat.
– I see two lines of consideration in connection with this Bill. Firstly, I want to refer to the method by which it has been placed before the House. The second line relates to the Bill proper and the foreshadowed administrative and regulatory arrangements. I find, reluctantly, that I must support the Bill, and I will explain my reason towards the end of my remarks. I very much regret the circumstances in which the Bill has come before the House. It was introduced at short notice for honourable members and for some Ministers last Thursday at 8.54 p.m. Some honourable members were unable to be present at such short notice. Now, two sitting days later, at this hour of the morning, after a running supper, we are called on to pass the Bill through all stages. The Whips have said that we will remain here until we do so. It appears that we are working on the assumption that the endorsement of the Bill is a mere formality. Honourable members, in this instance, have not been treated as fairly as they should expect to be treated. I note that of the first eleven speakers in the debate today only one Country Party member was called to his feet. I note also that of the last six speakers five have been Country Party members.
The Bill has two purposes. The honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) has probably examined the Bill since he spoke and he now knows that it relates to postal rates, as shown in the First Schedule, and to the rates for ordinary telegrams, as shown in Part I of the Second
Schedule. In his second reading speech the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) said:
Simultaneously some other postal and telecommunication tariffs not included in the Act are being altered and I shall take the opportunity to explain these also.
The position is that we are not voting on the telephone charges at all, or so I am led to believe. They have been mentioned in the Minister’s second reading speech, so we can comment on them. The PostmasterGeneral also said: 1 have said before in this House that the role of the Post Office is one of a national business which should pay its way, although I am not unmindful of its obligations to the community as a whole, especially in the outback and developing areas. 1 ask honourable members to mark those words. I do not claim to represent an outback area, but I do claim to represent a developing area. The Minister said that the role of the Post Office is one of a national business which should pay its way, but 1 ay that its role is that of service to the community; service as an aid to the development of inland resources; service as an aid to the building up of production and particularly of export income; service as an aid to economic growth throughout Australia; and particularly service as an aid to the decentralisation of industry and population. All telephone subscribers should be on an equal footing. Telephones are an instrument of expansion in the community. I know that it has been the policy of the PostmasterGeneral and of his predecessor to run telephone services at a profit. They and the employees of the organisation are to be commended for trying to do everything possible to run the instrumentality at a profit. However I do not think that this can always be done.
Let me refer here to the question of costs without dwelling on it for very long. One can pick up any newspaper or any one of the various manufacturing and farming magazines and find, almost without exception, daily reference to this big problem of costs. The proposed new charges will also have an effect on costs. This is to be expected, up to a point. In the country areas particularly, the end user, whether he be a farmer, a businessman or a private citizen, will have to bear this cost.
Country manufacturers, irrespective of whether they are engaged in heavy or light industry and irrespective of the volume of work they put out, have a sales problem which is solved only by communication with their major markets which generally are in the metropolitan areas. Food processors and textile firms have their markets a long way from the point of manufacfacture. Let me refer particularly to the country meat operator. In New South Wales, and in other States, meat killing centres are being fairly well decentralised. This is a wonderful boost to country industry but it provides a problem for the operator whose meat is killed in country abattoirs. He has to contact his markets which usually are in the metropolitan areas, and in doing so he runs up terrific telephone bills. Such people are really outstanding customers of the Post Office. With the drought as a background and the meat works not operating to full capacity, the meat operators must bear a loaded cost, particularly in relation to telephones. I refer honourable members to the trunk line charges set out in Statement 6 annexed to the Minister’s second reading speech.
During debates on the Budget and on the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech, in fact whenever I have had an opportunity to do so, I have asked repeatedly that more money be made available to the Postmaster-General’s Department for capital works. I have been on that theme constantly. One of the biggest problems confronting me in my area, and no doubt confronting most honourable members, is the same problem as that confronting the Postmaster-General. Here let me pay a compliment to the men in the organisation. We members of Parliament and the local district telephone managers have an affinity probably because we are both trying to achieve the same end. I suppose most of us have dealt with them at one time or another. They have impressed me as dedicated men who are more pleased to provide a good service than to have to tell people that a service is not available.
I have raised this matter in debates on four consecutive Budgets and on numerous other occasions. Like the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Ian Allan) I have advocated the rationalisation of trunk line charges along the lines of the uniform price for petrol which now operates in Australia.
Such a system would be of terrific advantage to decentralisation. Although, as I have said, I have spoken on this subject many times I am raising it again now because I realise that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department needs a great inflow of capital. I have always said that everyone with a telephone service is entitled to two things - an independent service clear of party lines, and a continuous service.
All of these things cost money and we ask ourselves where the money is to come from. Does it come from revenue earned by the Department - that is one avenue which is being emphasised? Does it come from general revenue and from loan funds? Or does it come from a combination of both? In a young, growing country, as in a young, growing business or farm, especially a country of the dimensions of ours with vast distances and a wide dispersion of population, it is unreasonable to expect the whole of these charges to be met from revenue at this stage of our development. Though every effort must be made - it has in the past and I hope it will continue in the future - to run these services at a profit, we must be prepared to have a periodic infusion of finance for capital works from the other sources I have mentioned, taxation or loan funds, to make up for the short fall in income in the Department. This capital will become an investment that will produce income in the future as our population increases. I am taking a long range view but a more favourable picture is obtained from the ratio of subscribers on the one hand to route miles on the other.
When dealing with a bill relating to a large number of users of services provided by the Postmaster-General’s Department I feel it incumbent upon myself to ask what my constituents would want. Would they favour a continuation of the current rates and would they want the short fall in income to be made up out of taxation? I do not think they would. I believe they will tolerate the new rates, and that is why I shall vote for the Bill. They will accept the new rates coupled with the principle of a limited injection of funds in the future out of taxation. I am sure that my constituents would favour a system providing for the user to pay as he goes to a large extent, with a reduced call for an increase in taxation to meet any shortages. Rather reluctantly I support the Bill, but I make it quite clear that I shall reject the proposed telephone charges as set out in statement 6 while there is a difference between the charge imposed on subscribers who have automatic services and the less fortunate who have either a restricted service or a manually operated exchange. However, I support the Bill as it stands.
– I agree that almost everything has been said last night and this morning about these extra charges. However, I must put in a plea for the people of the far north who will expect better services following this vast increase in charges. Good communications are much more important to the Territory than to any other part of Australia. The people there must rely almost entirely upon telephones or outpost radios for maintaining communications. For the most part these people are paying maximum rates for the use of their telephones as many of their calls are to the south, 1,000 or 2,000 miles away. The calls are urgent for their purpose is to have vaccine or parts for motor cars that have broken down and the like air freighted or sent by air express. Also some people require to leave or to reach the area and hurry on. Tourists cannot be held up and perishables require urgent delivery. Therefore, letters cannot be sent at the ordinary mail rate - even at the higher cost. Rather the telephone must be used, with the result that people living in the outback areas must bear these high charges. Many stations are in the northern part of Western Australia, north Queensland, north western Queensland, the Territory and parts of north, south east and-
– South west Queensland?
– And the south west of Queensland, as my friend from Maranoa observes. In these areas oil rigs and other machinery are being operated and there are cattle stations, sheep stations and so on. All their messages go through the Royal Flying Doctor Service or the Overseas Telecommunications Commission to Darwin and before these new charges are paid, charges double those paid by people in other parts of Australia must be paid. To send a radio telegram in the north costs twice as much to start with as it does in the southern area. Many essential messages must be sent, such as advice of cattle movements, station orders, orders for spare parts and so on. They are sent through the Flying Doctor Service at Cloncurry, Broken Hill, Alice Springs, Port’ Hedland, Port Augusta, Wyndham and Darwin before they are handled by the Post Office. I do not have any axe to grind in respect of the Flying Doctor Service but I would like to say that it is doing a wonderful job in the north. The people who live furthest away from the big centres in Australia must pay double charge for communications in addition to the increased charges being dealt with in this legislation.
Most cattle stations receive their mail by air because it is the most economic service which can be operated regularly. Trucks, motor cars and such vehicles can operate for six months of the year but during the wet season aircraft must be used. When aircraft make deliveries to an oil rig, a mine, a mission or a station, a guaranteed landing fee is asked for. Before an aircraft will land an extra payment must be guaranteed. It ranges from $4 in some places to $10 and $16 in other places. Although a mail bag may contain only six letters, stations in parts of Queensland must guarantee a landing fee of $16 before it is delivered. That is quite a charge to pay. Many stations have now said that they do not want to guarantee those amounts. The movement against the guarantees is strong in the back country and has the support of the Pastoral Association and the Australian Wool Growers and Graziers Council.
What is the answer? These places are entitled to a mail service as much as anyone else. Probably they would be satisfied with a delivery once a week. I refer, for example, to producing centres on the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and the Gulf of Carpentaria, or at Mereenie and in the Simpson Desert To illustrate this point, I have just received an urgent telegram from people in the Simpson Desert. Even though nothing but mail may be delivered, these places have to pay extra landing fees.
Mine and station managers have to drive distances from 100 to 200 miles to an aerodrome or railway line to pick up their mail. Very often such a journey is not practicable. The Post Office should underwrite the costs of mail services to outback places and change the present situation. The Department of Civil Aviation has to find the money for the air service and the people in the outback in turn are asked to pay landing fees to the-Department. If increased charges are to be imposed they should be accompanied by improved services; these must go hand in hand. Most honourable members who have spoken - certainly the honourable member for Lawson (Mr Failes) - mentioned that these increased charges will be borne also by the people in the outback, where they have no television or theatre; the hotels are 100 miles apart; and their neighbours might be 80, 90 or 100 miles away. I might mention that my nearest neighbour was 50 miles away. Surely these people are entitled to improved, top-line postal services. They are entitled to them and the Post Office should see that they get them. As the people in the northern areas of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have no television services, I hope that, with these greatly increased charges, they will be in line for some of the amenities that are now being enjoyed by the people in the south. In these remote areas we pay more for telegrams, telephone calls and other services, and I am hoping that these icreased charges, which probably will come inevitably, will lead to more services; indeed, we people in the north demand greater services from the Post Office.
– I shall not detain the House very long for I believe that some of my colleagues have covered the subject matter extremely well during the speeches they delivered this morning. I endorse the remarks they have made, especially those of my colleagues the honourable members for Canning (Mr Hallett), Calare (Mr England) and Lawson (Mr Failes). That is all I wish to refer to at this stage, for I believe that they delivered three remarkably good speeches in relation to this most important subject. I shall not reiterate what they said, but one thing that concerns me is the ever-increasing interest rate on funds expended by this Department.
At the outset I say that much work has to be done to complete or bring up to standard the services mainly in rural areas, and many more millions of dollars will be expended before this is completed. I believe the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) stated that during the last financial year about SI 80m was spent on capital works, and during the present year this sum will be exceeded. When I examined the interest payments and compared them with the previous year I noted that they have risen from $56m to $64m. If the capital expenditure is to increase year by year until these capital works are completed, I foresee that most of what could be regarded as profit will be ploughed back into interest payments. In the past three or four hours much has been said concerning the profits and losses of the Post Office, depending on the argument that was being developed at the time. But when one examines the postal side of the Department one sees that it is showing a loss of about $10m, compared with a profit of $1Om on the telecommunications side. Therefore, the Post Office overall has been able to come out fairly evenly. However, when interest payments are taken into account the Department is well and truly in the red. I notice also that in the past twelve months the interest rate has been increased by .365 of 1%; that is, from 4.88% to 5.25%. These things all add to the burden of the Department. This matter of interest charges concerns me greatly because in the not too distant future, if this trend continues we will find that we are literally paying hundreds of millions of dollars in interest rates alone. After all, if we are paying $64m today, we must have borrowed in the vicinity of SI, 000m to cover rates at this juncture.
In common with the honourable member for Calare, I must support this Bill but I do so very reluctantly indeed because I believe that the Postmaster-General’s Department should provide a service to the community. It is all very well to say that it should be run on commercial lines, that it should try to balance its budget and so forth. But heavens above, many departments that are controlled by this Government do not show a profit. I do not think that there is any need for me to elaborate on them, but I shall mention one. I refer to the Department of Social Services. We do not want that Department to show a profit. It is there to provide a service to the community.
– Be reasonable.
– Some of my friends who represent metropolitan electorates are not very interested in the service that is provided to rural areas. I would remind the honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver) that this is a very important subject. It is all very well for him to say that the service is good. He wants to move out into some of these rural areas and see what sort of service is provided. It just does not exist. As I have said, I very reluctantly support this Bill. I reiterate what the honourable member for Calare suggested regarding the proposed increased telephone charges. At the outset I say that I reserve the right to make my comments as to whether or not I will support them at some future time.
I want to refer to the actual comparison of manual charges as against STD charges. I believe that this comparision shows that the position is completely unreasonable. After all, the people who are connected to a manual exchange are not getting the service. Yet when we come to some of these trunk line charges, these are the people who will pay more. I suppose it could be said that this is due to added costs. I do not know. I want to refer to one or two of the charges. I shall not refer to all of them because I have said that I shall not speak for long. I refer first to the charge for a call up to 30 miles. The manual charge has been increased by 333% and the STD charge by 23%. In the mileage charging division exceeding 30 but not 50 miles, the manual charge has been increased by 25% and the STD charge by 20%. In the mileage charging division exceeding 50 but not exceeding 100 miles, the manual charge has been increased by 25% and the STD charge by 20%. In the mileage charging division exceeding 100 but not exceeding 200 miles, the manual rate has been increased by 331% and the STD rate by 20%. This is a vital distance because a lot of trunk line calls are made between 100 and 200 miles. When we move down to the charges for the 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. period we find that there has been a slight reduction. In the mileage charging division up to 30 miles, the manual charge has been increased by 50% and the STD charge by 20%. This is what I really object to. I will keep to my promise to speak briefly and will conclude on this point. I shall not take up the time of the House at this very late hour. As I have said, I very reluctantly support the Bill and reserve my right to make my comments on the proposed increased telephone charges at a later stage.
Mr IRWIN (Mitchell) [2.39 a.m.J- The Postmaster-General’s Department has done nothing more than any prudent organisation would do in an endeavour to make the organisation pay. We understand that the Postal Department has to render a national service. But at the same time, as the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) pointed out in his second reading speech, the losses now being incurred by the Post Office must be recouped and they must be recouped from either the taxpayer or the people who use the service. I do not think anybody can complain about that.
In his second reading speech the PostmasterGeneral pointed out that many organisations obtain liberal postal concessions. He said:
To keep costs, and consequently charges, to a minimum my Department is continuing its efforts to improve efficiency through better methods and the development and introduction of the most modern mail handling machinery. The improvement in productivity which has already been achieved is shown by the fact that between 19S9 and 1966 the postal staff rose by only 10% in order to handle a 31% increase in traffic.
The Post Office is faced with a difficult situation. In a time of full employment it does not have a very large panel from which to select its staff. Although we complain about the service from time to time - we have just reason to complain - the Postal Department is up against a very big problem. I do not think the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) was quite fair in comparing the Post Office in the United Kingdom and the United States of America with the Post Office in a sparsely populated country like Australia. Comparisons at all times are odious and honourable members should be fair when comparing the postal services of various countries.
As I have said, the Postal Department must be conducted on a business basis. It is so conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, West Germany and other enlightened countries. A profit of 8% is demanded of the operations of the Post Office in the United Kingdom. We do not do this in Australia. It is not right that the ordinary taxpayer should pay for the losses of the Post Office. The Government has adopted the right attitude in making these people who use the service pay for it.
Let me refer to some of the concessions that have been granted to people who, in my opinion, could well afford to pay more. In his second reading speech the Postmaster-General said:
A substantial concession is being retained for registered Australian publications. At the present time the cost of handling the average newspaper or periodical posted in bulk is 7c, and the average revenue derived is about 1.75c. The average subsidy is more than 5c for each individually addressed newspaper and periodical. This subsidy will be reduced by less than 15% under the proposed rates. The concession rates applying to the 140 million registered publications posted in bulk annually is a major factor in the extent of the postal service’s increasing financial loss. It is therefore essential that the bulk rate be increased, and the extent of the increase proposed 25%, is very moderate when compared to the proposed rates and fees for other services.
The bulk postage concession rates permit all individually addressed newspapers and periodicals posted at the same time by publishers and newsagents to be paid for on the total weight, as if they collectively constituted one postal article only. Many small publications - nearly thirty million annually in fact - weigh less than one ounce. Thirty or more papers to the pound are common so that the Post Office processes and delivers as many as six individually addressed items for a return of only lc.
It is all very well for honourable members opposite to criticise the proposed charges. I believe that we should bear in mind the service that the Postmaster-General’s Department renders to the public. We should pause for a while to think and then we should give credit where it is due. The proposed increases in telephone charges are due to difficulties being experienced by the Department. People who live in country areas know that the full employment situation leads to problems in getting work done. I suggest to the Postmaster-General that he consider the letting out on tender of much of the cable work and underground work that is at present done by the Department’s own employees. It is paradoxical that if this work were done by private enterprise the men engaged would be paid wages higher than those earned by departmental employees but the cost to the Department would be much less than it is now.
It is very difficult to supervise gangs engaged on this work in the country. In my electorate I have seen instances in which men have been taken from their base by bus to a job three miles away. At smoko time they have been returned to their base by bus. The same thing happens at lunch time. 1 agree that the men are entitled to their smoko and their lunch, but I do not believe that they should be taken back to their base for it. On many occasions tools of trade are left out in the paddocks and are not collected. I took up with the Director of Posts and Telegraphs in New South Wales the salvaging of copper wire. 1 asked why sometimes it was not salvaged. He told me that the value of the wire did not warrant incurring the cost of salvaging it. 1 believe that this attitude is wrong. It is conducive to wastage and theft. All tools and materials should be accounted for. I believe that copper wire that 1 have seen go unsalvaged would have been well worth salvaging. For disciplinary, administrative and financial reasons, close attention should be paid to these matters. Tools should be collected and materials salvaged whenever possible. It is unfortunate that the cost of this work has to be borne by the Department, but it has to give service to people in the outback by providing facilities even though they may not return profits to the Department. However, the Department, generally speaking, is in the same position as any other business organisation, and losses such as it has been incurring cannot be allowed to continue. We have to face up to our responsibilities. I congratulate the Government on being bold enough to take a stand.
Question put -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker - Mr P. E. Lucock)
Majority .. ..34
Question so 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.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
APPROPRIATION BILL (No. 3) 1966-67 Second Reading
Debate resumed (vide page 1945).
– I had the pleasure and profit of being in the House a little earlier today - perhaps I should say a little later yesterday - and hearing the honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver) speak in this debate. I believe that the House owes a debt of gratitude to him.
– Why does not the honourable member move that the debate be adjourned?
– The night is young; there is plenty of time. I heard the honourable member for Swan deliver a speech for which honourable members should be grateful. He pointed out that the two Appropriation Bills that are now before us comprise in total about 12% of the amount of the Budget that was introduced last August. The amount involved is of the proportions of a little Budget. Yet the speeches of the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) on these Bills were very brief. One of them ran into scarcely a page of typing and the other made barely three pages of typing. Yet the Treasurer was dealing with what is in effect a little Budget.
There can be only two reasons why it was necessary to come up with a Bill for an appropriation of such an amount. Either the amounts for many of the items were grossly underestimated in the Budget last August, or alternatively, as I think the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) suggested, the situation, the economic weather if you like, has so changed in the interval that it has been necessary to come up with proposals which contemplate a totally different situation from that which existed last August. In either event it is desirable, and indeed necessary, that the House should know why there has been a gross underestimate of expenditure or why the economic weather has changed to such an extent that it has been necessary to come forward with proposals for appropriations amounting to no less than 12% of the total amount covered by the Budget of last August.
The honourable member for Swan asked a number of detailed questions, and since this House exists, as I take it it does, to scrutinise these matters, I believe that even if we sit till six o’clock this morning, or nine o’clock or ten o’clock or noon, we should have an answer to the questions asked by the honourable member for Swan. We should not be content to go to bed until we get answers to these questions. The House should not be treated with the contempt that the Treasurer has shown it. These are serious matters. This House should perform its proper function. Why we should be here at this hour of the morning I do not know, but the fact that we are here at this late hour is no excuse for the members of the Parliament to go to bed without having done their duty.
When the matter came before the House I think the Minister for the Navy (Mr Chipp) was at the table and remained there for most of the time during which the debate proceeded. This is a very serious matter, but although the Treasurer had introduced in effect a little Budget without any reason being given for the necessity for this large appropriation, neither the Treasurer himself nor, indeed, the Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Howson) was at the table when the debate on the matter was resumed. Perhaps the Minister Assisting the Treasurer was busy trying to reduce the costs of the Fill aircraft. Certainly he was not here. We had instead the Minister for the Navy.
This was a measure of the respect that was accorded this House. The Minister for the Navy was at the table. The honourable member for Swan made a very careful speech and asked questions which have not been answered. I do not know whether the Minister Assisting the Treasurer, who is now at the table, has any idea what the questions were or whether he proposes to answer them, but I do not think we should go to bed until we get the answer.
– One does not answer them in the middle of a second reading debate.
– Well, surely the Minister will wind up the second reading debate.
– We have not got to that stage yet.
– Well, perhaps the Minister intends to give an answer. He was not in the House when the questions were asked, but perhaps in his office he heard what the honourable member for Swan was saying. Large sums of money are mentioned. I ask the Minister for Air who is now sitting at the table to give me an answer on this matter. When we are in the Committee stages we can go through these things in the detail that they require.
I notice for example at page 69 of the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1966-67 under the heading ‘War and Service Pensions and Allowances’ that there is an appropriation of $790,000 in respect of pensions and allowances for widows and other dependants of deceased ex-servicemen, and also for Service pensions. I am not cavilling for a moment at that expenditure. In fact, I think it should be more. But why should it be in this list? Was it not possible to estimate this amount last August? Surely there must have been a reasonable notion in August of last year as to the cost of pensions and allowances for widows and other dependants of deceased ex-servicemen and for Service pensions. Surely these are figures that should have been in the minds of those who were preparing the estimates in August last.
I think that it might do the House a lot of good to consider these estimates in detail at the Committee stage and to ask questions of the Minister as to why certain amounts appear to have been so grossly underestimated. I have simply chosen one item at random. I am sure that one could go through these estimates page by page and ask the same sort of questions concerning other items. One should be able to receive an answer. What has happened with respect to this Bill illustrates the point that I have been making for some time. That is that the House has completely lost control of the finances of the nation. The debate, I suggest, has been simply a farce, or would have been a farce but for the splendid contribution made by the honourable member for Swan. I will say that one or two speeches made on the other side of the House, particularly the speech made by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), were directed towards a better understanding and appreciation of what was being done. But, by and large, the House did not concern itself with these matters. Here we sit at seven minutes past three in the morning with no intention of giving due consideration to these matters.
– The honourable member will make it 3.30.
– All right. My friends in the corner of the chamber had a lot to say about telephone charges a little while ago. This was a matter of some concern to them. People in their electorates receive greater concessions than electors in the city but these honourable members want more concessions for their constituents. Fair enough. We sit here for an hour or more while they discuss these matters which no doubt concern country people. Yet when we come to great affairs of this sort no consideration is given at all. When we get into the Committee stages, we will be sitting here and the same kind of debate will go on, if debate’ we can call it. Instead we should be sitting at a reasonable time; instead, we should be sitting in a committee room; instead, the Minister in charge of the Bill should be in a position to answer in detail the questions that have been asked. I rose for one reason: to point out what an utter farce this Parliament has become.
Motion (by Mr J. R. Eraser) put.
That the debate be now adjourned.
The House divided.
Majority . . . . 38
(Mr Acting Speaker - Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I think we must be nuts to be speaking at this time of the morning. We are speaking, of course, at the compulsion of the Government side of the House which refuses to adjourn the debate on this supply measure. 1 want to draw to the attention of the House, and spend my time on this Bill in discussing, a case which 1 believe is one of grave injustice to a citizen of this city and one of which the Government should be thoroughly ashamed. It is a situation which the Government should take action to correct. I speak of the case of a sergeant of police named Charles Upston who, in October 1965, was confronted by his Commissioner of Police with a decision that he must either resign or be instantly dismissed. The action which caused the Commissioner of Police to issue this decision was not a serious matter. It was not a great breach of discipline, an act of dishonesty or anything of that kind; it was, at the most, a minor indiscretion by a constable off duty. It would properly have been met by perhaps a fine of £10 or something of that kind. But, I believe because of personal animus on the part of senior officers, Sergeant Upston was given the choice of resigning or facing instant dismissal.
Because of his position in the community and because of his family, rather than face the embarrassment of being dismissed he chose to resign. Had he allowed himself to be dismissed he would have had a right of appeal, but having, under the threat of dismissal, chosen to resign, he would become entitled to payment from the Superannuation Fund and would expect to receive payment in lieu of long service leave entitlements. But these benefits were not immediately made available to him. He felt very aggrieved at the position in which he had been placed. He was not given information about any sort of charge and he was not told the reason for his dismissal.
On 28th October 1965 he came to see me in the House and asked me if I would raise the matter for him. I did so in this place. Without mentioning the sergeant’s name at this stage, I addressed a question to the Minister for the Interior (Mr Anthony) in these terms:
I ask the Minister for the Interior: Is he aware that a sergeant of police, with IS years service with the Australian Capital Territory Police Force, was recently confronted by his Commissioner with a demand for his immediate resignation and was told that if this was not forthcoming he faced immediate dismissal; that he was denied a statement of the reasons for the action taken against him and that for family and community reasons he chose to resign rather than face dismissal? Has the Minister had from the Commissioner of Police a report on this matter? Will he send for all the papers in the matter and either give them his personal consideration or have them submitted to the Chairman of the Police Arbitral Tribunal to ascertain whether this officer has been dealt with fairly and whether he should be offered an opportunity of reinstatement in his former position?
The Minister replied:
This matter has come before me but I am sorry that I cannot give all the facts offhand. If the honourable member will see me immediately after question time 1 will have the file ready and will answer any questions that he may put to me.
I went to see the Minister for the Interior immediately after question time. The first comment he made to me was: ‘lt is a pity you raised this matter because now the sergeant may lose his furlough payment.’ This was the clearest indication of collusion between the Minister and the Commissioner of Police. They were prepared to allow this man to resign and to have it treated as a normal resignation, in which circumstance the sergeant would receive from the Treasury a payment in lieu of his long service leave. The Minister admitted later in the House that because I had raised the matter in the House the payment in lieu of long service leave to Sergeant Upston was in jeopardy.
In the following months Sergeant Upston sought to approach the Minister. He sought interviews with the Minister, but the Minister would not grant them. I might say that at the interview I had with the Minister I told him of conditions as they existed in the Police Force at that time. I told him that I believed persona] animus was responsible for the decision handed down to Sergeant Upston. The Minister said that there was a long history of unsatisfactory service by the sergeant. I pointed out to the Minister that, only ten months before this the sergeant, who had fifteen years service with the Force, had won his promotion on appeal over, I think, seven or eight other officers who had been promoted ahead of him. There was a clear indication from the Chairman of the Police Arbitral Tribunal, Mr Commissioner Findlay, that the assessment of the Commissioner of Police was wrong and that he had promoted these men ahead of Sergeant Upston without good reason. Sergeant Upston won his appeal. How could a man who had won his appeal only eight or ten months before be regarded as having a long record of unsatisfactory service with the Police Force?
The Minister would not agree to see Sergeant Upston. The sergeant’s efforts to obtain an interview with the Minister were unsuccessful. Consequently, on 12th May 1966 I raised the matter again in the House. I asked this question: 1 ask the Minister for the Interior: Will he consult with his colleague, the Treasurer . . .
That was because payment in lieu of long service leave is a matter for the Treasurer:
The Minister replied:
At the request of the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory I did have this matter thoroughly re-examined. Having looked at the matter, all 1 want to say is that this man was dismissed from the Police Force as being an unsatisfactory member, a circumstance in which the Minister has power to dismiss without giving a reason. I have examined the matter and, so far as I am concerned, it is closed.
But later in question time the Minister re-entered the House and said: 1 should like to add to the answer 1 gave to a question asked by the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory in order to clear up any misunderstanding I may have caused. In my reply I might have given the impression that Sergeant Upston was dismissed from the Canberra Police Force. That is not correct. He resigned. The circumstances were these: I received a recommendation from the Commissioner of Police that Sergeant Upston be dismissed. On examining it, I suggested that Sergeant Upston might be given the option of resigning so that he could enjoy the benefit of superannuation.
This shows how little the Minister knew of what he was talking about:
However, when this mutter became public the facts of the resignation had to be given to the Superanuation Board ….
What an admission from the Minister. Because this had become public, the facts had to be given, said the Minister. Does this not mean that previously the facts were to be hidden from the Superannuation Board or from the Treasury? Is it not the clearest admission - and I suggest it to the House - of collusion between the then Commissioner of Police and the Minister for the Interior? I repeat what the Minister said:
However, when this matter became public the facts of the resignation had to be given to the Superannuation Board, and the conditions that surround the case precluded Sergeant Upston from the benefits attaching to superannuation.
He got his superannuation. What the Minister meant to refer to was payment in lieu of long service leave. I remind the House that when I went to the Minister’s office after having first raised this matter, his immediate statement to me was: ‘It is a pity you raised this matter because now the sergeant may lose his payment in lieu of long service leave’. Before payment may be made in lieu of long service leave, in accordance with section 10 of the Commonwealth Employees’ Furlough Act:
The official conduct record of a Commonwealth employee shall be taken into consideration in determining whether the whole or any portion of the leave of absence or pay provided in this Act may be granted.
So presumably in this case there were two reports, one that would be presented to the Treasury in the case of resignation and the other that would be presented to the Treasury in the case of dismissal. Now, Mr Acting Speaker, this thing dragged on and I had further discussions with Sergeant Upston. Finally I wrote to the Treasurer (Mr McMahon), because here was a matter being dealt with by the Treasury and here was a matter in which, as I suggested in this House, the Minister had been prepared to hoodwink the Treasury - because there was not the slightest doubt that if this matter had continued to be treated as an ordinary resignation, had it not been raised in this House, there would have been no question that Sergeant Upston would have received the pay in lieu of long service leave. But because the matter was raised in this House, as the Minister said, the facts then had to be given and he was denied the payment. I wrote to the Treasurer on 31st August 1966. I set the case out in considerable detail. I recalled what I had said in my question and what had happened during the interview with the Minister for the Interior. I also referred to the reply of the Minister to my second question. I made the point in my letter to the Treasurer that the interview with the Minister in his office took place on 28th October. My letter to the Treasurer continued:
Until I raised the matter in the House, Sergeant Upston’s resignation from the Police Force was being treated simply as a normal resignation. The Commonwealth Employees* Furlough Act enables payment in lieu of long service leave to a Commonwealth employee who after at least fifteen years’ service ceases to be a Commonwealth employee (other than by discharge on acccount of unsatisfactory service). These conditions are set out in Section 7 of the Act.
Section 10 of the Act requires that the official conduct record of a Commonwealth employee shall be taken into consideration in determining whether the whole or any portion of the leave of absence or p.i> provided in this Act may be granted.
I stress that up to Question Time in the House of Representatives on 28 October 1965, Sergeant Upston’s termination of services was being dealt with as an ordinary case of resignation.
On 28 October 1965, and I ask you particularly to note this date, the Acting Commissioner of Police sent a memorandum to the Approving Authority in the Department of the Treasury referring for consideration the question of what pay in lieu of furlough, if any, might be granted to Mr Upston.
No action had been taken on it until I asked the question in the House and had gone to the Minister’s office after question time in the morning. It was on 28th October that I asked the question and that 1 had the interview with the Minister in his office, and it was on 28th October that the Acting Commissioner of Police sent the report to the approving authority in the Treasury. My letter continued:
On 16th December 1965, the Acting Commissioner wrote to Mr Upston stating that the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees’ Furlough Act were applied to members of the Australian Capital Territory Police Force. He pointed out that the Commonwealth Employees’ Furlough Act was administered by the Department of the Treasury and he further advised that, on receipt’ of Mr Upton’s resignation the question as to whether payment in lieu of furlough was to be effected had been submitted to the Department of the Treasury.
It was not submitted on that date. His resignation was submitted on 28th October after the matter had been raised in this House and after I had interviewed the Minister in his office. My letter went on:
The Acting Commissioner’s letter quoted a reply from the Department of the Treasury, over the signature of A. Harris, Approving Authority, in the following terms:
Reference is made to your memorandum of 28th October 1965, in which you referred, for consideration under the Commonwealth Employees’ Furlough Act, the question of what pay in lieu of furlough, if any, may be granted to Mr C. J. Upston, formerly Sergeant, Australian Capital Territory Police Force.
Mr Upston’s official conduct record and service history, including the circumstances in which his employment terminated, have been most carefully studied and the decision reached is that under the provisions of Section 10 of the Commonwealth Employees’ Furlough Act 1943/1959 payment in lieu of furlough is not approved.’
I referred to this matter again in the House of Representatives on 12th May, 1966.
At this point in this letter I was referring to the second question I asked which I have already read to the House. I retailed what had happened after the Minister came to the House and gave a further explanation. My letter to the Treasurer continued:
The point I wish to make is that, until I raised the matter in the Parliament, the Minister for the Interior, on his own admission, and the Acting Commissioner for Police, were prepared to hoodwink the Treasury by allowing Sergeant Upston’s termination of services to be dealt with as a normal resignation.
To satisfy the requirements of Section 10 of the Act, even with a normal resignation, it would have been necessary to supply the official conduct record of Sergeant Upston.
Presumably this was done and presumably his official conduct record was such that grant of pay in lieu of furlough was approved.
However, the Acting Police Commissioner’s memorandum of 28th October must have contained other information which caused the Treasury to decide that Sergeant Upston was not entitled to receive pay in lieu of furlough.
I point out that the Act requires only that the official conduct record must be taken into consideration, whereas the letter from the Approving Authority to the Acting Commissioner for Police refers to ‘Mr Upston’s official conduct record and service history, including the circumstances in which his employment terminated’.
The letter went on:
It would seem apparent that there were two documents dealing with Sergeant Upston’s conduct and service record, one to be used in the circumstances in which his termination of service was being treated as a normal resignation and the other provided when it became known publicly that he had resigned under threat of dismissal.
As I see it, either the Sergeant was guilty of conduct which merited dismissal and loss of furlough pay or he was not. In fact, only 10 months before his termination of services, or less, Sergeant Upston had succeeded in an appeal against the promotion of other officers over him and he had succeeded on evidence placed before the Police Arbitral Tribunal.
Last month Sergeant Upston went to the Police Station in Canberra to collect his group certificate for taxation purposes. Apparently the original group certificate issued had shown a payment in lieu of long service leave. Apparently also this document was sent back, presumably to Treasury, for amendment
I would suggest to you that if Sergeant Upston’s group certificate, prepared after his termination of services, did in fact show a lump sum as payment in lieu of furlough this payment must have been approved by the Treasury. As I understand it. Sergeant Upston has now received an amended group certificate with the figure previously included struck out.
I ask you to have all the circumstances of this most unusual procedure investigated. I ask whether, in fact, Treasury initially approved payment in lieu of long service leave for Sergeant Upston and whether, subsequently, after 1 had raised the matter in the House, action was taken to revoke this approval. 1 ask further how this can be done in the light of the requirement of Section 10 of the Furlough Act that the official conduct record ‘shall be taken into consideration’ in determining whether the whole or any portion of the pay provided by the Act may be granted. How can there be two official records of service? I ask you to ascertain whether, in fact, an attempt was originally made to hoodwink the Treasury and whether a report derogatory to Sergeant Upston was prepared and produced only after I had raised this case publicly in the House of Representatives.
I do not think any case could be put more clearly than that to the Treasurer. The Treasurer replied on 16th September 1966. I very much doubt whether I shall have time to read the whole of it, but I shall try. The reply was:
I refer again to your representations of Mst August 1966 on behalf of Mr C. J. Upston, formerly a Sergeant with the Australian Capital Territory Police Force, who upon his resignation did not receive payment in lieu of furlough under the Commonwealth Employees’ Furlough Act 1943-1959.
As promised, 1 have had this matter investigated and 1 can assure you that at no stage was am approval given by the Approving Authority for payment in lieu of furlough to Mr Upston. Moreover, at no time did any correspondence concerning this matter pass between either the Commissioner of Police or the Acting Commissioner of Police and the Approving Authority.
The facts are that the question of Mr Upston’s eligibility for any payment in Heu of furlough was first raised with the Treasury in a memorandum dated 28th October 1965 from the Department of the Interior. The Department reported, inter alia, the action taken by Mr Upston’s superiors after allegations were received concerning his behaviour, how the Minister for the Interior had determined that Mr Upston should be dismissed from the Police Force, but had decided that the member should first be given the opportunity of submitting his resignation, and that the member had availed himself of this opportunity. The Department also provided a copy of Mr Upston’s Conduct Sheet which contained a record of offences prior to the incident which led to his resignation.
In accordance with his usual practice in such cases, the Approving Authority sought from the Department further details concerning this incident and additional information about the subsequent events arising out of it It was ascertained that, amongst other things, Mr Upston’s superiors had concluded that his behaviour at the time could be regarded as disgraceful or improper conduct, and that a recommendation had been made to the Secretary, Department of the Interior, that the Minister dispense with Upston’s services. After considering these facts and the record of previous offences, the Approving Authority concluded on 1st December 1965 that no payment in lieu of furlough should be made to Mr Upston. The Department of the Interior was advised of this decision by memorandum dated 6th December 1965, the contents of which you quoted in your letter.
I ask honourable members to listen to the next statement from the Treasurer:
The issue of an amended taxation Group Certificate had no significance whatsoever in relation to the question of Mr Upston’s eligibility for payment in lieu of furlough. In the course of preparation of this Certificate certain details relating to another employee with a similar name were incorporated in it in error.
Would any person expect to get away with such an explanation in a preparatory school? I remind the House that this is the answer that appears over the signature of the Treasurer. The letter continues:
The error was discovered after the certificate had been issued to the Department; it was recovered from the Department, the error was corrected and the amended Certificate was returned to the Department for issue to Mr Upston.
You have stated that the Act refers only to the official conduct record of an employee and have asked why the Approving Authority in deciding why not to approve a payment in lieu of furlough took into account Mr Upston’s official conduct record and service history, including the circumstances in which his employment terminated. For the purpose of this section, the Approving Authority regards the official conduct record as including aril the known and recorded facts about an employee’s conduct and thus, as well as noting the entries on the conduct sheet provided by the Department, the Approving Authority in reaching a decision also had regard to the more recent incident and its consequences.
While your letter includes references to my colleague, the Minister for the Interior, I do not consider that it is appropriate for me to refer to them. I have, however, forwarded to the Minister a copy of your letter, together with a copy of my reply.
The letter is signed William McMahon. I remind the House that Mr Upston was an officer with almost fifteen years service in the Australian Capital Territory Police Force. He held a commission in the Citizen Air Force and had held such a commission for ten years. He was not a popular policeman but he was a hard headed and good policeman. He had fitted himself for all branches of police work, at very considerable expense, I suggest, in the early yean of his training. He had made himself familiar with every branch of police work. He was noted for the clarity and excellence of his written work - of his reports on investigations. He had trained himself and had qualified as a motor mechanic; so that he could be of value to the Police Rescue Squad on the Canberra lake, he had also taken a course in lifesaving and in underwater swimming, diving and so forth. He was keen on his job. He was a very good policeman indeed and one who had won his promotion on appeal only ten months before. I could give details of the minor incident in which he was involved if time permitted. It was not worthy of being regarded as a serious offence at all. It could easily have been met with a fine if, indeed, that had been considered necessary. I was not satisfied with the Treasurer’s reply and on 18th October 1966 I wrote to the Prime Minister as follows:
Dear Mr Holt,
I feel very strongly that a constituent of mine has been penalised, or has suffered financial loss, because he exercised his right as a citizen to approach his Federal Member and have a matter raised in the House.
I refer to the case of former police Sergeant C. J. Upston, who has been denied payment in lieu of furlough following his resignation from the A.C.T. Police Force.
I referred to the correspondence and to the question that had been asked in the House. 1 forwarded the Prime Minister a copy of the letter I had written to Mr McMahon and I said:
I would deem it a great favour if you would read this letter carefully because I feel it makes quite clear that Sergeant Upston has been caused to suffer financial loss only because he had approached me as his Federal Member and I had mentioned his case in the House.
I enclose copy of my letter to Mr McMahon, together with copy of his reply to me dated 16 September 1966.
I enclose also Hansard copy of my original question on 28 October 1965, and of a subsequent question on 12 May 1966.
If I may trespass on your time I would ask that you consider the statements made in the reply to my second question because I think these have a direct bearing on my contention that even now action should be taken to remedy what I consider to be an injustice.
I realise that the House will shortly be discussing a Public Service Bill, portion of which bears on payments in lieu of furlough.
I suggested that it might be appropriate at that stage to do something about the matter. I received the following reply from the Prime Minister dated 5th January 1967:
Dear Mr Fraser,
You wrote to me about the case of former Police Sergeant C. J. Upston who was refused payment in lieu of furlough following his resignation from the Australian Capital Territory Police Force. I have looked carefully at the papers in this case.
It seems to me that the Treasurer has fully explained that the decision in the case of Mr C. J. Upston was not influenced by the fact that his case was raised by you in the House. In the circumstances there is nothing that I would wish to add to the information already conveyed to you by the Treasurer.
This man was treated very unjustly by the Police Force. He was confronted with a demand that he either resign or face instant dismissal. He chose to resign for family reasons and because of his standing and position in the community. His resignation would have ensured him payment in lieu of furlough but because he exercised his right as a citizen and an ex-policeman and came to me and I raised it in the House, he was told, in the words of the Minister for the Interior, that he would probably lose his payment in lieu of long service leave.
This case should be re-opened. I should like the Minister for Air (Mr Howson), who is at the table, to see that my remarks are referred either to the Police Arbitral Tribunal even at this stage or, if not, to the present Commissioner of Police, Mr Wilson who is an experienced police officer and a very fair and just man. Without casting reflection on anyone who may have been in the police station or in the Police Force at that time, I must say that it is well known in the community that there was personal animus, feeling, disquiet and, if you like, unrest and dissatisfaction in the Police Force at the time and Sergeant Upston has been made the victim. He has been unable to secure employment in any other branch of the Commonwealth Service because presumably reports unfavourable to him have been circulated. He has lost his commission in the Air Force; in fact his whole life has been ruined because of the action taken against him which I consider to be completely unjust and unwarranted. I sincerely ask the Minister to have this whole matter re-opened. (Extension of time granted.) I appreciate the courtesy the House has extended to me and I will use the additional time only to recount in brief the incident which led to this severe action against Sergeant Upston.
Upston was off duty visiting a property on the Yass Road just out of Canberra.
As he was leaving the property and driving his car at right angles to the roadway he could see that a grader had been working along the road and had left a mound of earth which would have been approximately in line with the kerb if there had been a kerb on the road. It was on the edge of the bitumen and some gravel had been spread onto the bitumen roadway. On his right was a Department of the Interior water tanker parked at an angle across the verge of the road. He could see past the front of that vehicle to the motel and he noticed that there were no vehicles approaching from the right. He then looked to the left and saw the road grader was working on the road towards Hall so he moved his own vehicle on to the road. At that stage the rear wheels of his vehicle were on the edge of the bitumen and the front wheels were on the roadway. Then he saw a car approaching on his right. This car had been hidden from him until then by the water tanker. He stopped his vehicle because he was in the path of the approaching car.
According to the Sergeant’s story the other car had ample room to go around the front of his vehicle. However, it came towards his vehicle as though to ram it. Then the driver stopped the car, apparently with the intention of allowing Sergeant Upston to pass in front of him. The Sergeant did this, turning towards Canberra as he did so. As he was passing the other vehicle, the driver called out something that sounded to Sergeant Upston like ‘You bunging on?’ No doubt the words were, ‘What are you bunging on’, but the Sergeant recalls hearing only the words I have mentioned. He backed his car and asked, ‘What was that you said?’. So that I shall have it accurately recorded I shall read the driver’s reply from a report that I have. The report, which will show how trivial this incident really was, contains these statements:
I said to …. ‘I beg your pardon driver?* . . . said, ‘What are you bunging on?’
Sergeant Upston names the driver in his report, but I shall not do so. The report continues:
The driver had made this address to me in a most impolite and offensive manner, not only showing it in his tone of voice, but his facial expression.
I said to … , ‘I’m not bunging on anything, you could see the situation and 1 thought you could have been polite enough to allow me to proceed, as it is I am a Police Sergeant and 1 will take your number and report you to your boss.’
The man concerned was driving a Commonwealth vehicle bearing a Commonwealth number plate. The driver is reported as saying:
You can do what you like, you can see the number and I work at the C.S.l.R.O. He then drove off. I did likewise.
As it was my opinion that . . . had been most discourteous to me, irrespective of the fact that he did not know who 1 was and spoke in a manner that after having told me where he worked, would have brought discredit against his Department, I reported the facts to Dr . . . of the C.S.l.R.O., his superior.
There had not been any breach of the Motor Traffic Ordinance and at the time of this occurence, I had been on private business, off duty. 1 deemed that any action I took was to the benefit of the C.S.l.R.O., because I considered that the actions of . . . could be no better than considered as profoundly discourteous and not far from the actions of a common hooligan.
The incidents I have mentioned were the cause of Sergeant Upston’s dismissal. Again I ask the Minister to have the whole matter investigated for it may reveal that there is more to it than I have brought before the House. I have given to the House all the information that I received. I believe that the material I have presented was supplied to me honestly by the sergeant, for whom I have very great admiration. I acknowledge that he is a very hard policeman and probably not a popular one. All too often a good policeman is not popular. I feel that what I have read to the House establishes that gross injustice has been done to this man. In the final analysis I believe it was done only because he exercised his right of putting his case to his member of Parliament and having it raised in the House. There I leave the matter.
– I think the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) had a point.
– As is my wont I have waited, patiently listening to the bleating of Liberal Party members in their efforts to increase the cost of living for the people of Australia and to the reluctant Australian Country Party dragoons who did not want to vote for the increased charges in the Post Office but had to answer to the crack of the whip and leave their supporters in the doldrums. I want to bring before the House a matter that concerns me very much - the conditions under which employees of the Post Office are operating. I asked the Postmaster-General whether he would give favourable consideration to rosters allowing a five day week to his Post Office staff. I did not ask him to reduce the days of training. The Postmaster-General’s reply was to the effect that I had asked him to reduce the days of training. I again ask this question: Why are the Post Office staff not working a five day roster as are most other Australians? Surely the Postmaster-General is aware that he will not attract a reasonable share of the labour market while his employees have backward and archaic working conditions. The Australian Post Office is the largest commercial business undertaking in the southern hemisphere. It is an outright shame that the PostmasterGeneral is so intent upon the destruction of the Post Office as an efficient public service.
I refer to the very poor working conditions of the Post Office. They are years behind the times. The Post Office serves the masses of the people from birth to death. It must have a competent staff to provide this service, and one must pay for quality. Yet our largest community organisation - the pivotal point for the entire nation - is endeavouring to attract quality in staff with shoestring salaries and conditions. Let us have a look at some of the employment conditions in the Post Office, starting with the six day working week. Millions of dollars have been spent on automation in the Post Office yet its staff still work on a six day week roster. Why the PostmasterGeneral cannot rearrange his rosters to enable Post Office staff to work five days a week is beyond me, an old time trade unionist.
I can safely say that the PostmasterGeneral will always have difficulties in attracting competent staff, and the people of Australia will have postal difficulties, until working conditions and salaries are improved. Annual leave for Post Office staff working six days a week is three weeks, the same leave as was allowed at the time of Federation, sixty-six years ago. The motor has replaced the bullock in most aspects of postal services but not in employment conditions of Post Office staff. Postmasters and senior staff are classified in the Public Service as Third Division officers.
They are required to have educational attainments of Third Division standard. Yet these men, who manage what is probably the most important section of the Postal Department - the branch post offices - work3¼ hours a week longer than other Commonwealth public servants. They also work six days a week as against the fiveday week of other clerks. Once again I am baffled as to why the PostmasterGeneral condones a system which allows all other Commonwealth departments to get first pick of the staff offering.
The long ladder of salary increments is another unattractive feature of service in the Post Office. The average postal clerk is required to progress through thirteen increments on his way to postmaster, or more if he starts in the Post Office under the age of twenty-one years. A further sixteen increments are paid before he reaches his maximum salary as postmaster of a large suburban or country post office. That makes a total of at least twenty-nine increments through a depressed salary range. This depressed salary range must be kept well in mind, for it is the only source of income of Post Office staff. No fringe benefits are available to postmasters or their staff; no over-award payments and no bonuses.
As a result of determination No. 10 of 1931 postmasters are supposed to receive concessional rentals when they occupy a Post Office residence, in return for general supervision over personnel and property outside their normal hours of duty. In fact the rents now charged to postmasters often exceed the economic rents charged to other tenants of Commonwealth houses who have no special obligation other than under the normal landlord and tenant agreement. Postmasters are charged far more for rent than other public servants in New South Wales such as stationmasters, headmasters and officers in charge of police.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) put.
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker - Mr E. N. Drury)
Majority . . . . 37
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I shall continue my remarks from where 1 was so rudely interrupted. Managers of branches of the Public Service of New South Wales, station masters, headmasters, officers in charge of police and bank managers all receive far better treatment than postmasters in respect of rental conditions. Most country postmasters residences are merely annexes to post office buildings and are subject to noise factors at odd hours throughout the night. Night alarms, arrivals and departures of early morning mails and staff on duty during night and early morning cause noise.
Another indication of the pinch penny conditions applicable to postmasters is that garages are not supplied with residences. This is in the motor age of today. It is hard to believe this fact. For postmasters who are not supplied with a residence the magnificent sum of $48 per annum is paid. This magnificent sum was fixed in 1929. Due to the vagaries of dealings between small staff associations and the Commonwealth Public Service Board, in addition to the way the present arbitration legislation is weighted against these small staff bodies, that magnificent sum still remains at $48 today, thirty-eight years later. The cold hard fact of the matter is that postmasters, irrespective of whether residences are available, now perform, free of charge to the Commonwealth, their supervisory, custodial and many other obligatory duties which fall outside their normal hours of work. This is all very well if one wants to be a free loader, as the Postmaster-General apparently is, but it is not good enough for fair dinkum Australians, for the people who do not want to free load.
– I rise to order. I understand that the Opposition has refused to take the Bill as a whole, and that we are dealing with the Bill clause by clause.
– We are dealing with the Schedule.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Failes) - Order! There is no substance in the point of order. The Committee is dealing with the Schedule.
– Honourable members must wonder how the Postmaster-General has been getting away with present conditions of employment in post offices. The standard of service today is proof enough that his policy is not sound. He has been able to maintain a service largely by a double-cross worked by successive Country Party Postmasters-General upon their country constituents. The country areas are the source of cheap labour. This cheap labour has enabled Postmasters-General to employ kanaka-like labour. Not being in the sugar business they have not needed to import kanakas from the islands, but being of the same frame of mind as plantation owners they recruit boys from country towns where the avenues for clerical employment are limited, and they transfer those lads to the cities. Three of the five official postmasters in my electorate come from the country and I venture to say that this ratio is pretty general in the metropolitan areas.
Of 208 students enrolled in the postal clerks training school commenced in September 1966 at Strathfield, Sydney, 148 came from the country and only 60 from Sydney, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the State’s population resides in the metropolitan area. I would go so far as to suggest that were it not for the exploitation of country boys, 50% of the post offices in Sydney would today be without clerical staff and would be forced to close their doors. The plain fact of the matter is that where normal competitive employment conditions apply for clerical staff the Post Office is not in the race. Postal clerks are recruited from the bush because city lads will not entertain the low level of rewards for a postal career. Take, for example, the first elementary condition required by the normal average youth seeking clerical employment today. He wants a five day week. The Postmaster-General will not roster his staff on a five day week basis, even though utilities such as power, railways, police and transport, all of which provide services for seven days a week, are able to roster staff on a five day week basis. The Postmaster-General will not change his system of rostering, and he has to provide services in post offices on only six days a week.
I insist that postal employees work a six day week, not five and a half days, as the Postmaster-General is inclined to claim. As far as postal staff are concerned, travelling to and from work on the sixth day, as well as the time spent at work on that day, means that the sixth day is of no use to them for leisure or sporting activities or for time to spend with their families. Attendance for duty on the sixth day of each week amounts to a six day working week, no matter how much the PostmasterGeneral desires to soften the blow by describing it as a five and a half day week. The Postmaster-General proposes to increase Post Office charges because apparently he is unable to make ends meet
Let us look at the true position in relation to Post Office revenue. The total interest paid to the Treasury by the Post Office for the financial year 1965-66 was $64,401,139, as may be seen at page 13 of the ‘Financial and Statistical Bulletin’ of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. In other words, the people of Australia are now to pay more for postal and telephone services so that they can pay to themselves interest on money that they have borrowed from themselves. No matter how the Treasury and the Postmaster-General rig the financial results, let us not forget that the Post Office is established to provide a service. That service cannot be provided without a competent staff, and a competent staff can be secured and maintained only if reasonably competitive conditions of employment apply.
The only beneficial aspect of the staff policies of the Department that I have noted is that in Melbourne in March of this year, representatives of the Australian Postmasters Association, the Union of Postal Clerks and Telegraphists and the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia met to establish a Federal Council of Postal Unions. One good thing has come of the Department’s staff policies - the formation of this Council. The employees of the Department have begun to realise at last that they will have to unite to obtain any measure of justice. At the same time, it appears that, pending the return of a Labor government, the people of Australia will have to rely on the workers in the Department to obtain working conditions that will bring back some meaning to the word ‘service’ as applied to the Department’s operations - a service to which the people have become accustomed over the years and which this Government over the last few years has allowed to deteriorate gravely.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, the Schedules attached to the two Appropriation Bills make provision for the additional Estimates. Examining these, I have noted that some items are very large and some are not so significant. But even the smaller ones in the aggregate total some $282m. It is on principle only that, at this rather unusual hour, I seek information about the reason for the inclusion of a few items, which I present as a general sampling of the contents of the two Bills. Concerning this sampling of items, I ask three questions: Are the funds really necessary, and if so, why? Was the commitment unknown at the time of the preparation of the original Estitimes? Is the inclusion of each item as an item in the additional Estimates justifiable?
I shall mention quickly a number of items in Appropriation Bill (No. 3). In Division 270 - Department of Immigration - I refer to item 06 under sub-division 2, which relates to publicity and provides for an appropriation of $111,000. I am interested to know whether this is an extension of the publicity vote by overspending, or whether it represents some unexpected publicity that occurred late in the financial year. Item 11 provides for a contribution to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, totalling $16,365. I am keen to know whether this is an extension of the contribution or whether it is a contribution that could not be calculated until the financial year was well advanced. I refer next to Division 321 - News and Information Bureau. I am interested in items 07 and 08 in sub-division 2, which provide for $60,000 for film production and $74,500 for film distribution. Was this unexpected and unforeseen expenditure? I turn next to Division 703 under the Department of the Army. This provides for expenditure quite apart from the cost of maintaining our forces overseas. Item 01 relates to travelling and subsistence and the sum to be provided is $1,148,000. One wonders whether the expenditure on travelling and subsistence, which I take it, was incurred within Australia, was entirely unforeseen. Was there a miscalculation in the original Estimates? Is there some simple explanation that would satisfy honourable members?
Finally I turn to the Appropriation Bill (No. 4), and to the provision for capital works and services for the Department of the Interior under Division 925. I am attracted to item 08 which relates to the acquisition of sites and buildings for the Department of Immigration, the sum indicated being $440,000. We cannot but wonder whether someone forgot that the Department of Immigration much earlier than this required some sites and buildings to be acquired. The last item is Division No. 986 - Capital Works and Services, in which provision is made for the ‘expenditure of $770,000* under the National Capital Development Commission Act. It is my understanding that portion of this anticipated expenditure is for the Canberra Airport parkway. One wonders whether this was not well within the planning of the National Capital Development Commission at a much earlier stage. I am wondering why it could not have been placed in the original Estimates.
– I think I should reply to matters already raised before other questions are asked. I deal first with the wide question asked by the honourable member for Swan (Mr Cleaver) in which he said we were dealing with a total expenditure of $280m. As I said in my second reading speech, $200m of this represents a switch of defence funds from being a charge to loan expenditure to being a charge to ordinary expenditure. It is therefore not a general increase. The only real items we are dealing with total S80m. These are underestimates by the departments, and the honourable member is quite rightly asking questions about these now. At the same time there were certain overestimates totalling about $20m which do not come within the scope of this Bill. So the total increase we are really dealing with is a sum of $60m in a total budget of S6,000m. So, the increase is really one of only 1 % . The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), who called this a little budget, the honourable member for Swan and the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner aTe exaggerating somewhat the total cost of the matters we are dealing with.
Let me now turn quickly to the detailed matters that the honourable member for Swan has raised. The first relates to the provision of $111,000 for publicity in respect of the Department of Immigration. This is in addition to an original appropriation of $922,000. This item provides for the publicity programme of the Department of Immigration in Australia and at overseas posts. The reason for this increased expenditure is that in order to maintain an effective publicity programme it was necessary to increase expenditure by $46,000 on the purchase of additional film prints in Aus tralia for screening at overseas posts and on migrant ships. There is a very real and widespread need for this type of publicity overseas and for the education of new settlers while travelling to this country. There has been an increased demand by overseas posts for more material in the form of publications, success stories and slides to expand their library facilities and to bring up to date the material that is available at the posts. An additional sum of $10,000 is being spent for this purpose. To stimulate the rate of applications to the extent necessary to maintain a programme of at least 70,000 British assisted migrants, arrangements have been made for the immediate commencement of a television advertising campaign in the Midlands and Scotland. Expenditure on such television advertising is expected to reach $55,000 by the end of this financial year.
The next matter related to an additional contribution of $16,365 to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, the original appropriation being $179,500. The reason for this additional provision is that during this financial year Australia agreed to make a special lump sum contribution to ICEM to help that organisation to meet its administrative budget requirements in the 1967 calendar year.
The next matter related to the News and Information Bureau. There is an additional appropriation of $60,000 for film production. The increased funds are required to meet expenditure arising from three additional major projects. They are, firstly, the film ‘The Visit of President Johnson to Australia’ which cost $27,000; secondly, the film ‘Australia’s Involvement in Asia* which cost $5,000; and, finally, the film Constructive Australian Activities in Vietnam’, which cost $22,500. In addition, because of the importance of these three new films it was necessary to increase the contract content of other films by engaging four film directors for a period of four months at $100 a week each.
In regard to film distribution, in the original appropriation provision was made for the cost of supplying prints of News and Information Bureau films to Commonwealth offices abroad, to the National Library for non-theatrical distribution in
Australia and for theatrical and television distribution both within Australia and abroad. The additional funds under this heading- namely $74,50CJ - are required for the cost of prints of two additional new films; namely, “The Visit of President Johnson to Australia’ and Constructive Australian Activities in Vietnam’. The amount involved in that is $35,000. The additional funds are also required because of increased orders for film prints in excess of those anticipated when the original estimates were prepared. The amount involved there is $50,000.
The next additional appropriation to which the honourable member referred was for travelling and subsistence in the Department of the Army. The main reason for this additional appropriation is that insufficient provision was made for the unexpected increased Army activity in Australia which has resulted principally from the commitment in Vietnam. The first matter under this heading is a greater incidence of personnel postings than was envisaged; in particular, personnel posted from units nominated for relief duty in Vietnam - principally those who are ineligible for service in Vietnam because of insufficient residual service - and also for postings to replace such ineligible personnel. To illustrate this, I point out that the number of postings throughout the Army rose from 21,000 in 1965 to 31,000 in 1966.
Secondly, there is a requirement for all personnel proceeding to Vietnam to undergo battle efficiency courses at the Jungle Training Centre, Canungra, or other approved establishments. To illustrate this, I point out that the Jungle Training Centre student strength will increase from 3,800 in 1965-66 to an estimated 9,800 in 1966-67. Thirdly, there are fares of medical evacuees from 2 Camp Hospital, Ingleburn, and the Repatriation General Hospital to their home States, when fit to travel. Fourthly, there is the continual movement of personnel to the special holding wing at the Infantry Centre, Ingleburn, to maintain holding strength of Vietnam reinforcements and replacement personnel.
Fifthly, there are repostings after completion of duty in Vietnam. This also involved fares and removal allowances of families. Sixthly, there is ‘greater movement of instructional personnel to obtain maximum use of trained staff. This applies particularly to key signals personnel who are in short supply. Supplementary instructional staff were required at the Jungle Training Centre, Canungra, thirty-eight being posted from Eastern Command alone. Other costs include transportation and accommodation for special intelligence briefing teams before embarkation and after return to Australia. It is considered that all the above factors, accompanied by a general increase in Army activities, will produce a requirement for an additional $913,000.
The next matter related to the capital works and services appropriation for the Department of Immigration. The provision of $440,000 in the additional Estimates is required because the Commonwealth has negotiated the acquisition of an area of land comprising 21 acres 3 roods 2 perches bounded by Epping Highway and Herring Road, North Ryde, New South Wales, at the cost of $440,000, and it is now expected that the acquisition will be finalised during the current financial year. The land was acquired for the establishment of a migrant hostel. Originally it was not expected that this acquisition would be finalised until next financial year.
Finally in connection with the National Capital Development Commission the honourable member has quite rightly remarked on the airport parkway for which $200,000 is required. This did come in after the estimates were prepared. The planning was not far enough advanced at the time. It was thought that this could not be done in this financial year, but $200,000 is now required. The last item is for additional provision for expenditure stemming from the rise and fall clause in the Commission’s contacts, which in turn is due to wage increases granted during 1966-67. These include the basic wage increase and the H% margins increase.
While I am on my feet may I answer the questions of the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) who dealt with item 446 for the Repatriation Department. This covers an increase of the pension allowances for widows and other dependants of deceased ex-servicemen. The actual additional estimate is $590,000 of a total original appropriation of $48,340,000. In terms of percentages it is not a large increase. The additional expenditure is due to a greater increase in the number of beneficiaries than was expected at the time of preparation of the original estimates. An unexpected rise in the number of beneficiaries receiving domestic allowance also contributed to this additional requirement.
I think I have dealt with most of the matters raised during the debate. The matter raised by the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr J. R.Fraser) I shall certainly take note of as he has requested.
– First of all I want to congratulate the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr J. R. Fraser) for the manner in which he presented the case of exSergeant Upston of the Canberra police. I also want to congratulate members of the Government side and on this side for listening so intently to the case presented by the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory. I also thank all honourable members for granting an extension of time to the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory.
As honourable members would expect, [ have some knowledge of the workings of a police force, and I cannot recall a greater injustice done to any Australian citizen than that which has been done to this great Australian, ex-Sergeant Upston. In the short time available to me, despite the lateness of the hour, I intend to elaborate on the remarks - and probably in certain instances to duplicate the remarks - of the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory.
Question put -
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr L. J. Failes)
Majority . . . . 36
Question soresolvedin the affirmative.
Schedule agreed to.
Remainder of Bill - by leave - taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Opposition Members - No.
– Leave is not granted.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the remaining stages being passed without delay.
Motion (by Mr Howson) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I was saying a few moments ago how grateful I was to the House for granting an extension of time to the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr J. R. Fraser) and for the patient hearing it gave him when he dealt with an allegation of a cruel injustice imposed on a former member of the Australian Capital Territory Police. Down the ages sections of the community have been heard calling out for the guilty to be punished, but we have never heard many sections say that the innocent should be cleared. The sentence imposed on Senior Constable and ex-Sergeant Upston was probably one of the worst injustices ever imposed on a member of the Australian Capital Territory Police. I think, having noted the great interest that the honourable member has taken in this case, Government members will interest themselves in it and try to see that this injustice is corrected.
I want to tell the House some of the qualifications of ex-Sergeant Upston. He joined the Police Force at twenty-four years of age. He had an intermediate standard certificate from the secondary school at Bankstown and the Dulwich Hill High School. He is a fully qualified motor mechanic, having served his time in that trade. His knowledge was of practical use to him in the performance of his police duties in coronial and traffic matters. He is an ex-serviceman, having served as an aircraft fitter during the 1939-1945 War, and he received a good conduct discharge in April 1946. He was on the general reserve for some years. In 1945 he was selected for active reserve training as a pilot officer in the Citizen Air Force. He was promoted to the rank of flying officer some time ago. He has had continuous service with that Citizen Air Force for a period of ten years, during which time he has controlled transport sections and personnel on a number of Royal Australian Air Force bases. He has had CAF service in training exercises in Papua-New Guinea and maritime bases in North Queensland. He is the current holder of St John first-aid certificate, which he gained in his own time and which would have assisted him in the preservation of life during his Police service had the necessity arisen. This instruction also includes mouth-to-mouth and air-viva resuscitation and external heart massage. He holds many certificates for lifesaving and has passed as a first class instructor. To expand his knowledge for the benefit of the police service, he said, and because he had the necessary experience, he passed the examinations under the Maritime Services Board Regulations as a motor boat driver and coxswain. He was the only member of the Australian Capital Territory Water Police Branch with these qualifications. As coxswain he was put in charge of the police launch when it was brought into service on Lake Burley Griffin.
Most of his police experience was divided between the Traffic Branch and the General Duties Branch as a uniformed constable. He spent a number of years as a police motor cyclist, during which time he was in charge of vice-regal escorts and escorts of foreign diplomats and other VIPs. He received commendations from a number of these persons including two Governors-General and visiting foreign royalty. He carried out the duties of school lecturer on road safety for about eighteen months and lectured on all forms of safety and guidance to children. The system of lecturing and the preparation of the curriculum and organisation was carried out by him personally. This lecturing was extended to scouting, church, girl guide and other clubs for guidance to juveniles.
On several occasions he carried out the duties of police prosecutor and assisted the coroner in coronial inquests. He was a sheriff’s officer for more than five years and, particularly during the last two years before he left the service, he had a great deal of experience in that jurisdiction. Recently a judge of the Supreme Court recommended that only selected members of the Police Force be entrusted with this duty. He was the senior member of those selected to perform the duty and was actively engaged in Supreme Court procedure, the execution of many warrants involving large sums of money and the levying of all types of real and personal estate.
These duties were carried out very satisfactorily. He acted also as court orderly in arbitration court hearings.
He has many other qualifications. To my mind he was a very efficient, excellent, trustworthy police officer. During the fifteen years that he was a member of the ACT Police it was never suggested that he had put wealth above honour. It has never been suggested that he was a grafter or was ever likely to be one, nor was it suggested that he was a perjurer or that he was in any way inclined in that direction. It is true, as the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory has said, that he has been a victim of a senior officer. Senior Constable Upston was successful before the police arbitral tribunal in an appeal against six others who had been promoted over him. Unfortunately these things occasionally happen with senior officers. Senior Constable Upston was undoubtedly marked down by one officer in particular for reprisal. As the honourable member for the ACT has said, it was only about ten months before he was asked to resign or was threatened with dismissal that he appeared before the police tribunal.
I think another matter which may have affected his chance of re-instatement to the Police Force was that on one occasion he had the unpleasant experience of arresting a member of the Crown Law Department for driving under the influence. If the Minister sent the papers to the Crown Law Department, it could not be expected that an impartial decision would be given. I think Canberra would be a very difficult city in which to perform police duties because of the large number of influential public servants who reside here. The officer from the Crown Law Department who was arrested is a barrister. He was again arrested by another police officer some time later for driving under the influence of liquor and I believe for resisting arrest. He did not lose his position with the Department. One day he may become a judge. I know that members of the Police Force must keep themselves beyond reproach, but I think members of the legal profession have a higher duty to keep themselves beyond reproach. Their conduct should be of a higher standard than that demanded of members of the Police Force, because members of the judiciary are chosen from the legal profession. The Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) who is in the chamber knows that this is so.
The Sergeant does not have any influence. It may be said that his association would help him, but the Police Force is a semimilitary body and it is difficult for the men to organise themselves on union lines to guard against the actions of superior officers. They have no backing from any section of the community. For that reason, this type of victimisation of decent police officers occurs from time to time. I feel very strongly about the treatment that has been meted out to this Australian. I became involved in the case only a fewdays ago when a friend of ex-Sergeant Upston in Sydney suggested that he have a talk with me. When I went into the case and found out how much the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory had done, I was deeply proud of my colleague. I am afraid I will not remain silent until this injustice is corrected. I will bring it up time and time again. This is a humble man and he is without influence. The Australian tradition is that we should protest most strongly when people of this type are badly treated. There has been some moral decay throughout Australia in this period of the twentieth century, and I was really happy tonight to observe the interest taken by honourable members, particularly those on the Government side of the House, in the case presented by the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory. The sergeant told me that the Police Force was his life. Even now he wakes up during the night conscious of the injustice that has been done to him. As the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory said, the sergeant was asked to resign or he would be dismissed. He was not charged departmentally.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker - Mr P. E. Lucock)
Majority . . . . 37
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 2 May (vide page 1615), on motion by Mr Howson: That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I am not going to keep the House long at this hour. I rise to protest on behalf of the Opposition at the way the Parliament is being treated by the Government. I cannot help but endorse the remarks of the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) who expressed his opposition to the Parliament being treated as a rubber stamp in order that the Government can bludgeon through the Parliament, without a proper explanation, legislation involving many hundred of millions of dollars. It may not have been noted by many honourable members but tonight we saw something that has not occurred in this Parliament for many years, lt was a good development. It was a development which led to the Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Howson) reading details of the expenditure. For too many years this Parliament has been prepared to pass legislation involving large sums of money without demanding particulars of what the expenditure represented. This Parliament owes much to the honourable member for Bradfield for his persistence tonight because we have once again reverted to a practice, which many years ago was regarded as normal, that this Parliament would never pass an Appropriation Bill unless it knew in detail what the Bill was about. We got this explanation tonight but only after persistent endeavours on the part of the honourable member for Bradfield and only at about 4 o’clock in the morning. This is not good enough.
Every time a Minister rises in the Parliament and moves the second reading of an Appropriation Bill, honourable members on both sides of the House should stand to a man and demand from the Minister concerned a full itemised account of what the expenditure is for. We ought then to have sufficient time after the Minister has made his second reading speech itemising the particulars of the expenditure, to be able to digest those particulars, to study them and if need be to query them. If necessary, indeed, we ought to reject them.
This Parliament is no longer functioning as it ought to function. If we sit back like dumb driven cattle and allow the Executive Government to railroad through the Parliament Bills containing appropriations amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars without protest then it is a reflection firstly upon the Executive Government and secondly, and equally, upon each and every member sitting on the back benches. We are not doing our job if we sit idly by and remain mute while this treatment is meted out to the Parliament by the Executive Government. This is not a dictatorship. The Government behaves as though it is. This is a democratic Parliament elected by the people of Australia to act as such. This Government has treated Parliament as though it were a mere rubber stamp. I take my hat off to the honourable member for Bradfield and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). Of course, I take it off also to my own colleague whose words are rarely listened to. The Government has at last been forced to listen to years of pleading by the honourable member for Bradfield and, to his credit, the honourable member for Mackellar, and others whose names I cannot so readily bring to mind. I say now that the Minister has no right to expect us to pass a Bill of this kind until he stands up and itemises the details of the expenditures that he expects us to pass. 1 for one am not prepared to vote on this measure until I hear from the Minister the details of each item.
– I think it should be pointed out that the amount we are dealing with is not hundreds of millions of dollars. The Bill before the House appropriates $12,742,000.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howson) read a third time.
House adjourned at 5.7 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Acting Minister for Health, upon notice:
Aboriginals at each of the Government mission and pastoral settlements in the Northern Territory for each of the last three years?
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Although details of infant mortality rates for Aboriginals are available on a regional basis, they are not at present available on the basis of individual missions and settlements. However, an effort is being made to extract the information requested, and 1 will write to the honourable member as soon as practicable.
The infant mortality rates for residents of the Territory, other than an full-blood Aboriginals, were as follows during the years 1963-1965:
These are the last three years for which complete figures are at present available.
asked the Acting Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Acting Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Acting Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Acting Minister for Health, upon notice:
What was the contribution required in each State in 1953, 1960 and 1966 for a contributor to obtain the maximum (a) medical and (b) hospital insurance for himself and family?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The tables below set out the weekly family contribution charged for maximum insurance by the major registered fund in each State as at 31st December 1955, 1960 and 1966.
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Hie differences in rates, as between the States, is brought about by the fact that in June 1964, it was decided that the Commonwealth should match’, as closely as possible, the margins paid to Social Workers by the dominant employer of staff in this category in each State.
Governments is not available to the Department but it is understood that in New South Wales and Victoria Social Workers with duties comparable to the duties of Grade 1 Social Workers in the Department of Social Services are paid within the scales $2,767-$3,877 and $2,688-$4,133 respectively.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 May 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1967/19670510_reps_26_hor55/>.