20th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will the AttorneyGeneral inform the Senate whether it is a fact that the substance of a speech that was made in this chamber last Wednesday evening attacking the actions and the motives of the United Nations in Korea, was included in a broadcast by Moscow Radio to North America last Sunday!
– It is a fact that last Sunday morning Moscow Radio, in a broadcast to North America, included the substance of an attack that was made on the United Nations and the United States of America by Senator Morrow in this chamber last week. It is clear that the vast’ majority of the people of Aus-‘ tralia would deplore the fact that a member of this chamber should have made it possible-
– I rise to order I Isubmit that it is not competent for the Minister to debate a matter in reply toa question. I submit further that, in replying to a question whether a particular thing has taken place on the Moscow radio the Minister it not entitled to proffer comment. He is entitled merely to reply to the question.The Minister is debating the merits of comment that was made by Senator Morrow.
– I have no desire to debate the matter at this stage. However, the supporters of the Government completely repudiate Senator Morrow’s statements, and I would have hoped that the Leader of the Opposition also would do so.
– Will the Government make it clear to the Government of the United States of America and also to the Secretary-General of the United Nations that the pro-Communist views expressed by Senator Morrow concerning the war in Korea, and which were rebroadcast by Moscow Radio, are not the views of the Australian Government? Can the Attorney-General state whether or not those views are endorsed by the Opposition in this chamber? If he cannot do so, will he request the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate to make a public statement clarifying the views of the Opposition on that matter?
– I think that the views of this Government-
– Why does not the Government take action to put value back into the £1 instead of engaging in this kind of skull-duggery ?
– Order ! I again ask honorable senators not to interject while a Minister is replying to a question. I have made this request on several occasions. Questions are asked on matters of public interest and the replies to them should beheard in silence. Constant interjecting is not only disorderly and irrelevant, but it also ill becomes many of the honorable senators who indulge inthe practice.
– I think thatthe views ofthis Government concerning the matter raised by Senator Gorton are well known to theGovernment of theUnited States of America and also to the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, because the attitude of the Australian Government hasbeen unequivocal since the commencement of the Korean war. As I have previously stated, it seems to me unfortunate, to say the least, that the leaders of a political party which at any rateformally endorsed the entry of Australianforces into the Korean war should not ere this have repudiated certain statements that have been made by a member of that party.
– Since you have been a member of the Senate, Mr. President, and particularly since your elevation to the chair, you may have noticed a slight divergence of opinion between Government and Opposition senators in connexion with matters affecting the waterside workers. I therefore intend to address a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport, because I think that theSenate should be fully informed on all these matters, in order to overcome the diversity or antagonism to which I have referred.
– Why the speech ?
- Senator Reid is out of order. He should not butt in or interject.
– I defer to the President. I am asking a question of the Minister, and I do so in the public interest. Has the attention of the Minister been directed to the divergent views that have been expressed by the chairman of the Overseas Shipping Representatives Association, as reported in this morning’s newspapers, and those contained in the report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board? In order to enlighten honorable senators, and through them the public, will the Ministerprocure for each honorable senator a copy of eachreport, together with a statement, setting out the case presented by the waterside workers, compiled by a responsible member or members of the union ?
– I have seen reports that have appeared inthe newspapers. The Government has been very concerned aboutthe slow turn-round of ships in Australian ports. As has been previously stated, arrangements have been made to obtain from the other side of the world the services of an independent officer who has had long and wide experience of the problems involved. I understand that that officer will arrive in Australia at the end of next week and will commence his investigations immediately. It is hoped that within two months I shall be in a position to present his report to the Senate. In the meantime, the members of my department and I are examining all the statements that have been made on the matter, particularly the latest report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board. In view of the fact that an overseas officer has been engaged, however, no further action will’ be. taken until his report is received.
– I preface a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer by stating that for some time the Australia Government has been subsidizing the manufacture of woollen garments. Can the Minister inform the Senate whether it is the intention of the Government to withdraw that subsidy at an early date or whether it is proposed to continue it for some time!
– I have no knowledge of the Government’s intention in relation to the matter raised by the honorable senator, but, even, if I did, I do not think that I should make it available because it concerns Government policy, which cannot be appropriately dealt with in answer to a question.
Point, considerable preliminary work is necessary to organize the shipment. At present, shippers are arranging for approximately 1,000,000 super, feet of timber to be assembled’ at Beauty Point, and as soon as that quantity ia ready the ship will put into the port and commence loading. During the loading period the remainder of the timber will be brought forward for loading. What vessel will be nominated for this shipment will not be known until advice has been received that- the 1,000,000 super, feet of timber has been accumulated. The Australian Shipping. Board will then make available the vessel which is most conveniently placed to proceed immediately to Tasmania to lift the cargo. I cannot state at this juncture whether the. ship will sail from Melbourne or whether it will carry general cargo from that port to Tasmania. However, it ma; be taken that if it is at all possible, the vessel will carry cargo from the mainland to Tasmania when proceeding to Beauty Point to lift the timber.
– In. view of the fact that 30,000 tons of cement in Japan and some thousands of tons of steel in Great Britain are awaiting shipment to Australia, which badly needs those materials, will the- Minister for Shipping and Transport consider diverting Australian ships to expedite the shipment of that material to this country?
– Although the shortage of shipping is world-wide, the shortage of Australian ships is so acute that I do not think the Government could possibly divert Australian ships for that purpose. However, the position overseas has improved considerably in the last week. Communications have already been sent to the authorities in London asking them to give high priority to the shipment to Australia of the materials mentioned. I shall ask the officers of my department to obtain more detailed information for the honorable senator.
– Last Wednesday, Senator Pearson asked a question concerning the supply of cornsacks for the coming harvest. The Minister for Coinmerce and Agriculture has informed’ mc that he has no new information about the supply of cornsacks. Orders have been placed by the Australian Government, and accepted by Indian merchants and authorized by the Indian Government, for quantities that will substantially meet our requirements. It is understood by the Controller of Jute that there will be no difficulty in authorizing the final orders fully to meet our requirements. The Government has not considered subsidizing the price of cornsacks. If it did so, we believe that there would be no final difference in the impact on the public of the increased price, as the result of the cost being passed through all the channels and appearing in the final cost of the commodity for which the cornsacks are used.
– Can the Minuter representing the Minister for External Affairs say whether the Australian Government has entered into an agreement with the United Nations to limit the production and distribution of narcotics and synthetic drugs, particularly those which are dangerously habit forming, to the requirements of legitimate and scientific users?
– I think an international arrangement exists regarding this matter. I do not know the details, but if the honorable member will place her question on the notice-paper I shall endeavour to get the information required.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the Senate how much refined and raw sugar was held by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited and by wholesalers on the 30th June of this year? Will he also inquire into the allegation that the scarcity of refined sugar is due to a scarcity of labour and coal? Will he ascertain what the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is doing to increase the refining capacity of its plant by installing auxiliary power units, and by seeking to attract more labour ?
– I assure the honorable senator that the matters mentioned by him are not of mere casual interest to the Government, nor does its interest arise merely out of the debate which took place last night on the Sugar Agreement Bill. For months past,, inquiries have been made into methods of alleviating shortages wherever they occur. I am convinced from information supplied to me by officers of my department that large stocks of sugar are not held by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, or by wholesale houses. Efforts have been made to provide more coal and labour in Victoria to enable the production of refined sugar to be increased.
– In view of the Minister’s statement that the Government has investigated the stocks of sugar held in Australia, will he make the information obtained available to the Senate?
– I must decline to accede to that request because of the difficulty that would be experienced, and the time that would have to be expended, to obtain precise details of the actual quantities of sugar held in stock.
– But the Minister stated that the Government already hae that information.
– That is not so. The position is that supplies are very low, and that fact was made quite clear in the course of the debate on the Sugar Agreement Bill 1951 that took place last night. I think that members of the Opposition generally realize that stocks of sugar are very low. Although I do not consider that the request made by the honorable senator warrants the expenditure of time that would be necessary to comply with it, I shall be happy to make the services of departmental officers available to him if he desires to discuss the matter with them.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has furnished the following answers : -
Reconstruction and Development. Interest at 4¼ per cent. is payable half-yearly on the amount of the loan withdrawn and outstanding from time to time. This interest charge includes the 1 per cent. commission required by the Articles of Agreement of the International Bank for the purpose of building up the reserves of the bank, in which Australia isa shareholder. If the level of the bank’s reserves warrants it at the end of ten years from the commencement of the bank’s operations on the 25th June, 1946, this commission charge may be reduced with respect to the outstanding portions of loans already made as well as to future loans.
Debate resumed from the 4th July (vide page 903), on motion by Senator Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– In my earlier remarks on this measure, I mentioned that a committee representing the Government parties had been appointed to confer with the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Anthony), and with senior officers of the Postal Department on the reasons for the increased postal tariffs proposed in this legislation. Valuable discussions took place, and the committee was indebted to the Postmaster-General and to Postal Department officials for their frank and informative replies to questions directed to them. One matter considered was whether economies could be effected within the department with a view to obviating the need for successive increases of postal charges. As the result of discussions, the committee came to the conclusion that, whatever other Commonwealth departments might carry supernumeraries or permit laxity amongst their employees, those conditions were not present in the Postal Department. The nature of employment in the telephone branch, the telegraph branch, the mail branch, and amongst counter clerks is such that no opportunities for laxity exist. The girls at the telephone exchanges have to keep pace with the public demand for trunk-line and local calls. As fast as the shutters fall, calls have to be handled. In the telegraph branch, the telegraphists have to keep pace with the telegraph instruments. Mail branch employees, too, are kept busy. There is a tremendous inflow of mail into the drop boxes of the various post offices. Letters, packages and parcels have to be handled rapidly and the branch does not carry any supernumeraries. N o less industrious are the counter clerks who, in addition to selling stamps and performing other postal work, render valuable service on behalf of the Repatriation Department, the Commonwealth Bank, and the Department of Social Services. Public demand is insistent and in none of the branches I have mentioned is there any scope for loafers. There are frequently queues of people waiting at public counters to transact postal business. It is in the telephones, telegraph and mail branches and at public counters that the main body of postal workers are employed. The committee considered that those employees were doing a splendid job keeping pace with requirements, and it is not disputed that they perform valuable work in the public interest. The committee did not have an opportunity to study very closely the work being carried out in the administrative and clerical sections, which do not come before the public eye, nor did it have an opportunity to study to any appreciable degree the work of linemen and other postal employees engaged on field work. In this connexion it accepted the evidence of Mr. Chippendall and his senior officers, that checks are maintained to ensure that such work is faithfully carried out. Nevertheless, in view of the numerous complaints that have been received from the public from time to time, the committee considered that an investigation should be undertaken to see if there are any signs of slackness or overstating in connexion with the field work, which at times is difficult to supervise. Having regard to these facts the committee was convinced that the proposed increases could not be avoided, and in the circumstances it recommended that the present measure should be introduced. However, I am very concerned with the comment of the Auditor-General in his report for the year 1948-49 about the works costing system in the Postal Department. He stated -
Works Costing System. - For many years there hag been in operation in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department a system of costing of works, the object of which, as set out in the Departmental Works Procedure and Cost Accounts Instructions, are as follows: -
1 ) To ascertain and record the capital and maintenance costs of telegraph, telephone, wireless, and other plant used for specific services in each Engineering Division on a plant unit basis.
It is very important to have a works costing system under various headings. The Auditor-General continued -
Information supplied by the Department shows that the expenditure involved in connexion with the costing section of the Department at present totals approximately £200,000. This section, however, carries out a great deal of accounts work which does not come within the category of works costing. At the time of preparing this Report, details of the cost of the works costing system, as distinct from other accounting work, were not available, but it is probable that the cost of the system throughout the Department in all States is in the vicinity of £100,000 per annum.
There then followed this rather caustic comment -
Excessive Cost of Works. - An examination of the works costing system referred to in the last preceding sub-paragraph has brought to notice a large number of cases where the cost of work carried out by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department greatly exceeded the original estimate.
These excesses are generally investigated ‘by the Department in order to ascertain the underlying causes, and. whilst in many cases the excess cost is attributable to various factors which are explainable and which perhaps could not be foreseen or avoided, it ‘seems clear that one of the greatest contributing causes of the high cost is the lower rate of production per man-hour.
The Auditor-General was referring to instances where the cost of works hari greatly exceeded the estimates that had been prepared by the Postal Department. His report continued -
T.he survey carried out by my officers indicates that the Department is fully aware of the position which it views with concern. The Department is undoubtedly ‘faced with a serious situation, and in the interests of public economy every effort should be made to And ways and means of increasing nin lihou r production.
I have no evidence of what transpired in the Postal Department in the twelve subsequent months as a result of the AuditorGeneral’s criticism. However, in the Auditor-General’s report for the year ended the 30th June, 1950, lie matter was again referred to as follows : -
I also reported that, in view of my doubts, I had suggested to the Treasurer than an expert Committee consisting of departmental and Treasury representatives be set up to carry out an investigation, the principal purpose of which should be to ascertain whether the system being maintained justified the expenditure involved and to submit recommendations as to whether it should be continued in its existing or a modified form.
During the year correspondence between the Department, the Treasury, and myself, has ensued, and at the time of preparation of this Report certain information which I had requested was still awaited.
Perhaps the report of the Auditor General for the year ended the 30th June, 1951, will show that something has since been done in the matter, but I have no information to that effect. If it transpires that nothing has been done, and that he has been obliged once again to make reference to this state of affairs, actios should be taken promptly ‘to remedy the matter. I fail to see why information required by the Auditor-General should not be supplied to him expeditiously. If the sections of the Postal Department referred to by the Auditor-General had pulled their weight perhaps some of the increased charges now proposed would not have become necessary, or that lesser increases would now be necessary. I -shall look forward with very great interest to the reports of the PostmasterGeneral and the Auditor-General this year to see whether anything has been done in this matter.
The committee also considered whether the Postal Department was being adequately compensated for the great volume of work that it performs on behalf of the Repatriation Department, the Commonwealth Savings Bank, the Department of Social Services, and other departments. No figures were before the committee on which it could base sound judgment. However, the assurance of the Minister and his senior officers was accepted that the Postal Department, is being suitably rewarded for such work. A ‘fair rate nf compensation was established as a result of round-table Treasury talks. The committee came to the conclusion, ‘and reported accordingly, -that the deterioration of Postal Department finances is due mainly to the introduction of the 40- hour week and .the .impact of awards of industrial tribunals. What is the lesson contained in the increased charges now being considered by the Senate? I suggest that it boils down to this : If the people of Australia desire shorter hours of work and higher wages, some one must pay the price. It is of no use to say that the Government will pay, because the Government merely represents the people as a whole. The people themselves must face the realities of the position and appreciate that less work means higher .costs in every avenue of our industrial and economic life.
Increased wages awarded by industrial tribunals -arc quickly .translated into increased costs of all consumer goods and services. The benefits obtained from wage increases are therefore absorbed in the rising cost of living. If the basic wage were £20 a week, I suggest that the cost of goods and services would be in the same ratio. People would not be better off than they were when the basic wage was fixed at £6 a week. I contend that all the industrial and political effort, all the energy and disputation to improve the conditions of workers during the last 30 years have achieved no real result. The position remains as it was. It is true that we have attained higher wage levels, but it is also true that cost levels are very much higher.
I listened with considerable interest last evening to the declaration by Senator Amour that the wage-earners of Aus tralia do not look forward to increases of wages. I know that many wageearners share that view, and I have been of that opinion myself for a considerable period. However, the statement made by Senator Amour represents the first open admission by a member of the Australian Labour party in this Parliament that that is so. It amounts to a recognition of the futility of the work of trade union lenders. When T was a member of thu Queensland Parliament the town of RoseWood formed part of mv electoral division. There were t,wen tv collieries in operation in the Rosewood district and I knew many of the miners personally.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a number of them, and they spoke in the same terms as those expressed by Senator Amour last night. Those men informed me that they now shudder at the thought of wage increases because they know that it is not long before increased wages are surpassed by increased costs of living. That -is a matter which should receive consideration from all persons who ‘are interested in tha welfare of this country.
The pursuit of costs by wages is clearly reflected in the finances of the Postal Department. What is happening in thai department is also happening in every other Commonwealth and State department and in every phase of industry. Until there is a sane approach to the stabilization of our economy, that pursuit will continue. I am sure that this important problem is commanding the close attenton of the Government at. th». present time and I trust that it will not be long before positive action is taken towards its solution. Very reluctantly, but inescapably, I support the bill.
– -This bill proposes to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902- 1950 by increasing charges for postal services. An increase of domestic postal rates is proposed. The cost of postage of a letter, which is now 3d., is to be increased to 3Jd. for the first ounce. That, of course, is not a large amount, but when it is remembered that it is not so very long since the postage was 2d., it will be seen that it is in fact a substantial increase. It is also proposed that for each additional ounce 2jd. will be charged, so that the postage on a letter of 2 ounces will be 6d. I think that thai increase, although it appears to be small, places a heavy burden on the people. Tt should bring in a substantial amount of revenue, provided that the people continue to write letters as profusely as they do now.
The bill also provides for increased charges for Empire and foreign services. Postal notes and money orders are subject to increased poundage ranging from Id. on a ls. postal note, to 3d. on postal notes for sums between 10s. and 20s. All honorable senators will no doubt agree that the postal note is one of the most extensively used mediums of exchange in Australia. The increases are particularly heavy on money orders. As one who uses the facilities of the Postal Department fairly frequently, I have some knowledge of the large volume of business conducted in the sale of money orders. Under the proposed charges the commission on money orders will be increased to 6d. for every £5 up to £50. Thousands of citizens purchase small money orders each week and I suggest that the proposed increases penalize the ordinary people of the community to a greater degree than business people who make most of their payments by cheque, [t is proposed that the base rate for ordinary telegrams shall be increased from ls. 9d. to 2s. 3d. where the offices are not more than 15 miles apart, and from 2s. to 2s. 6d. in other cases. A noticeable feature of the proposed variation of the tariff is that the new base rate is to apply to telegrams of twelve words, instead of fourteen words as at present. Thus, a double-barrelled increase is proposed. The charge for each additional word is also to be raised from Hd. to 2d. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) said in his secondreading speech that the people of Australia, on the average, send more telegrams than do the residents of any other country. It is not unlikely that when these proposed increases become law the business of the Postal Department will be reduced. Those who use the telegraph services extensively will be forced to economize in their expenditure on telegrams, because of the cost involved. It is interesting to recall the views of the Minister in charge of the bill on the increased telegraph charges proposed by the Labour Government in 1949. In his second-reading speech on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, on the 16th June, 1949, he is reported at page 1067 of Ilansard to have said -
Because of the wide distances which separate towns from the cities and from each other in Australia, the telegraph service is freely availed of, particularly by country residents. Most stock sales are effected by telegram, and rural settlers transact a great deal of business by that means. It is obvious, therefore, that primary producers and country dwellers generally will be most adversely affected by the proposed increase.
He holds very different views to-day.
It is intended that telephone rentals shall also be subject to rather severe increases. I shall not deal with the proposals in detail, because I have not the time to do so. I shall confine my remarks to a couple of examples. The rental of a telephone used for business and residential purposes within a certain category is to be increased from £3 5s. to £4 7a. 6d. That is a very steep increase. For telephones in another classification the rental for business purposes is to be increased from £9 5s. to £12 5s., and for residential purposes from £7 10s. to £11. Instead of trying to do everything possible to facilitate the transaction of business in this country the Government proposes to place a heavy burden on businessmen and industry generally. I understand that, although this bill has not yet become law, the Postal Department has received a large number of requests from private subscribers to cancel their telephone services. In recent years, it conducted a campaign designed to extend the telephone services. Emphasis was placed on the excellent services rendered by the department and on the advantages of a telephone as a means of communication. It was hoped that eventually a telephone would be installed in almost every home. These proposed increased charges will cause many subscribers to cancel their telephone services and thus the value of the earlier campaign will be lost. ‘
Trunk line call rates are also to be somewhat severely increased if this measure is passed. The proposed increases range from Id. to 4s. lid. For a trunk line call over a distance of 1,300 miles the charge between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. is to be increased from 19s. 8d. to 24s. 7d., and from 14s. lOd. to 18s. 5d. between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. I can visualize a great diminution of the demand for trunk line services when these new rates become applicable and a corresponding lessening of the present waiting period for such calls.
The Postal Department is probably endeavouring to do its best to meet the circumstances that now exist, but in proposing so steeply to increase the existing tariffs it is acting in a shortsighted way. The time is not far distant when it will experience a considerable lessening of the demand on its services. In his secondreading speech, the Minister stated that in July, 1949, the then Government - a Labour Government - took action to increase certain Postal Department tariffs for the purpose of bringing them, more into harmony with progressively rising costs. Although that is true, it must not be forgotten that that action was taken in order to enable the department to meet additional costs resulting from the abolition of Commonwealth prices control. When the Commonwealth vacated the field of prices, increased tariffs to return an additional £5,500,000 per annum were essential to meet rising costs. Since then the tariff rates have been increased on two occasions. In his second-reading speech, the Minister said -
In I960, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) presented a bill for a further revision of postal and telegraph charges, thi* action having been made necessary by the continued heavy rise in the costs of wages, materials, freights and mail conveyance.
In 1949, steps were taken to increase postal rates, and in 1950, because of rising costs, higher wages and higher freight charges, a further increase was made. At that time, the PostmasterGeneral tried to justify the action of his Government by saying that, since 1941, an overall increase of 35 per cent, had taken place in costs. On the 16th November, 1949, the Minister stated that the higher rates would not suffice to balance the department’s commercial accounts for the year 1950-51, and that a substantial loss would be incurred. This prognostication proved to be correct, because the Government now proposes to increase rates still further. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), who introduced the present bill, said in the course of his second-reading speech -
It is now certain that there will be a heavy deficit in the commercial accounts of the department for 1950-51. It is expected that the loss will be approximately £5,000,000 and that, unless charges are varied to meet extra expenditure arising from higher wages and other additional costs likely to ensue during the next twelve months the deficit for 1951-52 may exceed £12,000,000.
The position is going from bad to worse, and the present Government is doing nothing to remedy the position except to increase charges still further. It is pro posed to raise an additional £5,000,000 to meet the deficit up to the 30th June last, and a further £7,000,000 to meet extra costs which it is expected will be incurred during the coming year. When the first increase of postal charges was made by the Labour Government the purpose was to raise £5,500,000. Now we are informed that the department expects that the deficit to the end of the financial year just concluded will be £5,000,000. and that an additional £12,000,000 will be necessary to balance accounts up to the end of the financial year 1951-52. Why is the Government proposing to raise that money in advance ? Is it so that it will be spared the distasteful task of imposing further increases just about election time? When introducing the bill, the Minister said that the losses incurred were in no way due to inefficiency in the Postal Department. I quote his words -
The Government is satisfied that the work oS providing, operating and maintaining the wide range of facilities .provided to the public is carried out efficiently; that recruitment of staff has been limited to the minimum consistent with the department’s obligations to the public, investigations having shown that the growth in the staff has not been out of step with the increase in the volume of business; that modern labour-saving machinery is being utilized; and that streamlined procedures have been introduced.
That sounds very well, but who, I ask, was responsible for instituting the improvements? The credit belongs principally to the Postmaster-General in the Labour Government, Senator Cameron. In 1949 the anti-Labour Opposition in this chamber consisted of three persons, Senator Cooper, the leader, Senator O’sullivan, and Senator Annabelle Rankin. As an Opposition they did a good job, but, as Leader of the Opposition, Senator Cooper made statements which it is difficult to reconcile with some of the statements that he made only the other day when introducing the bill. For instance, speaking on the 16th June, 1949, as recorded at page 1071 of Hansard, he referred to the then Postmaster-General, Senator Cameron, in these terms -
I suggest that the Prime Minister should ask for the Minister’s resignation forthwith, and that this bill should be withdrawn from the Senate until such time as a successor is appointed and has had an opportunity to make a complete overhaul of the department to see what improvement can be made to overcome the heavy deficits that are anticipated.
It is difficult to reconcile that statement with the passage that I quoted a little earlier from the Minister’s secondreading speech on this bill in -which he expressed himself as satisfied, with the efficiency of the Postal Department.
The bias in the minds of honorable senators opposite, is demonstrated in a speech delivered by the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) on. the 16th June, 1949, when he was a member of the Opposition. It is to be found at page 1083 of Hansard for that date, and I quote from it as follows : -
The fact that the many customers of the Post Office are not surprised at the increased charges proposed in this measure is poor consolation. They are not surprised because, as independent people, they know that regardless of the efficiency of the permanent staff of the Postal Department if socialism is to be applied to that particular Department the cost to the taxpayers will be staggering.
On the 16th June, 1949, the Minister also criticized the then Labour Government’s policy of full employment. His remarks are contained on page 1084. The honorable senator recalled that during the war he had visited a detention barracks where he saw the prisoners at work. The Minister emphasized that although they were fully employed, they were not gainfully employed. They were, in fact, engaged merely in shifting piles of bricks from one corner of the compound to another, and back again. The honorable senator said on that occasion -
It may be that the Postmaster-General’s Department is an example of the Government’s full employment policy and that it is absorbing large numbers of people who could be employed more gainfully to themselves and to their country in private industry.
What has the Government done to remedy that alleged state of affairs in the department?
In the course of the speech made by the Minister for Repatriation, who represents the Postmaster-General in this chamber, he said -
The plain facts are that the department has 76,000 employees, in addition to 10,000 semiofficial and non-official postmasters and assistants, and 6,500 mail contractors. Its staff has to be paid in accordance with arbitration awards, and the effect of wages increases may be judged when it is realized that every ls. rise increases the department’s yearly wages bill by about ?200,000.
The fact that the present Government has found it necessary to continue such a large number of people in the employment of the department proves emphatically that the criticisms uttered by the Minister and his colleagues when they were- in opposition were unjustified and unfounded. I also remind members of the Government that since they attained office there have been a number of increases of the. basic wage, and that, on one occasion, the increase was as much as 5s. a week as the Minister has pointed’ out that an increase of the basic wage by ls. costs the department in the aggregate ?200,000, honorable senators will realize that the increased expenditure of the department since the presentGovernment has attained office has been astronomical. The state of the finances of the Postal Department furnish one more example of the unwillingness or incapacity of the present Government to place the economy of the nation on a sound- basis.
Senator Maher made extended reference to the 40hour week in industry which was introduced in accordance with a determination by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The judges of that court, who thoroughly investigated the claim for a reduction of standard hours and the effect that it would have- upon our economy, were satisfied that the granting of the claim would not upset our economy, and Senator Maher’s criticism of the court’s decision amounts almost to an indictment of the court. Although the honorable senator claimed that all our economic troubles were due to the introduction of the 40- hour week, the fact is that most postal employees worked less than 40 hours a week even before the general reduction of standard hours was made. If honorable senators care to examine Determination No. 13 of 1930 they will realize that even as long ago as 1930, employees of the department worked considerably less than 40 hours a week. That determination provided that telephonists at the principal exchanges should work 34 hours a week; those at such exchanges as Perth, Hobart, Newcastle, Bathurst and Ballarat, should work. 36 hours; those at country exchanges with more than 1,100 units should work 39 hours; and those at exchanges with less than 1,100 units, should work 40 hours a week. Those hours of employment have been in force since 1930. I find also that telegraphists on day duty work six and a half hours, and on night duty and Saturday duty six hours, with a maximum of 36$ hours in any weekly cycle. Those hours, too, have been in operation for quite a number of years; yet the honorable senator has sought to convince us that the introduction of the 40-hour week waB the cause of our troubles. Clerks in the Postal Department work 36f hours a week and have done so for more than ten years. Senator Maher surely should have ascertained the true position prior to the declaration of the 40-hour week before blaming the drift in postal finances upon reduced working hours.
The Minister said that, since 1941, every item of equipment used by the Postal Department had increased greatly in price, but price increases are not unusual in the present state of our economy. All householders know only too well that the cost of the necessaries of life varies from week to week, but always in an upward direction. The Minister gave some examples of the increased cost of postal equipment. He said-
Automatic exchange equipment has risen in price by 114 per cent.; underground cable has gone up by 200 per cent.; trunk aerial wire nas also risen by 200 per cent. The cost of telephone instruments has increased by 174 (>er cent.; postmen’s uniforms by- 114 per cent., letter receivers by 238 per cent. ; and paper for the telephone directories by 300 per cent. Concurrently, wage rates have more than doubled.
This legislation is the inevitable result of the inflationary policy now being pursued by the Government. Since it was elected on the 10th December, 1949, it has made no attempt to stabilize our economy ; yet it now asks the people of Australia to pay another £12,000,000 annually in charges for services rendered by the Postal Department. All public utilities, Commonwealth and State, are increasing their tariffs because that is all they can do to meet continually rising costs. What will be the ultimate result? Will there be a complete economic crash, or will the Government have the courage to do something constructive? Why are the people of Australia being asked to pay excessive prices for goods and services ? Every one knows that commodities are not worth the prices that are being charged for them; yet the Government stands idly by. Is it afraid to act lest it offend some of its supporters? Is it more concerned with sectional interests than with the welfare of the people generally? Governmental services should be made available to the people as cheaply as possible. Charges should be no more than sufficient to cover costs. It should not be the object of public utilities to make profits.
Honorable senators opposite have drawn attention to the fact that, in years gone by, Consolidated Revenue has been boosted by profits made by the Postal Department. That was the common practice under anti-Labour governments. Those administrations were not concerned about the working conditions of postal employees. When Senator Cameron was Postmaster-General in the Chifley Government, he found it necessary to introduce a programme of rehabilitation in the Postal Department. Postal services do not consist merely of carrying letters from one point to another. The ramifications of the department are enormous, but anti-Labour administrations deliberately starved the department so that its profits could be paid into Consolidated Revenue. They had not the courage to impose higher taxes on the people so that postal revenue could ,be devoted to an improvement of the working conditions of employees of the department, and to an extension of postal facilities. Does this Government intend to sabotage the Postal Department so that it may ultimately be handed over to private enterprise, or is the department to be continued as an essential public utility? I know what the people’s answer to that question would be. The Government is completely without vision in its administration of the Postal Department and other governmental undertakings. It is continuing the old system of passing on charges, but saturation point is just around the corner, and when it has been reached, a calamitous situation will confront the people of Australia. The blame will lie entirely with the Government because of its ineptitude, and lack of courage to deal with the grave economic problems now confronting us. The Minister has said that the wages bill of the Postal Department has doubled. That is not correct. Wages as such have not increased very much. Higher remunerations are being paid now due largely to cost of living adjustments. I shall explain what I mean. The first task of a union is to secure a base rate and marginal allowances for the employees of the industry that it covers. The basic wage is fixed by the Commonwealth and State arbitration authorities. Then the marginal rates are added. Any further increase of wages is due to cost of living adjustments. The workers are continually chasing the cost of living. Senator Amour was criticized when he stated yesterday that the workers were getting nowhere under the existing conditions, despite the fact that they are receiving increased wages. I support the honorable senator’s assertion. The adjustment of the basic wage takes place only as a result of an increase of the cost of living. The worker is at least three months behind when the declaration is made. An interesting report about the prospects of a further basic wage rise in the near future appeared in yesterday’s Melbourne Herald. It reads -
Basic Wage Rise of 5s. to 6s. 6d., With Moke Later.
Basic wage rises ranging from 5s. to 6b. 6d. a week in the various States are expected in the quarter’s wage adjustment from the beginning of August. An even bigger rise may come in the following quarter because of increased prices during this quarter. Among them will be: The huge increase in postal charges to operate next week; the rise in the price of sugar as soon as legislation to vary the sugar agreement is passed; and the increase in the price of butter which the Commonwealth Government is now endeavouring to negotiate with the States. . . .
– How does the honorable senator account for the tremendous rise of savings bank deposits? The credit balances of many savings accounts appear to have risen in proportion to the rise of the cost of living.
– I do not know whether that is so, but I do know that people in all sections of society in this country operate savings bank accounts; they are not restricted to workers. Millions of pounds are deposited annually in savings ‘banks by friendly societies, trade unions, and other organizations which are permitted to operate cheque accounts. We cannot regard the whole of the money at credit in savings banks as the savings of workers in this country I admit that it appears paradoxical that there should be an increase of credits in savings accounts when there is an increase of the cost of living.
The basic cause of our economic ills to-day is the lack of prices control. Not long ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) announced a fourteen-point programme in connexion with this matter and stated that the Government intended to institute certain controls, including an excess profits tax, and the control of capital issues. What has happened to them? So far, we have heard only talk. I believe that as time goes on, further bills will be introduced to provide for still further increases of charges to the public for services rendered by the Postal Department, because we have not the courage to face up to the situation. Even at this late stage, what is wrong with stabilizing prices in order to save the economy of Australia before it gets completely and definitely out of control? I do not know what the £1 is worth now, but instead of the Government putting value back into the £1 I think we oan safely say that to-day the £1 is not worth 5s. in Australian currency. I consider that the proposed increases of postal charges should be subjected to full inquiry ‘before this measure is passed. In the main, I am not convinced that the proposed increases are justified. There has not been an equitable distribution of proposed increases on all sections of the public, and I believe that many private citizens will dispense with their telephones, and that the cost of business services will be increased tremendously. I understand that the Government also contemplates raising broadcast listeners’ licence-fees. In many instances, the increased charges will be passed on, and in the final analysis the working class people will have to pay the lot.
– I support the bill. Honorable senators on both sides are well aware how costs have risen during the last few years, and we must realize that it is necessary for the Postal Department to pay its way by meeting its commitments. As honorable senators know, it is proposed to increase the postal rate for letters from 3d. to 3 1/2 d. for the first ounce. The letter-card rate is to be increased from 3d. to 3 1/2 d. ; post cards from 2 1/2 d. to 3d. ; commercial papers from 2d. to 3d. for the first two ounces. In the last year of office of the former Labour Government, 64,000 telephones were installed in Australia, compared with 100,000 during the first twelve months in office of the Liberal-Australian Country party Government. Party politics should be ignored in considering the proposed increases. It is to the interests of Labour and non-Labour supporters alike to see that this great institution is kept on is payable basis.
Senator Nash has criticized Government senators who have claimed that the introduction of the 40-hour working week has been a major cause of the increase of costs, and he has stated that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration decided to reduce the working week to 40 hours. I point out that while the court was sitting, Mr. Hanlon, the Premier of Queensland, and Mr. McGirr, the Premier of New South Wales, announced that their governments had adopted the 40-hour working week. The court subsequently announced that it had to be guided by those decisions. I am not saying that the 40-hour working week is a good thing or a bad thing for Australia. However, I do claim that it is a bad thing for Australia to have to import materials for use in government departments, at a cost of 100 per cent, more than that of similar Australian-made goods. One of the first duties of the Government is to see that the goods required for the service of the Government are produced in Australia. Let us consider why sufficient quantities of the materials mentioned arc not produced in this country. The insufficient production of many commodities has been due to the Communist menace in our midst. In another bill to be introduced into this chamber soon, provision will be made for the holding of a referendum to enable the people of this country to decide whether there shall be given to the Commonwealth sufficient power to combat the Communist menace. I remind honorable senators opposite that we are living in very prosperous times and that the people have money to buy their requirements, although the prices are higher than formerly. The people showed their appreciation of the present prosperity by returning the Liberal-Australian Country party Government to office.
– It is only a temporary prosperity.
– There is a vast difference between the conditions of to-day and the conditions that were experienced during the depression in the ‘thirties. In those days, people could not afford to pay ls. or ls. 3d. for a 2-oz. packet of Capstan tobacco, which sells readily today for 3s. 6d. Honorable senators oppo site would do well to show appreciation of some of the good things that we are getting in life to-day, instead of continually advocating the re-institution of prices control. I am in favour of a 40-hour week provided that everybody works for 40 hours in the week.
When Senator Hendrickson was addressing the chamber yesterday, and the proceedings were being broadcast, he asserted that I had never done a day’s work in my life. Honorable senator* opposite are continually trying to give the electors the impression that supporters of the Government are capitalists who will not do anything for the workers. That is very stupid. I undertake to do more work in a day than Senator Hendrickson in any sphere that he chooses. All of us have to work. Because honorable senators opposite are members of the Australian Labour party they imagine that they are looking after the interests of the workers. I remind them that honorable senators on this side of the chamber have all had to work very hard during their lives. Let us consider some of the reasons for the proposed increased postal charges. When the basic wage is increased by ls. a week, the Postal Department is involved in additional expenditure of £200,000 a year. When the basic wage was increased by £1 a week, therefore, the wages bill of the department rose by £5,000,000 a year. The only alternative to increasing charges would be to cut out some of the services that are provided by the Postal Department.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– I ask for leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Spicer) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is a simple measure and is designed to overcome some of the anomalies that arise because of the fact that standard salaries for Public Service positions, as they are expressed at the present time, are completely unrelated to the realities of the day. The purposes of the bill are, first, to permit of Public Service salaries being expressed in amounts which approximate reasonably closely the actual rates now being paid, and secondly, to allow of the change of salary tables being made with a minimum of consequential administrative work.
Public Service salaries are prescribed by Public Service regulations or determinations of the Public Service Arbitrator. They are expressed in terms of standard salary according to tables of salaries contained in the Public Service regulations, and they are subject to adjustment up or down according to changes in the cost of living index number. I think that all honorable senators will appreciate that when a position in the Public Service is advertised as vacant, reference is made to what is described as the standard salary. That standard salary is subject to a number of additions on account of increases in the cost of living. Perhaps I should give an illustration of that. If the nominal or standard salary of a position in the Public Service is £216, the true position to-day is that the salary for that office, taking into account cost of living adjustments, is £420. The purposes of this bill is to enable the standard salary to be expressed in terms of the real salary as it was at the 31st December, 1950. Taking again the illustration that I have already given, the standard salary of the position to which Ihave referred will be expressed as £420, not as £216.
The bill does not propose to alter rates of salary, but merely to alter the method by which they will be expressed in the regulations. The cost of living index number, published at the direction of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, is used as the basis for cost of living adjustments. Until recently those adjustments were made halfyearly, but from February of this year quarterly adjustments have been made in accordance with the prevailing practice in industry generally. The upward adjustment of the salaries of male adult public servants as at the 31st December, 1950, was £204, with lesser related amounts for other officers, and it is proposed to add the amount of £204 to the standard male adult salary and corresponding sums to the standard salary rates for females and minors. The tables prescribing those salaries will be included, as is now done, in the regulations made under the Public Service Act. Once the main decision is taken to adjust adult male salaries, adjustment of the remaining tables of salaries follows automatically.
Although it would be competent for salaries to be amended as desired by alteration of the regulations, an act of Parliament not being required for that purpose, a great deal of consequential administrative work would be entailed. It is desired to avoid that. Section 29 of the Public Service Act provides that the Governor-General may, amongst other things, raise or lower the classification of any office. The Governor-General acts under section 29 upon the recommendation of the Public Service Board after the board has obtained a report from the permanent head of the department concerned, and the procedure is suitable for dealing with the situation arising from the reclassification of one or several offices. I think that honorable senators will appreciate how inappropriate that procedure would be to effect wholesale reclassification. The alteration of standard salary rates now contemplated will be legally, though not in fact, a reclassification of every office in the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions of the Public Service. Unless legislation similar to that now before the Senate is passed, every office would be deemed vacant, every officer would be an unattached officer and every office would be required immediately to be filled by means of wholesale transfers or promotions. Where the salaries of all officers, or of large groups of officers, are altered at the same date, so that the relative positions of officers as between themselves are not affected, the provisions of section 29 are inappropriate and their implementation would involve a great deal of clerical labour to no useful purpose.
This bill provides that the salaries of all officers shall be altered as from, a uniform date by statute and not by the process of reclassification under section 29 of the regulations. There will be no reclassification under that section and no consequent action to deem offices vacant. Nor will it be necessary to promote or transfer officers. I invite honorable senators to note that no alteration is proposed of the actual rates to be paid to public servants. The standard salary rates are to be altered by regulation in order to incorporate in them upward cost-of-living adjustments which were paid as at the 31st December, 1950’. The Public Service Board has recommended that this should be done, because it has been found that working on the basis of unreal and out of date tables leads to confusion and has a probable detrimental effect on Public Service recruiting. The Government has accepted the advice of the board. This is not a bill to fix Public Service salary rates in the ordinary manner. Machinery is provided by the Parliament for the fixing of such salaries. This bill does not affect either that machinery or the salaries which are now being paid. It merely re-arranges the present proportions between standard salary and cost-of-living adjustments when assessing the total actual amount. It does not involve the provision of additional funds. It is regarded by the Government as a desirable measure because it will enable that step to be taken with the minimum of administrative effort. I commend the bill to the Senate.
– The Opposition offers no objection to this measure. It recognizes that to bracket together the original standard or nominal rates and cost-of-living adjustments during the years that have intervened since 1926 is a move towards reality. It would no doubt be true to say that the major portion of those adjustments have taken place in recent years. I consider that this measure will improve the morale of public servants because the actual payments made to them will henceforth be recognized as their classified salaries. I suggest that it is not conducive to good morale in the service if an officer is regarded as being on a salary of £216 when in fact he receives more than £400. From that viewpoint I think it will help to stimulate recruiting and improve the status of the Public Service in comparison with outside organizations. The Opposition appreciates that if the existing procedure were adopted whereby every classification would be reviewed and every position thrown open to application, and the usual promotion procedure followed, there .would be a complete administrative tangle. It is the purpose of this bill to obviate that disability.
I have not had an opportunity, nor has any member of the Senate, to read the second-reading speech of the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer). Accordingly, there has not been much opportunity to consider the points raised in that speech. However, it occurs to me that future costofliving adjustments must be regarded in the light of some basis or other. I am concerned to know whether the base will be taken at the enhanced figure or whether it will operate on the old standard. Is it proposed to preserve the old standard for that purpose? Honorable senators will appreciate that if £216 .was the original standard upon which cost-of-living adjustments were made year after year, and the same formula is to be preserved in future, there will be some retention of that old scheme when £420 is adopted as the standard. I should like the AttorneyGeneral to consider that point and, if he is in a position to do so, inform the Senate of what will happen under those conditions. Will all thought of the old standard be forgotten and is there any need for an alteration of the formula under which cost of living adjustments are calculated?
– I support the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) on this bill. I regret that I have not had an opportunity to consider itr provisions more thoroughly, but at this stage I wish to comment on one or two aspects of it. I trust that the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) will be in a position to give me an assurance that my fears are ill-founded. The Leader of the Opposition has referred to cost-of-living adjustments and the manner in which they will be computed in future, and I also am interested in that matter. I am more concerned, however, to know whether the proposed amendment will apply to the salaries of temporary employees. I regret that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) is not in the chamber at the moment, because for several years the Minister and I have been in accord regarding the importance of the temporary public servant problem. Regardless of the way in . which the various governments of the Commonwealth regard temporary public servants, it is undeniable that their numbers are increasing. All honorable senators will agree that because of the large volume of work required to be performed in the Public Service there is no possibility that those numbers will be materially reduced in the near future. Will this proposed departure from existing practice in the fixation of salaries be adopted in respect of the salaries of temporary officers? I trust that it will, so that temporary officers may not be placed at a further disadvantage compared with their more fortunate colleagues in permanent positions. Because of my lack of knowledge of the intentions of the Government in that connexion I shall leave the matter there until the Minister has replied to the debate.
– in reply - In reply to the comments of the Leader of the Oppo sition (Senator McKenna), I desire to point out that an entirely new standard salary basis is to be adopted. In place of a standard of £216 a new standard of £420 is to be adopted to which will be added the cost of living adjustments granted since the 31st December last. There will be no need to alter the existing formula in order to apply the new standard rate.
In regard to the matter raised by Senator Critchley, the position is that similar conditions will apply to temporary employees as apply to permanent employees, not, I am instructed, by virtue of the provision of the bill itself, but by administrative action.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) to clarify the position in relation to the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna). If the new standard salary is to operate from the 31st December, 1950, apart perhaps from increasing the morale of the Service and placing public servants on a par with the employees of other industries, I fail to see how the provisions of this bill will result in a lessening of clerical work in Commonwealth departments. If honorable senators will examine the Commonwealth Gazette they will observe that in every issue positions are advertised at a standard salary of £216, but that the actual salary shown in the extreme right hand column is £420. Wherein lies the advantage of this proposal, if the new standard salary is merely to be quoted, plus cost-of-living increases of £12 or £18 as the case may be? If the new standard is adopted, and the time arrives when cost-of-living reductions have to bc made, will the standard salary then be expressed in terms of the standard at the 31st December, 1950, less the appropriate cost-of-living adjustment? That point has not been clearly covered by the Minister. I should also like him to explain how this proposal will, as has been claimed, result in a lessening of the work of administrative officers.
– I should like the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) to inform the Senate why it is not possible for the Public Service Board to adopt a practice similar to that in operation in industry generally. Why can not the board fix a basic wage and add to it appropriate marginal increases for additional responsibility or skill and then apply to it the appropriate cost of living variation? If that were done the existing practice of advertising positions in the Public Service at a certain salary, plus cost-of-living adjustments, could be eliminated. If the present trend continues, within a comparatively short period the Government will again have to introduce a measure of this kind to incorporate cost-of-living adjustments in the standard salary. I see no reason why the practice in the Public Service should differ from that which is adopted in industry generally. If the Commonwealth Statistician’s index figure discloses a fall in the cost-of-living - it does not seem likely that that will ever happen, but it may at some future date - the’ wage of an industrial worker is automatically adjusted as from a date determined by the industrial tribunal under whose award he is employed. Why is it not possible to adopt a similar practice in the Public Service?
– Senator Willesee will realize, I think, that the bill is designed to relate the standard salary to presentday realities. Having regard to the successive cost-of-living adjustments, it has become completely unreal to quote an amount of £216 as being the salary that is attached to a position when in fact that position entitled its holder to a salary of £420. This measure is designed to remove that disability. It is true that if the present trend continues fo.r some considerable time it may be necessary for the Government to introduce another bill of this kind, but if this bill be passed, for the time being at least we shall be able to quote salaries for vacant positions which have some relation to present-day conditions. The people think that cost-of-living increases involve an addition to a standard salary of merely a few pounds and not a large amount as is the case at present. Cost-of-living adjustments may be made to the standard salary in an upward or downward direction, but at least the new standard will give a truer indication of the remuneration attaching to a position than does the salary as stated at present. That is the sole purpose of the bill.
In reply to Senator Sheehan, I point out that I understand that all salaries in the Public Service are computed on the basis which he has indicated as appropriate. The standard salary is ascertained by taking the basic wage and adding to it appropriate margins for skill and responsibility. The resultant figure is regarded as the standard salary, which is then subject to costofliving adjustments. The practice adopted is exactly similar to that adopted in industry generally.
– It has never been regarded as being /similar.
– Obviously provi- sion must be made for variation of the standard salary in accordance with the rise or fall of the cost of living. It would be impossible to establish a standard salary which would be appropriate to meet all sorts of conditions. Accordingly, the standard salary will be calculated in the way I have indicated and will be subject to variation in accordance with fluctuations in the cost of living. It will then bear some relation to reality and everybody will realize that cost-of-living adjustments -will result in a variation of the standard salary, either upwards or downwards, as may be appropriate.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed (vide page 980.)
, - When my speech was interrupted by the suspension of the sitting I was referring to the additional costs incurred in running the Postal Department. Since 1941 most of the expenses incurred in this great public utility have increased by well over 100 per cent. The cost of automatic exchange equipment has risen by 114 per cent., of telephone instruments by 174 per cent., of postmen’s uniforms by 114 per cent., of trunk aerial wires by 200 per cent., of receivers by 230 per cent., and of wages and salaries by 110 per cent. The Minister in charge of the bill has stated that unless the proposed increases of tariffs are made the deficit in the operation of the Postal Department for the year ending the 30th June, 1952, will be approximately £12,000,000. Charges must be increased to meet the deficit. Otherwise, the money will have to be found out of Consolidated Revenue, or it will be necessary to reduce the facilities provided by the department. If the money were obtained out of Consolidated Revenue people with no telephones would have to contribute by way of taxation to meet the losses incurred in providing a telephone” service for others. That would be wrong, and it would also be wrong to reduce the facilities provided by the Postal Department, particularly in a time of national prosperity such as this. During recent years, much has been done in the way of providing telephone and mail services for people living in outback areas. For a family with no neighbour nearer than 20 or 30 miles a telephone is a necessity. In the more remote parts of the country most of the stations are now being provided with a telephone service, and it would be a retrograde step to curtail the service now.
During the last twelve months, the number of employees in the Postal Department has increased by about 6,000, and I suppose they are all needed. I suggest, however, that an independent committee consisting, not of politicians, but of some of the best men procurable outside the Parliament, should be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I have received complaints of inefficiency. It must be evident to any one who travels through the country that men engaged upon the erection of telephone lines are not working as hard as they should. In one instance, it was reported to me that twelve men and two bulldozers were engaged a whole day in taking down a tree. If we put the wages of the men down as £24 for the day, and allow £7 a day for each of the bulldozers, we arrive at a cost of £38 for pulling down the tree. If a farmer tried to run Mb property in that way he would very quickly be insolvent. “We should make an effort to satisfy the electors who vote for the Government as well* as those who vote for the Labour party. A committee of competent men might very well be able to show how the Postal Department could be run more economically. I trust that the Minister, when he closes the debate, will be able to assure me that the Government will consider my suggestion.
– Senator Scott proposed that a committee of experts should investigate irregularities and anomalies which, he suggested, existed in the Postal Department. The whole burden of his speech was that the 40-hour week and the failure of employees to work properly, particularly members of outside staffs, were responsible for the need to increase postal charges. Honorable senators opposite have a habit of blaming the 40-hour week for all our troubles. I remind Senator # Scott, who proposed the appointment of * an investigating committee, that the Labour party suggested some time ago that a select committee of the Parliament should be appointed to investigate, among other things, the present unsatisfactory condition of the department’s finances due to the services which it is called upon to render on behalf of other government departments. It should also determine how much of the expenditure incurred by the Postal Department is in the nature of a long-range national investment. For instance, the provision of telephone and mail facilities in remote areas cannot always be justified on a commercial basis, but it is justifiable from the national point of view;
According to the annual report of the Postmaster-General’s Department for 1949-50, the department is debited with interest charges amounting to £1,279,000, including exchange. That is a very large amount, even when it is remembered that the capital value of the department’s assets is assessed at £150,000,000. I note also that for the year covered by the report a working loss of £500,000 was incurred in Queensland, a loss of £164,000 in Western Australia, and one of £819,000 in Tasmania. That indicates that the department is providing services in thinly settled areas at a loss to itself. It is doing a national work, and should not properly he debited with the whole cost. A select committee, if appointed, would inquire into that phase of the department’s activities, and decide how the charges should be allocated.
I particularly deplore the attack made by Senator Scott on officers of the Postal Department. As a member of the Public Works Committee, I have come into contact with a good many senior officers of the department, and I know that for loyalty, devotion to duty and sheer ability they stand second to none. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department performs many services on behalf of other departments. It pays out age, invalid, war and widows’ pensions totalling £88,000,000 a year. In child endowment it pays out nearly £15,000,000 a year, and in addition it pays service allotments, receives war service homes repayments, and acts as an agent for the Commonwealth Savings Bank, for which it receives deposits amounting to £32,000,000 a year. It also sells tax stamps on behalf of the Treasury.
The increasing of postal charges represents a negative approach to the problem of Postal Department finance. We are passing through a period of unprecedented currency inflation. The Government has claimed that it has no power to fix prices on a Commonwealth-wide basis, although a recent Gallup poll indicated that 70 per cent, of tie electors were in favour of the Commonwealth taking over control of prices. Apparently, the Government still believes that control can he best exercised by the States.
– Order! I cannot allow the honorable senator to introduce that subject into the debate.
– I point out that the proposed increase of postal charges will have a most far-reaching effect upon all members of the community. Every year the department handles 1,500,000,000 articles, including newspapers and periodicals, and the effect on the cost of living of the imposition of a surcharge on every one of those articles must inevitably aggravate the current inflationary tendency.
The department, the capital of which was recently stated to be £150,000,000, is the largest business organization in Australia, and therefore its operations merit at all times the attention of the Parliament. The practice that has developed, and to which I have already referred, of charging against the Postal Department costs that are properly chargeable to other departments, is one matter that invites investigation by a parliamentary committee. If necessary, the committee could examine and take evidence from financial and technical experts to assist it in its investigations. I remind honorable senators that during the greater part of the last twenty years, the department has consistently earned a profit; in 1941-42 its receipts exceeded expenditure by nearly £750,000. I suggest, therefore, that it is most significant that it did not begin to lose money until about the time that the referendum on prices control was taken. Following the defeat of the Chifley Government’s proposals at that referendum, the price of all goods and services increased sharply, and one immediate consequence to the Postal Department was that it incurred a deficit of £1,750,000 in 1949. Last year, the deficit was £1,500,000, and this year it is estimated that the deficit will be £5,000,000.
Senator Scott referred to the effect on the finances of the department of the’ introduction of the 40-hour week. However, I point out that a reduction of working hours was inevitable because it is part of the social and economic evolution through which enlightened mankind is passing. Furthermore, I remind honorable senators opposite, who so bitterly attack the reduction of standard hours, that many of the people who now enjoy the benefit of a shorter working week spent most of their lives working excessive hours. It is unreasonable and unjust to reproach the Labour party for opposing any increase of working hours. After all, we are on the crest of an economic boom, and that is the most appropriate time to improve social and economic conditions. Any one who begrudges the workers the benefit of a reduction of hours should remember the days when unfortunate women and children were forced to work in the coal mines-
– Order! The honorable senator must confine his remarks to the bill.
– I was impelled to refer to the improvement of the workers’ conditions because of the emphasis that the Minister who introduced the bill placed on the 40-hour week, alleging that it was the principal cause of the present unsatisfactory financial position of the department.-
Another matter to which I direct attention is the unbalancing effect that building charges have on the department’s finances. For example, it is estimated that the aggregate value of the building requisitions lodged by the department with the Department of Works and Housing during the current year will be £6,000,000. I submit that it is also unfair and misleading to debit the department with the cost of real estate acquired for building purposes because, after all, that estate becomes the property of the Australian Government, and when buildings are erected upon it for the Postal Department many of them will be used for the transaction of business extraneous to the department. During the current year, it is expected that 394 sites, of a total value of approximately £1,226,000, will be acquired for the department, and that huge sum is debited against the department. The cumulative result of all these huge capital debits that are wrongly made against the Postal Department makes it appear that the department is actually losing money on the business that it transacts. That inference is obviously wrong, and that is another matter that could be rectified upon investigation by a competent Parliamentary Committee. Furthermore, the criticism that is levelled against the administrators and the staff of the department on every occasion that a measure to increase postal charges is brought before the Parliament must have a demoralizing effect upon them. After all, they are providing a magnificent public service, and we cannot afford to impair their morale because that must inevitably lower their efficiency. In conclusion, I repeat that an investigation by a competent committee would dispose, once and for all, of much of the unjustified criticism that is levelled at the department.
– For many years I have been critical of the Postal Department, and, although I intend to support the passage of this bill, I do not intend to vote for it without having expressed my views of the department. I say at once that I regret that the Government saw fit to introduce this measure during the present sessional period, because, if its introduction had been delayed until after the recess, the Government would have had an opportunity to ascertain what economies can be effected in the department. The saving effected in that way would reduce the estimated deficit of the department and might considerably reduce the amount by which charges for postal and telephone services may have to be increased. However, the prime responsibility for the present situation rests with the Opposition, because during the previous Parliament it so obstructed the business of the Government, particularly in this chamber, that it was not possible for members of the Government to give to administrative matters the attention that they merited. The mere fact that the department is confronted with an estimated deficit of £5,000,000, and that the actual deficit next year might be as great as £12,000,000, justifies the Government and the Parliament in making a very critical examination of the efficiency of the department. If, after making a thorough investigation of the operation of the department, it is found that because of increased costs a deficit is inevitable, consideration can then be given to increasing the department’s charges. I emphatically disagree with the suggestion that a deficit in any department’s undertaking should be financed out of Consolidated Revenue, or that some form of subsidy should be granted. After all, the payment of subsidies is a dangerous and misleading expedient, because it distorts our economic perspective by leading us to believe that the actual cost of particular goods and services is less than it is. However, I think that that might have been done temporarily on this occasion pending an inquiry such as that advocated by Senator Scott and Senator O’Byrne. I am sure that certain economies could be effected. For instance, one small economy could be made in the delivery of telegrams. “When the results of the last election became known, I received quite a number of congratulatory telegrams as I am sure all honorable senators did. The telegraph messenger was calling at my place almost every half-hour throughout the day. Whilst I should not suggest for a moment that there should be any delay in the delivery of urgent messages, I believe that on occasions such as that to which I refer, congratulatory telegrams could be allowed to accumulate until mid-day or even the end of the day and then be delivered together. Admittedly that is a small matter, but if numerous small economies of that kind could be effected, in the aggregate they would have a considerable effect on postal finances. I know of services being performed in some districts which were instituted in the days of horses and traps and could be dispensed with now that we have motor cars and other modern facilities.
Whilst I wholeheartedly support Senator Scott’s suggestion that an inquiry should be made into our postal services with a view to introducing economies, on no account would I advocate the appointment of a select committee of Parliament or of a departmental committee for that task. The Postal Department is a huge undertaking, and the inquiry would have to be made by a competent business authority who was free from any association with the Government. Even then, he would have to be assisted by technical advisers such as accountants. I hope that the Government will heed this request for an inquiry because I am convinced that unless some such action is taken, further increases of postal charges will be necessary in the not distant future. I am afraid that the increases proposed in this bill will not produce the expected increase of revenue because the use of postal facilities will be discouraged by the additional imposts.
I shall not deal with the need for the increased postal charges. That matter has been covered adequately by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) who has given ample evi dence that higher rates are inescapable. As he has shown, the increasing of the basic wage by £1 a week has added £4,000,000 to the wages bill of the Postal Department. Some honorable senators . opposite have drawn attention to the fact that in almost pre-historic days, the Postal Department made annual profits of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000. Of course it did, but what was its expenditure in those days ? That has not been mentioned. The present difficulties have arisen because of the huge increase- of expenditure. Consequently, there is a need for a comprehensive searching inquiry to ascertain whether economies can be effected without reducing the efficiency of the department.
I shall not take up the time of the Senate by speaking on matters such as the proposed increase of one half-penny in the letter rate. I wish to devote my attention to an aspect of this measure which is of vital concern to country people particularly. I refer to telephone charges. On Tuesday last, I received a letter from a relative in Perth whose comment on the proposed increase of telephone charges was “ Well, we are going to try to keep our telephone even if we have to sacrifice something else “. The writer of that letter is a metropolitan resident; in country districts, telephones are an absolute necessity. Rural dwellers need telephones as a fish needs water or a human being needs air. Three amenities that I consider to be indispensable in country districts are telephones, wireless and refrigeration, and, of these, telephones are probably the most important. I know something about this matter because I was a farmer for some years. To the mixed farmer, particularly, a telephone is indispensable at seeding and harvesting time. Should his machinery break down, and a new part be required, the absence of a telephone may mean a delay of three or four days at the most vital time of his operations. If he has a telephone, how- . ever, he can communicate immediately with the city, order the part that he requires, and have it delivered in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, country people also have great difficulty in having telephones installed. For instance, some years ago, a group of farmers known to me applied for the provision of telephone services to their homes. They lived 50 miles from the nearest railway. The estimate given by the Postal Department for providing the line was prohibitive, with the result that the prospective subscribers themselves cut telephone poles, transported them, and erected them and fixed the cross arms, leaving only the provision of the line to the postal authorities. To-day, they all have telephones with the exception of one, to whom I shall refer later. The point I wish to make is that country residents such as these now have to pay the heavily increased charges provided for in this bill. Residents of the eastern States may not be able to appreciate the vast distances between settlements in Western Australia. One can almost kick a football from one side of Victoria to the other, but, in Western Australia, the average trunk-line call covers a distance of 150 miles, or almost as far as from Albury to Melbourne. Some lines extend for up to 700 miles and consequently trunk-line charges are high.
In support of my contention that the increased telephone charges may not swell postal revenue by as much as the Government believes they will, I point out that a recent report issued by the Postal Department reveals that whereas local calls increased by 35,526,000 in 1948-49, they decreased in 1949-50 by 2,521,206. That seems to me to call for an explanation. The report points out that that reduction might have been due in some measure to the discarding of the unit charge on trunk-line calls in January, 1949, but the discrepancy is so huge that some explanation seems to be warranted. The report also shows that whereas trunkline calls increased by 4.96 per cent, in 1949-50, in 1947-48 the increase was 6.5. There, again, a substantial reduction is noticeable.
As I have said, the average trunk-line call in Western Australia covers a distance of 150 miles. The usual practice when making a trunk-line’ call is to nominate the person to whom one wishes to speak. This practice very often obviates the necessity to make a second call; but here again is something that I cannot understaand. If a call is being made over a distance of 50 miles, the additional charge for nominating the person called is l’Od. If, however, the distance is 250 miles, the- charge is ls. lOd.
A “ personal “ call obviously does not require any more trunk-line time over a distance of 250 miles than it does over 50 miles. Whether the distance is 50 miles or 250 miles the caller merely saysthat he wants John Jones or whoever it is. Why country people particularly are saddled with the additional impost, I have never been able to understand. Examining these new trunk line charges, I find that in 1949 a call made from Perth to Beverley, a distance of 80 miles, cost le. 9d. plus a nomination fee of ls. making a total of 2s. 9d. Under the new scale of charges the call will cost 2s. lid. plus ls. 5d. for nomination, or a total of 4s. 4d. In 1949, a call from Perth to Bridgetown, where Senator Scott lives, cost 2s. 9d. plus a “ personal “ fee of ls. 6d., making a total of 4s. 3d. Under this legislation the charge will be 4s. 4d., plus ls. 10d:, or 6s. 2d. in all. The charge for a personal call from Perth to Katanning, where Senator Piesse lives, used to be 3s. 6d. plus ls. 6d., making a total of 5s. In future it will be 5s. 4d. plus 2s. Id., or 7s. 5d. in all. Albany is one of the main seaside resorts in Western Australia, and it is crowded during the summer months especially with farmers from inland, who desire to make frequent calls to their homes. The old charge for a call from Albany to Perth was 4s. 3d. plus ls. 6d. for personal nomination, or 5s. 9d. in all. Under the new scale the cost will be 6s. 5d. plus 2s. 3d., or 8s. 8d. altogether. Meekatharra is the rail head for the Murchison district and is a centre at which there is a large demand on telephone services. The old charge for a trunk-line call from Perth to Meekatharra was 7s. 6d. plus 2s. “ personal “ fee, making a total of 9s. 6d. The new scale provides for a charge of lis. 3d. plus 3s. 9d., or 15s. in all. When the new charges become operative, I venture to say that not many “ average-distance “ trunk-line calls in Western Australia will cost less than 10s. which I consider is too much for country people to pay.
It seems to me that the telephone branch is being asked to provide too much of the total revenue of the Postal Department. Between 1945 and 1950 the earnings of the department increased by £11,500,000 of which the telephones branch contributed £7,683,000.
On the other hand, the telegraph branch revenue increased by only £1,093,000, and the mail branch revenue by £3,413,000. In other words, the telephone branch contributed about 75 per cent, of the increased revenue. In view of those figures, I believe that I am justified in asking for an inquiry into this matter.
I do not propose to condemn postal workers or to express an opinion on the manner in which they do their job. All workers are very much the same. I have even known members of Parliament who did not do their jobs properly. However, in Western Australia, I have seen jarra h. telephone posts hacked off at ground level and new posts erected alongside the stumps. The original posts would probably have lasted for ten to fifteen years. That is a disgraceful waste. I do not blame the men who did the work because they were probably acting under instructions. But matters of that kind should be investigated. A postal employee told me once that in the middle of summer a gang had been sent to dig postholes in a low-lying clay pan which was as hard as rock. They could not sink the holes, and much time was wasted. Incidents of that kind should be . carefully investigated. The task of conducting a comprehensive inquiry would be immense, but again I say that on no account should the job be given to a select committee or to departmental officials. I have seen something of the work of select committees, and I know that the job is too big to be tackled by such a body. When I say that I would not favour a departmental inquiry, I do not wish for a moment to reflect upon the integrity of public servants. In fact, I hold them in the highest esteem, but a departmental inquiry only means that an officer of one department inquires into the activities of another. I saw too much of that in the Army, and we all know what the result was.
Another matter with which I am concerned is the delay in the installation of telephones. For instance, I know of an old lady in poor health who lives with an invalid daughter. On several occasions the daughter has had to walk a mile down the street in the middle of tho night to get medical attention for her mother, so she made application for a telephone. I strongly supported the application for a telephone. That was over twelve months ago, but the telephone has not yet been installed because instruments are not available. Yet when a starting-price betting establishment was raided in Melbourne recently, ten or twelve telephones were found to be connected to the room. I believe that it is time that we ceased being hypocritical. I recall that when it became illegal to send letters through the post to purchase Tattersalls lottery tickets the PostmasterGeneral’s Department printed postal notes of the exact value required for that purpose. Admittedly good revenue is obtained from bookmakers, but the welfare of the pioneers and the widows of this country who are no longer able to work is more important than the revenue that we derive from bookmakers or any one else. I contend that when a number of applications are received for the provision of telephones in one room they should not be granted unless investigation proves that the instruments are required for bona fide business purposes. I sincerely hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us that an inquiry will be held. If an inquiry is not held, matters will go from bad to worse, *and within twelve months we will be called upon to consider further increases of postal charges. One result of an inquiry might bo that the Government would complete its accounts with a surplus instead of a deficit.
– In my opinion the Government should agree to the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the working of the Postal Department. I am convinced that many of the charges of inefficiency that have been made against the Postal Department would not have been made by honorable senators if they had been reasonably certain of the facts. When I was PostmasterGeneral I realized that in order to gain an intelligent knowledge of the workings of my department, it would be necessary for me to make exhaustive inquiries and inspections. Consequently, I visited as many post offices, telephone exchanges, workshops and other sections of the department as possible. Furthermore, whenever possible I interviewed members of local-governing bodies and progress associations. I believe that the Postal Department is the most ‘efficient and most economically managed department of the Public Service. I am convinced that if the policy of governments of bygone days in relation to the Postal Department had been based on their means rather than their meanness, the responsible officers of the department would have been able to effect considerable improvements. If money had been made available, particularly during the depression years, there would not now be a scarcity of telephones. I. recall that in 1939 postmen used to go around canvassing for telephone subscribers. They were paid a commission for resultant installations. At that time the Postal Department was seeking additional customers, rather than discouraging potential customers as it is now. If previous Australian governments had displayed more foresight and imagination most of our telephone cables would now be underground, and they would be much more efficient than the aerial telephone lines now in use. Furthermore, as Senator Seward has pointed out, a considerable saving would have been effected by obviating the necessity to dig telephone post holes, and to replace telephone posts periodically..
– The honorable senator was referring to the replacing of telephone posts that had been eaten by white ants.
– When I was inspecting postal installations in country areas, telephones linemen pointed out to me posts that were apparently sound but which, upon inspection, were found to be white ant infested. In some country districts I have seen weatherboard post offices almost falling down as the result of the ravages of white ants. When I was visiting the Yarloop post office in Western Australia I pushed my hand right through a wooden wall that had been attacked by white ants. If governments of the past had made provision for the proper maintenance of postal buildings that could not have happened. From my inquiries I believe that, with the exception of Senator Ashley, a former PostmasterGeneral, no other Postmaster-General since federation has carried out such extensive inspections of postal buildings and facilities as I have. Time and time again I was told by postmasters in country districts that never before had the ministerial head of the department deigned to visit his post office to see how things were. For that reason, I should like to see a select committee appointed. Such a committee would have to comprise technical men. A committee composed only of members of the Parliament, apart from ex-postal employees, would not know where to begin. An examination of the various telephone exchanges and postal workshops would prove an eye-opener to honorable senators.
A very important matter is the examination of the books of contractors. While I was privileged to be Minister for Aircraft Production I found that that was very necessary. In very many instances it was found that costs properly chargeable against a contractor had been debited to the Government. As a result of systematic examination of contractors’ books a saving of expenditure of about £1,000,000 was effected. If additional experts had been available to go through all of the contractors’ books I am sure that more money could have been saved. When I was Postmaster-General I formed the impression that many contractors regarded the Postal Department as being in the nature of a Cinderella or standby department, and they more or less pleased themselves when they delivered materials to the department. On one occasion, when I was visiting Bendigo, there was a shortage of bolts to complete postal installations. It was subsequently discovered that bolts that should have been supplied to the department were being hoarded in Western Australia. I emphasize that not only the books, but also the stocks of contractors should be examined regularly, and when contractors do not keep up with their contracts appropriate action should be taken against them.
A great deal of criticism has been levelled at the proposed increased postal charges. I realize that the only alternative to increasing charges would be to meet deficits from Consolidated Revenue. I do not think that supporters of the Government would favour that course. During his second-reading speech, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) stated that the Postal Department of the United States of America lost about 400,000,000 dollars last year and that therefore its charges would probably be doubled. I should prefer deficits to be met from Consolidated Revenue rather than from increased charges, because then persons in the higher income groups would bear a greater portion of the burden than others. As has been pointed out, not only by Senator Hendrickson, but also by the Minister, when he was sitting in Opposition during the regime of the previous Labour Government, in many instances increased postal charges are passed on by business undertakings to people in the lower income groups. Ultimately, the whole of the increase is paid by people in receipt of fixed incomes, such as salary-earners, pensioners, and superannuants. It is apparent that we cannot go on increasing prices indefinitely. Senator Seward asserted that further increases would become necessary in time. I agree with the contention, unless the Government takes action to control prices and curb inflation. While prices remain uncontrolled and inflation unchecked, and prices increase as a result, the deficit should be met out of Consolidated Revenue. Increased prices constitute a direct and indirect tax on persons in receipt of fixed incomes and other persons who cannot pass on the increase. I point out that losses on the railways, and in connexion with the provision of schools, parks and roads is met from Consolidated Revenue. Every member of the community has the same freedom of access to roads and parks, and children have equal freedom of access to schools and libraries. There is no Utopia about such a proposition. In rebuttal of the contention of some honorable senators- that the Postal Department has been running at a loss, I point out that in the real sense of the word all that has happened is that the purchasing power of the department’s revenue has been reduced by inflation and increased prices. Nothing has been really lost in the same way as valuable lives and property are lost in time of war. The fact is that the finances of the department have been reduced by conditions over which it has no control. I think that the word “ loss “ used in that connexion gives the wrong impression.
It has been stated during this debate that increased wages are responsible for most of the Postal Department deficit. Again I disagree. A distinction must be made between real and monetary wages. I am certain that the average employee of the Postal Department to-day does not receive any more real money for the purchase of food or clothing than he did in the years gone by. What he received then was a real wage. There has been no increase whatever in real purchasing power, although there has been an increase in the amount of money which workers receive. That increase, however, has not greatly assisted the average employee of the Postal Department. It has merely created a false impression in the minds of the people generally, and also, apparently, in the minds of honorable senators opposite.
In referring to the 40-hour week during his second-reading speech, the Minister for Repatriation stated -
Last year, I told honorable senators how the 40-hour week had inflated the department’s expenditure, its immediate effect being to increase the yearly wages bill by more than £1,000,000.
That is perhaps true as far as money is concerned, but it is not true if one considers the real economic wage. The Minister then proceeded to contradict himself by stating -
I am glad to state that, in respect of the majority of employees, that is, telephonists, telegraphists, mail officers and engineering maintenance staffs, where the output can be effectively measured, it is at least as good as it was many years ago.
First he stated that increased expenditure had been caused by the introduction of the 40-hour week and he then stated that output had been maintained. I should like to know how he reconciles those two statements. As a result of rapid mechanization of postal services, output is very much better than it was many years ago. I suggest that the Minister should take the trouble to read his secondreading speeches before he delivers them to the Senate. If working hours were increased from 40 to 48 I suggest that it would not make any difference to the position of the department, because uncontrolled prices and inflation would still exist. In fact, it might make the position of industry very much worse, because output would then be so great that it would cause unemployment. The workers would produce so much in excess of what they were able to consume that the additional hours worked would lead from bad to worse. That is an aspect of the problem of inflation as it affects the Postal Department that could be studied by a select committee appointed to inquire into the matter. I suggest that it would not be sufficient for the members of such a select committee merely to sit in a room in Parliament House and take evidence from technical experts and representatives of the workers. It would be necessary for the members of the committee to travel about and examine the workings of the Postal Department.
There are approximately 10,000 post offices conducted by the department, 2,000 of them being official post offices, and 8,000 non-official. If it was desired to form a more intelligent opinion concerning the functioning of the department it would be necessary to interview many of the people employed in those post offices. When I was Postmaster-General I interviewed many of them and I hoped that I might be able ultimately to interview all of them. I am sure that it would be to the benefit of the department if that were done. The only persons who are competent to impart -information to the members of a select committee are those who have grown up in their jobs.
Senator Armstrong stated that the Postal Department trains its employees and that many of the persons who have been trained leave the department and take up other positions. That indicates to me that the Government’s management of the department, is not as it should be. The conditions of employment should be made much more attractive and congenial than they are at present if it is desired to retain the services of trained men and women. I suggest that this Government does not understand the position of the department. Some time ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said, in effect, “ I do not understand anything about this inflation, and I have no time to study it “. The right honorable gentleman thus admitted that he does not understand financial matters. If he and the members of his Government did understand them, I am certain that the very sensible suggestion that has been made by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, that a select committee should be appointed to inquire into Postal Department activities, would be adopted. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions, no matter how much we talk or try to explain things away. If the position were studied as intelligently as it should be, there would be no complaint that trained men and women left the department. Action would also be taken to build up stocks of equipment such as telephones, so that when calls were made for such equipment it would be readily available. When World War II. broke out in 1939, stocks oi equipment held by the Postal Department were depleted because of the starva-tion budgets presented by governments during the depression. The officers of the department, all men of adaptability, were obliged to improvise in order to cope with the demand for installations. On the files of the department there are letters that have been received from prominent people, such as General MacArthur, paying high ‘tribute to the officers of the department and to the magnificent work performed by them under the most difficult conditions during the war. I prefer the opinion of those persons to that of honorable senators opposite, many of whom would not know a post office from a glorified fowl house.
– Order! I think that the honorable senator should return to discussion of the bill.
– Having heard the criticism of the department that has been made by honorable senators opposite, I suggest that it is the intention of the Government to increase the number of hours required to be worked from 40 to 44, or possibly to 48, and to reduce wages. If that is not the intention of the Government, I am at a loss to understand the unfounded charges that have been made by some honorable senators opposite during this debate.
Senator Hendrickson has referred to the work performed by linemen. No other employees of the department work under such difficult conditions, particularly after a storm has occurred. I remember that at one time there was a storm in Adelaide and most of the telephone lines were blown down, so that the whole service was disorganized. Yet within a few days it was completely restored. On another occasion, during floods in Queensland, the telephone services were disorganized. The linemen stripped to the skin and worked in water amongst crocodiles and sharks in order to restore the services. I consider that linemen are not provided with sufficient amenities. During the time that I was associated with the department, mobile change rooms and kitchens were built in order that they might change their clothes and eat their meals in better conditions. If it were in my power to do so, I would ensure that linemen were not obliged to live in tents. Mobile caravans would be provided so that they could be properly housed. I have not heard any honorable senator who supports the Government suggest that the conditions under which these men work should be improved. Employees in the mail room work under dreadful conditions handling filthy mail bags brought from overseas countries. During the war the mail bags from overseas arrived in Australia in an extremely filthy condition. Honorable senators could have no idea of their filthy state unless they had seen them for themselves. The bags should be cleansed and handled by machinery. Instead they are handled by the mail room employees, who suffer serious disabilities as the result of the inhalation of dust and filth. I mention these matters to give honorable senators some idea of the conditions under which postal employees have to work. I have some knowledge of what men will put up with, and I am sure that very few honorable senators who sit on the other side of the Senate would work under the conditions that applied in the mail branch during the war.
– The majority of us were working under much worse conditions than were the mail officers during the war.
– I should need, more than the honorable senator’s statement to believe that to be true. Tha Brisbane General Post Office should have been demolished and rebuilt many years ago. In Brisbane, mails are handled in an old disused cellar that is full of dust and is infested by rats. If I were in charge of the department, I should criticize its officers for not having directed attention to the state of affairs that exists there if in fact they have failed to do so. The approach to this matter should be more intelligent than it has been in the past. Honorable senators should not be prepared to take too much for granted. One honorable senator opposite quoted from the Auditor-General’s report a statement that the employees of the department are not working as hard as they should. How can file AuditorGeneral know that to be so unless he has personally examined their work? Obviously somebody has told him tHe story and he included it in his report, which is read and accepted by supporters of the Government in this Parliament. I reject that statement as entirely untrue. Before I would accept the word of the Auditor-General on a matter of that kind, I should want to be assured that he had made a close examination of the work of the officers concerned.
I conclude by stressing the few points that I have made. Unless the Government is able to check inflation and control prices, costs will continue to increase. Inflationists are in the same category as the forger of a bank note. Unless they are dealt with by a government which knows and understands its job, inflation will continue. If inflation goes on unchecked, and prices continue to increase, the Government will either have* to increase the wages of its postal employees, as it is now doing, or it will have to take money out of Consolidated Revenue to finance the activities of the department. I pay tribute to the courtesy and efficiency of the majority tff postmasters and senior officers of the Postal Department. Honorable senators opposite should approach those officers for information about their activities so that when they discuss the Postal Department in the Senate they can speak with first-hand knowledge of conditions in that department. I am sure that the officers would eagerly explain everything about which they were asked. If honorable senators opposite want to see postal officers of the Postal Department working, at the highest peak of efficiency and rendering service which I believe is not matched by the officers of other government departments, they should see for themselves how efficiently the Christmas mail is handled under most difficult conditions. I am sure that their eyes would be opened by the intense activity that takes place in the mail branch during the Christmas period. I do not intend my remarks to be regarded as carping criticism of honorable senators opposite. It would be as much to their benefit as it is to the benefit of honorable senators on this side of the chamber if the operation of the department were made more efficient and economical. That desirable objective will never be achieved unless senior officers are permitted to administer the department in the best possible way, as they are quite capable of doing. When I was Postmaster-General I did something that had not been done previously in the department. I called a meeting of the branch heads in all the States and discussed the whole of their problems with them. After a few days of consultation and discussion, the officers presented to the Government a plan for overcoming the arrears of work and for the acceptance of tasks which I am certain could not have been undertaken by any other Commonwealth department. The Government depends on its senior officers and it has an obligation to help them to secure the best results. During our successive terms of office as PostmasterGeneral both Senator Ashley and I endeavoured to improve the administration and functioning of the department, and we were pleased at the results achieved.
Finally, there has been some talk of increasing the fee for a wireless broadcast listener’s licence from £1 to £2. I see no reason why that charge should not be abolished. If that were done, overhead costs would be reduced and very little loss of revenue would be involved. The abolition of the fee would be a great boon to primary producers, and to pensioners and others in the lower income groups. I can see no justification for the imposition of a .licence-fee to authorize a person to listen to much of the matter that is broadcast over the air at present. A good deal of it is not worth listening to, particularly the advertisements and, I am sorry to say, a good many of the musical programmes. Why should people have to pay a licence-fee to permit them to listen to broadcast programmes? One of these days a government may impose a charge on persons who look at the time on a post office clock ! I trust that my remarks will receive the consideration which they merit in the eyes of all intelligent honorable senators.
– As I listened to the old warrior, Senator Cameron, wagging the tail of socialism, I felt impelled to find some authority who would throw a little light upon his examination of the subject. My mind went back to a speech that was delivered in the House of Lords in 1949 from which I now quote: -
I know of only one authority which might justify the suggested method of construction.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy President. What has this to do with the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator George Rankin). - The honorable senator is replying to comments made by another honorable senator who preceded him in the debate.
– I should not expect Senator Hendrickson to understand the relevancy of my quotation. It continues - “ When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” “ The question is,” said Alice, “ whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “ The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master - that’s all.”
The humpty dumpty in this Senate for the last 40 minutes has been asking which is to be the master, socialism or private enterprise. We are now dealing with one of the greatest government agencies established in this country, and one that used to be pointed to by the socialists as an example of a government instrumentality that was capable of making profits. That great agency, in common with industry and commerce, is now feeling the effects of the change in our economic circumstances. Any one who does not .believe that the services which we obtain from that organization should be paid for as a general tax and out of general revenue will have to accept immediately the argument that the charges imposed on the general public for postal services must raise a revenue equal to the expenditure to which the Government is committed in order to provide those services. In considering this bill to-day honorable senators should direct their minds to one of the greatest national matters that concern the internal politics of Australia, that is, the immediate cause of the increase of expenditure that necessitates the passage of this bill. I do not believe that it is to bo understood from anything that the two Labour senators who have preceded me this afternoon have said, that they contest in any way the proposition that the real increase of expenditure which these proposed increased charges are intended to meet flow from the direct decisions of industrial tribunals during the last fifteen months. “We should remember that the decisions of those tribunals have resulted in increased costs to the department in that period amounting to no less than £10,900,000. Some honorable senators opposite obstinately cling to the view that on every occasion upon which honorable senators on this side of the Senate refer to the operation of those tribunals we oppose their progressive development. When I refer to the 40-hour week I want to make it quite clear that in my view the principle of the 40-hour week was one which, had the government of the day adopted it with imagination and appreciation of the real benefits that would accrue from it, and had it interpreted in the right way, would have proved a godsend to this country. Those who have engaged in physical or mental labour for 40 hours feel that they need a rest. So, when improvements of the mechanical processes of industry allow the industrial register of prosperity to make a new dividend available to workmen in the form of real increased wages, we on this side of the Senate support it and urge its adoption with the utmost emphasis; but,-
– The honorable senator pauses; only goats butt.
– Apropos that remark, I read in a report of the Aus tralian Stevedoring Industry Board today of the existence of people referred to as “ bulls “. I did not expect to have my speech interrupted by “ butts “.
– I referred not so much to “ butts “ as to goats.
– I had thought that goats were to be found only in the mountains; apparently, there are some among the ranks of the Opposition. As I have said, for the Postal Department’s share of increased wages we are committed to make good an amount of no less than £10,900,000. Is it proposed that we should deny the servants of the department proper remuneration for the meritorious services which they render to the community? Honorable senators opposite, who pose as the champions of the workers, dodge that issue. The fact that this Government has introduced a bill, the purpose of which is to raise more revenue with which to meet rising costs, shows that it is resolved that the remuneration of the employees of the department must rise, step by step, with the remuneration received by other sections of the community.
The services which the Postal Department renders to the community must be paid for in the coin which the arbitration court, by its various findings, has made current, and the employees of the department must receive remuneration proportionate to that which other workers are demanding and receiving. We may well consider whether the actual well-being of the workers has been advanced by the finding of the arbitration court in November, 1950, by which the basic wage was increased by £1 a week. I do not profess to be competent to canvass that decision, which was arrived at by two judges of a bench of three after evidence had been heard for more than fifteen months from a great many witnesses who were knowledgeable in their own spheres. I would not be so small as to offer an opinion about the wisdom of that decision, and anything I say is not to be twisted into a reflection on the decision of the court. The question arises, however, whether it is fair or wise, or a proper discharge of our responsibilities, to leave to a tribunal consisting of three judges the making of a decision which must affect the lives of every person in the community. To me, that is a question of real moment, one which should engage the attention of the Parliament. Australia is committed to the system of. industrial arbitration. Despite all the disturbances that have been maliciously provoked for the purpose of effecting the destruction of the arbitration system, it has stood, and I believe that the- people as a whole wish it to continue. I believe, however, that we, the representatives of the people, to whom they look for leadership, should insist that the task of making important decisions affecting the: basic wage should be committed to stronger hands. I believe that during the next few years there will be a strengthening of the system so that decisions of such magnitude, and of such importance for good or ill, will be made by a broad-based tribunal.
It is now proposed to increase postal charges, just as it has been found necessary to increase the cost to the public of the services rendered by other public utilities. In order to forestall any snivelling reference to profit-making, I choose for purposes of comparison the State-owned and operated railways in Australia. These systems are operated by the States, uninhibited by any application of section 92 of the- Constitution in regard to freight charges, yet all the State railway authorities have found it necessary to increase freight charges out of all recognition during the last eighteen months, although not one penny of profit is earned. Indeed, the authorities are not game to increase charges to the level where they would even meet expenditure, with tho result that State governments have to dip into Consolidated Revenue year after year in order to balance railway accounts. Those who control the municipal tramway systems in the various States have also had to double fares, which are payable by all sections of the community. No municipal tramway system pays a profit, and wages represent from 80 per cent, to 85 per cent, of operative costs. It is recognized that railway and tram worker.* must be paid wages that will enable them to buy the goods they need at present-day prices, and if they are to receive such wages, the public must be prepared to pay more. It is time to focus our attention upon the huge responsibility which the Commonwealth Arbitration Court assumes in making fundamental wage adjustments. In. my search for an underlying remedy for this silly system I have come to the conclusion that we must concentrate upon giving to the court all the collective wisdom that we can.
Senator Seward adverted to the incidence of increased telephone charges upon country dwellers, for whom I believe a telephone is a necessity. Prom my. examination of the. schedule I conclude that the proposed increases are not out of proportion. I have not made a close mathematical examination, nor have I had the assistance of expert officers, but 7 believe that the increases have been framed to ensure that trunk-line calls will not be more costly than is necessary. 1 realize that the department was confronted with a difficulty. More operatives and more materials are needed for a line 200 miles long than for one only 20 miles long, and the operatives must be paid. I confess that I cannot work out a formula by which country dwellers may be given a concession. as compared- with city dwellers. I cannot see how a system can be worked out by which one charge could be fixed for lines from central Queensland to Brisbane and another for lines from Brisbane to Adelaide. My sympathies are with the country dwellers, and if any honorable senator can . formulate an amendment by which a concession could bp granted to country telephone users, and to them only, he will receive my support.
I do not believe that the Opposition should seek to make political capital out of the necessity which compels the Government to increase postal charges so that employees of the Postal Department may receive adequate remuneration. No one who is satisfied that employees of the department are giving efficient service to the community should object to a measure the principal purpose of which is to ensure that those employees are properly rewarded.
.- I am convinced, after listening to the speeches of Government supporters that, they will all vote against the bill. Not one of them said a word in support, of the measure, or sought to justify the proposed increases.
– Did the1 honorable senator not hear what Senator Wright said?
– From the speeches of honorable members opposite I picked out references to shortages, loafing, inconsistencies, excess charges, bad working conditions, maladministration, deficits, deficiencies and silly business. I was asked whether I had heard the speech of Senator Wright. Yes, I heard him say that increased postal charges had been made necessary because of a silly system, and the system to which he referred was the industrial conciliation and arbitration system of Australia. Before dealing with some of the criticisms of the bill uttered by honorable senators opposite, I propose to explain the attitude of the Opposition towards this bill. If increased charges are necessary to meet present costs, the Opposition has no criticism to offer of the bill. However, the difficulty in which we find ourselves is that we have not yet been given any facts to convince us that the proposed increases are in fact justifiable on economic grounds. Of course, we know that costs generally have risen because of successive increases of the basic wage in order to meet the spiralling cost of living, and we all realize that. as a business enterprise the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is in no way different from all other business enterprises. One matter on which I desire the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), who introduced the bill, to inform us specifically is whether or not the proposed increases are intended to cover increases of costs that may occur later in the financial year. If they are, then I point out at once that the people will be required to pay charges higher than those that are necessary at present to meet the current costs of the department.
Turning now to some of the criticisms of the department uttered by supporters of the Government, the first criticism with which I shall deal is the alleged inability of the department to obtain sufficient materials to render satisfactory service to the public. Shortages of material and labour are being experienced by all enterprises, and I say at once that if the department is being handicapped by- an undue shortage of materials, the responsibility for that state of affairs rests with the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) himself. After all, the Minister who administers any department is expected to display some initiativeHonorable senators opposite also allege that organized loafing is taking place amongst employees of the department, and they were only too willing to cite instances of alleged shirking. Of course, whenever any responsible citizen sees evidence of loafing by government servants his plain duty is to report the matter as soon as possible to those responsible for the administration of the department concerned. However, leaving aside that consideration, I point out that a large number of officers of the department are engaged in supervisory and administrative duties, and surely they must accept responsibility for such a state of affairs, and, in the final analysis, the Postmaster-General must accept the main responsibility. Let me say at once that Labour does not condone loafing or negligence on the part of any government employee. Labour expects all men to give of their best during their ordinary, working hours, and if we were in office we would not tolerate loafing in such a large and important department as the Postmaster-General’s Department.
– Even the AuditorGeneral drew attention to it.
– The AuditorGeneral may have referred to the matter in his annual report, but he has not seen fit to furnish any evidence to indicate that loafing is actually occurring. He has officers available to investigate such, allegations and to obtain evidence to support or disprove them. Surely, he could ascertain whether or not government employees are giving fair service to the Government.
Mention was- also made by honorable senators opposite of instances of alleged maladministration in the Postal Department. In such, a huge department it is. manifestly impossible to attain 100 per cent, efficiency, and if maladministration is occurring in any noticeable degree then it is the duty of the Postmaster-General to ascertain who are responsible for that unsatisfactory state of affairs and to institute remedial measures. Equally, it is the duty of any honorable senator who has evidence of maladministration to place that evidence before the Minister so that he may have an opportunity to correct it. However, I remind honorable senators that one’s opinion of the administration of any concern must almost necessarily be objective and conjectural, because the quality of any administration is essentially a matter of opinion. Reference was also made by supporters of the Government to losses incurred by the department. The fact is that for many years it was conducted at a profit, and it was not until costs increased considerably that the department’s revenue fell behind its expenditure. The reason for the deficits was that when the department’s costs increased no action was taken to increase the charges for its services until some appreciable time had elapsed. The consequence was that a deficit had already accumulated that could not be offset even by the increased charges. I quite agree that the Government, and, if necessary, the Parliament, would be quite justified in reviewing the finances of the department at short and regular intervals, and no member of the Opposition would object to such a course being followed.
Complaints were also made of allegedly excessive charges for postal services. Senator Seward referred to the high cost made for telephone trunk calls between small centres in remote country areas. I think that he complained particularly about the cost of telephone trunk calls from Meekatharra to Yalgoo, and asserted that it was quite exorbitant. However, I have no doubt that similar complaints could be made about charges for telephone trunk calls between country towns in other States. The charges for trunk calls in Queensland, for instance, are very high. After all, Queensland occupies nearly as big an area of Australia as does Western Australia-
– The honorable senator overlooks the fact that Western Australia occupies roughly one-third of the area of Australia.
– But Western Australia has not developed like Queensland and because of the comparative poverty of its natural resources it is not likely to do so.
Honorable senators interjecting,
– Order! I ask Senator Benn to address the Chair.
– Even if the charges for trunk calls between Meekatharra and Yalgoo, or between two other similarly inaccessible towns, are heavy, I suggest that they are not disproportionately heavier than those made for trunk calls in other States. The expert officers of the department who recommend the charges that should be made for such services are fair-minded men and have regard to all the relevant facts in making their recommendations.
– Possibly they know as little about those matters as does the honorable senator.
– Of course, in such matters as this we do not take Senator Robertson seriously.
– -Order! I insist that Senator Benn shall address the Chair.
– I defer to your wish, Mr. President. I do not interject when other honorable senators are speaking, and I think that they might extend similar courtesy to me. Before I was interrupted I was about to point out that the speeches made by supporters of the Government consisted largely of assertions disparaging to the department. May .1 remind them that the Government that they support must bear the responsibility for the efficient administration of all departments, including the Postal Department? Ninety per cent, of Senator Wright’s speech was devoted to an attack on the standard hours fixed by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and he attributed the need for increasing the charges for postal services almost solely to the introduction of the 40-hour week.
– Not at all !
– That is the inference that I drew from the honorable senator’s remarks.
– On the contrary, I said that the powers of the arbitration court needed to be strengthened.
– Senator Wright referred to industrial arbitration as a silly system, and attacked it. His remarks overlooked the fact that if the basic wage has to be increased from time to time in order to meet higher costs of living, the Government has a duty to stabilize our economy and so dispense with the necessity for increasing the basic wage. I realize that the increases proposed in this measure cannot be avoided, but in future the Government should concentrate its efforts on reducing living costs in Australia. If those costs could be reduced postal charges could be brought down to a reasonable level. As Senator Seward has said, the increased telephone charges will reduce the use of telephones. That is most undesirable. In the interests of progress and social welfare, every effort should be made to increase the use of telephone services. I am informed that telephone installation and maintenance are not costly. Therefore why not reduce telephone charges and thus encourage the use of telephones? I submit that suggestion to the Government as a sound business proposition.
– This is the second occasion during my comparatively short membership of this chamber on which legislation to increase postal charges has been introduced. I refrained from speaking on the earlier bill, not because I welcomed the proposed increases, but because I was confident that, in view of the caustic criticism of the Public Service that had been offered during the election campaign by supporters of the antiLabour parties, the Government would very soon hold an inquiry into the whole ramifications of the Postal Department, t knew too, that when the Labour Government had increased postal charges about eighteen months previously, the present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) had urged that an inquiry be made into the Postal Department. This Government has now been in office for more than eighteen months, but no such inquiry has been made. Under its administration, the Public Service has increased by approximately 6,000 persons, and an all-time record is being set in postal charges. Another thing that has brought me to my feet is the charge that the Labour Government did nothing for the Postal Department except to increase charges. That statement was made in the House of Representatives, and I regret very much that it has been given so much publicity in the press, because it has ho foundation in fact.
I shall deal with the record of the Labour Government in relation to postal services. In these turbulent political days, none of us knows how long he will remain in this legislature, but I have no hesitation in saying that regardless of the length of Senator Ashley’s service as a senator, his administration of the Postal Department will always stand to his credit. It was he who gave the department some life and hope after its years of neglect under anti-Labour governments. The statement that Labour did nothing to improve postal services was made either in complete ignorance, or in the venomous spirit which some honorable members and honorable senators unfortunately introduce into debates, whether the subject under discussion be an increase of postal charges, or anything else. Members of the present Government parties cannot deny that when they were in opposition, they strongly urged an inquiry into the administration of the Postal Department; but to-day, they are the champions of non-interference. An inquiry should be held because of the grave financial position that is arising in the Postal Department and because the inefficiency that has crept into postal services should not be permitted to spoil the fine reputation that has been earned by thousands of “ dinkum “ postal workers.
I do not expect the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) to be able to answer all the points that have been raised in this debate, because he is not the administrator of the department. He is merely the representative in this chamber of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony). However, I hope that the honorable gentleman will not resort to the old departmental cliches and parrot cries when replying to charges that have been made against the postal administration. I hope that he will have something constructive so say, and that, even at this late stage, the Government will see the wisdom of holding an inquiry into the affairs of the Postal Department. The mere fact that the proposal has been advanced by the Opposition, and that to agree to it might be regarded in some quarters as a sign of weakness should not deter the Government from doing what it knows to be right. An inquiry must be held. If it is not held now, it will have to be held at some future date if the public is to be reassured about the efficiency of this department. As far as the internal administration of the department is concerned, the PostmasterGeneral does not even know what day of the week it is. I do not say that in an unkindly spirit because every Minister who assumes control of a huge department is confronted with a most difficult task. The Postal Department has been in existence for 50 years, and it has set up its own effective routine for dealing with inquirers. A new administrator is faced with the problem of breaking through an iron curtain if he wishes to be critical, and at times it is the duty of almost every Minister to be critical of his department. I am well aware of the battle that inevitably takes place when any Minister, regardless of his political complexion, first assumes control of a department. He must decide whether he is to be merely the vehicle of stock departmental replies, and the champion of every departmental action, right or wrong, or whether he is to be in fact the administrator of the department. The present Postmaster-General is unable to answer the charges that have been levelled at his department, and unwilling to take the radical steps that are necessary to clean up this organization which unfortunately has been allowed to drift over the last few years. By maintaining its present attitude, the Government is supporting the proposition that every employee is necessary, every appointment is correct, and every practice of administration is right. In other words, it is assuming that everything in the department is perfect, but by instinct and observation members of the general public know that that is not so. I know that that is not so because of my long association with the department. The Government knows that that is not so. It knows, too, that some day an inquiry will have to be faced. Why the Government is not prepared to face it now I cannot understand, because the moment the people of any country start to lose faith in their public service, the way is open for terrible things to happen. History shows that in countries where faith in the public service has waned, higher authorities have had to step in, and usually some form of dictatorship has resulted.
If the Postmaster-General were a member of this chamber, I wonder whether he could explain to us why the morale of the Postal Department has reached a record low ebb. I have heard it argued that morale is not important in a service such as this, but I believe it to be all-important, because when morale starts to fall the service rendered to the public, not only in the capital cities, but also in every village and hamlet from the north of Queensland to the south of Western Australia suffers. It cannot be denied that morale in the Postal Department has slipped and is continuing to slip.
– Why is it slipping?
– I am asking whether the Postmaster-General could, if he were a member of this chamber, tell us why these things are happening. That is why I suggest that an inquiry should be held. When the Labour Government held office an inquiry into the appeal system in the Public Service was held under the chairmanship of the present Solicitor-General, Professor Bailey. A remarkably good job was done and a fine report was presented. The result of the inquiry was that no substantial alteration was made to the provisions of the Public Service Act under which promotions and appointments are made, first, on the ground of efficiency and, secondly, on the ground of seniority. The report recommended that in the filling of some junior jobs the first consideration should be seniority, but substantially the inquiry upheld the right of a departmental head to select an employee on the grounds of efficiency. In theory that is very good. No one can argue that there should be a premium on efficiency everywhere but in the Public Service, but trouble can quickly arise when appointments made on the grounds of efficiency extend to individuals who previously have never been heard of in the Public Service. When such people are shot into senior positions, the morale of other officers must be affected. I have heard junior officers say, “If my boss walked into this office to-day, he would not know what was going on “. Even in the Public’ Service human factors cannot be ignored. I have heard senior officers say, “ We shall appoint this man. The others have the right to appeal if they so desire “, but forcing a public servant to depend on his right of appeal is like putting a runner 10 yards behind scratch in 100 yards. He has to be a champion to make the grade. The appeal tribunals consist of a chairman, a union representative, and a representative of the department to which the appointment is being made. To understand an appellant’s position thoroughly one must know the Public Service mind. Some officers enter the Postal Department at fourteen years of age and all their hopes and ambitions become centred in that department. I know of postal employees who think, eat and talk their job. Conversation on the tennis court, at the football match, or anywhere else always turns eventually to the Postal Department. Their ultimate goal is one of the senior jobs in that department. What is their reaction when they see such jobs being given to individuals whose claims do not seem to be as worthy as their own ? Night after night, and week-end after week-end, they prepare their case for presentation to the appeal tribunal, only to be told that their submission is too lengthy and must be shortened or to find, themselves out of the appeal room in perhaps ten minutes. Although from an appeal and efficiency point of view this may be the quickest means of dealing with appeals, we should consider its effect on an officer who has given probably 30 years’ service to the department and then finds that the “ plum “, the senior position that he has talked about with his relatives, has been snatched away from him and he is peremptorily dismissed from the appeal room. I do not want to propound the theory that the. open court type of appeal should be adopted. At this type of appeal an officer is permitted to brief a layman or a legal practitioner to appear for him, addresses are delivered and witnesses examined and cross-examined as in an orthodox court. Although this system is probably costly, and necessitates absence from duty, at least it protects the morale of young men who consider that they are getting a “ fair go “. However, in view of the interjection by Senator Maher, I point out that this is one place where morale has started to slip. I wonder if the Minister could say that he is perfectly satisfied with the way that jobs are being filled throughout the postal service from time to time? I have dwelt on this matter because I think that honorable senators will agree that it is allimportant. It is of the greatest importance to employees who have to work under immediate direction week after week. They should have confidence in a man appointed above them, no matter how many grades above, whether he be a line foreman or a supervisor of a branch. Because of the inquiry that was made by Professor Bailey into the appeal system in the Public Service, now is the appropriate time to re-examine the matter. Surely when a new system is introduced to replace a system that hn« been in existence for 45 years the new system should be examined after it has been tried out for several years. I how that the Minister will not resort to the departmental cliche that “the new system is under constant supervision”, because I doubt very much whether it if under constant supervision.
I- shall now refer to a period in postal history which is all-important, and answer the accusation that the previous Labour Government did nothing to improve postal services. It was very obvious until a few years ago that the Postal Department was the greatest Cinderella department of all. If a person wanted to find the post office in a country town, he had merely to look for the most disreputable and dirty building there. That state of affairs has changed. I remember the occasion when Senator Robertson opened a new post office, which was really an old converted building. It was very well appointed. The new buildings that are being provided by the Postal Department are a real credit to the department both from the point of view of civic pride and the amenities that are installed. The period of history to which I refer was when a Labour government made an appropriation of from £40,000,000 to £50,000,000 available to the Postmaster-General’s Department and, in effect, said, “ The postal services have been neglected for years. Here is a chance to rehabilitate the department “. Some of that money was expended wisely. Under Labour administration, the Postal Department started to get decent buildings and there was laid down a standard amenity scheme. Of course there were exhibited all of the birth pains of the government that was trying to do the correct thing. I am sure that honorable senators on both sides will agree that the introduction of the standard amenity scheme was a step forward. At last there was a humanitarian approach to a problem which previously had been sadly neglected. However, when that large amount of money was made available, instead of urgent work being undertaken, suddenly the staffs of some branches of the department were’ increased by 100 per cent. I contend that an expansion of business sufficient to warrant such an increase of staff does not take place overnight. I know that in many instances the increases were not necessary and not justified. New branches that had not even been foreshadowed suddenly came into existence. I am trying not to make carping criticism but to be constructive. The opinion was expressed that as we were a nation striving towards a population of 20,000,000 people, it was reasonable to expect that there would be additional pressure on the Postmaster-General’s Department. However, I claim that the job of a new administrator is to examine every one’s ideas.
I would also like to know from the Minister whether he concurs in some unofficial practices that have apparently been developed in this age of development, such as whispering to certain people to apply for a particular job.- Can honorable senators imagine how some employees feel when it is whispered around a branch or section that a certain job is going and that Bill Jones has been advised to apply for it? Can they also imagine what happens when Bill Jones sometimes does not get the job? This isan unnecessary and morale-destroying practice. I have seen the effect of it. Such things should never take place in the Postal Department because the lines on which that department shall function are clearly laid down. There exist rules and regulations, mostly necessary, which are couched in clear and unequivocal terms.
I shall now deal with training schedules. The training schedules of the Postal Department are second to none in Australia. The duration of some of the schools has been increased from three months’ half-time training to nine months’ full-time training. Is there any relationship between those periods? If after administering a department for fifteen years it was considered that three months’ half-time training was not sufficient, it would be logical to extend the period to six months’ or five months’ full-time training. Surely the period should not be extended immediately to nine months’ full-time training. I think that we can hold the Minister responsible because I believe there is such a thing as ministerial responsibility. Does the Minister believe that the younger generation needs more training than the last generation ? I suggest that some sort of an examination of the position is long overdue.
As I have already mentioned, in little bush hamlets postal offices provide a variety of service and there is always a great strain on staff allotted to such places. Some of these things may appear to be of small moment, but they are very important to the people in those outback places. In the past I have made representations many times for the adoption of the practice that employees at outlying post offices should be informed at least three months ahead that annual leave had been approved for a certain date, thus enabling them to make arrangements in advance for accommodation for themselves and their families at holiday resorts. While some sections of the department have been expanded beyond all imagination, matters such as the furnishing of advice well in advance of leave dates have not been attended to and are just as bad to-day as ever they have been. I repeat that, although the Government made available to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department a large amount of money to be expended on bringing the departmental facilities up to date, that money was not all expended in the best possible way. I know all too well the difficulties associated with running a large department, but if we are providing a public service we cannot hide behind the customary cliches. It is the job of the Parliament to see that the Postal Department serves the people adequately, and that these cliches shall not be used as hiding posts.
It is proposed to increase the charges for private telephones. I shall mention a matter in connexion with the 10,000 subscriber lines in the large cities and big country towns. I can well imagine that members of the Telephone Branch will regard the proposed increase as being to the good, because it may induce some people to forgo the so-called luxury of a telephone in their private homes. Some members of the branch will contend that because of the increased charges, thousands of telephones will be relinquished, with the result that many applicants for new telephones will be satisfied. This is an impeccable argument from their point of view, but from the financial point of view the private telephone is better than the business telephone, except that there is a higher calling rate on business telephones. It is proposed to increase the annual rental of telephones by £2 15s. In relation to private telephones, this money will lie in the Postmaster-General’s Department. On the other hand the increased charge in respect of business telephones will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for goods, and inevitably, to that small degree, the inflationary trend will be accentuated. Furthermore, the businessman will be entitled to claim a taxation deduction of the £2 15s. So that from a monetary point of view the Government will be taking this money with one hand and giving it back with the other. If we concur in this increase, and the bill before the Senate is not amended appropriately, the effective amount of the increase of telephone charges for private purposes will be higher than that for business purposes. I cannot too strongly urge the Government to consider this aspect of the matter.
I have been most trenchant in my criticism because I believe that in the Postmaster-General’s Department there is displayed efficiency not excelled in any other department or private business undertaking in this country. Officers in the Postmaster-General’s Department rise to responsible positions only after passing competitive and qualifying examinations. It is the Government’s job to eradicate from the department some very bad practices that have been revealed in some branches recently. The Government should take steps to protect adequately what may be called the “ fair dinkum employees of the Postal Department. Ultimately the inquiry suggested will take place, and I suggest that it should take place now so that the “ fair dinkum “ branches will not “ get it in the neck “. It would not be an innovation so far as the Postal Department is concerned, because flying squads have been appointed in the past. In many instances they brought the* axe down on the wrong heads. A committee of inquiry could be on a Cabinet level if desired. I make a plea for all those people who are my friends in the Postal Department. I wonder whether the Minister is satisfied that all the work performed by the department is necessary. All honorable senators are aware . that efficiency drives can be carried out and unnecessary work eliminated. I suggest that despite all the training that is provided by the department, it has never concentrated sufficiently on training its supervisors and foremen. That is the level at which the efficiency of the workshops can break down and result in the employees slowing down. If the employees of the mail branch or the line gangs, concerning whom such silly statements have been made during this debate, slacken in their efforts, the effect on Australia will be considerable. I suggest that it is of not much use to have good men at the top when at the supervisor-foreman level there are responsible officials who have no idea of human understanding.
The employees of the department feel that they are under criticism to-day because of the increasing costs of running the department. The Postal Department employs some of the most highly skilled trade union officials in Australia. They have been trained for their jobs by the department, and they possess zeal and eagerness to help their fellow-workers. I remind the Government that there has never been a strike in the department. If the department cared to use the ability of those men along the lines of the Whitley councils in England, the effect on efficiency would be enormous. I do not suggest that it is the function of the head of the department personally to run the whole department, but I do suggest that in an organization as large as this, with the constant changes due to the introduction of modern machinery, the senior officers in Melbourne cannot expect to know what is going on in post offices in bush hamlets throughout Australia. The only people who do know what is going on at those places are those who are in constant touch with the people who work there. Those trade union officials battle for their fellow-workers and are constantly taking deputations to the branch heads. If the Minister cares to investigate, he will find that most of the worth-while suggestions made concerning the department have emanated from trade union conferences held in the capital cities. The moment those conferences are finished a spate of information is made available which costs the department nothing. I suggest that a glorious opportunity exists for the departmental heads to take those men into their confidence. If the energy and ability of such employees are exploited, it is possible to see a way out of the morass in which the department is at present. I appeal to the Government not to throw away the chance to appoint a select committee. Such a committee must be appointed sooner or later, and the suggestion has been supported by honorable senators on both sides of the chamber. If a committee is appointed and is given an opportunity to inquire, into the various branches of the Postal Department, its members could assist in making a great contribution to Australia.
– Consideration of this bill led me to glance at the 40th annual report of the Postmaster-General’s Department, which was presented to the Parliament some time ago. One has only to glance at that report in order to feel vast admiration for an organization of such magnitudeOne is lost in admiration at the complexity of its activities and their diversity. I refer, in passing, to the fact that the financial turnover of the department for the year ended the 30th June, 1950, was £481,000,000, comprising £227,000,000 receipts and £254,000,000 expenditure. The number of letters handled in Group A, first-class mail matter, totalled 1,178,000,000.
On page 13 of the report reference is made to the activities . conducted by the department on behalf of other government departments, such as Social Services, the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, the Treasury, War Service Homes, and the Commonwealth Savings Bank. The activities carried out under those heads are detailed on page 53 of the report, and it is only necessary to refer to a few of them to be impressed by the volume of that work. The payment of age and invalid pensions involves the handling of more than £25,000,000 a year, war pensions £18,000,000, widows’ pensions £4,000,000, and child endowment £14,000,000. Commonwealth Savings Bank deposits amounted to £32,000,000 and withdrawals to £17,000,000. I mention those figures merely to support my statement that one cannot peruse the report without feeling some sense of admiration for a department of that size and scope. Accordingly, one approaches criticism of its administration with a very real humility. It would be necessary to possess vast knowledge of many matters before one could embark upon criticism on a well-informed and factual basis.
Very good results have been achieved for the people of Australia by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, despite the fact that owing to circumstances of war and the ills that flow from it the department has been obliged to carry on whilst often understaffed, with outmoded buildings in many instances, with inadequate equipment, and without being able to import all the modern machines that could be employed to lighten the burden and ease the strain of its work.
Coming directly to the bill, its purpose oan be summarized by saying that it imposes an additional £12,000,000 burden upon the people of Australia. I think that it is fair to say that most of that burden will fall upon the business community which is the greatest user of the facilities of the Postal Department. The lines of communication maintained by the department are fundamental to the task of production in this country. There can be no efficiency in production by any organization unless there is a system of speedy and efficient communications. Broadly speaking, the department supplies such a system. If I am correct - and I believe that I am - in saying that the greater part of that £12,000,000 burden will fall upon the business community, then I am also correct in saying that that burden will be passed on by way of additional costs to all sections of the community. For that reason I claim that the additional £12,000,000 that will be charged to the users of Postal Department services this year will be a burden on the people of Australia.
Senator Wright explained at some length that most of that £12,000,000 is due to increases that have taken place in the wages bill of the department. I do not contravert that proposition at all, but I draw the attention of the honorable senator to the reasons for those increases. Many of them are due to cost-of-living adjustments that have taken place regularly, particularly during the past eighteen months. Those adjustments involve the de,partment in very substantial sums. The fact that they have added to the wages bill of the department, and to that of industrial undertakings generally, oan be attributed to the failure of the Government parties to honour promises previously made. In 1949, those parties made to the people of Australia three specific promises, and in 1951 they asked for a mandate in order to honour them. The first promise was to reduce the burdens of government, the second was to reduce the rates of taxation, and the third was to keep living costs down. If this Government had made a serious attempt to honour any one of those pledges, this vastly expanded wages bill of the Postal
Department would not be confronting us to-day. Every honorable senator on this side of the chamber agrees entirely with Senator Wright that if wages go up the PostmasterGeneral’s Department must pay those increased wages and that the money to do so must be found, but the honorable senator most carefully avoided addressing himself for one moment of his speech to the causes of those increased wages. The calamity that faces the Postal Department and the rest of Australia is that no effective action has been taken by the Government to arrest the rising tide’ of inflation. As I have stated on a previous occasion, my colleagues and I are terrified of where it will ultimately end.
– Would the Opposition still return to the wool-growers their £103,000,000?
– It would not take action as discriminatory as that taken by the Government. I think it is safe to say that the Government parties received the answer of the wool-growers during the last general election.
I again refer to the services rendered by the Postal Department on behalf of other departments, mentioned on page 13 of the report. Those services include the payment of war pensions, age and invalid pensions, widows’ pensions, military, naval and air force allotments, the sale of entertainments tax tickets, beer duty stamps, duty stamps, promissory notes and taxation stamps; the receipt of subscriptions to Commonwealth loans, the collection of repayments of war service homes and repatriation advances, and the transaction of Commonwealth Savings Bank business. I understand that an adjustment is made by some of these departments, whether by actual cash or by journal entry I do not know, for the services performed on their behalf by the Postal Department. If the Minister has the requisite information I should like him to tell the Senate whether each of the departments for which the Postal Department acts does, in fact, make a settlement of that kind. Are payments, if they are made, in any way related to the cost of providing the services, or has there grown up a practice of regarding the matter as purely one of government finance, or is the initial charge merely repeated year by year without thought of the rising cost of providing the service? I express no opinion about the matter ; I merely seek information on the point; but I do express very strongly the view that every department that uses the facilities of the Postal Department for the conduct of its work should be prepared to pay for those services at full cost, if not with a margin of profit.
– A margin of profit?
– Yes, I added the words “a margin of profit” because f realize that there are many intangible factors that cannot always be reduced to terms of pounds, shillings and pence. Senator Armstrong has foreshadowed that at a later stage he will submit a motion seeking the appointment of a select committee to examine the problems of the Postal Department. Honorable senators generally might well support that move. As my colleague will explain, the Opposition has no desire to take anything from the Government in that matter. We feel that fresh minds could with advantage be brought to bear on the work of the department. Having read the report on its activities last year I recognize that its administrators are very alert and are looking at all points that should be looked at in the conduct of the business of the department. They have pointed to two ways in which they believe rising costs might be met. The first was that the services might be curtailed. I find myself in complete agreement with those who refute that suggestion. The activities of the department must be expanded, if only by reason of the fact that the 70,000 births that take place in Australia each year are’ chronicled in telegrams and letters, all of which pass through the department. The great annual addition of 250,000 people to our population must also impose additional strain on the department. The third, and, perhaps, the most important reason why the services should not be curtailed, is that efficient communications form the very basis of efficient production in this country. The second suggestion made by the senior officers of the department was that the anticipated deficit that will result from the operations of the Postal Department, unless a bill such as we now have before us is passed, should be met by a contribution from Consolidated Revenue. I am not at all partial to that suggestion. I believe that since the greater part of the services of the Postal Department are availed of by the business community the burden of increased costs should properly fall upon that section of the community. The heavier the strain on Consolidated Revenue, the more the burden is spread over the general community. There is, however, a third course, the adoption of which would need a great deal of courage and imagination; indeed, it may not be possible to adopt it in existing circumstances, with shortages of labour and man-power and difficulty in obtaining equipment from abroad. That is the course that was suggested by Senator Benn. There is good precedent for the suggestion that if we want to make a bigger profit we should reduce charges and not increase them. That principle was exemplified for the first time in modern industrial history by the late Henry Ford. I have before me a copy of a book that he wrote on the subject in 1923. Henry Ford was one of the first of the new industrialists who had not only a bright business mind but also a complete humanitarian outlook. He introduced many new principles into industrial management. One of the revolutionary things that he did, not once but many times, was to call his executives together and ask them what was the then cost of production. When they named a particular figure, he would say to them, “ Announce our sale price for a new car at a figure less than that cost of production “. His executives would be horrified but the ultimate results justified his action. The lowering of the price led to a greatly increased demand for his product, and that greatly increased demand enabled him to embark upon better methods of production, which, in turn, enabled costs to be reduced. Thus, the apparently impossible was achieved. Costs were constantly being brought below selling price and the business flourished.
– Are those principles upheld by the Ford agents at the present time?
– I do not think that that concerns the Senate at the moment. I am enunciating a principle that was established by one of the most successful captains of industry that the world has ever known and demonstrated to be effective and sound, not once but on several occasions. I shall take the time of the Senate to read a brief summary of that principle which Henry Ford submitted to a court on an occasion when his company was appearing in a case before it. He said -
In the first place, I hold that it is better to sell a large number of cars at a reasonably mall margin than to sell fewer cars at a large margin of profit. I hold this because it enables a large number of people to buy and enjoy the use of a car, and because it gives a larger number of men employment at good wages. Those are aims I have in life. But I would not be counted a success - I would be, in fact, a flat failure - if I could not accomplish that and at the same time make a fair amount of profit for myself and the men associated with me in business. This policy I hold is good business policy because it works - because with each succeeding year we have been able to put our car within the reach nf greater and greater numbers, give employment to more and more men, and, at the same time, through the volume of business, increase our own profits beyond anything we had hoped for or even dreamed of when we started. Bear in mind, every time you reduce the price of a car without reducing the quality, you increase the possible number of purchasers. There are many men who will pay 360 dollars for a car who would not pay 440 dollars.
I do not need to remind honorable senators that I am quoting from a book that was written in 1923! He went on to say-
We had in round numbers 500,000 buyers of cars on a 440 dollar basis, and I figure that on the 360 dollar basis we can increase the sales to possibly 800,000 cars for the year - less profit on each car, but more cars, more employment of labour, and in the end we shall get all the total profit we ought to make. And let me say right here that 1 do not believe that we should make such an awful profit on our cars. A reasonable profit is right, but not too much. So it has been my policy to force the price of the car down as fast as production would permit, and give the benefits to .users and labourers - with resulting surprisingly enormous benefits to ourselves.
It may well be that the proposal to increase the charges for postal services in Australia by £12,000,000 in the coming year will not achieve its objective. Many people in the community will probably use the facilities of the department less than they otherwise would do. The rates already imposed are so high that many people hesitate before they make a trunk-line call or use the other facilities provided by the department. Some curtailment of the use of postal facilities after these proposed increased charges become law is certain. That is the first point that I want to make. I know that it would take courage on the part of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) or the Government to reduce postage rates in the face of the deficit that is now confronting the department. It would also take courage to reduce, the tariffs for other services rendered by the department. If telephones were available in quantity, it would pay the department to install them where needed without charge for rental. Indeed, if that were done I am sure that the department would collect the highest revenue it has ever received. Reduce call charges and provide free telephones and the department will earn a fabulous revenue. I realize that it would need a great deal of courage and imagination to implement the principle that I have enunciated, and I concede that its adoption may not be practicable at a time when the department is unable to proceed with its building programme, when it cannot obtain all the raw materials that it needs to undertake its planned works programme, and when it is unable to import the very important machinery that would enable it to mechanize its activities in many directions. I am satisfied, however, that if fresh minds were brought to bear upon this problem - and the members of this Senate are accustomed to considering great national problems at a high level - much good would result. This Senate might well provide the personnel of a committee capable of making a quick and overall examination of the policy of the department. Such an examination would not involve an inspection of post offices all over Australia; it would involve merely a quick survey of overall policy in relation to each of the activities of the department. Such a survey could be ‘undertaken by the select committee that we shall propose. It could also consider the suggestions that I have made and ascertain whether they are practicable of application in at least some sections of the department. I trust that honorable senators opposite who recently expressed their desire that the Senate should, function in a more effective way through the use of committees will support this move. Any counter suggestions that may be made by the Government in relation to the personnel of such a committee will not be opposed by the Opposition. We do not even ask for majority of representation on it.
– The Opposition did not obtain a majority of votes at the general election.
– I suggest that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) and honorable senators generally may well join forces with the Opposition in this matter. I am sure that such a committee would meet the wishes of many honorable senators opposite who look for an opportunity to work on a committee. The Opposition will not vote against the second reading of the bill because the motion proposing the appointment of a select committee will be submitted immediately after that stage has been reached. Our subsequent attitude to the bill will be determined by the attitude of the Government to our proposal for the appointment of a select committee.
Sitting suspended from 5.44 to 8 p.m.
– I regret that the Government has seen fit to introduce a bill of this kind. The increased postal charges provided for in the measure will bear heavily on people in country districts, particularly those in” Western Australia. We in the west have always been at a disadvantage so far as postal services are concerned. Because of our isolation from the other States we have to use the airmail services to a much greater degree than do people elsewhere, and that involves us in heavier costs. Even within the State itself, distances are so great, and surface communications so bad that airmail services must be resorted to. The increased charges for telephone services will raise the average cost of a trunk line call for many people to about 10s. A telephone is not a luxury for people living in the outback; it is a necessity. It should be our policy to get people out of the cities and into the country, and to keep them there. In the outback, the telephone gives a great sense of security, particularly to women, and makes for greater contentment, because women know that they can readily summon assistance, medical or otherwise, when it is required. From my own experience of families in the outlying areas, I know how much they rely on the telephone, not so much for social purposes as do people in town, but for communications with tradespeople, to transact business, and to summon medical assistance when necessary.
The Postal Department renders many services to the public on behalf of other Commonwealth departments. When I was in New Zealand two years ago, I studied intensively the work of the Social Security Commission. There, age, invalid and widows’ pensions, unemployment benefits and child endowment are paid, not through post offices, as in Australia, but through branch offices established by the commission at many points, including all the larger country towns. Applications for pensions are lodged at these offices, instead of being sent to Wellington. This has the advantage of enabling the applications to be inquired into on the spot by officers employed in the branches. If a similar system were introduced in Australia it ‘ would relieve the Postal Department of a great burden of work. In Australia, millions of pounds are paid out in pensions and social benefits by postal employees. In my own suburban post office, Thursday is a nightmare, with people queueing up waiting to receive pensions and allotments. Foi the most part, postal employees are not trained for this kind of work, much of which has been thrust upon them during the past few years because of the extension of social services. Some employees have to devote more of their time to work of this kind than to their proper postal work. I hope that if a select committee of the Senate is set up to inquire into the activities of the Postal Department, it will also investigate the New Zealand system for the payment of social service benefits.
I wish to pay tribute to the work done by the employees in our post offices. As Senator Willesee said, the PostmasterGeneral’s: Department is the Cinderella of the Public Service, because in it condi- tiona of employment are not so attractive as in the other departments. I have frequently been approached by footballers employed in the Postal Department with requests that I obtain for them a transfer to other departments, because they wish to be free on Saturday afternoons. It is a serious thing for a young fellow if he is prevented by reason of his employment from playing in the final between South Fremantle and East Fremantle, for instance. Hence their desire to get into some other branch of the service where they will not have to work on Saturday afternoons, and one cannot blame them. It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit employees for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, because conditions of work are better in other branches of the Public Service.
I pay a particular tribute to our telephonists for the work they do. About two years ago, I discussed in this chamber the working conditions of girls employed in telephone exchanges, with particular reference to those employed in Canberra, where there are special problems ‘because of the isolation of this place. Most of the girls employed here have to live away from their homes. “When I discussed the subject previously, I asked that special accommodation be made available for telephonists in Government hostels in Canberra so that girls working on night shift or late evening shift could obtain proper meals, and would not have to share rooms with other girls who were working ordinary hours. “When we are voting millions of pounds for the erection of new postal buildings we should ensure that adequate facilities are provided for the girls who will have to work in them. I have visited telephone exchanges and seen the girls working flat-out. They are always cheerful, and it is not just a matter of saying “hello “ to one or two people. I think most of us could count on the fingers of one hand the times that we have met with discourtesy from telephone girls. Almost invariably they are most courteous, even when we ask silly questions. I investigated working conditions for the girls in Perth, and found them to be unsatisfactory in some respects. In some instances, girls had to walk 200 yards to fill a billycan with water in order to make
tea. That resulted in much waste of time when a large number of employees was involved. There is also a lack of rest rooms for girls in the magnificent postal buildings that have been erected in our capital cities. I trust that when future buildings are being planned provision will be made for rest room facilities in post offices similar to those provided for employees in other Commonwealth departments.
I am very much concerned over the proposed increase of trunk telephone charges which will make a luxury of telephones, and place them out of reach of those who need them most. Business people can afford to pay the increased charges, because they can pass them on, and particularly because they can claim a taxation rebate for them. I am not sure, but I doubt whether the private telephone used can do the same.
In New Zealand, telephone users do not pay for local calls. They pay an annual rental for the instrument, and local calls are free. Of course, a charge is made for what they call toll calls, which are what we call trunk-line calls. The fact that local calls are free in New Zealand does not result in people keeping their ears glued to the telephone receivers. People have too much to do to bother using the telephone when there is no occasion for them to do so. Of course, there are always some who indulge in protracted telephone conversations, but that obtains in Australia as well as elsewhere, and even here the telephone gossip only pays for one call, no matter how long the call lasts. I never heard that the system of free local calls in New Zealand had been abused. I regret that members of the Australian Country party are supporting the proposal to increase postal charges, and particularly charges for trunk-line telephone calls. I am sure that the people whom they represent will have something to say to them on that subject. During the last few weeks, many people have told me that, once the increased rates become operative, they will not be able to afford to keep their telephones. That is a very serious situation, particularly for people living in the country.
Some of the statements of honorable senators opposite about inefficient service by employees of the Postal Department, particularly by members of the outside staff, were unwarranted. On the Nullabor Plain I have seen steel telephone posts bent parallel with the ground by the force of a storm; yet within a few hours linemen were out in the gale getting the lines into working order. We should congratulate ourselves on the calibre of the men and women who staff the department. This legislation is likely to react against them. If charges become too high, fewer people will avail themselves of the facilities provided by the department, and there is a likelihood of postal employees being thrown out of work.
We are indebted to the men and women who provide postal and telephone facilities in the outback districts, and that is particularly true of those employed in non-official post offices. I do not know whether honorable senators have had much experience of non-official postmasters, but I have had considerable dealings with them and I know that the great majority of them are on the job 24 hours a day. They are always willing to open their offices and provide service for those who need it. With very few exceptions our public servants are a loyal, efficient and obliging body of men and women, and those employed in the Postal Department are second to none in courtesy and ability. I fear that the passage of the bill will result in fewer people transacting business with the Postal Department because the introduction of higher rates will put the service beyond the reach of many people.
– in reply - I have listened with great interest to the debate, which has covered many aspects of the post and telegraph services of this country, and I think that it is fair to say that most of the speeches support the Government’s view that the charges for postal services must be increased. When I had the honour to introduce a similar measure in November, 1950, I made the following statement: -
I believe that the result for 1950-51, even after allowing; for additional revenue from the new rates, will still show a substantial loss - probably more than £4,000,000. In these circumstances, and in the light of the rise in costs which is likely to continue for some time, the rates may require to be further reviewed at a later date.
Unfortunately, it has proved necessary to review the rates, and that is the reason for the introduction of this measure.
The plain fact is that the revenue received by the department is not sufficient to meet its expenditure. During the debate members of the Opposition have suggested that the deficit might be met by an advance from Consolidated Revenue instead of by increasing rates and charges. However, that problem is one that must be resolved by the government of the day. My mind goes back to 1949, when a similar measure was introduced by Senator Cameron, who was then PostmasterGeneral in the Chifley Administration. At that time I was the Leader of the Opposition, and I recall clearly the view then expressed by Senator Cameron, who was emphatic that the loss which had been incurred should be met by an increase of rates and charges. However, this afternoon, the honorable senator, who is now in opposition, contended that the deficit should be met, not by increasing charges, but by a payment from Consolidated Revenue. The Government has decided, however, to follow precisely the course that was followed by the Government of which Senator Cameron was a member, and the reasons for doing so are precisely those that actuated the Chifley Administration in choosing that course. Then, as now. the department’s costs were increasing.
As I pointed out in my second-reading speech, the additional costs are due to increases of the basic wage, to higher salaries of postal officials and to increased costs of raw materials. Large quantities of metals and other materials are used by the department, which has no control over the price of those materials, many of which have to be imported. Certain metals, including steel, zinc, copper and lead, which are used in large quantities by the department, are available in Australia at lower prices than overseas, but it would not be fair or right for the Government to monopolize the local supply of those metals. Although the Government could give first priority to any of its departments to obtain supplies, it has decided, as a matter of principle, that the Postal Department shall obtain only a reasonable proportion of its requirements locally and shall import the remainder. Imported materials are, of course, much dearer than local materials, and incidentally, in most countries materials are just as scarce as they are in Australia. My colleague the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) pointed out in the course of the debate last night on the Sugar Agreement Bill that jute sacks, more commonly known as “ sugar bags “, which cost only 7£d. in 1939 now cost 6s. 6d., which indicates the enormous increase that has taken place in the price of goods from overseas. Nevertheless, I am sure that members of the Opposition would be the first to complain if the Government failed to obtain the necessary materials for the Postal Department to enable it to continue to provide its services. It is clear, therefore, that there is every justification for the increased charges that the Government proposes to make.
I shall deal .now with the criticisms of the department and suggestions that were made by honorable senators during the debate. Senator Cameron said that my statement that the introduction of the 40-hour week was largely responsible for higher costs was contradicted by another statement that 1 made to the effect that the output of most sections of the staff was as groat as it was many years ago. However, the fact is that output is measured by man-hours of work, and a reduction of hours must naturally reduce weekly output, even if the hourly output remains unchanged. Although I admit that some members of the clerical staff were working less than 40 hours a week before the reduction of standard hours from 44 to 40 a week, the fact remains that most of tho staff were working 44 hours a week when the Commonwealth Arbitration Court reduced the standard hours in industry. The reduction of hours inevitably had a big effect on industry and on the Postal Department, which employs an enormous staff. Senator Cameron also suggested that the Government should no longer collect fees for broadcast listeners’ licences, but since the bill does not deal with wireless broadcasting at all no consideration has been given by the Government to that matter.
Senator Armstrong referred to the system of training in the department and stated that the big turnover of staff implied that full value was not being received by the department for the money expended in training employees. He suggested that employees should not be paid wage or salary increments, but on completion of their training they should be paid the maximum wage applicable. Actually, the rates of pay and conditions of employees are prescribed by industrial awards, and I point out that the system of yearly increments progressing to the maximum salary applies generally throughout the Public Service. That system has the important advantage that as an employee becomes more efficient by reason of longer service he receives higher pay. The honorable senator also referred to the system of collecting fees for broadcast listener’s licences and suggested that the Government should examine the system with a view to simplifying it. He had in mind that the retail distributors of wireless sets should be required to collect the initial fees and to remit them to the department from time to time together with a list of the names and addresses of the purchasers of wireless sets. However, I point out that even if that system were adopted, the department would still have to maintain records of all broadcast listeners in order to enable renewal notices to be despatched to them. Consequently, the overall saving would not be substantial, and the Department would probably encounter a good deal of difficulty in obtaining details from all persons who sold broadcast receivers. The matter of broadcast listeners’ licences does not come within the scope of this bill, but I shall convey to the Postmaster-General the suggestion made by Senator Armstrong so that it may be given close consideration.
Senator Tate said that in many instances telephone lines could be provided more economically by contract than by the department itself. Although the present system has operated satisfactorily for many years, and the shortage of skilled labour might preclude contractors from competing for telephone works, T shall convey the honorable senator’s suggestion to the Postmaster-General for consideration. Senator Tate also expressed the view that many buildings and other works were not properly planned, and that their cost was not of sufficient concern to responsible officers. The honorable senator may not be aware that a building branch of the Postal Department was established four years ago, and that that branch works in close association with the Department of Works and Housing in the planning of building projects and the carrying out of minor capital and maintenance works planned by competent technical officers. Particular regard is paid to the estimated cost of the work, and any appreciable difference between the estimated cost and the actual cost is closely examined.
Senator Amour said that by introducing duplex telephone services the department was going back to the old party line system. I point out that, despite record progress made in the financial year just ended, when 70,000 new telephone services were provided, compared with 22,000 in 1988-39 - the last pre-war year - the arrears of telephone applications have not been reduced substantially, and there are now 108,000 orders outstanding, including 88,000 in the metropolitan areas. In many instances, the inability of the department to provide telephones is due to the shortage of underground cable serving a particular area. Consequently, as a means of providing service in localities where cable pairs will not be available for some considerable time, the department devised the special duplex service.
– The department is going backwards. Why not build more exchanges and get the necessary equipment?
– The duplex service is different from an ordinary party line. Each party has a separate exchange number and a separate meter for recording calls and neither party can overhear the conversation of the other. Aready more than 10,000 duplex services have been installed. Facilities have thus been provided for applicants who would otherwise have had to wait for a further long period. That, I contend, is not a step backward but a step forward. Senator Amour also suggested that indi vidual telephone subscribers be provided with meters to record the local calls they originated. Meters for recording local calls are installed in all automatic telephone exchanges and in a number of manual exchanges. Those meters are subjected to constant check and they conform to those used by other leading telephone administrations. The question whether meters should be provided in the premises of subscribers has been examined on a number of occasions, but, up to the present, no device has been found that would be dependable and satisfactory. 1 point out to the honorable senator that if individual meters were provided, subscribers might have some difficulty in avoiding payment for wrong numbers dialled or unanswered calls.
Several honorable senators urged that consideration be given to adopting a system of charging for the telephone services similar to that operating in New Zealand. In that country, the yearly rental for a telephone service includes local calls without extra charge, whereas in Australia, as honorable senators are aware, a fee is imposed for each effective call originated. The Australian system is followed Inleading telephone administrations throughout the world. It ensures thai subscribers are charged according to tho use made of their services. If the New Zealand system were introduced, it would be necessary, in order to obtain the same total revenue as that derived under the existing practice, for subscribers who make very little use of their services to pay higher amounts than they do now, whereas large users would benefit very substantially. Such an arrangement would not be equitable and would impose an excessive burden on the ordinary user. Also, it would still be necessary to issue accounts covering rental, trunk line calls, phonograms- and miscellaneous charges, and the savings that would be effected would not be substantial. In addition, free local calls would greatly stimulate the use of many services and it would be necessary to install additional costly equipment at automatic exchanges, atwell as at junction lines between exchanges to carry the increased traffic. As honorable senators are aware, equipment of all kinds is very scarce and even if it were available, it is considered that now is not the time to adopt such a system.
Comments made by the AuditorGeneral in his reports for 1948-49 and 1949-50 about the works costing system of the Postal Department were made by Senator Maher. The total expenditure of the costing section in 1948-49 was approxmately £200,000, but of that amount only £20,000 represented the expense of works costing. The remainder covered accounting work and the computation and payment of salaries and allowances of engineering staff. As the result of discussions with officers of the AuditorGeneral’s Department and the Treasury, costing procedure has been overhauled and further investigations are proceeding.
Senator Nash expressed the view that the increase of the rates would result in a marked decline in the use of postal services. In framing the rate schedules, allowance has been made for that factor, based on experience gained in the past. An appreciable decline in business is not expected but, in any event, a decrease of business would be accompanied by savings in operational costs and also in the expenditure necessary to provide and maintain additional facilities. Senator Seward, too, said that the new rates might lead to a reduction in business, and that statistics indicated that local telephone calls had decreased in 1949-50 as the result of the 1949 increase of charges. Actually, the number of local calls handled in 1949-50 was more than 58,000,000 greater thanthe number handled in 1948-49, compared with’ an increase of only 32,000,000 in the previous year. Senator Seward referred particularly to the effect of the new telephone rates in country areas. I believe that the increase in rentals is moderate in the light of prevailing costs. The very low extra mileage charges on lines extending beyond 2 miles radially from an exchange are not being raised. I point out, too, that there is frequently a considerable loss of line time where a trunk-line call is made to a specified person at the called number. The value of this lost time increases with the length of trunk lines used for the call, and that is why the special fee varies according to distance. That practice is observed in other countries. The honorable senator quoted some existing and proposed rates for trunk-line calls to a specified person at the called number. For a call over a radial distance of 150 miles, the present day rate for three minutes is 5s. The new rate will be 6s. 2d., or an increase of 23 per cent. The honorable senator is aware, of course, that a reduced rate applies between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 a.m., but I take it that he was referring mainly to business calls which, of course, would not normally be made between those hours. I remind him, however, that telephone rentals in country districts are lower than those charged in the more populous centres. For instance, in a town that has from 300 to 1,000 subscribers, the annual rental is £5, or £6 cheaper than that charged in a city which has 10,000 subscribers or more. In that way, the people of the outback are in some measure compensated for the fact that many of their calls have to be made over long distances.
Senator Benn assumed that the proposed new rates were intended to cover a deficit in Postal Department accounts of approximately £5,000,000 in 1950-51, and £7,000,000 in the present financial year. That is not so. The new rates are designed to meet an estimated loss of nearly £12,000,000 in the present financial year. This action is similar to that taken by the Chifley Government in 1949 when Postal Department charges were increased on the 1st July to meet an estimated loss of about £6,000,000 in the financial year commencing on that date. The Government is doing exactly the same in this financial year as has been done by business houses which have budgeted to overtake estimated losses during the ensuing twelve months. Senator Benn has suggested that, if anything, telephone charges should be reduced because the telephone services do not require much maintenance. As the honorable senator knows, a telephone service comprises the exchange, equipment, outdoor plant, and the equipment in the subscribers’ premises. On an average, a telephone service to a subscriber in a metropolitan area necessitates the provision of two and a half miles of cable.
The average capital cost of a telephone service in metropolitan areas is £170, excluding the proportion of the cost of the building which accommodates the exchange. Allowing for interest, depreciation and maintenance, the annual charges incurred by the department are about £14.
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
I thank the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper) for his comprehensive reply to the second-reading debate. I am sorry that, by the expiration of his allotted time, he was prevented from answering all questions that were directed to him during the debate. I think that it has been established that either now or in the future a committee will be appointed to inquire into the workingsof the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Very many good and interesting suggestions have been proffered by honorable senators. I am not qualified to say whether all or any of them are praticable. However, they should be thoroughly investigated. Senators Hendrickson, Tate, Seward, O’Byrne, Willesee, and Nash have advanced suggestions that are worthy of examination. In my opinion the Government should be prepared to co-operate. As the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) has already mentioned, the panel of honorable senators that I have mentioned is purely a pro forma panel. It could be withdrawn if the Government decided to appoint a committee. Naturally the majority of members of such a committee would be supporters of the Government, including the chairman. As I have emphasized on other occasions, if we do not develop the select committee system in this chamber, the relative work that the Senate performs will become less and less. . This should be apparent even more to Government senators than to Opposition senators. At least the duty of an Opposition is to oppose, and honorable senators on this side can find plenty of time to do that. Very often, however, Government senators have not an opportunity to express their views on the imposition of a limitation of time for the consideration of bills. There are very many good reasons why there should be appointed a select committee to investigate and report upon the necessity for the proposed increased charges. In my speech during the second-reading debate I suggested that the present system of telephone charges should be replaced by a flat yearly rate system, with an appropriate differentiation in respect of personal and business telephone services. The Minister has stated that such a system would not be practicable. In to-day’s press I read that a system similar to the one that I have suggested is in operation in Hong Kong.
– Before World War II. a similar system was also in operation in New Guinea.
– The fact that similar systems have been in operation elsewhere justifies a close examination of my suggestion. I believe that some sections of the Postal Department are over-manned and over-powered. There are too many men in some branches of the department on highsalary levels. This is the second time within eighteen months that a bill to provide for increases of postal charges have been introduced. The increases sought in the measure before the chamber would result in additional revenue of £20,000,000 a year. Irrespective of a Minister’s ability, I claim that during his normal term of office of three years he could do little more than make a cursory examination of the work of such a huge organization as the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. However, if a committee composed of seven senators was appointed, with power to call for persons, papers and records, and to move from place to place in order to examine on the spot matters that it considered should be examined, a thorough investigation of the working of the Postal Department could be carried out within a relatively short period. The department is a colossal organization and the sooner that such an investigation is undertaken the better. No matter how diligent a Minister may bc, he could not alone investigate all phases of the activity of the department. After listening to the second-reading debate one could not but be convinced that it is high time that a select committee of senators should thoroughly investigate the Postal Department. The men who would be most thankful for such an inquiry would be those in the top salary brackets of the department, who have the responsibility of running this tremendous organization successfully. I again urge the Government to agree to the appointment of a select committee. The Opposition would be prepared to re-arrange the names of personnel so that the chairman and the majority of members would be supporters of the Government. If such a select committee were appointed and directed to report to the Senate in four weeks the Government could well claim that it had done something worth while and something which, to a degree, justified the existence of the Senate chamber.
– The bill before the chamber is an urgent measure. It deals with a matter of finance, and every day that the passing of the measure is delayed will result in loss of revenue. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony) has already made a thorough investigation of the activities of the Postal Department. Before this measure was brought down it was very carefully considered not only by the Cabinet but also by all other members of the Government. All Government members were impressed with the necessity for the early imposition of the additional charges for which this bill makes provision. If the motion is carried, at least a month’s delay will be occasioned, with a consequential big loss of revenue. Furthermore, in the past, select committees of this chamber have been granted exten sions of time in order to complete their work. A proposal for a committee of inquiry that was made in another place was rejected. The PostmasterGeneral himself has emphasized that, before placing his proposals before the Government, he went thoroughly into the possibility of effecting economies in the department’s operations without seriously decreasing essential services. He pointed out that the organization of the department is constantly under review from the point of view of efficiency and economy, that the organization of the various branches of the department is well planned, and that staffing is controlled in an effective and systematic way and on a basis that compares favorably with large business undertakings. The Government is convinced that the controlling officers of the department are fully alive to their responsibilities and that, as a general rule, the output and efficiency of the staff are satisfactory, and that the Postal Department is being administered wisely and well. The Government has full confidence in the administration of the department, which, under the guidance of the Postmaster-General, is taking all steps practicable to locate and remedy shortcomings, to overtake arrears of urgent and essential works, and to restore postal services to a reasonably high standard. The Government’s confidence in the administration is amply justified by the fact that the overall postal rates have been increased during the past ten years by only 35 per cent., despite the fact that the costs of labour and materials have risen in the same period by more than 100 per cent. Even allowing for the proposed higher rates, the overall increases of rates will be less than 75 per cent. Few, if any, other large business undertakings would be able to pay their way with a similar percentage adjustment on prices. This in itself is a tribute to the efficient and economical manner in which the department is being operated.
It is considered that no useful purpose would be served by appointing a select committee to investigate the Postal Department at the present time. For the reasons that I have outlined, the Government cannot accept the proposal of the honorable senator.
has explained that one of .the reasons why the Government cannot accept the motion is that a considerable loss of revenue would be involved. The Government should give consideration to the effect of the imposition of the proposed increased charges not only upon the people of this country but also upon the Postal Department. Because of the huge increase of charges the organization will lose in the long run. I suggest that there will be many people who will not now apply for the installation of a telephone. The Minister has gone to considerable trouble to explain that losses have occurred because of increased costs of materials and the impact of the 40-hour week. I ask him whether it is not a fact that a plan of advanced buying and stockpiling of materials was put into operation by the Labour Government when it was in office and that that plan saved the Postal Department hundreds of thousands of pounds. I understand that that plan is still operating. Had it not been introduced the department would be in a chaotic condition to-day. Instead of this Government being forced to increase charges by £20,000,000 during the last twelve months, it would have been necessary for it to increase them by at least £40,000,000. I understand that under that stockpiling plan materials have been bought to advantage and that the position is not as bad as the Government would have us believe.
In November of last year, when increases of postal charges were also being sought, I pointed out that sufficient revenue would not accrue therefrom and that greater increases should have been imposed. However, with the prospect of a general election in the offing, the Government decided not to increase charges to the degree that was then necessary. I am at a loss to understand the reason for the proposed increases, which will bring in approximately £12,000,000. I understand that they will cover a considerable period, so that the Government will not be faced with the necessity, because of an approaching general election-
– Order ! I remind the honorable senator that he is not permitted to make a second-reading speech, tfe must confine his remarks to the motion that has been moved by Senator Armstrong.
– With due deference to you, Mr. President, I submit that I am entirely in order. The motion suggests investigation of the operations of the Postal Department. It has been submitted because of the large sum of money involved in the proposed increases, and because the Opposition considers that a select committee should be appointed to inquire whether those increases are warranted. I submit that any contribution that I am able to make in that connexion is in order.
The Minister has explained that the cost ‘ of postal services has increased by only 35 per cent, during the last ten years. I. point out that most of that increase has occurred during the last twelve months, while this Government has been in office. Does not that warrant investigation by a committee? I am sure that the DirectorGeneral and the Deputy-Directors of Posts and Telegraphs would welcome such an investigation, which would be also of benefit t’o the Government because it would enable it to ascertain whether the proposed increases are justified. On those grounds I submit that I am entirely in order in referring to the fields in which such a committee would operate.
– Order ! I have listened with a great deal of attention to what the honorable senator has said, but J point out that the bill still must go through the committee stages. The matter that he is now traversing can, in my opinion, be dealt with more effectively then. The Minister has replied to the motion that a select committee should be appointed, and I again ask the honorable senator to confine his remarks to that motion.
– Then I cannot speak on the scope of the committee’s functions. Do you rule, Mr. President, that I cannot speak on that subject?
– Moscow rules !
– Order! I am in the chair, and I ask Senator Hendrickson to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it.
– I have no desire to be at cross purposes with you, Mr. President. However, Senator Armstrong has moved that a committee be appointed and I submit that I am entirely in order in discussing the probable functions of such a committee. Before I proceed further, I wish to know whether I am in order in discussing the motion, which reads as follows: -
That the bill be referred to a select committee to inquire into and report, as a matter of urgency, upon the proposed imposition of these heavy increases in charges at a time when revenue from other sources is at a record high level.
If that committee were appointed, I have no doubt that its terms of reference would cover almost every function of the Postal Department. I therefore consider that I am entitled to comment on the finances of the department or on any other matter that may be referred to the committee. However, I do not wish to pursue the question.
– I appreciate that. I repeat that provided that the honorable senator confines his remarks to the motion he is in order.
– I have concluded my remarks.
Question put -
That the motion ( vide page 1014) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I understand that the Minister in charge of the bill has some information regarding the amounts paid to the Postal Department for services rendered to other departments. If the Minister is now in a position to furnish it, I should be grateful if he would do so.
– In the past, the Postal Department did not receive full cash payment for the services provided by it on behalf of other departments, but it took credit in its commercial accounts for the full costs incurred in theprovision of such services. As from the 1st July, 1951, following a review by postal officers in conjunction with officers of the Department of the Treasury, the Postal Department will be reimbursed in cash for the full value of the services performed by it on behalf of other departments, except in regard to the transmission of meterological telegrams, which must be handled free of charge under the provisions of the Post and Telegraph Act. Appropriate credit to cover them is, however, made in the commercial accounts of the department.
Question put -
That the bill stand as printed.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator George Rankin.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator Cooper) put -
That the bill be now read a third time.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 4th July (vide page 866), on motion by Senator Spooner -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– A similar measure has already been fully discussed by a previous Parliament. Indeed, it furnished the excuse for a double dissolution of the Parliament. A more feeble excuse could not be imagined, as was proved by the fact that, once the election campaign got under way, the Commonwealth Bank Bill, and the proposal to place the bank under the control of a board, were completely forgotten. The stage was taken by the Communist issue and the issue of inflation, and the people forgot that the double dissolution had been granted because the Senate had failed to pass the Commonwealth Bank Bill. As a matter of fact, the Labour party opposed only one clause of the bill. Then, as now, it was opposed to the clause which provided for the setting up of a board to control the Commonwealth Bank. The Labour party was not even opposed to the setting up of a board as such, but to the proposal that the board should have upon it members recruited from outside the bank or the Public Service. If the proposal had been that the board should consist of public servants whose only loyalty was to the Commonwealth we should not have objected. We believe that the Government is making a very serious mistake in appointing a board. As amatter of fact, I do not think that the Government itself is very keen on the idea. It was an election promise made with a lot of others at a time when the anti-Labour parties did not believe they would be returned to power. In that, it was similar to the promise to restore value to the £1. As the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) once said, the ‘Government was caught up in its own propaganda. The anti-Labour parties were astonished when they were returned to power in 1949. As I have said, one of the promises made during the election was to restore the Commonwealth Bank Board, and when the present Government came into power it felt constrained to honour that promise. There may be other deep reasons for the present proposal, but they are not apparent to me.
The Commonwealth Bank is thu strongest bulwark which the community possesses against the effects of another depression. Efficiently managed and courageously supported by the Government, it could save the people from the worst effects of an economic depression; yet the Government now proposes to relinquish direct control of the bank, and hand it over to a board, several of the members of which will represent outside interests. This itch to shed responsibility by handing it over to boards and commissions has always been a characteristic of anti-Labour governments. We remember that the Stevens-Bruxner Government in New South Wales passed legislation providing that heads of departments should not be subject to control by their own Ministers, and could not be removed from office except by a vote of both Houses of the Parliament. There may have been something to be said for that, but the fact remains that in a democratic country a government must accept responsibility for governing.
What will be the result of setting up a Commonwealth Bank board? The board will meet and reach certain decisions which will not be conveyed to the Government. If it can solve its problems without consulting the Government it will do so, and the Government will not inquire into what is going on. Indeed, I do not believe that this Government will want to inquire. There is no doubt that this bill will be passed. It has already been passed by the House of Representatives, and the Government has the numbers to ensure that it will be passed by this chamber. The board will be established, and it is proposed to place upon it a grave responsibility. Currency inflation is racing out of our control. The bill provides that the outside appointees to the board shall not be associated with other banks. Thus, they will not be able to bring banking experience to the board table. We read recently that the Government of Victoria, in filling vacancies on the commission which controls the Victorian State Savings Bank, appointed one man who had been three times president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Country party. He may, of course, have had other qualifications, but the newspapers did not mention them. Dick Whittington was three times Lord Mayor of London, so perhaps the fact that a man was three times president of a State branch of the Australian Country party is regarded as sufficient qualification for appointment to a body charged with the responsibility of controlling a bank. If that be so, we may expect the outside representatives on the Commonwealth Bank Board to be men known and respected in Liberal and Australian Country party circles.
From 1945 until the present time the Commonwealth Bank has been expertly managed without a board. In this time of inflation many momentous decisions will have to be made by those who control the Commonwealth Bank. Great pressure is being brought to bear upon them to ease or vary the policy of credit restriction which the Commonwealth Bank has imposed upon the trading banks. Many persons actively dislike that policy because it does not suit their business purposes. Is it proposed to appoint to the Commonwealth Bank Board men associated with interests which are opposed to the bank’s policy of credit restriction? All reasonable people will agree that, no matter how much the policy of credit restriction hurts some people, it is necessary at this time. That is recognized by the Government, which has reverted to the control of capital issues, the purpose of which is to restrict the credit available for certain forms of commercial enterprise. The Government does not want money to be made available for the establishment of new luxury industries, but wishes to direct the flow of money into essential industries such as those engaged in the production of coal, steel, cement, chemicals, &c, that are essential to the defence of Australia. Honorable senators opposite have always expressed themselves as opposed to controls, but they are now being forced to recognize the need for them. Before the election of 1949, antiLabour candidates advocated the abolition of controls. They wanted to let things find their own level economically. The first thin? the Menzies Government did after it was returned to office in 1949 was to abolish the control of capital issues. The Government now finds that control must be restored, although its legality is being challenged in the courts.
Speaking in 1947, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley, said -
T frei that I hardly need to argue here the importance of money and credit in a modern economic system. As the means by which resources are brought together in production, goode are bought and sold, and prices, wages, contracts and debts are determined, it plays a part as vital to the economic body as the bloodstream to the human body. No single factor can do more to influence the welfare and progress of a community than the management of the volume and flow of money. Mismanagement of money, on the other hand, has contributed to the greatest economic disasters of modern times - booms and slumps, mass unemployment, waste of resources, industrial unrest and social misery.
– From what speech is the honorable senator quoting?
– I am quoting from a speech made by Mr. Chifley on the Banking Bill introduced in 1947. We are always prepared to contribute to the education of Senator Wright, because we believe that he is one of those who stands most in need of help. I do not think that any one would care to deny the truth of what Mr. Chifley said. As he pointed out, if money is handled unwisely by those in control the result can be unemployment, waste and misery. To-day, the Commonwealth Bank bestrides our economy like a colossus. It is the most important factor in credit control, and yet the Government proposes to place the bank under the management of a board upon which there will be five representatives of outside interests, men with no banking experience whatsoever. It is all very well to say that in the case of a disagreement the board must consult the Treasurer, who will then lay the dispute before the Parliament within fifteen sitting days. We know that, in practice, disputes are not likely to come before the Parliament at all. What will happen if a disagreement should occur between the proposed board and the Government on such a vital matter as the revaluation of the Australian currency? Will that ever come before the Parliament? Obviously such matters should be decided by the Government of this country. They should be debated in the Cabinet and a decision should be made by Ministers. Too often over the years anti-Labour administrations have evaded their responsibility to govern when the going was hard. That is one reason why we do not trust the present Government. Consider, for a moment, its record of ineptitude since it assumed office eighteen months ago. What has it done to counter the inflation that is wrecking our economy? Its only contribution has been to re-establish control of capital issues. It is trying to distract the minds of the people from the real issue of inflation by fomenting an almost hysterical campaign against the Communists. The tragic fact is that before very long the necessities of life will be beyond the reach of many of our people. Members of the Australian Country party claimed during the debate this evening on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill that telephones are one of the three indispensables of life to our primary producers. I point out to the Government, however, that the effect that the increase of telephone charges will have upon the community is not different from the effect that the all-round increase of prices will have upon the real essentials of life. Already people are being forced out of the sales market by the rise of prices, and although inflation has proceeded apace during the last six months, its momentum will be infinitely greater during the next six months. Indeed, one of the most dangerous features of inflation is that it feeds upon itself.
– Inflation is occurring not only in Australia, but also in Great Britain and in the United States of America.
– But the rate of inflation in Australia during the last twelve months is four times greater than that which has occurred in Great Britain and twice as great as that of the United States of America. That is one of the most disturbing features of our situation. Unfortunately, most of the members of the present anti-Labour Government do not realize the seriousnes of the position. In my opinion, only four of them are aware of the danger of our situation. The remainder are only too happy to feel that they are Ministers. Of course, before very long some one will come along and tap them on the shoulder and whisper the awful truth to them, as I was impelled to do to Senator Wedgwood a few moments ago. In fact, it almost seems that it is the deliberate policy of the Government to permit the present tragic boom to continue until it bursts, as it must do, in the hope that before the next election occurs they will be able to salvage something from the wreckage to save them from the wrath of the electors. It matters nothing to them that in the meantime the hearts and backs of many Australian will be broken. I admit at once that a bank board could function efficiently and might even be effective-
– But according to the honorable senator’s own statement, the position could not be worse than it is at present.
– The trouble is that the present. Government will not do anything. Ministers of this Government and their supporters are hoping for something to turn up. In the meantime, they hope that the establishment of a board to control the Commonwealth Bank will provide a means of escape and shelter for them if the worst happens. It is fundamental that the responsibility for government should at all times rest upon the shoulders of Ministers, and when a man enters public life he should realize that he must always be prepared to account for hi& actions to his constituents. I admit quite frankly that the burdens that confront the present Government are colossal, and I am worried because I fear that Ministers will endeavour to escape their responsibilities by abrogating their duty to retain control of our economy. The appointment of a bank board would provide a very handy means of escape.
– The honorable senator should take heart because there is no evidence yet that the present Government has endeavoured to evade its responsibilities.
– Quito frankly I consider that Senator Vincent, who means well, should inform himself in order that those who elected him should not lose confidence in the future.
Another vital matter that confronts the Government is the increase of interest rates. At present there is a strong drive to increase those rates. At the last meeting of the Loan Council the Treasure. (Sir Arthur Fadden) was so injudicious in his remarks that Government bonds almost immediately dropped four or five points on the stock exchange. The most, important thing in the economic life of the country is confidence, and when thu people begin to lose confidence in the solvency of the Government, disaster is likely to overtake us. The loss of confidence that occurred after the Treasurer revealed, somewhat indiscreetly, the unfortunate state of the national finances has resulted in the interest rates on Government securities having to be raised in order to attract investors. People who are buying homes on credit and are able to carry on only because of the large overdrafts that they have received tm most adversely affected by an increase of interest rates of even only 1 per cent. Such matters as the fixation of interest rates should be decided by the Government anr not by any board. Furthermore, it should be realized that the proposed board will contain fire members of whose qualifications or fitness we know nothing. They may be successful graziers, glass manufacturers, importers or circus proprietor. One of the first matters that they will be called upon to consider is the vital subject of the revaluation of the Australian £1. Does the Government intent to leave the determination of that matter to the Commonwealth Bank Board?
– Apparently thu honorable senator is the only person who is worrying about the Government’s ability to decide the matter.
– I also point out that millions of pounds have been compulsorily deposited by the private trading banks with the Commonwealth Bank as the central reserve bank. That money represents surplus deposits. I do not. know .what the proposed board would decide to do with that money. Of course, the actual decision would rest very largely with the five individuals appointed from outside the bank or the Public Service. They might very well determine, for reasons that seemed good to them, that the surplus deposits should be returned to the private banks. Such a decision would, of course, have a disastrous effect upon the current inflation.
I do not want honorable senators to think that my objection to the establishment of the proposed board is based on personal reasons. The real reason for my objection to a board is that I believe that it will interfere with the efficient operation of the Commonwealth Bank. Let me remind honorable senators of the broad outline of the development of the bank and of the effect upon that development exercised by the former bank board. In 1920 the bank had 32 branches. From 1920 to 1925 the number of branches increased to 70. During those years the bank was under the sole control of a Governor, but a board was then established by an anti-Labour administration to control the bank. From 1925 to 1930 the number of branches of the bank increased only by eight. From 1930 to 1932 the number of branches increased to 261, but that increase was due to the taking over by the Commonwealth Bank of the former New South Wales Govern ment Savings Bank. From 1932 to 1939 the number of branches increased from 261 to 275. In other words, in eight years the number of branches increased by only fourteen. When Labour assumed office it abolished the board, and the number of branches subsequently increased from 275 to 415. Under the leadership of a board the number of branches of the Commonwealth Bank increased by only thirteen. Do supporters of the Government suggest that that indicates enlightened and progressive leadership?
I pass now to another matter that I particularly commend to the attention of Senator Vincent. In the Minister’s second-reading speech he asserted that Professor Giblin commended the former bank board. However, such an inference is incorrect and misleading. In point of fact, Professor Giblin strongly criticized control of the Commonwealth Bank by a board. He pointed out that the former Commonwealth Bank Board could have prevented the disastrous closing of the New South Wales Government Savings Bank.
– Read it all!
– Professor Giblin stated -
The Board actually connived at the disastrous closing of the New South Wales Savings
The most that can be said is that Professor Giblin regarded the board as an interesting experiment which ended before its value could be assessed. I shall not go over the whole story again. That would be completely futile. I merely place on record on behalf of the Opposition certain vital objections to removing the Commonwealth Bank from the direct control of the Treasurer and of the Parliament and placing it in the hands of a board. In the working of this legislation we shall find that there will never be a disagreement between the bank board and the Treasurer. Tho Treasurer will see to that. Ultimately the bank will move beyond the control of the Treasurer and of the Government, and honorable senators opposite will then be able to say to themselves “ That is one’ more piece of responsibility that we have been able to shed “. If Communist infiltration into this country is to be resisted, and a high standard of government maintained there must be in this Parliament men who are game enough and strong enough to stand up to the responsibilities that the people of Australia have placed upon them. Apparently honorable senators opposite and their colleagues in the House of Representatives are not such men.
Senator HENTY (Tasmania) [10.2 J.I support the bill, and in so doing I shall reply to one or two points that have been made by Senator Armstrong. Admittedly he did not say much that, is worthy of a reply, because he dealt mainly in prejudices and paid little regard to the provisions of the bill, but one or two points are worthy of note. He said that many great decisions had to be made and that great responsibilities had to be shouldered by the Commonwealth Bank. I agree entirely, and that is the basis of our argument for the restoration of the Commonwealth Bank Board. We believe the responsibility for vital decisions should rest not upon one set of shoulders, but upon the shoulders of a board consisting of business men of wide experience who are capable of discussing and formulating a policy that will be of value to the community.
This bill has three main features. First, it repeals the Banking Act of 1947 under which the Chifley Government hoped to nationalize banking in this country. That was the most stupid act ever placed on our statute-book. Secondly, the bill restores board control to the Commonwealth Bank, and, thirdly, it provides an additional £5,000,000 for the extension of the bank’s activities in certain directions. The last two features are closely allied, and I shall deal with them together. It is essential that any extension of the work of - the bank should be guided by men of great experience, because already the bank has entered into certain speculative ‘fields of finance. I refer particularly to the financing by the Industrial Finance Department of the purchase of motor cars and trucks. Fortunately the bank entered this field when conditions were most favorable. To-day, if a person who has borrowed money to buy a motor car or truck finds that he cannot meet his commitments, he can sell the vehicle and. obtain sufficient money for it to discharge his obligations to the bank, but it will not be long before the element of speculation returns to that phase of banking. There will be a return of the times when some persons, who borrowed money to buy trucks wore them out in twelve months and then, unable or unwilling to meet their commitments, they allowed the worthless vehicles to be repossessed by the institutions from which the money had been borrowed. That is one field in which the experience of board members will be of great value to the people of Australia. As I have said, they will be men who have wide business knowledge. They will know just what trends have to be watched closely.
We on this side of the chamber have always bitterly opposed the nationalization of the banks because the elimination of the. private institutions would mean that all credits would be controlled by the Commonwealth Bank and business people seeking finance would not have a choice of banks as they have at present. In my earlier days. I had occasion to be thankful for that choice of banks. Otherwise, my experience might have been very bitter indeed. Therefore, I had a good personal reason, if no other, for strenuously opposing the Chifley Government’s attempt at nationalization. I felt that every young man in this country who wished to embark upon a business career should have the same opportunity as I had. If one bank is not prepared to finance him he should be able to take his proposition to another; The repeal of the nationalization legislation will ensure that that right of choice will remain.
Senator Armstrong claimed that the credit restriction policy of the Commonwealth Bank was assisting to curb the inflationary trends that are so evident in our economy to-day. In that field also, I believe that the administration of the Commonwealth Bank by a board will be of great advantage. I believe that the present blanket restriction on the issuing of credits was imposed because of lack of experience and a failure to appreciate the ultimate effect of such a policy. The restriction could very well cause further serious shortage of commodities. Consider, for instance the position of the average business man who in normal times carried £20,000 worth of stock.
To-day, because of inflation, he finds that tn keep the same quantity of goods on his shelves, his outlay is about £30,000. If he is following ordinary business practice, instead of having £10,000, he will have £15,000 on his books. What can he >:lo? Capital issues are controlled, so he cannot raise further capital to meet his needs. Ordinarily, if he had good security he would go to his bank for credit, but he cannot do that because of the blanket credit restriction that has been imposed by the Commonwealth Bank. The only course open to him therefore is to reduce his stock. The inevitable result of that, of course, is that when strikes and transport stoppages occur, his stocks run out more quickly than they would normally and shortages are accentuated. I hope that the credit restriction policy of the Commonwealth Bank will be revised by the business men who are to be charged with the responsibility of administering the bank. They will understand what damage can be done by such a restriction.
Like honorable senators opposite I object to the constitution of the proposed board, but not for the reasons that have been advanced by the Opposition. I believe that the Governor of the bank should not be the Chairman of the Board. It is a bad practice for a man who is responsible for the internal administration of the bank to be also chairman of the board which decides bank policy. The Governor should be answerable to the board just as we in this chamber are answerable to the electors. He would always have to remember that he was answerable to the board for any action that hie took. I think that it would be bad practice, for the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank to be saddled not only with the responsibility of that office but also with the responsibility of being chairman of the bank board. I do not criticize in any way the ability rend capability of the present Governor, but before I would place such powers in the hands of one man I should want to be convinced that he was fundamentally sound. I do not think that the present Governor is fundamentally sound. I think that he is too much of a socialist to be fundamentally sound.
I shall now refer to Senator Armstrong’s assertion that the Government’s persistence in this matter was the cause of the double dissolution of the previous Parliament. Honorable senators opposite appear to forget two aspects of the matter when they claim that the previous Senate did not in fact fail to pass the Government’s former banking legislation. When the first banking bill introduced by the last Government was considered by the Senate it was rejected because of the numerical superiority of the Labour. Opposition. When it was subsequently returned to the Senate it was referred to a select committee. If that had been “ fair dinkum “, to use an “ Australianism “, not merely a ruse, and if the Opposition genuinely considered that a select committee should bc appointed, that action should have been taken on the first, not the second, occasion that the bill was before the Senate. Furthermore, the Labour critics in this chamber also overlook the fact that they, the Labour Opposition, had already received instructions from the Australian . Labour party triennial conference that they were not to pass the bill. In view of the rigidity of the Australian Labour party it was common knowledge that, as the Senate Labour Opposition was numerically stronger than the Government, it would not dare to disobey the commands of the triennial conference. Therefore there was ample justification for the contention that the Senate had failed to pass the bill.
The proposed legislation has been debated at length in this chamber. I do not think that anything new could be said on the subject of banking. But we have an obligation to the people who have twice shown that they prefer that the control of the Commonwealth Bank should be vested in a board. Therefore immediate steps should be taken to implement the will of the people. However, I consider that we should ensure that the proposed board shall be composed of men of sound economic principles, and we should see that never again shall the control of the Commonwealth Bank be threatened by a venture based on a . stupid socialist economic theory. I support the bill.
. -Whenever the subject of banking is being discussed, particularly banking under private control as is intended by the appointment of the proposed bank board,I recall the conditions of 1893, when the banks failed, depositors were robbed, and hundreds of thousands of people in this country were ruined financially. I doubt whether any other member of this chamber saw at first-hand conditions as I saw them at that time. The Commonwealth Bank was established in1911, as a result of the bank crash in 1893, and because of the incompetence th at had been shown by the private controllers of banking. It was established Despite considerable opposition and ridicule, and it has been conspicuously successful. During World War I., for all practical purposes the private banks failed to stand up to their responsibilities not only in Australia but also in Great Britain, and the Australian Government sought the assistance of the Commonwealth Bank. There was a similar state ofaffairs during World War II. The private control of banking has failed all along the line. That failure necessitated the introduction of a greater measure of national controls during the period of’ World War II. It wastruly stated by the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) that this bill makes provision for the repeal of the legislation providing for the nationalization of banking. Labour sought to nationalize the private banks because of their failure in the past and because the people of this country had been robbed and misled by them. As honorable senators know, that legislation was declared invalid by the Privy Council in certain major respects. It was a qualified decision, probably because of the failure of the banks in the United Kingdom during the transitory periods of the past. The Minister stated that it was advisable and necessary that that legislationshould he repealed. He then made other assertions that had no foundation in fact. In common with other honorable senators on this side of the chamber, I still desire to see the trading banks nationalized. The events of the past prove that it is absolutely necessary to nationalizebanking,just as postal services, railways, and other public services have been nationalized. If the private trading banks of this country were nationalized the Government would know where, how, and at what time millions ofpounds were flowing. The Government does not possess that knowledge to-day, but depends on reports from private banks which, in my opinion, would not bear investigation. The nationalization of banking would also make possible a more effective collection of income tax. At present there is considerable concealment of property and income. We all know that under the private control of banking the full amount of income derived from various sources cannot be readily ascertained. We all know that different systems of bookkeeping are practised by the various trading banks. The nationalization of banking would make possible the unification of bookkeeping, which is very desirable, because, as has been stated frequently, although figures cannot lie, liars can figure, and privately controlled banks have been notorious in that respect. In the event of another world war materializing, whatever government is in power in this country will have to introduce a great measure of governmental control, as Labour did during World War II. If bankinghad been nationalized, the overheadcosts would he less than otherwise. Private banks are not run in the interests of the people. If the business of banking was not profitable for shareholders relatively little private banking business would be transacted. The profit motive is dominant. Unless shareholders can look forward to dividends they are no more interested in a business than are employers interested in the workers unless they can earn a profit from the efforts of the workers. So far as the employers are concerned, the employees could starve otherwise. I stress that overhead charges would be reduced if banking were under national control, but not control by a board representing private banking interests; as did the previous bank board, in opposition to the Government. If any Treasury official who was a member of the former Commonwealth Bank Board were prepared to tell what he knows it would be apparent to honorable senators that government policy was frequently side-stepped and ignored as a result of a majority vote by theboard.I am not referring to the policy of Labour governments, but to the Lyons Government and the Bruce-Page Government. Dividends to shareholders would be entirely abolished if the private banks were nationalized.
– Order! In accordance with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Public Service Act - Appointments - Department -
Commerce and Agriculture-M. E. Crawford, H. G. D. McConnell.
Interior- C. T. P. Carter.
Repatriation - R. Fruchtmann.
Shipping and Transport- G. N. Forbes.
Trade and Customs - R. Hogben, G. V. Roberts, J. W. Weaver.
Stevedoring Industry Act - Australian Stevedoring Industry Board - First Annual Report for year 1949-50, together with financial accounts.
Senate adjourned at 10.30. p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 5 July 1951, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1951/19510705_senate_20_213/>.