26th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 1 1 a.m.. and read prayers.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Is it a fact that the cost to Australia during this financial year of the war in Vietnam will be about $35m and that expenditure by Australia in Vietnam in the non-military sphere will not exceed about $2m? Is it also a fact that Australia has about 6,400 fighting nien in Vietnam but only forty or fifty tn the civil affairs units? How does the Leader of the Government reconcile these figures with the statement often made that the other war in Vietnam, the fight against ignorance, sickness and poverty, is as real as are the casualties on the battle field?
– The Leader of the Opposition produces figures which may or may not be correct. These figures are not within my knowledge. The financial year has not yet ended and we cannot say how much money will be spent in Vietnam and for what purposes in 1966-67. As I understand the position, our troops in Vietnam receive the bulk of their supplies from United States sources. [ have no knowledge of the number of persons in the peace force in Vietnam and have no means of confirming the number suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. I do know, however, that the Government of South Vietnam has announced that great numbers of its fighting forces are engaged in the peaceful development of South Vietnam, in the pacification and development of areas coming under the control of the South Vietnamese and in the education of the people in those areas. Another thing that we must all applaud is the decision of the present Government of South Vietnam to hold free elections in about September of this year.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate aware that it is of the greatest importance to the future of South Australia that the progress of the Chowilla dam on the River Murray above Renmark be subject to no let or hindrance? When the subject of additional finance for the project is being considered at the forthcoming Premiers Conference will the Government ensure that the fullest information obtainable from Commonwealth sources as to current and future requirements of River Murray water for industry and agriculture in South Australia is tabulated and made available?
– I am aware of the importance of the Chowilla Dam not only to South Australia but also to Victoria and New South Wales because, as I understand it, when the dam is completed portion of the River Murray waters which are now drained through to South Australia will become available to the other States, to Victoria in particular. I know that Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, which are the three States responsible for this dam, have been faced with a huge increase on the original estimate of cost. I understand that they are giving this matter consideration now. I can assure the honourable senator that the Government is well aware of the importance of this enormous undertaking to the welfare and development of South Australia.
– Will the Acting Postmaster-General ban the advertising on radio and television of analgesic powders containing phenacetin, and the advertising of cigarettes? If not, why not?
– Any question of banning advertising on radio and television in Australia is a matter which first comes under the jurisdiction of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Matters relating to health, very properly - 1 am certain that everybody will agree - are considered by the Commonwealth Department of Health which may well give advice to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The nature of the question asked by Senator Dittmer suggests that it should be put on the notice paper so that it may be referred to the appropriate people.
– With your indulgence, Mr President, I should like first to express to Dame Ivy our congratulations on the great honour that has recently been conferred on her. I am sure that we all recognise that it is an honour which is merited against a background of many years of devoted service to this great Commonwealth of ours.
The answer to the first part of the honourable senator’s question is Yes. With the object of handling mail quickly and accurately and in order to derive the greatest advantage from the modern electronic mail sorting equipment now coming into use, the Post Office has started to publicise a system of code numbers to be used in addressing mail and to be known as Postcode. This is a national scheme to be applied throughout the Commonwealth. Each delivery area has been allotted a four digit number of which the first digit represents the State and is the same as the digit number we use to identify the State in relation to the broadcasting bands. The other three digits will represent the region and the district. An intensive publicity campaign aimed at encouraging the public to use the numbers will begin in about a fortnight’s time. It is true that some partial code systems confined to particular cities or country areas have been tried in the past but these have had restricted success because of their limited nature. The present scheme will apply throughout Australia and every effort will be made to achieve the use of Postcode numbers on a high proportion of mail.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Territories. Will the Minister instruct the Secretary of the Department of Territories to visit the Northern Territory at an early date for the purpose of inspecting the accommodation provided for Aboriginals on cattle stations? Will he instruct the Secretary to furnish a report showing the lack of hygienic sanitation and the existence of primitive sleeping accommodation and crude cooking facilities, which are a disgrace in our society?
– All I can do is say that I shall bring the honourable senator’s question to the notice of the responsible Minister.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport whether he has any figures available regarding the comparative cost to exporters to Europe of shipment by the Suez Canal route as against the longer passage round the Cape of Good Hope. What difference does the non-payment of canal dues on one route make in the comparison? Is the 5% increase in freights arrived at by shipping companies on produce exported from Australia to Europe justified under all the circumstances?
– Quite clearly this is a question that 1 would want put on notice as I will need to get information from the Department of Shipping and Transport and also the Department of Trade and Industry before 1 can supply an answer.
– I address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Does the statement made throughout the Australian Press by the Prime Minister, Mr Harold Holt, that the recent referendum result meant that there would be no increase in the number of members during the life of the present Parliament represent the official view of the Government?
– The honourable senator asks a question relating to policy. However, I think he can always rely on statements made by the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister made the statement to which the honourable senators refers in the terms in which the honourable senator puts it to me, then he need have no doubt that that is the Prime Minister’s view.
– Can the Acting Postmaster-General tell me whether the Australian Broadcasting Control Board’s censorship division has passed the programme ‘You Can’t See Around Corners’ as being a suitable television programme? If so, has the censorship authority taken into account the Sydney ‘Sunday Mirror’s’ front page comment that this show is based on sex scenes, drunkenness, gang brutality, race prejudice and anti-Vietnam sentiments as well as desertion from the armed Services?
– I want to make it perfectly clear at the outset that there is no pre-censorship of Australian-produced material presented by television stations. Section 99 of the Broadcasting and Television Act places a responsibility on stations to comply with the Board’s programme standards. We all know what those standards are because we have debated them many times in this place. Stations generally have complied quite satisfactorily with the requirements. No doubt, if a station did not comply the Board could, if it thought fit, take certain disciplinary measures with relation to any programme considered to be offensive. That is the general answer to the question asked by the honourable senator. I shall certainly draw to the attention of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board the specific content of the question that the honourable senator has asked.
– I ask the
Leader of the Government in the Senate: In view of the overwhelming demand for Commonwealth action expressed by the people of Australia at the referendum on Aboriginal rights and the current exposure of the serious plight of so many Aboriginals resulting from bad housing particularly, at Dareton in southern New South Wales, will the Government give an assurance that it will make an allocation in the coming Budget for the specific purpose of improving the living conditions of this underprivileged section of the Australian community?
– I am not aware of the circumstances to which the honourable senators refers, but I should say that if such circumstances do obtain in New South Wales it would be within the province of the New South Wales Government to deal with the matter. The Government now has to consider the result of the recent referendum, but I shall certainly ask the Treasurer to have a look at the matter raised by the honourable senator when the Budget is being considered.
– In addressing a question to the Minister for Education and Science I refer to the statement made by him on the ‘Meet the Press’ television programme in Melbourne on Sunday last to the effect that passing the matriculation examination could no longer be regarded as adequate for university entrance and that the selection of students by means of quotas was the proper approach in university education. I ask the Minister whether it is now to be taken as the established policy of the new Department of Education and Science that university quotas are here to stay and that the Government regards this as a desirable state of affairs. Is there to be no planning effort by the Minister and his Department to eliminate these quotas progressively over a period of years?
– I think I should first make it clear that every university throughout Australia does not have quotas; these are in some universities. I would also say - I believe I said this on ‘Meet the Press’, though I cannot quite remember the precise words - that there is no country in the world in which examinations are not set for entry to a university. In every country the examinations require that the student show that he has a reasonable chance of passing a university course in minimum time or minimum time plus one year. It is quite true, as the honourable senator said, that I intimated my agreement with the statements made by the Martin Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia in its report to the Australian Universities Commission that the present matriculation examination seeking to do two things did neither thoroughly. The present examination, seeking to show both that a student had satisfactorily completed secondary education and at the same time that he would satisfactorily complete tertiary education, did not fulfil its objectives. I agreed with the statements of education experts on that matter. 1 believe it highly desirable and not a bad requirement that entry to universities should be open to people who have been able to demonstrate initially that they have a reasonably good chance of passing their course in minimum time or minimum time plus one year. The needs of later developers, who, as exceptions, showed that they might satisfactorily take a university course, would be catered for, should they wish to take a university course, by their going through colleges of advanced education, receiving credit for that and then moving on to universities. If the point of the honourable senator’s question is, as I think it is, that every student who now passes a matriculation examination, even with a minimum number of marks and a minimum pass, should automatically go to a university, I say that I think that is not to the benefit of the university or the student concerned.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Education and Science. Is any figure available showing the total number of students attending Australian universities this year? Does the figure show a favourable or anticipated growth in university attendances and does it reflect the effect of this Government’s generous financial and administrative efforts to provide tertiary education for an increasing number of university students in Australia?
– Yes, figures have just been released by Mr Archer of the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics. They show that as at March of this year there were enrolled in Australian universities a total of 95,290 students. This is a substantial increase on the number enrolled last year and an increase of some 500 or 600 on the enrolment predicted by the Australian Universities Commission when it made its estimates for 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. I think this has been made possible by the greatly increased amount of money available to universities in this triennium as compared with the last triennium. A greatly increased amount of money has been made available by this Government and, in cooperation, by the State governments.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. In view of the alarming increase in unemployment shown by the figures for last month, will the Government take some positive action to arrest the decline in employment?
– I personally am not conversant with what is described by the honourable senator as an alarming increase in unemployment as indicated by the returns for the last month. If there has been an increase I am not able to say whether it is due to seasonal factors or whether it is alarming because I have not the relevant figures in my mind and they were not supplied by the honourable senator. I think it will be clear to all honourable senators as well as to the community in general that during this Government’s term of office the level of employment in Australia has been, with slight variations from time to time, one for which we can pay a tribute to the Government. Our employment record must be one of the best in the world.
– Has the Leader of the Government in the Senate seen an article in yesterday’s ‘Australian’ under the heading Postal Rise Shows Contempt, Says Senator’ in which Senator Cohen is reported to have said that the Government was flouting public opinion by seeking to increase telephone charges by regulation? Is Senator Cohen’s claim correct?
– I have seen the statement published in the ‘Australian’ of 19th June which Senator Cohen,the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, is alleged to have made in a radio broadcast. I particularly noted certain passages. He is reported to have said:
The Government has now decided to by-pass Parliament.
That is deliberate misrepresentation. He is reported to have said also:
The Government has waited until the Senate is in recess before promulgating its regulations.
When the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill was before the Senate the Government gave full notice that it proposed to introduce regulations and the Senate took the steps necessary to bring about today’s meeting. So to claim that the Government waited until the Senate was in recess before promulgating the regulations in misrepresentation. The honourable senator is also reported to have said:
This is not only a brazen flouting of the Senate, but a demonstration of the Government’s contempt for the people.
That again is misrepresentation because, as 1 have said, the Senate was fully aware of the steps the Government proposed to take. The Government introduced legislation into the Senate and at that time indicated that regulations would be promulgated, as is the normal course, to increase the charges which we will be dealing with later today. The Senate was fully aware that these regulations would he placed before the Parliament. There is no foundation for the claim that the Government is flouting the Parliament, because these regulations are now before the Parliament and the Senate has the opportunity to deal with them. If Senator Cohen has been correctly reported in the ‘Australian’ he has been guilty of gross misrepresentation.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate a question. The Minister will be aware of the predicament of a number of ships held up in the Suez Canal and that considerable time may elapse before they proceed. Two of these ships - the ‘Port Invercargill’ and the Scottish Star’ are carrying 160,000 cases of Tasmanian apples and pears. All told about 400,000 cases of Australian fruit are held up by the blockage of the Canal. Can the Minister say what diplomatic measures are being taken by the Government to hasten the clearing of the Canal so that these ships may proceed? More importantly what arrangements are being made to take passengers off the ships that are held up and to get them to their destinations?
– I am not at present able to give any information on this matter. Senator Gorton may be able to do so.
- Mr President, may I be permitted to add to the answer just given by the Leader of the Government, this being a matter of external affairs. I have no information thatI can give the honourable senator as to diplomatic measures being taken for clearing the Suez Canal. However, I can inform him that three ships are held up in the Canal at present. The passengers on board are receiving fresh water, are in good condition, are not suffering any hardships and are living in generally satisfactory conditions. I cannot tell the honourable senator when the Canal will be cleared but I can assure him that the passengers are being well looked after.
– Can they be got off?
– If they wanted to leave they could get off the ships.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. By way of preface may 1 congratulate the Government, the Department of Civil Aviation and the Department of Works on the excellent organisation and administration of works and contracts which are pushing ahead the completion of the Tullamarine jet airport. I also praise the initiative of the Victorian Government in providing faster passenger access and facilities by way of freeways. May I say that the co-operation will finally lead to Victoria being a leader in the provision of world airports. I ask: Has the Government given close consideration to the future use of the existing Essendon airport once Tullamarine is in operation? Has the Government announced officially the intended use of the Essendon airport?
– In a lighter vein, may I ask that the honourable senator not be as provocative as he is. We have on our plate today some other matters which will engage me in very serious consideration. It is my understanding that the Essendon aerodrome will be retained for general aviation purposes, including use by light aircraft and for charter flights, flying training, etc. I should like to leave the matter there in the hope that the appreciation given by the honourable senator on other matters will be left for a future occasion.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government. Can he advise what action is being taken or can be taken by the Government to prevent price increases that may start the spiral leading to inflation and thereby affect the whole economy of Australia? I also ask: What Commonwealth safeguards are provided to protect the people and to ensure that no profiteering in the prices of food, soft drinks, beer and other commodities will result from the increase in the price of sugar?
– In addition to what Senator Gorton said about our employment record, we can be proud of the soundness of the economy of this country over the last few years. The Government is always watching the position. Its measures have led to our being at present in perhaps as sound a position as any other country. Everybody watches rises in prices. But it must be remembered that price increases follow rises in wages, improvements in conditions and the like. This is the normal economic movement in a country. One fact of which we can be proud, as I am sure the honourable senator will agree, is that the economy of Australia is sound.
– My question, which is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, is supplementary to a question asked at the beginning of question time by the Leader of the Opposition relative to Australia’s allegedly comparatively small participation in non-military aid in South Vietnam. Would it not be reprehensible and unwise to place large numbers of non-combatants in that country while large scale armed aggression is taking place?
– The view expressed by the honourable senator sounds like sense to me, but I am really not competent to answer the question.
– I preface my question to the Acting Postmaster-General by quoting the following brief extract from a letter that I posted to the PostmasterGeneral last night:
On June 14lh 1967, a registered parcel was dispatched from Brisbane to me at my Townsville address - Registration number was 4016.
The article was collected by Mr R. Bonnett, MHR, or his agent and subsequently opened in his office before delivery to my office.
I object most strenuously to registered articles (which could be of a confidential nature)-
– Order! The honourable senator will ask his question.
– I now ask the question. Will the Minister now advise the Parliament whether it is general practice for registered articles to be made available to unauthorised persons? Is it the Government’s intention to pursue political censorship by allowing Government members to take delivery of registered and other mail addressed to Labor members? What action will be taken by the Government to see that the private affairs of Opposition members of Parliament are not disturbed in such a way in the future? I have here the evidence.
– Disregarding the comment about political censorship which. I suggest, is pathetic and not worthy of the honourable senator, let me say that the remainder of the question clearly should be referred to the Department so that the facts - the true details - can be ascertained. When they are available to me I will forward them to the honourable senator.
– I direct my question to the Acting Postmaster-General. Will he, in conjunction with the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, undertake an investigation into the circumstances which caused radio station 2CH Sydney to cancel a programme sponsored by the responsible Greek newspaper ‘Hellenic Herald’ which provides news from home for Greek migrants? In particular will he ascertain the role of the Greek Ambassador in seeking to suppress legitimate criticism of the recent military takeover in that country?
– I will refer the honourable senator’s question to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, obtain the facts and inform him of the circumstances surrounding this matter. If I consider this to be a matter of public interest, I will see that the facts are made public. However, in case there is any misunderstanding, that is not to suggest that I imagine this is anything other than a normal routine matter which may be made public in the ordinary way.
– My question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate relates to the proposed Australia wide increases in the price of food and drinks following the recent increase in the wholesale price of sugar. It relates also to the question asked by Senator Fitzgerald. Will the Government consult with the States and interests concerned to see that these proposed increases are not passed on to the consumer public in view of the plea of the Treasurer that the Australian people should keep costs down? What is there to prevent the Government engaging in discussion at this stage?
– This question involves a matter of policy. I will refer it to the Government.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry and it relates to the recent announcement of increases in overseas shipping freights. Is there not a requirement that shipping freights may be increased only after a meeting between the Federal Exporters Oversea Transport Committee and the Oversea Shipping Representatives Association? If this is so. and in the light of the recent announcement by overseas shippers that freight charges will be increased because of the Suez position, does the Government regard this unilateral action as repudiation of the system of negotiation which has had the Government’s blessing for a number of years?
– As I understand it, the proposed increase of 5% in overseas shipping freights follows the closure of the Suez Canal and the diversion of shipping around the Cape of Good Hope. However, the implementation of the proposal is at present in abeyance, and discussion and examination of the subject are taking place. I think we should await the outcome of the talks before we do anything.
– Has the attention of the Leader of the Government in the Senate been directed to the charge by the Acting Prime Minister that there exists a rich pressure group which is out to destroy the Country Party to the benefit of the Liberal Party? Does the Minister agree with me that, if true, this state of affairs has overtones that go much deeper than a rivalry between the coalition Government parties and that, if untrue, it indicates that the coalition is bound together by a tissue of lies?
– I read in the Press this morning the statement to which the honourable senator has referred. We read many such statements in the Press. I suggest to the honourable senator that, he should not believe everything he reads in the Press.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate the following question: What is the Government’s attitude to recent statements by, firstly, Senator Murphy, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, that the House of Representatives is a rubber stamp and the Senate is the only properly functioning House in this Parliament and, secondly, Mr Whitlam, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, that the Senate, despite Senator Murphy’s statement that it is the only properly functioning House, should be abolished? Does the Government accept the prevailing policy of the Australian Labor Party that the Senate should be abolished and that, we should be left with no properly functioning House of Parliament?
– The honourable senator has presented a number of very interesting observations. The statements to which he referred are contradictory. That seems to be so of Australian Labor Party policy right through. Members of that Party seem to be contradicting one another. I saw the position described in this way in the Press today: The ALP is a party in search of a policy; it may have papered over some of the cracks but it is still brittle. That statement is pretty true. Members of the Labor Party do not yet know where they are going. That is the unfortunate position.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Has the Federal Council of the Australian Medical Association informed the Minister whether it will advise its State branches to advise doctors to accept under the pensioner medical service the pensioners and their dependants, numbering about 41,000 who, under recent legislation, became eligible to receive pensions and, therefore, the benefits of the pensioner medical service? If the doctors will not accept these pensioners and their dependants under the pensioner medical service, will the Government pay medical expenses incurred by them?
– My colleague the Minister for Health has informed me that in the very near future he will be making a statement on the matter of entitlement to free general practitioner medical services as provided under the pensioner medical service.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for National Development in a position to give the Senate any information about the future of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, in view of the Press statements in recent weeks that the Authority is to be disbanded, if not in whole then in the most part, and that its services will be lost to Australia?
– The Minister for National Development made a full statement on this subject. In that statement he enumerated the parts of the Snowy Mountains Authority that will be retained. I have not read the statement for some little time now, but I believe I am correct in saying that only the construction segments of the Authority will not be retained. The States have indicated that they wish to do construction work through their own authorities. That is as much as 1 know. If the honourable senator would like a copy of the statement made by the Minister for National Development, I will see that one is sent to him.
Motion (by Senator Henty) agreed to:
That further questions be put on the notice paper.
– I have received from Senator Gair an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a matter of urgency, namely:
The establishment of a statutory corporation or authority to control the operations of what is now known as the Postmaster-General’s Department.
Is the proposal supported? As it is not supported by the number of senators required by the Standing Orders, the motion cannot be proceeded with.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) agreed to by an absolute majority of the whole number of senators:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent a notice of motion from being given by Senator Murphy and having effect for this day for the disallowance of the regulations contained in Statutory Rules 1967 Nos. 74, 75, 76 and 77 and made under the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1966
– I give notice of the following motion:
That the following regulations be disallowed:
Amendments of the Postal Regulations as contained in Statutory Rules 1967 No. 74 and made under the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1966:
Amendments of the Picturegram Regulations as contained in Statutory Rules 1967 No. 75 and made under the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1966;
Amendments of the Telegraph Regulations as contained in Statutory Rules 1967 No. 76 and made under the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1966: and
Amendments of the Telephone Regulations as contained in Statutory Rules 1967 No. 77 and made under the Post and Telegraph Act 1906-1966.
Morion for Disallowance of Regulations Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) [11.42] - I move:
This is an historic occasion. We meet here, during a normal recess, and for the first time on the initiative of the Opposition, to deal primarily with these regulations. We come here to deal with one of the legislative functions of the Parliament. The Parliament makes laws for the community; it may do that directly or it may do it indirectly. Regulations are made under the power delegated by the Parliament, which has seen to it under the Acts Interpretation Act that it retains supervision over the legislative power which it has delegated so that either House of Parliament may if the appropriate procedures are followed, disallow any regulation which is made. The power to disallow regulations is contained in section 48 of the Acts Interpretation Act, which provides in sub-section (4.):
If either House of the Parliament passes a resolution (of which notice has been given at any time within fifteen silting days after any regulations have been laid before the House) disallowing any of those regulations, the regulation so disallowed shall thereupon cease to have effect.
Section 49 provides, in part: (1.) Where, in pursuance of the last preceding section, either House of the Parliament disallows any regulation, or any regulation is deemed to have been disallowed, no regulation, being the same in substance as the regulation so disallowed, or deemed to have been disallowed, shall be made within six months after the date of the disallowance . . .
Section 49 also contains provision that a House may rescind its resolution and permit such a regulation to be made. The regulations with which we are concerned are made under the Post and Telegraph Act. They are lengthy, but their effect may be summarised fairly easily. In fact, their effect has been summarised by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) in a document entitled Adjustments of Post Office Charges by Regulation (As from 1st July 1967)’. The Opposition is here today to see that the increases detailed in the document do not become operative. If the motion 1 have moved is not passed, savage increases will occur in postal and telephonic charges. There is a whole range of Post Office increases which have been dealt with already in the Bill which was attempted to be passed through the Parliament. The regulations I have detailed cover some of the charges which were the subject of the Bill; they also deal with other increases.
I shall now indicate the effect of the proposed increases. In charges to subscribers for local telephone calls an increase is proposed from 10c for three calls to 12c for three calls. A very great increase in trunk line charges is proposed. For instance, for calls made by subscribers between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. over distances exceeding 30 miles but not exceeding 50 miles, it is proposed to increase the charge from 20c to 24c; for distances exceeding 100 miles but not exceeding 200 miles, an increase is proposed from 60c to 72c. Charges for trunk line calls from public telephones are also to bc increased. The charge for calls made between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. over distances up to 30 miles is to be increased from 15c to 20c. Charges for money orders are also to be increased. In the case of money orders of denominations up to $10, the charge is to be increased from 1 2c to 1 5s. The charge on postal orders up to S1.50 denomination is to be increased from 5c to 6c. The thread of an increase of approximately 25% runs through the proposed new charges. Some are of a slightly smaller percentage. Some are as high as 33+%.
The proposed increases are opposed by the Opposition on two substantial grounds. The first ground is that the increases have not been shown to be necessary. The second ground is that the Government is, as Senator Cohen has already said, flouting the will of Parliament in introducing the regulations during the parliamentary recess in a manner calculated to by-pass the Parliament. On the first ground we say that the PostmasterGeneral at no time has demonstrated that the increases are justified or that they are necessary for the proper operation of the Post Office. Indeed, he has done everything but that. It is apparent that the Government is determined to use the Post Office as a tax collector. It is doing this by imposing heavy interest charges on the public moneys which have already been contributed to the Post Office. This is juggling with the finances of the Post Office. It is a method which has been condemned, even by the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. This method should not be tolerated if it means that telephone, telegraph and postal charges will have to be increased at a time when the Government is calling for restraint and is asking everyone to endeavour to prevent inflation.
What can be more inflationary than the imposition of these charges which affect everyone in the community including industry and commerce? They certainly will have an inflationary tendency. Those who do not use telephones will have to pay, because industry and commerce will pass on these charges. Everywhere an impetus will be given to inflation if these charges come into effect. The Post Office accounts show simply that the interest charges have been increased from year to year. I should like to take the Senate through a short analysis of the accounts which are set out in the annual report of the PostmasterGeneral for the year ended 30th June 1966. This is the latest report available and it is dated 1 0th October 1966. On page 17 are shown the earnings and expenses for the financial year 1965-66. The total earnings are shown as $401. 3m, as compared with $370m for the previous financial year. Expenditure totalled $40 1.4m as compared with $365. 8m for the previous financial year. There was a profit of $4.2m in 1964-65 whereas in 1965-66 there was a loss of $100,000. How did this come about? If honourable senators examine the accounts they will note that income from telephone calls increased from $142.7m to $ 154.3m; in respect of postages, from SI 03m to $107.4m; from telephone rentals, from $82.2m to $93.9m; in relation to telegrams and leased telegraph services, from $ 17.3m to $ 17.8m; from other telecommunications earnings, from $ 15.7m to SI 8.6m. There was a slight increase in income from other postal earnings. There were quite definite increases in all the earnings of the Post Office. However, when we examine the expenditure we note that operating and general costs increased from $ 144.7m to $ 158.2m; depreciation, from $6 1.7m to S69m; maintenance of plant and equipment, from $6 1.2m to $67. 6m; interest charges, from $52. 9m to $60. 3m; and carriage of mails, from $28.7m to $3 1.2m. Expenditure in connection with superannuation and furlough liability decreased from $ 16.6m to $15.1m.
All this simply means that there is an item, interest on the capital of the Post Office, which can be juggled and used to turn a profit into a loss. If the Government cares to charge itself more interest, it can effect a greater loss. The Government is simply charging itself interest on public moneys. This is nothing less than manipulation of finances. If that item were not present it would mean that for the last financial year the Post Office had a profit of about $60m, and that is what we say the position was. Even an ordinary private corporation does not charge interest on shareholders’ funds. It does not determine whether a profit or loss has been made after going through this kind of juggling. If moneys are contributed to a private corporation - the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd or the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd - that corporation does not conduct its operations on the basis of charging interest on the moneys that have been contributed to it. This method of finance is to be deplored. The result of adopting such a method is that there is no hope of achieving reasonable telephone charges or of postal charges being as low as they can be, consistent with the proper operation of the Post Office.
Surely with a great public utility such as this, which has a profound effect upon every part of the economy, every endeavour ought to be made to keep the charges as low as possible. Instead the Government is using this interest device to juggle the accounts and to impose a form of indirect taxation, which is undoubtedly what it is. The Government is trying to soften seme of the blows of its economic mismanagement, which will show in the Budget in August, lt is trying to get these charges through in what it thinks is a more palatable form and in the hope that the people will forget about them after they have been paying them for a few months.
Workers in the Post Office know that there is no hope of their getting decent wages and conditions if the Post Office is to be used as a tax collector. For years they have been striving to get decent wages and conditions, but they cannot get them. Approximately 16,000 got a meagre increase a week or so ago, but it was nowhere near what they were claiming or what they were entitled to receive. Make no mistake about it, they know that as long as the Post Office is used in this way there will be no hope of their getting the wages and conditions which they want. All workers engaged in the Postmaster-General’s Department are solidly behind the approach that the Opposition is making here. Our approach is supported by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, by labour councils throughout Australia, and by industry and commerce. We have overwhelming public support for this move to defeat the proposed increases.
On each of the two occasions when he had the opportunity to do so the PostmasterGeneral could well have shown the Parliament why these charges were necessary. If he had the answer, he could have shown a comparison with charges overseas, and could have refuted the argument that the proposed charges are higher than those in comparable places overseas. All of this has not been done. Instead we have the use of postal and telephone increases which amount to a tax equivalent to a 5% increase in personal taxation. We say that it clearly has not been shown at any stage that these increases are warranted, and we oppose them on that ground.
The Senate is asked to reject the regulations also on the other ground that the will of the Parliament has been flouted by the Government in bringing them in in this way. What happened in this matter? So far the course of events has been that on 4 May the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives. Tt was announced at that time that as part of this scheme regulations would be introduced to impose some of the increases. The regulations are now before us. The Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives, and the Postmaster-General said: ‘Here is the legislative part of the scheme to make the increases. Some of the increases are to be covered by an Act of Parliament and some are to be covered by regulations under an Act of the Parliament’. That is common ground. As the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) said today, these matters were placed deliberately before the Parliament. The Parliament was told what the Government had in mind. Our answer is that the Parliament, knowing that and having these matters deliberately brought before it on two occasions, rejected them. They were rejected in this chamber to 12 May when the Senate by resolution
– J thank the Acting Postmaster-General for his observation. It is true that these particular charges were not rejected, but the Government introduced the Bill and said: ‘This is the scheme. Some of the increased charges are to be covered by the Bill and some are to be covered by regulations’. The Government deliberately placed these matters before the Parliament, lt was on the basis that the Bill was the legislative part of the whole scheme that the Bill was rejected in the Senate on 12 May. Nevertheless, the Government introduced a similar Bill on 17 May. That Bill was rejected decisively in this Senate on 19 May with the adoption of the motion that the Bill be read a second time six months hence. Thus the Bill was destroyed. No more decisive rejection could have been made by the Parliament than was made on 19 May.
But what did the Government do? It did not abandon the proposal which had been rejected by the Senate. I say that whilst taking into account what Senator Anderson has said because the whole matter was discussed and the Government’s proposal was rejected. In formal terms we were dealing only with charges which were actually included in the Bill, but there is no doubt whatever that the whole question was debated, that is, the charges covered by regulations and those covered by the Bill. There is no doubt at all that if these regulations had been included in the Bill they would have been rejected along with the rest of the Bill. No-one can dispute that fact. The Senate’s attitude was that all the increases, whether they were covered by the Bill or by regulations, were to be opposed and that the Government was not to get from this Parliament the consent which it had sought.
Parliament, not the Government, appropriates money and makes the laws. The Government formulated this proposal but it was rejected by the Parliament. This morning during question time Senator Henty suggested that the Government, in acting us it has. was not flouting the will of Parliament; that after all the regulations were to come before the Parliament and now they were brought before Parliament. We are here today because the Government was brought here. It has been brought here on the initiative of the Opposition. That is why the Government is here today. The only reason why the regulations have been tabled and this motion of disallowance is being discussed is that the Government has been forced to come here to deal with these matters.
The Senate is asserting its powers against the Government. The Government was determined to outwit the Parliament and the Senate. It is only because of the motion for the special adjournment which was passed on what was thought to be the last night of the sessional period and which enabled the Senate to be called together in this way that we have the opportunity to prevent these regulations from coming into force on 1st July. Without a doubt, if that resolution had not been passed we would not have been here today. The Government attempted to prevent that resolution from being passed, lt opposed the passage of the resolution, the effect of which was to enable an absolute majority of honourable senators to recall the Senate.
It is a proper operation of democracy that we are here to assert the will of the legislative chamber against the Government, lt is often forgotten that there are three branches of government in this country. There is the executive branch, there is the judicial branch and there is still the legislative branch. The Government does not make the laws in this community. Parliament makes the laws. The Executive Government has set out to subvert the clearly expressed will of the Parliament. The Senate has to pass any Bill before it can become law. No law can be made by this Commonwealth unless it is passed by both Houses of the Parliament sitting either separately or, in the rarest of instances, together. No law can be made except by both Houses of the Parliament. They do that either directly or, as I have said if they want to delegate the authority, indirectly, as in the case of these regulations.
We are here to assert the power of the Senate. In doing that, we are upholding the will of the Parliament. We do so with the approval of the whole of the Australian Labor Party. We do it with the approval and at the wish of the whole trade union movement of Australia, as expressed through the Executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. What we are doing here has, without doubt, the support of public opinion, and the Government of this country will learn that, if it is not prepared to accept public opinion when it is clearly expressed, methods will be found, as they have been found on this occasion, to force the Government to bow to public opinion. I ask the Senate to pass the motion and thereby disallow the regulations.
– These regulations, which were tabled by the Clerk of the Senate earlier today, provide for the raising of an additional S34m in the Post Office. 1 think that it is necessary for mc to spend a little time in giving the formal background of these regulations.
– Does the Minister mean an additional $34m for one year?
– A full year. This $34m is made up by postal charges of $4m and telecommunications charges of $30m. These charges were foreshadowed in the speech of the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) in the House of Representatives on 4th May 1967. Senator Murphy, who leads the Opposition and who has submitted the motion to disallow the regulations, contends that because the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill - it did not relate to these charges - was defeated, the regulations should not be promulgated. I find that this is a very strange proposition to come from a man with the legal background of the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber. I wonder how long we could sustain the management of the parliament of any democratic country if the written word of an Act of parliament were to be interpreted to mean something else. It just does not happen that way. Indeed, as I will point out as this debate progresses, this has never happened before in our history.
I feel I should now make reference to the regulations in question. They are comprehensive regulations and for the convenience of honourable senators a short paper has been prepared - and circulated, I hope - showing what they will mean in terms of increased charges. It should be remembered that the regulations also convert certain rates to decimal currency. This has no relationship to an increase of revenue. 1 want to deal with the regulations under their four headings. The first regulations deal with postal fees and charges. But they also introduce the new special mail despatch service and I think we are entitled to have some information about this service. It is proposed to introduce, as from 1st July this year, a special despatch service for highly urgent mail between the business areas of the various capital cities. This service will allow mail posted soon after the close of business to be available for collection, or to be delivered, early the following morning in all except the most distant capitals. This will meet the need for a highly reliable overnight mail service for urgent items which cannot be posted until after normal mail closing, time. The service will include letters, letter cards, post cards, other articles and parcels. The proposed postage payable is double the rate applicable to the category of mail concerned, plus the normal air mail fee of 3c per ounce on all items outside the dimensions prescribed for conveyance by air free of air mail fees. Special despatch items may be posted only at the General Post Office in each capital city; at the mail exchanges at Sydney, Melbourne. Brisbane and Adelaide, including the Sydney Mail Exchange Post Office and the Grenfell Street Post Office at Adelaide; and at the Canberra City Post Office and Canberra Mail Exchange. I want to make it perfectly clear that if the Senate disallows these regulations it. will automatically disallow the provision of this new service.
– In regard to matters such as this, which do not touch the substance of our objection, I would not object to some amendment of the motion for disallowance.
– For the purpose of this exercise, I think that we have to take the regulations as they are. They are comprehensive, as all honourable senators recognise. I make the point that if the regulations are disallowed the new special despatch service will be stillborn, or at the least the delivery of the child will be delayed until the Budget session.
The next matter I want to deal with is the proposed increases in money order and postal order charges and philatelic services charges. These matters are fairly well covered in the document to which I have referred. For instance, for the money order service the existing charge is 12c for a money order up to the value of $10 and a further 8c for each additional $10 in value. The proposed new charge will be 15c for $10 and a further 10c for each additional $10. To give another illustration, the philatelic services include the provision of envelopes at a charge of 2c each and the proposal is to increase that charge to 3c. For the addressing of envelopes the charge is 2c and the proposal is to make this 3c.
The next matter which I think I should mention relates to telephone services. I shall make a number of points about these services. It should be remembered that the ordinary public telephone local call charge throughout Australia is 5c and has been 5c since 1963. It will remain at 5c. I think this fact should be borne in mind when we consider any argument about the constancy of fees. Many other charges throughout the community have, as will be conceded, changed significantly over a number of years. Rental fees and connection fees, which were last altered on 1 October 1964, remain unaltered in these regulations. As I have said, the public telephone charge remains at 5c throughout Australia and I think this is significant. Sometimes we tend to forget the sheer magnitude and the geographical problems of this continent. We tend to forget the tremendous service that the Post Office, particularly on the telephonic side, provides throughout the Commonwealth.
The charge for local calls from subscribers’ telephones is to increase from 10c for three calls lo 4c a call. It is true, as the Leader of the Opposition said, that this will mean 12c for three calls. That is one way of expressing it and it is mathematically correct. Another way of expressing it is that there will be an increase of twothirds of lc for a call. Trunk line charges are to be increased. I will refer to trunk calls from subscribers’ services not equipped with multi-coin attachments. For a distance of up to 30 miles, with a manual service, the charge will increase from 15c to 16c. For calls exceeding 50 miles but not 100 miles the charge will increase from 40c to 48c. For calls in excess of 400 miles the charge will increase from $1.20 to $1.44. For calls made after 6 p.m. and before 9 a.m. there are corresponding increases.
I turn now to trunk calls from public telephones and from subscribers’ services equipped with multi-coin attachments. The charge for a three-minute call to another number which is more than 30 miles but less than 50 miles away will increase from 1 5c to 20c. For a call to a subscriber between 100 miles and 200 miles away the present charge is 60c and the proposed charge is 75c. And so on. All the charges are set out in the document which I shall have incorporated in Hansard because it gives a fairly good picture of the purport of regulations.
– The honourable senator had better ask for leave to have it incorporated.
– I will do so when I finish dealing with the document. The fee for the lodgment of a telegram by telephone is at present 5c per telegram, plus 3ic and the proposed charge is 10c. For picturegrams there are various increases. The charge for a telegraphic code address for use in overseas telegrams only is to be raised from $3 per annum to $5 per annum. For the delivery by a messenger of a copy of telephoned telegrams the fee is 15c and the proposed charge is 20c. With the concurrence of honourable senators I incorporate in Hansard the contents of the document entitled ‘Adjustments of Post Office Charges by Regulation’.
CHARGES FIXED BY REGULATION POSTAL FEES AND CHARGES
(As from 1 July1967)
SPECIAL MAIL DESPATCH SERVICE
Rates of Postage:
Letters, Lettercards, Postcards, Other Articles and Parcels may be sent by the Special Mail Despatch Service. The postage payable is double the rate applicable to the category of mail concerned, plus the normal airmail fee of 3 cents per ounce on all items outside the dimensions prescribed for conveyance by air free of airmail fees.
The Special Mail Despatch Service is designed to provide a speedy and highly reliable service for urgent mail.
Initially, the service is confined to airmail between capital cities (including Canberra) and to articles addressed to delivery points, including private boxes and post restantes, in the areas served by:
Special Mail Despatch items may be posted only at:
The sender is required to segregate Special Mail Despatch items from ordinary mail and post them over the counter or in special posting receptacles which will be provided at the Mail Exchange Branches and the Post Offices mentioned above.
A ‘Special Despatch’ label must be affixed, or the words ‘Special Despatch’ must be written in large letters near to the top left of the address.
Prepayment shall be effected by means of postage stamps or franking machine impressions or paid in cash subject to the normal conditions applying to prepayment in cash.
Other Conditions of Service:
Special Mail Despatch items must also comply with the conditions relating to the category of mail matter to which the items belong. The Certified Mail Service is available to all categories of Special Mail Despatch items and the Special Delivery Service is available to those items paid at letter rates. The normal fees for these services are payable in addition to the Special Mail Despatch charge.
The Registration and Late Fee Services are not available for Special Mail Despatch items.
1 want now to come to the point canvassed by Senator Murphy. I am not going to dwell on the effect of section 53 of the Constitution at this time because I think we will have ample opportunity to discuss t-hat matter on another occasion. I have some views about questions that were resolved by the Senate, and the conditions under which they were resolved, during our last session, but I do not want to intrude those views here. The fact is that the PostmasterGeneral set a pattern of complete frankness which he consistently followed in his speeches in another place and which I, as his representative, also followed in my speeches in this place. The Postmaster-General and the Government, by their complete frankness, set the stage for the debate on which we have now embarked on the motion for disallowance proposed by Senator Murphy.
There has never been any attempt to conceal intent. This is the first occasion since federation on which regulations of this kind have been challenged with a motion for disallowance. lt is also a fact that the regulations have been promulgated on this occasion in exactly the same way as similar regulations have been promulgated many times since federation. I have before me in documented form the complete history of circumstances surrounding the promulgation of earlier regulations, and I can give chapter and verse if need be, but at the moment I propose to offer a fair and honest summation of the circumstances. The fact is that increases of this kind have never been imposed by Acts of Parliament, they have always been introduced by regulation.
So that all the histrionics and all the drama about a different practice being followed on this occasion are of no real significance because the Government is doing precisely what has been done on fifteen previous occasions.. Practically nothing was done in this field from the time of federation until 1907, because the Commonwealth had taken over postal matters from the Slates and there was a static period. But since 1907 there have been fifteen occasions on which increases of this kind have been imposed by regulation. Six of those occasions were at times other than Budget times.
It is interesting to discover which governments introduced increases of this nature at times other than Budget time. One was a Nationalist Government, one was a United Australia Party Government, two were Liberal Governments and two were Labor Governments, and when we bear in mind that the Labor Party has not been in power for eighteen years that total of two out of six becomes quite significant.
But we have not heard the full story even yet. The Chifley Government in 1949 did precisely what the present Government has tried to do on this occasion, but with less notice and with less frankness, and the increases imposed at that time were greater than those proposed on this occasion. Senator Willesee has said that when the increases were imposed on that earlier occasion an election was due to be held at the end of the year. All I can say to that is that there is going to be an election at the end of this year for the Senate, and it may well be a very significant election. So there is really no validity in the honourable senator’s argument about those former increases having been imposed immediately before an election.
The Postmaster-General came to the Parliament, delivered his speech and indicated that regulations would be promulgated, regulations which are always susceptible of disallowance by this Senate.
– But the Act provides for that.
– Oh, yes, this is no hole and corner method. There has been no attempt to deceive. There has been complete frankness, and what the Government has done has followed the pattern set on many previous occasions by earlier governments, including the Chifley Government which introduced increased charges on 1st July 1949. I have found it very difficult, therefore, to accept or understand the suggestions that have been made about the will of the Parliament being flouted.
I have said that similar increases have been imposed by regulation fifteen times since federation, and I have also said that on six occasions increases were imposed at times other than Budget time. Somebody may ask what happened on the other nine occasions, when regulations were promulgated at Budget time. On three occasions the increases were imposed by Labor Governments and on the other six occasions, of course, by either Liberal-Country Party coalition Governments or Governments of a similar persuasion. The fact is - and I am taking some time to make this point and to ensure that it is fully understood - that there is no substance in any suggestion that anything different is being done on this occasion than has been done on any earlier occasion since we became a nation in 1901.
I realise that the matters covered by this debate are closely allied to those that have been dealt with in the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, and I will try to confine myself to matters clearly covered by the regulations now being discussed. After all, we have already had two debates on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill during which the affairs of the Post Office came under close scrutiny. I want to deal, however, as Senator Murphy himself has dealt, with some of the broader issues which are now more closely related to these regulations than they would be to the normal services of the Post Office. In the debate on 11th May and 19th May of this year the question of interest was raised, and Senator Murphy has now raised it again. With the indulgence of the Senate 1 shall also address myself to this question.
Senator Murphy made some reference to the payment of interest, by joint stock companies, but he very carefully, and I hope not with intent, avoided the obvious proposition that any business must pay interest on its overdraft, and that there is here a complete analogy with the accounts of the Post Office. The Opposition has attacked the payment of interest, both in two debates here and also in another place. Members of the Opposition have quite wrongly suggested that the arrangement for the payment of interest is the handiwork of this Government. We had this out before ind I thought we had reached an understanding of it, but I must come back to this point because there is clearly some misunderstanding. The Opposition’s argument is demonstrably false, as one can see by making an examination of the accounts of the Post Office. I want to put this fiction aside and get to the facts which I have before me and which I shall put to the Senate. The interest charged to the Post Office for 1965- 66 was $64.4m on total advances of $l,418m.
– In essence on the overdraft.
– That is what we are coming to. Interest is not paid on all new capital expenditure but only on the net accumulated advances from the Treasury. It is important that this be appreciated. Net advances are the extra amounts which Budgets have to find from time to time to meet the excess of total Post Office expenditure, both capital and operating, over the revenues of the Department. I think one must understand this completely. In 1965- 66, for instance, the total expenditure on fixed assets was $207m, but the increase in the advance on which interest was paid was only $138m. The difference was due to a depreciation provision of $69m. Had there been a profit in that year the amount of this profit would also have been deducted from the asset expenditure for the purpose of determining the amount on which interest was paid. At 30th June 1966 the Post Office had fixed assets and stocks of material valued before depreciation at $l,909m but the net advance on which interest was payable was $ 1,418m only. Every businessman knows - and I hope that every senator knows, because it a simple fact - that you cannot obtain new money for capital investment without having to pay a price for it. This is a clear understanding that we must have.
– Senator, will you-
– 1 want to confine my remarks because I have a fairly rigid brief. The same practice applies to governmentowned businesses, that is, those government bodies which produce goods or services of commercial value for the public. We understand, I hope, that the Post Office is just such another business. It is a tremendous business. It is probably the biggest business of all, but it is in the same category, lt. provides a commercial service to the community. Interest has always been paid - this is the point in relation to which we seem to be at cross purposes - on loan funds provided for Post Office purposes, and up to 1942 this was almost the only source of capital funds. After 1942 - this is the gap period to which we come - new advances were provided from Consolidated Revenue, but in 1954 the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, on which all parties were represented, directed attention to the fact that no interest was being paid by the Post Office on most of its capital. It went on to say:
The present basis of charges for interest on capital in the commercial accounts of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has long been anomalous.
The Committee suggested that a review should proceed expeditiously, lt is interesting to reflect that the present shadow treasurer of the Australian Labor Party, who sits in another place, was a member of that Public Accounts Committee. I looked at the report. His name is on the document and therefore I have to accept that he was present. This was an unanimous report of the Committee; there was no minority report.
– That was thirteen years ago.
– Yes, but it is a principle with which we are dealing, and I should think that a good principle is good for all time. The matter was referred by the Government, after receipt of that unanimous recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee on which Mr Crean, the shadow treasurer of the Labor Party, sat to an ad hoc committee. I think from memory that it was called the Fitzgerald Committee. It came to an unanimous conclusion that interest should be charged on net advances to the Post Office, irrespective of whether these were made from loan funds or from Consolidated Revenue. The actual rate of interest - this is an interesting point that should be brought out - that has been applied is the long term bond rate current at the time when the advances were made. I asked my officers to tell me what is the average of that rate at the present time. I am told that it is 4.9%; I ask honourable senators not to hold me down to the last decimal. It is also interesting to reflect that the Post Office in the United Kingdom has to show a return of something like 3% over and above the interest that is charged.
Interest charges are paid by a number of business undertakings operated by the Commonwealth. These include the Post Office, the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, the Australian National Airlines Commission, Qantas Empire Airways Ltd, the Australian National Line, the Snowy Mountains Authority, the Government Printing Office, the Australian Capital Territory Electricity Authority, and some others of lesser importance. In 1965-66 these organisations paid to the Government some S94m in interest. If this amount had not been received from these authorities, an equivalent amount would have had to be made up from some other source, obviously from taxation. The loss by the Treasury of some $94m through the removal of the requirement for the Post Office and other Commonwealth business undertakings to pay interest and dividends would have meant that in the year 1965-66 an increase of 5±% in individual taxation or an increase of 51c in the $1 in company taxation would have been necessary. Alternatively it would have meant a 25% rise in sales tax, a rise of nearly 60% in payroll tax or a 9% increase in customs and excise revenue.
Looking at the Post Office in the broad, with special reference to these regulations, we can see that in the last two years operating expenses have risen by no less than $78m, of which only $1Om or 12% is due to an increase in staff. I think that is important. The balance - some 88% or $68m - represents costs over which the Post Office has little or no control. I think that this is the point to which we are alluding in relation to the need for obtaining increased revenue by way of these regulations. Of these items, basic wage, margins and award increases were represented by an additional $30m or 40%. The recently announced increase of $1 a week in wages will add another $5.7m to expenses in the full year 1967-68. Also, the recently announced increases to postmen, postal officers, mail officers, clerical assistants and junior staff will add a further $3.75 in 1967-68. I want to make it perfectly clear that whilst there has been, very properly, a degree of anticipation by the Post Office in assessing these recent increases - and the one that is about to happen, almost at any time - the fact remains that the anticipation falls short of the added cost to the Post Office by some millions of dollars. 1 cannot give the precise figure. These additional costs add to the percentage increase of operating expenses and are quite clearly beyond the control of the management of the Post Office. In addition they lead to other increases in costs. The recently awarded increase of $1 will quite clearly be added to the cost of materials and equipment and all of the items that the Post Office has to meet in a progressive and developing scheme of things, lt has been estimated that this additional cost will be at least of the order of $2m in a full year.
Having said that, I want to deal specifically with a couple of items because I have been speaking for a fair amount of time. I want to refer to the importance of extra telephone revenue to the development of facilities. The telecommunications section of the Post Office has in recent years generally operated at a profit. With rising costs, however, operations in 1967-68 will result in a loss of some millions of dollars unless charges are increased. I have given some idea of the pattern of them. Of even more importance on the telecommunications side is the need to finance the growing capital works programme. Every member of the Parliament will have a fair appreciation of that growth from the number of representations that have been made to the Postmaster-General from time to time. Having acted as Postmaster-General for the last two or three weeks I have a vivid appreciation of this growth, for during that time a tremendous number of representations have been made to me. All the talk about appointing an ombudsman makes me smile, especially when I remember the great number of representations that are made by members and senators in their desire for new services.
I repeat that of even more importance on the telecommunications side is the need to finance the growing capital works programme which has to be increased substantially each year to meet the growing needs of business and the community generally. Much of this capital expenditure is required to meet the needs of existing subscribers. It is not unreasonable therefore that the charges for telephone services - this is important - should contain an element which will enable some contribution to be made to financing this capital expenditure.
Some idea of the extent to which the need of the Post Office for capital is growing can be obtained from a study of trends in recent years. For instance, in 1956-57 the expenditure on Post Office capital works was $61. 44m, whereas in 1966-67 it will be about $206m. That is a dramatic increase. During the next five years, about $l,500m will have to be spent if public needs are to be met. Approximately 95% of this expenditure is associated with telecommunications projects which find expression in these regulations. The capital made available to the Post Office for telephone communications has to be spent in the interests of existing subscribers as well as on the extension of the network to cater for new subscribers. We had hoped this year to reduce substantially the number of deferred applications, especially in New South Wales, but the demand for services involving new lines or equipment has risen by about 12%, or more than double the average rate of growth in the last ten years. This is a rather dramatic development in the services provided by the Australian Post Office.
If current trends in demand persist, the number of subscribers could grow to more than four million in five or six years. At the present time, telephone subscribers number 2.2 million. 1 have indicated that the fee for subscribers’ telephone services has risen from 3ic to 4c - an increase of only two-thirds of a cent per call. I have given some indication of the increased costs and charges that the Post Office has had to face, lt is significant that despite all these increases, this is the first change to be made in local telephone calls since 1959. Can any honourable senator point to any other organisation which provides a service of anything like the unprecedented magnitude of that provided by the Post Office which has made only one increase in its charges since 1959? One is living in a fairyland, in a world of unreality, if one imagines that with the colossal increases that have taken place in the demand for services since 1959 charges for those services should remain static, i find that type of argument quite i Acorn prehensi bie.
I conclude by staling that last week I read the ‘Financial Review’, one of the most important financial publications in Australia, and in it noted a statement by Mr Robert Jay. He discussed this matter in that journal for two days, and at the end of that time he reached this conclusion:
While the Government may thus have tried to squeeze a little more revenue out of increases in telecommunications charges than would be necessary to cover costs, the justification for refusing any rises at all in Post Office charges is very tenuous.
If the Senate succeeds in slaving off the rises, its victory will benefit heavy users of Post Office services, including the business community, at the expense of the Australian taxpayer.
That sums up the whole situation. The Government believes that the users of the services provided by the biggest and most important commercial undertaking in this vast continent, and not the taxpayers generally, should pay for those services. Therefore I say to the Senate that these regulations are justified. I emphasise that they are completely in accord with precedent and that the action being taken by the Government is exactly the same as that which has been taken by all governments since Federation. I ask the Senate to reject Senator Murphy’s proposal.
Sitting suspended from 12.46 to 2.15 p p.m.
– I support the motion for the disallowance of the regulations, which provide for increased postal fees and charges, rates for special mail despatch service, charges for telephone facilities and services and charges for telegraph facilities and services. I do so for the reasons I gave when speaking to the Bill that was introduced into the Senate last month on two occasions, with an interval of a week between them. The Bill proposed to increase the charges for services rendered by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to the public of Australia, f said then and I repeat now that I cannot accept that the increased charges are fully justified. It is one thing to be shown a statement of income and expenditure and to be told: ‘This is the result of our operations. For this reason we are compelled to tax the present users of our telephone and postal services more and more to provide finance for additional facilities for those who want the services.’ That seems to me to be wrong and I have already said so.
I do not propose to go over the ground that I covered when speaking on the two occasions that the Bill was here. But we can scarcely deal with the proposed increases of charges covered by these regulations without having some regard to the whole ramifications of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I had this in mind when I attempted to submit a matter of public importance for discussion today. If the subject I had proposed had been before us, we would have been able to examine all the ramifications of the Department, at least in some way. We would have been able to determine whether this is a department of state or a business undertaking. The Acting Postmaster-General (Senator Anderson) has stressed that it is a business undertaking. I have felt for a long time that the Department cannot play a dual role. If it is a department of state, let it be a department of state and let it be regarded as a department of state and as a public utility. Then we will not expect it to make profits, but we will expect it to provide for the community a service commensurate with the demands made by the community. The Acting PostmasterGeneral said today that the Post Office is a business undertaking and the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) has tried to justify the imposition of increased charges by saying it is a business undertaking. If it is, let it be a business undertaking; but I cannot imagine any business undertaking submitting to the arrangements under which the Postmaster-General’s Department works at present. Here is a Department that contains about 50% of the total number of employees of the Commonwealth Public Service. It has more than 106,000 officers serving the Australian public through its various activities. Yet it does not handle its own income and it cannot decide on any long range plan for the expansion of its services to meet the needs of the people who are making demands on it now.
As I said before, I am opposed to the increases. We should not continue with this practice of slapping on additional charges and increasing fees to those who use our postal and our telecommunication services and in this way pay for the telephone and other services for which people are crying out today. I am opposed to the increases because they would be an unfair imposition of a tax on a big section of the people, many of whom are not in a position to meet it. They would impose a burden on many small businesses and on charitable and other organisations that use the services of the Postmaster-General’s Department. The increased charges will reduce the revenues of those bodies. 1 am not unaware of the difficulties that face the Department; they are real. The Department is neither fish nor flesh. It is neither a department of state nor a business undertaking. The people who want it to be a business undertaking have a right to see that it is made into a proper business undertaking quickly. The Department should not be asked to provide services to the people while the Treasury, which controls its funds, makes it live on a band to mouth basis and while it is subjected to interference from and control by the Public Service Board. No business can be expected to show a profit unless it is able to plan ahead. The Department should not be left in a position where it must say: ‘We could lay down permanent cables instead of temporary cables if we only knew that we could get the finance’. But the Department does not know whether it can get the finance; it should have this in black and white from the Federal Treasury. One of the difficulties facing the Department is the lack of money for the expansion of its assets, and this is in the main the provision of new telephone services. This results mainly from the fact that the Treasury is one of the backseat drivers of this great Department. I have drawn attention to the shortage of funds for capital works, to the policy of laying temporary cables instead of permanent ones and to the limited and piecemeal expansion of exchange facilities. 1 have pointed to the arbitrary interference of the Public Service Board in the matter of appointments within the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Do honourable senators think that any business organisation would tolerate for a minute an outside body interfering in its affairs to the extent of determining who should have appointments within the organisation? Of course it would not.
So let us make up our minds how best to run the Postmaster-General’s Department. It cannot be run along the same lines as, say, the Prime Minister’s Department. The Postmaster-General’s Department is in a different category to other departments. The Treasury and the Public Service Board do not have to answer to the people but the Postmaster-General’s Department is answerable to the people for any defect or deficiency in its services. In many cases complaints about the operations of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should be laid at the door of the Treasury. The financial stranglehold which the Treasury has on the Postmaster-General’s Department is one reason why the Department’s expansion has been retarded and why the demands of the trade unions, on behalf of the Department’s employees, cannot be met. Do not forget that the employees of this great Department represent 50% of the Commonwealth Public Service. The hand to mouth existence which the Department is forced to lead and the low morale among employees have been brought about by other departments exercising undue influence and power over the Postmaster-General’s Department.
I appreciate that my remarks on this aspect must be limited. I know that I must confine myself to the matters contained in the regulations. This is why I thought it would be to the advantage of the Senate to discuss an alternative form of control for the Postal Department. In other countries control of posts and telegraphs is different to the form of control that we have in Australia. Consideration is at present being given in Great Britain to putting the postal department under a statutory authority, where it will be self-contained. The authority would be represented in the parliament by a minister. As I said in my speeches on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, the time is long overdue for a proper assessment of the Postmaster-General’s Department. It cannot continue to operate as a department of state and at the same time be expected to function as a successful business undertaking. Unless the Government is stubbornly blind to the need to run the Postal Department in the best way possible it will agree to place it under an authority which will have complete autonomy. The authority must not be servile in any way. lt must not be tied so that it can move only a yard at a time, contingent on how much finance is forthcoming from the Treasury. It must not be forced into the time-consuming and irksome procedures associated with obtaining Public Service Board approval for staff appointments - procedures which have an irritating and morale destroying effect on the entire organisation. I say these things cognisant of the fact that you, Mr President, have been very tolerant with me. If I had had the support of Senator Murphy and his colleagues today, we could have debated this matter at greater length and in a constructive manner. We could have shown the Acting Postmaster-General how to remedy a lot of the difficulties that now confront the Postal Department. An honourable senator on the Opposition side has excused the failure of his party to support me on the ground that my motion was not a substantive one, but if I had received the support of the Labor Party we would not now be confined in our remarks to the regulations that are before us.
– The Labor Party did not want the honourable senator to steal its thunder.
– 1 am not concerned about such details; I am concerned with putting matters before the public in a fair and proper way. As for Senator Murphy’s objection to imposing certain charges by regulation, I must takes sides with the Acting Postmaster-General. There is nothing irregular about doing some things by regulation while other things are done by legislation. It all depends on the drafting of the original legislation. I take no objection to these matters being covered by regulation while other things are covered by legislation. Anybody versed in parliamentary affairs would appreciate these things.
In the past when Post Office charges have been increased by amending legislation, the increases have been accepted with little protestation by members of Parliament, but not so on this occasion. 1 think it will be conceded that very early in the piece I protested against the proposed increases in charges and I intimated that 1 would play my part in seeing that this Senate was re-assembled to consider any proposal to increase charges by regulation. This is our right and our presence here today indicates that the Senate is the watchdog of the rights and interests of the public. This is quite a different state of affairs from th’at which existed years ago. However, I am not one to live in the past; I want to live in the present and for the future. I hope only that the Postmaster-General and the Government will give due consideration to what I have said about this great Department, which is providing an excellent service under difficult circumstances. Those who are charged with the responsibility of administering this Department must feel greatly frustrated under existing circumstances because they do not know how far they may go in developing the Department to meet the demands of the public. If it is to be a business concern let us have it run as a business concern and not as a department of state subject to the interference of the Commonwealth Public Service Board. Public Service inspectors or anybody else. Let it be a self contained department run on business lines.
As far as finance is concerned we can look at a lot of other semi-government organisations. We have State electricity commissions and other bodies that conduct their own independent operations. These organisations, as business undertakings, are required to pay interest on the money made available to them. I am in order in making again the objection that I made when the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill was before the Mouse. I am in good company because the former Prime Minister found difficulty in reconciling the Treasurer’s charging interest on surplus taxation that he was loaning to a particular department of state.
– Sir Arthur Fadden would not accept it.
– That is true. When he was in opposition he would not accept that system either. However, 1 was about to say that if the Department was run on business lines we would know that it would have to raise money and pay interest on it. We have reason to object to the procedure adopted. If the Treasury takes money out of the purses of the people in the form of taxation, it does not pay any interest on it. But the Government loans the money to a department of state which is charged interest for the loan of that money. This is very difficult for a lot of people to understand. We know that the same practice is adopted with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, though loan money is not involved. Surplus taxation is loaned to the Authority, which pays interest on it. That is all very well for the Authority, which will benefit two major States and to a small degree South Australia. But the Post Office is an Australia wide organisation that is serving the whole Commonwealth.
As a former Treasurer and Premier of a State 1 know that the State Government borrowed money. We obtained from the Australian Loan Council money which was raised by the Commonwealth under the financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. The Commonwealth determines what the loan market will yield and raises the money. It states how much it believes the market will yield in the financial year. It then cuts up the available funds according to the States’ demands and the urgency of particular projects. Prime Ministers and Federal Treasurers always have left the States with the idea that, regardless of political colour, they were giving the States something. The Commonwealth gives the States nothing. It raises and loans to the States money on which the States have to pay interest. In addition they have to pay back the principal. We understand that practice. It would apply to a properly functioning PostmasterGeneral’s Department or any other statutory authority. Such an organisation would raise money, no doubt through the Commonwealth, as many semi-government and local government authorities do. It would know that it would have to pay interest. However, under the present arrangements the Postmaster-General’s Department is financially living from hand to mouth because of the Treasury’s influence on the control and conduct of the Department. I repeat with all the emphasis at my disposal that the Post Office is restricted in matters such as staff arrangements, staff appointments, promotions and other things. 1 feel that 1 have succeeded in getting some of my ideas across briefly. Whether I am right or whether I am wrong remains to be seen. My only aim is to get some discussion on this matter. I recommend that honourable senators read a booklet which can be obtained readily here and which presents the evidence that has been assembled by a select committee in the United Kingdom on the matter of the nationalisation of certain departments, one of which is the Post Office of that country. That Committee recognised that the Post Office in the United Kingdom should be run, not by a Minister as a department of state, but as a statutory corporation or authority answerable to Parliament by means of an annual report, with a minister acting as liaison between it and the government. I believe this win become an accomplished fact at a very early date. 1 shall vole for the motion for the disallowance of these regulations because I believe that the increases are not justified. I am of the opinion that I know the public pulse a great deal better than the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) does. I am sure that our protests will at least tell the Government, and the Minister in particular, that the public, whom we represent, is very unhappy about these regular increases in charges.
– That is putting it mildly.
– Yes, it is, particularly for me. The Minister says that there has not been an increase in charges since 1959. He does not say that there was an increase in the rental for telephones in 1964, only three years ago. These increases are occurring all the time. The people are conscious of the fact that they are being taxed by the Department to raise funds to provide a similar service for others who are crying out for a telephone or additional telephones. I have on my table letters from small businessmen in Brisbane and other places who have been waiting eight to ten weeks for the connection of a telephone. Can anyone be satisfied with this state of affairs?
– Some applicants in Sydney wait three years.
– The ones I have just mentioned may ultimately wait for three years.
– The honourable senator ought to make himself familiar with the country.
– Here is someone telling me to make myself familiar with the country. I wonder just how much experience of the country the honourable senator has had compared with mine.
– He is a migrant.
– I would say that I know this country more intimately and more widely than Senator Webster does.
– What is the waiting time for telephone installations in country areas?
– I would say it is much greater than in the cities.
– That is right.
– The honourable senator is supporting me and emphasising what I am saying.
– 1 am trying to help the honourable senator.
– 1 was making it as light as I could for the Department and the Minister but I shall take up Senator Webster’s case now. I think that the position of people in the country is intolerable and abominable. Indeed, it is a crying shame.
– Is not Senator Webster a representative of country people?
– I represent country people, loo. As a senator 1 represent all sections of the people in the city and the country. Furthermore,
I do so without regard for party politics. Because of the numerous letters I have received in connection with this matter I am confident that I speak for the people of Queensland and, I think, for the people of Australia. The Government’s proposal is a most unpopular form of tax gathering. I do not think any government department should be employed as a tax gatherer. This great Department wants to do so much good work. It wants to extend its services to the people who are crying out for television, telecommunications and other things. Let us put the Post Office on a sound common sense financial basis and allow it to work as a business concern without the interference of the Public Service, government departments and other bodies.
– I wish to make only one reference to Senator Gair’s remarks. He referred to the Treasury’s stranglehold on the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I suggest that that is hardly borne out when one considers the huge amounts of money that have been made available to the Post Office over the years.
The Opposition’s action in calling the Senate into session to consider the disallowance of these regulations reeks of insincerity. I do not question the Opposition’s right to oppose, criticise or examine critically Government actions or proposals. Indeed, it has an obligation to do so. I question only the Opposition’s motives.
In opposing any Government proposal the Opposition has an obligation to present alternatives. Certainly no alternatives have been presented on this occasion. Instead we have had a series of general and specious charges of inefficiency and references to letters which have gone astray. But this is nothing new. In a huge organisation things like that are bound to happen. When the Labor Party was in government it strenuously attacked and denied charges of inefficiency against, the Postmaster-General’s Department. On this occasion, as I have said, no evidence has been produced to prove that any inefficiency which may exist - admittedly there are areas of inefficiency in any organisation - would affect the economy of the Post Office to the extent that it is being affected today, certainly not to the tune of millions of dollars.
The Opposition has made no attempt to answer statements in relation to the effect of wage increases on the economy of the Post Office. One wage increase alone added $17m to the operating expenses of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
Before dealing with the reasons for the proposed increases and answering some of the criticism which has been levelled at the Government, let me say that I think the Opposition is not acting on a basis of high principle, lt welcomes this diversion because it is <a handy device to distract attention from the sordid warring factions within the Labor Party today. The Leader of the Party, his deputy and ordinary members and sections of the Labor Party are throwing charges of disloyalty and disgraceful insinuations across the Nullabor Plain. Even Saigon saloons and cocktail parties get a mention. They are throwing charges about support for unity tickets across the Murray River. Indeed, the whole Party is split into warring factions, and anything to distract the attention of the public from this internal strife is welcomed by the Labor Party.
What are the issues involved in these Post Office charges? Let me say, first of all, that there is nothing new in increased charges for Post Office services. Labor governments in the past have acted to increase these charges. The reasons given in 1949 for doing so were that enormously increased costs justified a substantial increase in charges, lt has been claimed that the Department is being used as a taxing authority. If we are using it as a taxing authority we are in good company, because a Labor government also used it as a taxing authority. If Labor’s opposition to the use of the Post Office as a taxing authority, to use its jargon, is sincere, let the Labor Party condemn its own governments of the past for doing that. The truth is that the Postmaster-General’s Department has always been regarded as a business undertaking and this has always been accepted. I should like to read from a speech made by Senator Benn only a few weeks ago. I congratulate him on that speech because he was honest and factual. He is reported on page 1825 of Hansard of 1 9th May 1967 in this way:
The Postmaster-General’s Department is not merely an ordinary department in the Common wealth service. It is a business undertaking and is classed for all purposes as a business undertaking. Therefore it has to live on its own fat.
There is no difference between Senator Benn’s view and our own on this aspect. As a business undertaking the Post Office has to pay its way. The only alternative to the Government’s proposal is to increase taxation but in 1949 the then Labor Government dismissed that proposition. In 1949 Mr Calwell, who was Minister in charge of the Post and Telegraphs Rates Bill 1949, made a speech on this aspect. I have quoted this on another occasion but I believe it is worth repeating. He said:
The operation of the Department at a heavy financial loss would place an added burden on taxpayers generally, whereas an increase of charges for the services rendered means that the users of these services will make the necessary increased contribution. Equity demands that the last course be followed.
If equity demanded it in 1949 surely equity demands it today. Does the Labor Party now oppose the principle enunciated by Mr Calwell in 1949? If it does, why has its attitude changed? I think we are entitled to be told the reason. I think we are entitled to bt told also what the Labor Party would do were it in office today. Would it act as the Government is now acting? Once again I am indebted to Senator Benn, because we can judge the Opposition only by past performances and by Senator Benn’s honesty.
– The honourable senator cannot quote from a current Hansard.
– This is not current. Senator Benn went on to say: 1 want to state this: If Labor had won the election last year it would be now dealing with similar legislation. There would be scarcely a word different from what is in the present legislation.
I repeat that that statement was made by Senator Benn.
– On Friday 1 9th May 1967. So we have Labor’s past performances and Senator Benn’s honest admission that had the Labor Party been in office it would be acting in the same way as the Government is acting now.
If we look at some of the reasons why these increases have become necessary we find that one basic wage increase alone cost the Post Office $17m. No business undertaking in Australia can afford to absorb such increased costs without a great increase in productivity.
This Department has a pretty sound record in annual increases in productivity. Its annual increase is well above the Australian average. The simple fact is, as the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) pointed out-
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Drake-Brockman) - Order! I draw the honourable senator’s attention to the fact that, under standing order 413, he may not refer to any debate in the same session.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy President. The Postmaster-General has pointed out that his Department is faced with a deficit of $18m in this financial year, rising to a deficit of $40m in several years time if present cost trends continue. That is despite increased business or increased turnover and with a very small increase in the work force. This shows increased productivity. These deficits have to be met somehow. If members of the Opposition suggest that they should be met by increased taxation, I invite them to come out and say so. This has never been the policy of the Labor Party in the past. One is entitled to suspect that the whole attitude of members of that Party is governed not by responsibility but by political expediency.
There has been a great deal of criticism of the fact that the Postmaster-General’s Department has to pay interest. This matter has been debated in the past. All 1 say is that this is not a new principle. The Department has paid interest since federation. Up to 1942 the funds of the Department came mainly from loan money on which it paid interest. After 1942 a substantial section of the funds of the Department was allocated from Consolidated Revenue. In 1954 the Public Accounts Committee, which included Labor members of Parliament, one of whom was Mr Crean, the shadow Treasurer, met and discussed the question of interest being paid by the Postmaster-General’s Department. In its report it drew attention to the fact that no interest was being paid by the Post Office on most of its capital - that which was coming from Consolidated
Revenue and not from loan funds. The Committee went on to say:
The present basis of charges for interest on capital in the Commercial Accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department has long been anomalous.
It suggested that a review should proceed expeditiously. That report was not opposed by the Labor members of the Public Accounts Committee.
The Government appointed an ad hoc committee to examine this matter. The unanimous report of that committee was that the Post Office should pay interest charges. So no new principle is involved. In those days the Labor Party agreed with this principle. One wonders about the reason for the change in its attitude. Interest charges are paid by all government business undertakings. If that were not the position, the taxpayers of Australia would have to take up the slack. I believe that the people of Australia should listen to the figures I am about to give: In 1965-66 this would have meant an increase of 5i% in individual income tax, a 60% rise in payroll tax or a 9% increase in customs and excise. That would have been a fairly heavy burden to place on the taxpayers. That is the alternative. We should be prepared to face up to it.
Apart from labour costs, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is faced with huge rises in the cost of materials. It is engaged in a tremendous expansion programme, lt provides services over wide, sparsely populated areas of Australia. This involves terribly high development costs which can be met only by a large amount of capital being made available. It is a principle in all businesses that at least part of their development costs should be met from income. I dismiss as sheer propaganda many of the unsupported charges that have been made in this debate and in the previous debate. The plain truth is that the telephone branch of the Department provides a service over great distances in sparsely populated areas. This is a service that people have a right to expect. Technical improvements have to be made continually. The cost of them is high and has to be met. Mr Calwell dealt with this aspect in 1949. We believe, as the then Labor Government believed, that it is equitable for the user to pay for at least part of these services.
Public opinion has been mentioned. Puplic opinion will always oppose increased charges. That is natural. One cannot expect anything else. If we are asked to bow to public opinion and act in a way which wo believe is against the national interest, it is interesting to recall that a Labor PostmasterGeneral asked the public to examine dispassionately the reasons for increased charges. That is a fair proposition. We are entitled to ask the public to examine these increased charges dispassionately, too. The Government must act in the national interest, ft must exercise financial responsibility. It is the privilege of an Opposition to exercise financial irresponsibility, if it so wishes. I suggest that today the Opposition is doing just that. I oppose the motion to disallow these regulations.
– I have one complaint to make and I will be very brief in making it. f think f referred to it when the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill was being discussed in the Senate a few weeks ago. If I did not mention it then. I assure you, Mr Deputy President, that I had it in mind. I was a senator when the Public Accounts Committee investigated the accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department in .1954. That investigation revealed so many interesting matters relating to the accounting system that had been in practice in -the Department over a number of years that some of us, who were then interested in the accounts not only of this Department but of all departments of the Public Service, commenced a study of the Committee’s report.
As I stand here now 1 can almost quote the essential parts of that report, which is commonly known as the Twelfth Report of the Public Accounts Committee. The Committee was presided over by Professor Bland who was then the honourable member for Warringah. Notwithstanding the fact that previously two royal commissions had conducted inquiries into the affairs of the Postmaster-General’s Department, no-one could have conducted a more efficient investigation of the accounts of this Department than did Professor Bland and his assistants at that time. In subsequent years I was in close association with Professor Bland. I have the highest regard for his opinions on all accounting methods.
I propose to make clear to the Senate a point which has not been touched upon. It is as easy for me as it is for any other honourable senator to say that the proposed charges are too high or to say that the charges have not been amended since 1959, which is a few years ago. It is clear to me that the charges which are proposed in the regulations arc intended to operate for the next seven or eight years. 1 say that quite positively; there is no nonsense about that. 1 listened this afternoon to the rubbish uttered by Senator Gair about the PostmasterGeneral’s Department being a kind of half and half department - half a business undertaking and the other half a Public Service dominated department. That is plain rubbish. The Department is a business undertaking in every way. It is due to the work put in by the late Professor Bland that the Department is in that situation today.
I do not want to stray loo far from my point about the regulations, but I remind the Senate that the Department has been a public undertaking run on business lines since 1911 or 1912. From that time it has been carried on in a manner which was satisfactory to the Treasury and to the Auditor-General, whose office is the hardest to get by if accounts are not kept in an efficient manner. In 1949 the control of the Postal Department as a business undertaking was more positive and more definite because of action taken in that year. If there was any doubt between 1949 and 1954 about the Department being a business undertaking, after the report of the Public Accounts Committee of 1954 was published all doubts should have been dispelled entirely. If any honourable senator has time to examine the report which was furnished in 1954 by the Public Accounts Committee he will find out for himself how firmly the Department was established as a public business undertaking. I shall return to that point later.
I come back now to the point that I made a while ago. I have an objection to the regulations because forward costing was engaged in by officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in arriving at the new charges. They assessed not only the costs of today, which would be fair enough, but also the costs which might accrue next year, the year after and so on. I estimate that the costs have been calculated for seven or eight years, an estimate which I arrived at in the way that I shall now explain. The Government will have two more years in office during the life of this Parliament and it expects to win two more elections; so it expects to be in government for eight more years. In the ninth year we can expect more legislation of this nature to readjust the rates. However, that is only my surmise. Why cannot the rates be amended annually? I am satisfied that a formula could be arrived at to allow the rates to be decided annually. This would avoid the present outcry about the high costs which are obtruded in these regulations. I suggest that an annual assessment is necessary. This is one of the matters which was missed by the Public Accounts Committee when it dealt with the ramifications of the Postmaster-General’s Department in 1954. Probably the Committee left it to the judgment and business propensities of officers of the Department, but they have not taken any action.
What was done in 1910, soon after Federation, when the Commonwealth acquired from the States assets which were used as post offices, was adequate because in those years we did not have the inflation which we now experience. We now live in a period of inflation and we will continue to do so because there is no way of blocking the flow of inflation being experienced by Australia and other countries. I can see no way of correcting the situation. If I wished to be political I could say that the Government is sitting back with its thumbs in its coat lapels and is saying: ‘What about the United States? That country had the same experience.’ This, in a way, is a holding outlook. The Government is saying, in effect: We will hold what we have. We are the Government, and let the Devil take the hindmost so far as inflation is concerned? I have stressed time and again in this place that inflation will rise as a serious enemy to our economy and the welfare of the people of Australia. But let us get back to whether the Postmaster-General’s Department is a business undertaking or is just another department of the Commonwealth Public Service, such as the Department of Immigration or the Department of External Affairs. I propose to cite some excerpts that I have taken from the 1954 report of the Public Accounts Committee which is commonly referred to as the twelfth report.
We all know that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is a large and complex department which has to undertake an immense amount of detailed work. The Department is divided into ten branches - the Mail, Postal Services, Telephone, Telegraphs, Engineering Services, Personnel, Finance, Buildings, Stores and Transport, and Wireless branches. In the general administration and political administration of all countries no government worth its name will establish a board or an authority to deal with matters that it can deal with itself. It is contrary to the principle of elected governments to call in an authority to deal with these matters. It might be all right to have Qantas Empire Airways Ltd and Trans-Australia Airlines, which have to make private agreements with other aviation companies and other organisations, but finally they must come back to Parliament for finance and for loans to be approved. The Postmaster-General’s Department is entirely different. The public of the Commonwealth is closely associated with the Postmaster-General’s Department and therefore it is not only necessary but is also essential for the Government to control the Department. Every politician, State or Federal in Australia, has to make requests to the Department for telephones to be installed in some suburb or for an extension of some service which will benefit the people. These requests are constant. But let us consider what would happen if it were necessary to apply to the managing director of Qantas or TAA for an additional flight.
I ask honourable senators to consider the Commonwealth Banking Corporation which also is controlled by a board. Let us consider the position of a young couple who are about to marry, who have saved over the years perhaps $1,000 or $2,000 which they propose to use as a deposit for a home and who, to obtain the balance of the finance approach the Commonwealth Banking Corporation for a loan. The first question asked of the young man would be: Where have you done your banking?’ He is also asked where his parents have been banking. After replies are given by him, the female member of the party is asked: ‘Where have your parents done their banking?’. If they have not been banking with the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, the request of the couple for a loan is turned down. That is going on every day and the Government complacently approves of it. The Government will not interfere with a body such as the Commonwealth Banking Corporation. If the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is now a business undertaking under the control of the Government, I want to see it remain that way for ever.
I promised earlier that I would attempt to clarify a little matter on which I enlightened myself some years ago. I refer to the establishment of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department as a business undertaking. I rely for my information upon the authority of a report of the Public Accounts Committee. That Committee conducted an examination of the accounts of the Post Office and said that when it approached those accounts it was clear that their form would necessarily be influenced by the relationship of the Post Office to the Parliament and the machine of revenue collection to the people of Australia. The Committee took the view that if the Post Office were regarded as an ordinary department - although a very large one - its accounts would be framed on traditionally departmental lines. The Committee felt that if the Post Office were regarded as a public utility operated as a business undertaking, the accounts would assume a commercial character. The Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs of that time told the Committee that in his opinion the Post Office should be regarded as a Commonwealth instrumentality providing communication services. Notwithstanding that opinion, he agreed that an endeavour should be made to avoid a substantial deficit. He said:
Unless there are clear explanations, I think it is bad for organisations such as ours to be operating regularly with deficits. That has a bad effect on staff morale and almost everything else.
The Committee took the view that, because the Post Office in some quarters is not regarded as a business undertaking, greater emphasis is placed on the traditional departmental practices. For example, revenue is credited to the Consolidated Revenue Fund and all expenditure is appropriated in detail by votes in the Supply and Appropriation
Acts. As does any other Commonwealth department, the Post Office submits its claims to the Treasury for a share of the total Commonwealth Budget and is subject to the provisions of the Audit Act. Its staff is subject to the Public Service Act and is listed with that of other Commonwealth departments as employees in the Commonwealth Public Service; the number employed is affected by decisions regarding the volume of services and the rate of capital expansion. The Committee said in its report:
While recognising this position, the Committee is also aware that the Post Office is regarded by others as a business undertaking. In most countries the postal services are conducted by the Governments concerned as ordinary departments. And this is the case even when public enterprises on a comparable scale are not conducted as government departments but as statutory corporations. The Commonwealth has adopted a similar policy in retaining complete ministerial control of the Post Office when it has substantially abandoned it in cases such as Commonwealth trading and savings banks, the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, the Commonwealth Railways, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. To a varying extent, these touch on the everyday affairs of the Australian public and expend very large amounts of public funds, features which in the case of the Post Office are mentioned as justifying ministerial and parliamentary control. … In a statement presented to the Committee, the Treasury argued that ‘as the Post Office is a large-scale business undertaking, the Treasury Accounts should be supplemented by a set of commercial accounts established by law, and generally recognised as the source from which the true trading results of the Post Office may be ascertained’.
I do not want to weary the Senate and my listeners on this matter, but I wish to quote from the Committee’s report another portion which dealt with the commercial accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department and how an improvement could be effected. It said:
All the witnesses before the Committee agreed that this situation should be corrected and to do so, the Treasury, the Audit Office and the Department had arranged to discuss the position. The Postmaster-General’s Department claimed, however, that if the Department were treated as a private concern, investing its reserves and surpluses in the business and using short-term loans at low rates to finance its operations, it could be argued that the interest now paid would be sufficient. In due course the Committee will be informed of the result of the discussions.
The late Professor Bland laid the basis for discussions to take place between the Treasury and Postmaster-General’s Department. And what happened? The results of the discussions are included in the report of ninety-five pages. Its title is: ‘Reports of the Ad Hoc Committee of Inquiry into the Commercial Accounts of the Post Office’. The Committee was presided over by Sir Alexander Fitzgerald and its reports were furnished in response to the request made at the time by Professor Bland. The Committee’s final report deals with commercial accountancy as practised in the Post Office. It is available in the Parliamentary Library to any honourable senator and would also be available to any member of the public for examination.
I have stated my complaint. I want to see another improvement. I should like the Postmaster-General’s Department to limit its costing to one year. I may not be here when that happens. I retire from the Senate on 30th June next year. It does not matter much to me whether I retire on 30th June next, but I should like to see that improvement whereby the Post Office would limit its costing to one year, if it is at all possible. The people would then know just where they stood. Costing could be done separately for this year, then for next year, and so on. It is unsatisfactory for the Post Office to have to say every six or seven years: ‘We want more money for services’. Anybody with any nous knows that the Post Office needs the money and deserves to be given it. If there were somebody near this place who said: ‘We are going to bring in these increased rates and they will operate and be damned to everybody’, then the Government would probably get away with it. Because the whole matter is tied up with legislation and technicalities the Government is not going to use these funds. Whenever such a situation arises there is always an alternative. The present Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) was Treasurer for a number of years. The Government is seeking to collect an additional S68m in the next three or four months. It is not a sum worth talking about from the point of view of a man who has been Commonwealth Treasurer for a number of years, as the Prime Minister was.
If the Treasurer wishes to increase revenue, he need not leave his office. He knows that this year the Commonwealth will reap from customs duties about $288m. Almost one million articles attract customs duties. The Treasurer need only titivate the customs fabric, twirl a little knob, increase the duty payable on cosmetics used by ladies to make themselves appear more beautiful and another $10m would roll into his coffers as a result. Nobody is to stop him. The sum of $68m we are discussing is chicken feed. If the Treasurer does not wish to interfere with the cosmetics of the good-looking maidens in the community, he could deal with the fellows who drink excessive quantities of beer and are involved in motor accidents on the roads. Beer will attract $325m in excise this year. The Treasurer’s situation can be likened to that of a bookmaker. The bookmaker can twirl the knobs on his board and alter the odds; the Treasurer can increase slightly the excise and secure an additional $5m or $6m without the beer drinkers knowing much about it. If the Treasurer is still not satisfied, he can secure more revenue from the spirit drinkers who this financial year will pay $29m in excise. Tobacco smokers will pay SI 7m and cigar and cigarette smokers SI 10m this year. The Treasurer can get an additional $12m or $20m easily by squeezing the smokers and those persons who are fond of having a glass of beer. I do not know whether the normal drink is a 5 oz or 7 oz glass of beer, but I would not shout for a man who could drink only a 5 oz glass. I believe that if beer is to be drunk it should be drunk as it is drunk by the men at Mt Isa. In my judgment they are the best beer drinkers in the world.
The Treasurer could easily make up the $68m involved in the proposed Post Office charges we are debating now, but if he were not satisfied and wanted to get more money because of the trouble we are giving him here today, he could turn to the users of motor spirit and other petroleum products from which, this financial year, $224m will be gained. What would be wrong with getting an extra S30m from that source? Some people are driving excessively fast and we all realise that a road war is continuing all the time. Perhaps if he squeezed motor car users and got more revenue from them there would be fewer fatalities in the community. I need not refer to other sources of income, but this year $1,1 13m will be collected from the hidden taxes that the people have to pay, yet we are quibbling over a paltry $68m.
I support this motion because, as I mentioned a short time ago, 1 have a complaint about the way the Government is conducting the Postmaster-General’s Department, which is a business undertaking and which must be maintained in a business-like way. The Department should present its requests for additional revenue annually or every two years and not every eight to nine years as it does now.
Senator CORMACK (Victoria) [3.281-1 feel that the Senate is assembled here in the third week of June 1967 under false pretences. The false pretences were indicated in the speech made by Senator Anderson, representing the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme), before lunch. He laid out in cold arithmetical terms the problem of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, lt is a business undertaking, and as such has to pay its way. He explained to honourable senators - particularly to some of the senators from the Opposition - that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has to pay interest on an overdraft which is extended to it by the Treasurer of the day. Yet we find ourselves here, late in the afternoon, still involved in debating the allegation that increased charges are a taxing procedure and as such should engage the attention of the Senate. In fact there has come to the rescue of the Government this afternoon a speaker from the Opposition, Senator Benn. 1 suggest that, in the cold and calculating method he uses to analyse political events, Senator Benn has demonstrated quite conclusively - to me, at any rate, if not to his colleagues who sit around him - that the Government is, totally justified in proceeding with the increases in charges by the methods it has used. These are methods that have been used by previous governments, including governments of the Australian Labor Party. These are traditional means by which the government of the day plugs holes in its public accounts, and the drain hole in the public accounts at present is, to a large extent, the accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
Senator Benn referred to the twelfth report of the Public Accounts Committee which laid down in unequivocal terms that the- Postmaster-General’s Department was to be run as a business undertaking. Senator Benn has reinforced the report of Professor Bland and his committee and, as Senator
Sim mentioned earlier this afternoon, the report was subscribed to and signed by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), a distinguished economist in his own right and a leader of the Australian Labor Party in another place. In other words, the Australian Labor Party, through its members who sat on the Public Accounts Committee of that day, espoused the principle that the Postmaster-General’s Department must be run as a business undertaking; yet here we are, in the third week of June, assembled from our recess to deal with a motion moved by Senator Murphy to reject regulations imposing charges which accord with the twelfth report of the Public Accounts Committee and the report of the subsequent ad hoc committee of distinguished accountants and economists who reinforced the conclusions of the Public Accounts Committee. We are asked to reject regulations imposing charges which have had the sanction of Parliament in the past and which should, indeed, have the sanction of Parliament at this present moment. Reinforced by the argument of Senator Benn, a distinguished member of the Labor Party, I say in the most unequivocal terms that I can command, that we are being unconstitutionally used, and 1 will return to this matter in a moment.
I sympathise with Senator Benn because he finds himself in the dubious position of discovering that cherished principles of the Labor Party have been thrown off for what might be described - and I cannot think of a better phrase at the moment - as a political gimmick; and therefore he has had to display his ingenuity in finding an escape path by which to explain why the regulations should be rejected. Senator Benn agrees that the accounts of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should be conducted on the basis recommended and accepted in the past, namely, that the Department is a business undertaking and must be responsible for funding the money it borrows from the taxpayer, because it is not just a grant from the Treasury but an advance from taxpayers’ money. I agree that the Department must pay at least overdraft rates on that money in order to conduct itself as a proper businesslike undertaking. The test of its efficiency is its profit and loss account, just as that is the test of the efficiency of Qantas Empire
Airways Ltd, Trans-Australia Airlines and the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia). The efficiency of these bodies is measured by their profit and loss accounts, and I consider that the Postmaster-General’s Department - a business undertaking, in Senator Benn’s words - should also be measured on the basis of its profit and loss account. It must pay for the use of the money it employs from an overdraft extended to it by the Treasury.
Senator Benn sought to draw a red herring across the trail when he said that the forecasts of the Postmaster-General’s Department should be on an annual basis. The ideal, of course, would be for government budgeting to be on an annual basis, but the compression of events in which we find ourselves in the world today means that not only government and echelons of government - the Postmaster-General’s Department, Qantas or TAA - but all business elements in the community have to assess their future not on an annual basis, although accounting may be done as best it can on an annual basis, but on a cyclical basis, which the plain blunt facts indicate is required. So in 1967 we find ourselves in the situation, going by the arguments that have been adduced by Senator ‘Benn, for example, of having to attempt to have a profit and loss account for the Postmaster-General’s Department on the basis of one year or, as in the case of Qantas, working on a forecast of its capital needs for the next five, six or seven years. Senator Benn is quite correct when he says that the proposed increased charges are involved over an extended period. Indeed they are, because neither the Postmaster-General’s Department nor any other government or private undertaking can sustain itself in any other way.
I turn now to what was said toy the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party (Senator Gair). At the end of the autumn period he complained that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department was being used as a taxing machine. In fact, the position is the exact reverse. Senator Gair has not been advocating that the Postmaster-General’s Department should be used as a taxing machine. He suggests that, in effect, the face of the general taxpayer be ground into the dust in order to sustain the Postmaster-
General’s Department. He does not say that, but that is what he means. It is quite clear to me, anyway, that in the last four or five weeks Senator Gair has been having some second thoughts about this matter, because I do not think that the electoral support which he claimed in his speech this afternoon basically exists. Therefore he has sought to find a device by which he can take off his back some of the misarguments that he has been using. He has come up with the device whereby the Postmaster-General’s Department would be split into two parts: the social service side and the business side. I shall leave the dubiousness of this proposition to be dealt with toy my colleague, Senator Cotton, who I understand will be speaking in this debate.
Mr President, I have heard allegations to the effect that the Senate has been pulled back in the third week in June to disallow regulations that relate to a business enterprise so as to enhance the political position of some members of the Senate who sit on your left, i have heard it suggested that the Senate has been called back to deal with these regulations only in order to give some political advantage to honourable senators opposite. In these circumstances the Labor Party is posing as a sort of corporate tribune of the people. Indeed, this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald’ in a very long article indicated that the reason notice was given at the end of May that the Senate would be called back was in order to advance the political ambitions of certain honourable senators who sit on your left. This seems to me to be a scandalous imputation; but the more I think about it the more it remains solidly embedded in my mind that this is the reason why we are here and that everything else is a devious means of sustaining that position which was expected and which has apparently come to a satisfactory conclusion.
We now have to disregard the political aspect of why we are here. The central point is: Who is to pay for the cost of telephone charges? This matter has been touched on by every honourable senator who has spoken both in this debate and in the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill which preceded the lifting of the Senate at the end of May. The argument is about whether the user or the general taxpayer should pay. At the present moment the Australian Labor Party is arguing that if, for example, Trans-Australia Airlines shows a loss, 90% of the Australian public who do not use the air transport services must pay in general taxation in order to subsidise the cost which is incurred by the other 10% of the Australian public who may use Trans-Australia Airlines. Indeed, the Australian Labor Party says that if Qantas, Australia’s overseas airline, shows a loss - and I suppose that the percentage of the Australian electorate which travels abroad would be very small - 99%, perhaps, of Australian taxpayers have to pay taxes in order to allow 1% of Australian taxpayers to travel abroad at a subsidised rate.
When it comes to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, regulations are brought down for no other reason than to make the people who use the mechanical contrivances of the Postmaster-General’s Department for the transport of information, which is in this context no different from the transport of human beings, pay for that transport. That is exactly what it means. It means that the newspaper proprietors must pay for the transport of their information through the services of the Postmaster-General’s Department. It means that the great and powerful business houses which use these services for the transport of information must pay for the services, and not the general taxpayers. To put it another way: I live in the country. I get my telephone at a rate which is infinitely less than the cost of installing and maintaining it. I can get a tax deduction for the cost of transporting information over my telephone as a business expenditure. Should people in the city who are employed by my son and other members of my family have to pay in order that I can transport my information at a reduced rate? In other words, both at the end of May and on this special occasion on which the Senate has been called together, we find ourselves in an extraordinary position, with the Australian Labor Party defending the privileged while the Government is attempting to defend the little man.
The great cry that is being made, the arguments that are being advanced and the telegrams that are coming to honourable senators are coming from people who have a vested interest in trying to get the transport of information at the cheapest possible rate and at the expense of the general taxpayer. This is being supported by the Australian Labor Party. We on this side of the chamber are trying to save the general taxpayers from having to provide this subsidy to those who are best able to pay for the transport of their information. This is what postal charges mean. We on this side of the chamber are attempting to defend the general taxpayers against the encroachment of the privileged elements in the community which are quite able to bear the cost of the transportation of their information. But we get the fantastic situation in which the Australian Labor Party, in the Senate in the third week in June, is moving for the disallowance of regulations in order to defend an entrenched privilege for the wealthy. This is something that I cannot understand - not coming from the Australian Labor Party, anyway.
Senator Benn, who has lived long and has been involved in politics for a long time, knows in the very bowels of his belly - where, according to Milton, is the very source of feeling - that what I have said is true. With great courage - and it takes courage in the Labor Party to defy the attitude that has been taken by Caucus or by your Leader - Senator Benn stood up this afternoon and said that he will never depart from the twelfth report of the Public Accounts Committee which coherently expressed this matter for Parliament. As Senator Sim pointed out earlier this afternoon, the shadow Treasurer in another place, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) was a member of the Committee which subscribed to the theory and concept that business undertakings must pay their way and that the users of the services provided by those undertakings must pay their way. Senator Benn has espoused this theory because he knows that it is right. He knows that the Australian Labor Party has put itself in the extraordinary position of defending the privileged and that the Government is forced into the situation where its attempt to defend the general taxpayer will, apparently because of lack of numbers, be defeated. I hope it will not be defeated. I hope that the honest men in the Australian Labor Party who have been struggling for the little people all their lives will, even at this late hour, either abstain from voting or else have the courage to vote to defend the general run of taxpayers in Australia against a brutal and blatant attempt to extract a subsidy from the small people of this country.
As I said earlier, and as the Acting Postmaster-General (Senator Anderson) made clear earlier this afternoon, all that the regulations set out to do is to ask those people who wish to transmit information by means of the facilities of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department at least to pay the interest on the overdraft extended to the Department by the taxpayers. The protector of the general body of taxpayers, in identifiable echelons, is, of course, the Treasury. The Treasury says that if the Department wants to borrow money from it as an advance then it must pay for that money at the ruling rate or at the long term bond rate, as Senator Anderson mentioned earlier.
Finally, this chamber is the House of the States. Senators are elected to sit in this chamber to defend the interests of the States. If there is a deficiency in Commonwealth revenues - and a deficiency sustained, for example, by the inability of the Treasury to block up a great leaking hole in the system - then there is that much less money available to the States either by way of tax reimbursement or by way of grants.
– At interest rates.
– Well, it does not matter whether it is made available to the States at interest or not; to that extent there is. less money available to the States either by way of reimbursement or by way of section 96 grants. Senator Cant’s State is one of the better off States when it comes to section 96 grants. I can come to no conclusion other than the melancholy one that this action by the Opposition has been a political ramp from start to finish. There is only one supporter of the Australian Labor Party sitting in this chamber on this day who has had the guts to acknowledge and to recognise that this action has been a political ramp, and that is Senator Benn. I hope that when the time comes for us to divide and to decide whether these regulations shall be disallowed or not, the honesty of the Australian Labor Party, which I believe exists in the person of sena-
tors such as Senator Benn, will be demonstrated by their voting to uphold the regulations.
– Senator Cormack many times in his speech said that the action of the Australian Labor Party in regard to this matter was a political ramp designed to enhance the political reputation of some members of the Senate sitting on your left, Mr President. Throughout his speech he emphasised this point. Let me assure Senator Cormack that the decision to oppose these regulations was a decision taken by the caucus of the Australian Labor Party. It was not a decision taken by one person to enhance the reputation of any particular person. 1 also would remind Senator Cormack that this is not the first time that the Australian Labor Party has moved to disallow regulations designed to increase telephone or postal charges. In 1964 I moved for the disallowance of such regulations and I did not do so to enhance my political reputation. I did so because the amendments that were proposed were, in our opinion, exorbitant and would have placed a burden upon people who could ill afford to carry it.
The Acting Postmaster-General (Senator Anderson) said this morning that increased wages made it essential that there should be an increase in charges levied for the services provided by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. This statement completely ignores the fact that capital is made available for the purpose of installing more efficient and up to date machinery in the Postmaster-General’s Department. This obviates increases in the labour force, makes the Department more efficient and permits it to earn more revenue. An increase in the wage bill is not the reason that these regulations to increase charges throughout the Department have been brought before the Senate at this time. The increased charges are proposed because of the change in the method of accounting in the Department. Interest is now being charged upon the money that was loaned or given to the Department from Consolidated Revenue fifty or fifty-five years ago. Today, interest is being charged on that money and that is why the Department has to raise more revenue. The increases are proposed not for the purpose of enabling the Post Office to carry on its day to day business but because the Government saw fit to change the method of accounting so that the Department becomes a tax raising organisation and is being used to gain extra revenue. 1 heard an extraordinary statement made this morning in the Senate when the Leader of the Government (Senator Henty) said that the Government was completely /democratic in bringing down these charges and that the Opposition knew all about them before the Parliament adjourned in May. He said that the Government had announced the proposal in order to give the Opposition the opportunity to call the Parliament together in an effort to disallow the regulations. Some mention was made pf a statement made yesterday by Senator Cohen regarding the Government’s attitude. Senator Cohen referred to the Government’s attitude on these proposed increases as being a brazen flouting of the Senate. He went on to say that the Government’s attitude was not only a brazen flouting of the Senate but was a demonstration of the Government’s contempt for the people. Senator Henty denied that. He said that the Government was completely democratic in its approach to this question in that it allowed the Parliament to be called together to debate this proposition. If honourable senators look at the report in Hansard of the debate on the adjournment at the end of the last session and the amendment moved by Senator Murphy, they will find that Senator Henty opposed the suggestion that the members of the Parliament should be called together during the recess for the purpose of examining these regulations. Senator Wright, Senator Marriott and Senator Gorton also opposed the move to have the Parliament reassembled to examine the regulations.
That shows how democratic this Government is. That shows how much the Government wanted the Parliament to meet and to examine the regulations that were being prepared. It is completely wrong for Senator Henty to say in this place that the Government was acting democratically and was trying to meet the wishes of the people in order that the regulations might be examined. It is completely farcical to come into this chamber and say that sort of thing.
The evidence is there in Hansard to show how much the Government resisted the right of this Senate to meet and to examine this situation. I have no doubt, Mr President, that later this year, during the Budget session - which is the right time for the Government to impose charges upon the people for the ensuing twelve months; the time when it should announce its fiscal policy - these proposed increases will be before us again for consideration. I have no doubt that the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, which has been defeated, will be introduced again for consideration by the Parliament.
I invite the attention of representatives of the Postmaster-General’s Department to a couple of anomalies that appear at present in the regulations. We find that regulation 77 of the Telephone Regulations is to be amended. I am not so very concerned about the amendment although the charges to which regulation 77 relates are being increased and should not be increased. Nevertheless, that is not the principal point which I want to bring to the attention of honourable senators. Regulation 77 provides: (1.) A subscriber may have his name, occupation or address inserted in block type, instead of the type ordinarily used, in an entry appearing in an issue of the Telephone Directory on payment of charges in accordance with the following table . . .
Then when we look at the table we find that for this type of insertion in either the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, South Australia, Western Australia or Tasmania telephone directory there is a fixed charge, which is proposed to be increased to $2 per annum. I want to know why there is this discrimination against the three smaller States. In the three major States - Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland - the charge of $2 applies only in the metropolitan areas. Anyone living outside the metropolitan areas of those three States can have a block type insertion in the telephone directory for $1 per annum. In South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, however, the charge is $2 no matter what part of the State a subscriber lives in. The country people in the three smaller States must pay an amount equal to that paid by the people in the metropolitan areas. A person living in Melbourne can have a block type insertion in the telephone directory for $2, but if he moves to Bendigo or Ararat he can have the same kind of insertion for $1.
– Do you not think that this is a good thing?
– Why is not the same concession extended to the people in the smaller States? Why the discrimination against the smaller States? If this is a good principle to apply in one State it should apply in all, and a person living in, say. Bunbury, Kalgoorlie, Albany or Geraldton should pay less than is paid by a person living in Perth. I want to know why this discrimination exists and why it is being preserved.
A somewhat similar provision is to bc found in regulation 79, which says:
In addition to the particulars specified in regulation 75 of these Regulations, the Department may include additional words in an entry, or include additional entries or notices, in any issue of a Telephone Directory upon payment of a charge ascertained in accordance with the following table.
Then when we look at the table we find that subscribers in the country areas of the three larger States - New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria - can have these extra words inserted in the telephone directory for a lesser charge than is paid by people in the metropolitan areas. In the three smaller States, however, everyone pays the higher charge because there is only one telephone directory for the whole State and this is the principle upon which the charge is fixed.
I think it is time the Government had a close look at this kind of anomaly when it promulgates regulations. It should not discriminate against the smaller States.
Despite what Senator Cormack has had to say about the proposal to disallow these regulations, and about it being a political gimmick, I wholeheartedly support the motion for disallowance, and I direct the attention of the Senate and of the Government particularly to the two anomalies I have mentioned.
– The Senate has been called together to discuss certain regulations. We have heard some interesting comments during this debate, but I am inclined to think that the arguments put forward by the Opposition, which one might have expected to have a certain amount of substance since it is the Opposition which has been responsible for the motion for disallowance, have fallen completely to the ground. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) and those who have followed him have been unable to present valid arguments why the proposal to increase these charges ‘by regulation, which is normal procedure in respect of charges of this kind, should be rejected.
I noted with interest the two points made by Senator Cant. He criticised honourable senators on the Government side for opposing the proposal to call the Senate together if these regulations were promulgated. He suggested that this showed that Government senators were not democratic in their attitude to what is normal procedure in a governmental organisation. I think the honourable senator’s thoughts on this matter have been a little twisted. There is no valid reason to suggest that senators on the Government side have not been willing to have normal parliamentary provisions debated. Indeed, we could have debated these regulations when the Senate resumed in August; but at that stage, of course, the regulations would have been in operation. The Australian Labor Party has taken a political chance by saying, in effect: “The Government is initiating an inflationary trend by raising telecommunication charges.’ The Opposition would probably gain some political ground at the outset by adopting this attitude, and I do not doubt that this is the main reason why it has taken the step of having the Senate called together. I may also say that I see no great wisdom in the statements of certain leaders of the Government, reported at least in my own State, that unless these regulations are put into effect the Treasury will lose about $35m. I should think, as do members of the Opposition, that the general attitude of businessmen would be that the longer the increases are delayed the greater will be the saving to themselves. I doubt whether the facts surrounding these proposed increases have been fully and correctly publicised. Certainly the Opposition has been able to make some political capital, although the arguments of members of the Opposition are now seen to be without foundation. Opposition speakers have not attempted to present convincing arguments. For the purpose of this argument I include amongst them the members of the Democratic Labor
Party. Senator Gair’s arguments blew out very quickly, and he certainly did not take the time that was available to him.
Senator Cant made a point about the cost of telephone directory entries. If he had looked a little more closely at the reasons for the different charges he would have found that the benefit gained in some of the smaller States from a special entry in a telephone directory is much greater than that gained from a similar entry in a directory in one of the rural areas of one of the larger States. Each of the smaller States has only one telephone directory, and a special insertion in the directory will give coverage throughout the State. In Victoria, however, there are various areas, each of which has its own directory, and a special insertion in one of those directories covers a comparatively small field. It is obviously fair to impose a lesser charge on those who receive a good deal less than complete State coverage.
Senator Murphy made some comments which I think should be replied to. He said that these increases are not necessary, and he went on to say that this kind of regulation represented a flouting of the will of the Parliament. He then attempted to explain how this was being done. He went on further to say that the increases were not justified and that the Post Office was being used as a tax collecting agency. He said that the proposed increases would affect everyone and he made quite a point of the fact that rises of this sort or rises in any area would affect everyone in due course. He suggested that everyone would now pass on these charges. I doubt whether the few points that he mentioned will hold water. He said that the increases were not necessary. I believe that in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department we have a remarkably efficient authority. When we look at the work that has been covered by it we see that far from being a department that has been strangled by the Treasury over past years, the Post Office has been charged with the responsibility of demonstrating what the Government in power at the time feels is the necessity for a complete growth throughout the community not only in the metropolitan areas but also in country areas.
As a Country Party senator I know the feelings of many people in country areas which are not, on their own admissions, known well by other senators. I realise the points of view that are held in the country, but I see evidence of the fact that while services in metropolitan areas have multiplied four times since 1948 services in rural areas have multiplied twenty times. While services in closely settled metropolitan areas are easier and probably in some instances cheaper to provide, the great rural areas have been looked after, and looked after particularly well in many instances. But mere are anomalies and these must be ironed out in the next few years by the Department. Overall, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, particularly in its telecommunication services, has caused Australia to be well regarded in many countries overseas.
Some idea of the extent to which the need of the Post Office for capital is growing may be obtained from a study of trends in recent years. I put these facts to honourable senators and to members of the public generally and suggest that they consider what have been the requirements of these services and what have been the demands of the people. This Department is providing services that the people do not want In 1956-57 the expenditure on Post Office capital works was some $61, whereas in 1966-67 it will be $206m. It is estimated that in the next five years about $ 1,500m will have to be spent if public needs are to be met. Of this expenditure about 95% is associated with telecommunications projects. Our minds must be directed mainly to telecommunications projects, because of the $34m proposed to be raised by these regulations $30m is intended to be raised in this field.
There is a great need for the extension of these services. AH senators must realise the importance from a national point of view of keeping sufficient finance up to a body such as the Postmaster-General’s Department. The demand for services involving new lines or equipment has risen by about 12%, or more than double the average rate of growth in the past ten years. If current trends persist the number of subscriber services will grow to more than four million inside ten years. These are rather telling figures. In relation to trunkline systems it is interesting to note that at present there is a deficiency of approximately 11,000 circuits with the volume of traffic growing by 11% or 12% per annum. Currently the Department is providing some 5,000 new channels yearly. One has only to divide this by the number of weeks in a year to realise that the Department has a tremendous burden upon its shoulders to see that country and city exchanges are receiving adequate provision.
I am concerned at the proposed rises in charges. 1 do not doubt that every senator on the Government side and on the Opposition side is concerned at rises of any type in costs at the present time. In my own State 1 find that in both wholesaling and retailing industries the margins of profit earned are being held under the greatest difficulty. The appeals of leaders of the Government have resulted in a desperate attempt by the wholesaling and retailing industries to ensure that they do not raise charges, and 1 would hope that the Government has looked very carefully at the increases that it is proposing. There has never been, at least in my recollection, a period when prices in Victoria have been held at a level in this manner due to the wonderful system of private enterprise that we have. The maintenance of profit margins is creating the greatest demand for brains and efficiency in management that we have known. The type of men that I have met, the correspondence that I have had, and the replies that I have received from the Postmaster-General’s Department lead me to believe that this authority is being conducted in a most efficient manner. Indeed, 1 have had reason to write in these terms to the Department in Victoria, stating my view that the men in charge are certainly handling the Department particularly well.
We should look at the reason why increases in charges by the telegraph and telecommunications sections of the Department are necessary. A leading article in the ‘Australian’ today perhaps indicates that there is a reason. The comment, I believe, is well made. The leader states:
It cannot be denied that for charges well below the general average of comparable overseas services the Australian Post Office maintains an enviable record in the face of ever-increasing demand and the great Australian burdens of distance and population sparsity.
I agree with that’ comment. I believe that the costs that are facing the Department are, as emphasised by the Minister, beyond the Department’s control. I believe that mechanisation and improvements in processing have enabled the Department to be efficient. The increase in operating expenses in the last couple of years at least has been to the extent of some 12% due to additional staff. The balance has been due to wage rises and increases in the cost of materials and services, depreciation, interest, carriage of mail, or the servicing of employees within the Department. Here is an authority which is able to control only 10% of the increase which it sees in its operating expenses. There are figures to illustrate that the increase in staff has not been nearly in line with the increase in facilities provided. I was anxious to look for these figures because I would hope that with the mechanisation into which the Post Office has entered there would be economies in staffing.
It is interesting to note the effect of recent wage decisions. Since the Senate adjourned on 19th May 1967 the Post Office has been faced with further increases in wages and salaries. The recent wages decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission will add about $5.7m to the annual salaries, wages and overtime costs of the Post Office. Consequential increases in the prices of materials and services are likely to be of the order of another $2m. Again, the recently announced increases in wage rates for postmen, postal officers, mail officers, clerical assistants and so on will add another $3.75m to the costs for 1967-68. The overall effect of the wage increases alone which the Department will have to face in the next year will be to add $11. 5m to Post Office costs. I emphasise that these are not costs which are brought about by inefficiency, and I remind the Senate that one of Senator Murphy’s main arguments as to why the proposed increases are not necessary was the alleged inefficiency of the Post Office. That argument certainly is not supported by the facts I have just put before the Senate.
There is one matter concerning the business people and the rural community which, although it has been raised here, has not been discussed at length, perhaps because time does not permit a lengthy discussion. I refer to the interest charged to the Post Office. This matter interests me greatly. The argument would appear to be that there is very little reason for the Government to charge interest on the money that it provides to a department. One perhaps could argue that if the interest burden were reduced the Postal Department could operate at a profit without increasing charges. This argument could appear to have some merit. But let me put the facts quickly before honourable senators.
The position apparently is that the interest charged to the Post Office for the year 1965-66 was $64.4m. This amount was charged on advances totalling approximately $1,41 8m. It is to be noted that interest is not charged on all new capital expenditure; it is charged only on net advances from the Treasury. This does not seem to me to be an unwise procedure. This question of net advances can be viewed in two ways. The advances are in fact the actual amounts which the Government has to find to meet the excess of total Post Office expenditures, both capital and operating, over the revenues of the Department. When this point is examined closely, I submit that good reason can be found for demanding the payment of interest by any governmental business undertaking or authority on moneys that make up the net difference between its income and its expenditure. It has also been argued that they are expenditures on assets year by year less provision for depreciation, and any net profits, which are in effect reinvested in the business. lt is interesting to note that interest has always been paid on the loan funds provided to the Post Office. This has been done since federation. Some interesting references have been made to the Public Accounts Committee. I was heartened to hear honourable senators describe the twelfth annual report of the Public Accounts Committee as an excellent one. Some parts of that report are most interesting. Whilst it is true that the Committee suggested that a review should be made of the accounting system of the Post Office, I do not read the report to mean that the Committee believed that it favoured the method of accounting now being followed. Obviously the Committee did not wish to advocate the method; it merely stated that some investigation ought to be made. An investigation was carried out by the Ad Hoc Committee of
Inquiry into the Commercial Accounts of the Post Office, headed by Sir Alexander Fitzgerald. It furnished both a majority report and a minority report, and I here draw attention to some of its terms of reference. My interpretation of the terms of reference is that the Committee was not asked to say whether an interest charge wasnecessary but rather to say on what amount of capital interest ought to be paid, and that Committee did in fact state a figure that it thought should be taken as a basis. Paragraph (a) of the first of the references put to the Committee reads:
What part if any of the accrued net advantage ought to be treated as at 30th June, 19S9, as the amount upon or in respect of which the Post Office should thereafter make an annual contribution to the Commonwealth Treasury.
The Committee considered this matter and, after argument between the majority and the minority, it was decided that the basic amount upon which interest ought to be paid was $3 82m. Paragraph (c) of the first of the terms of reference required the Committee to study and report on the amount, basis or rate, as the case may be, of such annual contribution. In other words, the Committee was not asked to say whether interest should be charged; it was asked to suggest the basis or rate of any such charge and the amount on which it should be imposed. So I do not agree with the statement that has been made on both sides of the Senate that the Committee unanimously agreed that interest should be charged.
I believe that there is good reason why the Postal Department should pay interest, and I submit that the point made by Senator Cormack with relation to Qantas Empire Airways paying a dividend or interest charges was quite appropriate. Onthis score the argument raised by the Labor Party falls to the ground. It certainly falls down when we realise that if the $94m which is now paid annually to the Treasury by way of interest by all its authorities were relinquished this would mean as an example an increase of something like 5% in personal income tax.
May I draw attention to the variation between certain rates proposed in the regulations and those which were forecast by the Postmaster-General when he introduced the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill Act 1962-65 and which he said would apply as from 1st July 1967. There were certain serious- anomalies in the proposed increases. For example, he announced that trunk Une charges would be increased by 33 % for subscribers connected to manual exchanges - the telephone users who are already disadvantaged by absence of the subscriber trunk dialling system. It would be interesting for honourable senators to follow this, because nobody has mentioned it up to this time. The charges in the original schedule are not the same as those in the regulations we now have before us. This reflects much credit on those who have seen to it that there is a flat increase in charges. The proposed new charges impose a flat rate of some 20% throughout, but that was not the position in the original schedule.
Let us look, for instance, at the charge for trunk calls up to 30 miles between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Previously the charge for a call through a manual exchange was to be 20c and for subscriber trunk dialling 16c. Now the charge for both will be 16c. This reflects much credit on those who saw to it that the charges were brought to an even basis and I certainly hope that the Department will ensure that this basis is continued or is even reversed in time to come. The person using a manual exchange certainly does not have the benefits that are enjoyed by those who can use subscriber trunk dialling. However, I am pleased to see that the same rates apply to both systems. Can I give the reasons -why the Department believes that the costs for manually operated exchanges should be higher than those for subscriber trunk dialling? Can I agree with the Department that perhaps in another twenty years it may be necessary for an additional charge to be made for a manual exchange? I certainly hope that no increase will be made until such time as nearly all the people in the community have the advantage of subscriber trunk dialling. The general idea behind the charge, of course, is that people should be encouraged to use the subscriber trunk dialling system rather than to call an operator. This is a wise provision, but it is certainly not applicable now. Whoever thought that the proposition in the original schedule would be accepted was certainly far from appreciating the true position.
I doubt whether people in the metropolitan area realise some of the difficulties that are faced by people in the outer areas. May I just give one or two points quickly in relation to the provision of new services in country areas? Let us take the position when a new service is provided to a rural automatic exchange station. I am led to believe that a subscriber who has a partly privately erected line is charged some appropriate amount if he wishes to upgrade his line by connecting it to the RAX unit. I believe that this cost should be taken into the overall costs of the telecommunication system. I know of another case that relates to people who live within 40 miles of the General Post Office in Melbourne. People in this area with a telephone service probably provided the finance in the past that enabled them to obtain the service. I know of three people in one area who were asked to pay $2,500 when they sought to have their service improved. No person within the metropolitan area would ever face such a proposition; yet it is met in an area near to Melbourne. Many similar cases can be found throughout rural areas. People who now have a telephone are asked to pay some amount to upgrade the service by having their telephone connected to a new and perhaps better exchange.
– That is only since this Government has been in office.
– A lot has been said about these regulations. The argument advanced by the Opposition that these regulations should not be brought in has fallen to the ground, because we find that the Australian Labor Party on two occasions brought in similar regulations. How silly it is for the Labor Party to say that this did not occur when it was in office. I support the regulations. The PostmasterGeneral has organised a marvellous authority. Efficient men are in charge of it and it operates in the interests of the people. It is the duty of every member of the Parliament to ensure that the service is maintained. Increased charges are now being sought, but similar increases have not been imposed since 1959, and I think this does great credit to the Department. In view of the points that have been made by the Minister we, as members of the Parliament, should agree that if the telecommunication services are to improve to the advantage of this country in the future the Department should be provided with adequate funds. Those who argue against this proposition do not have the interests of the country and its development as a whole in mind. I have much pleasure in saying that I will certainly vote against the proposition that the regulations should be rejected.
– We have all noticed the unusual interest of our Press and television services in the proceedings of the Senate on this occasion. We are told that this is because the Senate today is making history. This is the first occasion on which an Australian House of Parliament has been called together, so we are told, against the will of the Government. Naturally, honourable senators would not take such action without serious reason, and on this occasion we have met for very serious reasons indeed. We have met because the Government has attempted in a most unjustifiable way to increase the costs that the community must bear for one of its most valued services. The fact is that the people and the people’s representatives in this Parliament are entitled to be consulted and to be told why it is necessary for such heavy imposts to be put on them. We all know that in this instance the Cabinet has, as one more exercise in its efforts to govern the country almost exclusively by executive action, imposed these charges practically without consultation with its parliamentary supporters. Members of the Australian Country Party have expressed to me their keen indignation at not being consulted.
– That is not right.
– They claim that they, to a unique degree, represent the country people of Australia upon whom many of these increased costs will press most heavily, and they claim that they should have been adequately consulted before these increases were imposed with such force upon those whom they claim most to represent.
– The honourable senator has said that we had not much foreknowledge. That is not true.
– The amount of foreknowledge the honourable senator had was so little as scarcely to be dignified with the term ‘foreknowledge’.
He was simply told: ‘This is the dictate, the ukase of the executive power and you have to like it or lump it’ I say again that if the Government of this country proposes to impose upon the people heavy charges and heavy increases in charges, it must do a little more than say to the people and their parliamentary representatives: ‘We have decided that this will be done and all you have to do is rubber stamp it.’
I do not want to go through the whole argument which was canvassed here only a month ago. I believe that each of us knows why he or she is here today. Each of us knows how he or she will vote. We will not change our vote because of anything that is said on this occasion. But I do want to say that although the Government has offered what it considers to be an answer, it has not offered an effective answer to the charge that it raises loan money from the people and then lends it to the Post Office, charging the people in order to pay interest on their own money that has been raised from them by taxation. There has been no real answer by the Government to that charge. The Government also has offered no suggestion for improving the circumstances in which the Post Office is called upon to operate. I think all of us have said that there must surely be some means by which the financial planning and the administration of the Postal Department can be put on a better basis. It is obvious from what one hears in the community, particularly the business community, that there is a growing and pronounced dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Post Office has been compelled to operate, but the Government has advanced no remedy for eliminating the causes of this present state of dissatisfaction. What large undertaking of the size of the Post Office today in this country or in any other country can operate effectively under a system where its planning is controlled from year to year by budgetary requirements from another party - from the Treasury?
What big financial undertaking is placed in the situation of having to depend every twelve months on the determinations of the Treasury, which are outside its scale of operations? If the senior officer of the Post Office feels that a certain position should bB upgraded from grade 4 to grade 3, he is unable to do it until an outside organisation - the Public Service Board - has examined his proposition and given the go ahead. In so examining the proposition the Public Service Board might take months because if any organisation in Australia operates with greater delays than the Public Service Board it would possibly be only the Arbitration Court. What big undertaking today can operate under a system where it has to go to an outside body for permission to change the grading of a particular job? The top man in the Post Office cannot change a grading unless he gets the approval of a clerk infinitely junior to himself in the office of the Public Service Board.
As 1 have said, what have we got from the Government of a constructive character to show how it will put the Post Office on a better basis? We of the Democratic Labor Party had hoped to provide an opportunity for the Senate to discuss what could constructively be done to improve the situation. We had in mind the proposition which we understood was the policy of the Australian Labor Party and a number of the trade unions which support it. but the Australian Labor Party combined with the Government to prevent its policy from being ventilated and discussed in this Senate at an earlier hour today. We are frequently told that the Australian Labor Party is now led with brilliant strategical skill under its new leadership but it seems to me that that brilliant strategical skill has not been exemplified on this occasion because the Australian Labor Party, as a result of its action today, is now placed in a peculiarly negative light. All that it proposes to do, with the support of the DLP, is to defeat the proposals to increase charges on this occasion, but if we are to believe its leaders who say that it is the policy of the Australian Labor Party not. to defeat the Budget in this place, the Party intends to make a great show of attacking the proposed postal increases on this occasion but in August next it proposes to let the Budget and these very same charges which it describes as iniquitous to go through.
– How does the honourable senator know that?
– 1 am simply putting what was said by Senator Hendrickson’s leader in another place. I realise that the Leader of the Opposition in another place and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate have been talking different languages in the last week or two, but surely this is the policy of the Australian Labor Party. T have been told so often that it has become almost nauseating, that the Labor Party does not defeat money bills in the Senate. ls that not its policy?
– No, it is not.
– I am interested to hear that, because Senator Cavanagh is the first member of the Australian Labor Party to make such a claim. ( have heard Mr Crean. Mr Calwell and Mr Whitlam - I could go through a whole list of Labor supporters - insist repeatedly that the Australian Labor Party will never defeat a Budget in the Senate. As l said before, if this is the case, the Labor Party’s attitude on the Post Office charges is completely negative. It proposes to reap all the laurels of opposition by defeating the regulations today but it does not propose to do anything in August about these increases; it proposes then to let them go through. If we had had a debate about placing the Post Office under the control of a commission .tt least we would have had some constructive discussion on the subject, but all we got from the Australian Labor Party was a purely negative attitude of seeking kudos for doing something today in respect of a matter which it will turn its back on two months hence.
I regret that the Government has forced the Senate to come together today. I believe that the Government should not have done this. It is only a month since the Senate placed clearly and definitely on record the fact that it would not consent to these increases. Whatever may have been the legal justification which the Government may claim for what it has done, the fact is that the Government’s action is a clear flouting of the will of the Senate, for almost as soon as the Senate made a decision on at item of legislation the Government has sought to get around that decision - to turn its back on that decision - by having recourse to regulations. I know that the Government will say that it had the power to do that and that the way was open for it to do so, but it seems to me that the Government’s action accords very ill with the protestations of some Government leaders that at no time have they in mind any suggestion of neglecting the Senate or decreasing its powers or taking action to diminish its influence, lt accords very ill with all those protestations that the Government should seek, almost as soon as a decision of the Senate has been made, to have recourse to procedure outside Parliament through regulations in order to get its will.
I propose to vote against the regulations. 1 do so because I believe that the increases to a big extent represent an attempt by the Government to use the Post Office as a taxing instrument. I believe that the Government sought to impose these increases two or three months before the Budget in order to raise a sufficiently large sum of money through the Post Office to enable the Government to present to Parliament a Budget which in appearance would be better than the one that obviously it will now have to present. I believe that the Government, instead of merely adopting the usual precedent of increasing this, that or some other charge, should be looking at something a little more constructive. Great Britain examined the position of its Post Office some time ago and determined that Post Office finances would be organised on the basis of a trust fund. Later the English found that the system was unsatisfactory and they now propose to go all the way towards establishing a form of statutory authority. J believe that it is time our Government had a look at this kind of proposal in order to see whether there is available a more efficient method than continually increasing the charges imposed on the community.
I think it is particularly inopportune that the Government should now be imposing these increases. I have read in the newspapers in recent weeks heart rending appeals by the Treasurer, Mr McMahon, and also by Mr Bury, the Minister for Labour and National Service, to representatives of the business world not to increase prices. Those Ministers have begged the business world to hold the line against inflation and to refrain from increasing prices charged to the community. They have said that price increases are so serious that they can give an impetus to inflation. Ministers urge the business world to prevent inflation by refraining from putting up prices, and at the very same time we find the Government doing that which it implores the business world not to do.
J say in conclusion that in the course of the debate today I have not heard one argument that was not advanced a month ago. We have been called together today not because of any change in the circumstances that existed a month ago. It appears to me that we have merely been called together to exemplify the determination of the Executive to get its own way. Cabinet cannot get its own way inside the Parliament and is therefore trying to get its own way outside the Parliament. I am very pleased that the Constitution of this country has permitted the Senate to take action in the people’s interest to stop that extension of the Executive’s power, ff the people of Australia ever wanted anything that would better exemplify the wisdom of the decision that they made a couple of weeks ago in the referendum, they could not have anything more compelling than the procedure that we have been confronted with today. I regretted the fact that representatives of the major parties, in commenting on that referendum, both indicated that they were not able to take defeat. The people of this country made a decision that the Senate should operate with certain powers. I am very pleased that those powers have been retained, because the Senate is showing in these proceedings that it is the watchdog of the people’s rights. I believe that the people appreciate the fact that today there is one House of the Parliament which on occasions such as this will make a stand for what is right. I think that the people appreciate the fact that the Senate today is not a rubber stamp. It is a House where the will of the people justly prevails.
– Firstly, 1 should like to reply to two points made by Senator McManus. He alleged that members of the Government parties were not aware of the proposal to increase charges, but were presented by the Executive with a fait accompli and told that the higher charges were something which they must accept. He said that this proposal was rammed down their throats. That is not so. The fact is that the proposed increases were explained at a party meeting. A further meeting was called by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) and all interested members of the two Government parties were invited to attend. They spent the evening discussing the matter with the Minister. In fact, as Senator Webster has just reminded the Senate, the charges proposed were altered at the request of Government backbenchers at a party meeting. So let me say at once that that charge is completely incorrect.
– - Senator McManus knows it, too.
– That is right. Let me now reply to the charge that we are flouting the will of the Senate. The Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, which was designed to increase postal charges, was defeated in the Senate and sent back to the House of Representatives, lt was sent to the Senate again and was defeated once more here. At that time - about six weeks ago - the. Government made it perfectly clear that telephone charges, telegram charges and other charges were always prescribed by regulation. These proposed increases were not mentioned in the Bill at all. They had nothing to do with that measure. The regulations promulgated to increase telecommunications charges arc a different matter altogether. The Government said that it was going to introduce these regulations in due course because it believed that it was entitled to more revenue. Let it not be said that the Senate did not know this. It took action on its adjournment to permit it to be called together to disallow these regulations. This is in the record of its proceedings. That is why we are here. The Senate has been called together for this very purpose. To say that this is flouting the will of the Senate is to talk sheer nonsense. In fact it is dealing with the matter in a proper parliamentary way in accordance with procedures laid down in our Constitution.
– When was it done before?
– The Senate has disallowed regulations many times.
– Not in these circumstances.
– The Senate has not disallowed these regulations yet. But it has disallowed regulations a number of times. I want at once to put this at rest. The Government is not flouting the will of the
Senate. Telegrams are related to the telecommunications section of the Post Office and the proposed increases in respect of telecommunications services have not been before the Senate previously. However, a clear indication was given that these charges would be increased by regulation and that the new regulations would be promulgated before 1st July. The Opposition was given copies of and information about the new regulations immediately they were printed, lt knew that they were to be tabled. This afforded it an opportunity to have the Senate called together if it so wished. This it has had done and parliamentary procedures have been followed as laid down by the Constitution. It is nonsense for the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) and Senator McManus to say that the will of the Senate has been flouted. This allegation does not stand up on examination.
I was interested to hear reference to the fact that we are making history. This is so. This is the first time the Senate has been called together at the instigation of an Opposition. History has been made not only in this way but also in another way. I think this is the first time that the calling together of the Senate has been used as a weapon in a preselection campaign as it has been used on this occasion by the Leader of the Opposition. Mind you, with it all, he got home only in a photo finish. He ran only second and he achieved that placing only on a count back. We are writing history. For the first time a pre-selection campaign has been conducted in New South Wales with a special meeting of the Senate in prospect. That is the reason the Senate has been called together. Do not make any mistake: the action of the Leader of the Opposition is blatantly political.
– lt was an expensive campaign.
– It was not an expensive campaign for the Leader of the Opposition. He ran it at the country’s expense. His action has been blatantly political. 1 do not exonerate members of the Australian Democratic Labor Party from blame- Of course they are making this a matter of politics. Of course they want a double dissolution. I do not hold that against them. It is in their interests. If ten senators are to be elected from every State following a double dissolution instead of the normal five, quotas will be so much lower and the DLP will have a much better opportunity than otherwise would be the case to gain more members in the Senate. They are quite frank about their motives. Of course they seek a double dissolution and they are entitled to have their own political interests in mind. Do not let us kid ourselves that this meeting of the Senate has been called for other than purely political purposes.
Now I turn to the independent, Senator Turnbull. He also wants to see ten senators elected from Tasmania instead of five because that would reduce the quota to such a level that I think even he could possibly win a seat in this House. He has never been shy of following his own political interests and I do not hold that against him, but let us understand the motives that brought about this meeting of the Senate. The defeat of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill and the proposed disallowance of the regulations are only steps in the Senate election campaign which is to be held some time towards the end of this year or early next year; who knows.
The campaign which has been waged to date has been purely political. As long as we understand these things and do not think that we are writing history for which those who follow us will give us any great credit, we will be viewing the position in perspective. Let no one think that we will get any kudos for the history we are writing. The people will judge us on our motives, and the motives on this occasion are clear, unadulterated political motives. The Senate, which is asked to disallow these regulations, has a Regulations and Ordinances Committee but it did not see fit to refer this matter to that Committee. Let us see why this matter has not been referred to the Regulations and Ordinances Committee of the Senate, a committee which has done a good job as a watch dog of the Senate in examining regulations that fall within the scope of its charter. I refer now to the Fourth Report of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances dated 23rd June 1938 in which the Committee laid down its charter in these terms: lt was inevitable that many regulations would come before the Committee which, while quite correct in form, gave effect to some item of Government policy of a controversial nature. After careful consideration of this aspect, the Committee agreed that questions involving Government policy in regulations and ordinances fell outside the scope of the Committee.
So it is obvious why this matter was not referred to the Regulations and Ordinances Committee - it covers an item of government policy of a controversial nature, namely, the revenue which the Government believes it is entitled to receive to enable it to implement its plans for the Post Office. Again I say that I believe this is not a function of a House of review.
A review of policy does not necessarily mean a change in policy. The Australian Labor Party, which is criticising these proposals, already on two occasions has followed the procedure which the Government is following at the present time to raise revenue for the Post Office. For some reason Labor now believes that this procedure is wrong. However, as I said before, if there had not been a Senate election coming up and if there had not been a pre-selection campaign we might have seen a completely different attitude. I think that the Leader of the Opposition made all possible use of the Government’s proposals in a pretty virulent campaign in New South Wales and I go on record as making that statement.
– Is the Minister saying that the Government introduced these regulations when it did merely to help us?
– The honourable senator was in the forefront of the candidates. He received so many more votes than his Leader that I do not know whether I should bow to him or to the present Leader of the Opposition. That is something they will have to argue out among themselves. Let me refer now to the purpose of the proposed increase in telecommunications charges because they are covered by the regulations before us, not by the Bill which was previously before the House. They were expected to yield $37m in a full year and $23 m in the year 1967 and were designed to cover losses of $8m sustained by the Post Office in 1967-68 and further losses estimated at $10m in 1968-69. Those losses must be recouped somehow, and the proposed increases were one of the avenues open to us.
The proposed increases were also designed to provide the additional funds necessary for the improvement and expansion of telephone services. There is still a tremendous demand throughout the country areas of Australia, particularly in the smaller States like Tasmania, for additional rural automatic exchanges. In Tasmania, for instance, because the country districts arc so small and the revenues received from them are correspondingly small, non-official postmasters and postmistresses have been receiving such a pittance that it has been difficult for the Department to obtain people to carry on the job. Therefore such areas have to be lumped together and covered by a rural automatic exchange. These and many other improvements have been planned by the Post Office. These are the purposes for which the expected revenue was to be used.
The main proposal was to increase the cost of an ordinary telephone call from 31c to 4c. Bearing in mind that the Government agreed to increase the cost of a telephone call to only 4c instead of the 5c which it originally had in mind, this is a pretty fair proposition and I believe it would have found reasonable acceptance. This would have been the first increase in the cost of telephone calls since 1959. An honourable senator opposite - I think it was Senator McManus - spoke about inflation and the need to keep costs down. No one denies that, but I would ask what business house today can say that it has not increased its prices since 1959.
– The Sydney County Council.
– In the first place I would not call that a business organisation, and secondly, it has increased out of sight the assessments upon which the revenue it collects is based. The honourable senator knows that.
– The Minister has it all mixed up.
– No fear. I served my time in local government. I know exactly what is done. The assessments have been increased.
– The Sydney County Council is an electricity authority. It has actually reduced the price of electricity.
– It is only partly an electricity authority. I repeat my question: What business organisation can say that it has not increased its prices since 1959?
I refer now to postal tariffs and the growing demand for capital. These heavy increases are needed to reduce the growing demand on the Budget. No matter what party comes into office in the years ahead, it will be faced with this tremendous problem of the budgetary needs of the Post Office. There is a tremendous demand. At the end of March this year there were 55,000 outstanding applications for telephones in Australia. That is only one of the fields in which development is occurring. As the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) said recently, having regard to growing Commonwealth commitments in other areas it becomes necessary in the national interest to find ways and means of minimising the budgetary problems associated with the Post Office’s capital funding.
It is said that the Post Office has been starved of capital. Ten years ago it received about $61m from the Treasury. The Government planned to make available $206m for this financial year. So the Post Office has not been starved of capital by any means. That is a very big increase in ten years. There has been continuous pressure in the House of Representatives, the Senate and elsewhere for increased allocations for Post Office works. Accordingly, the basic philosophy underlying these proposed tariff adjustments, apart from the need to avoid prospective losses, is to assist in meeting capital needs by asking Post Office consumers to contribute something towards the cost of the expansion and improvement of the services that they demand. That is a fair proposition. It should be accepted by the Senate.
Let me speak of some of the great improvements that the Post Office has undertaken. No-one will deny that the extended local service area system - ELSA - has been a great improvement for the people of Australia. A number of country areas have been brought within local call areas. This has given tremendous relief. Previously, people within 30 miles of a main area were paying trunk line charges for calls to that main area. Now they can ring anyone within their extended local service area for the normal local call charge. 1 also congratulate the Post Office on what it has done in subscriber trunk dialling, or STD. A person in one city is now able to telephone direct to somebody in another city. It is planned to extend this facility. This is one field into which capital is going. This is a growing need in the business community and the community at large. It is a great time saver for people to be able to telephone people in another city direct instead of having the manual handling at an exchange.
– It is often cheaper, too.
– Often it is cheaper; I agree with that. If a person has only one small matter to attend to he can do so in less than three minutes. This means very cheap time. This is the benefit of the STD system. The endeavour to give these improved services to the public is very worthwhile.
One matter that has not been mentioned at all in this debate is what the Post Office has done in forward planning in the field of satellite communications. The Post Office participated in the series of international negotiations which in 1964 resulted in the setting up of the International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium. Australia is a foundation member of this body whose object is to establish satellite communications on a global basis. Australia is represented by the Overseas Telecommunications Commission on the management committee of the Consortium in which some fifty-five countries are in partnership. The Government has authorised the expenditure of up to $US5m for a capital contribution to this global system. In the programme of experimental work the Post Office’s earlier venture of posting an engineer at Goonhilly for three years has been followed by several measures intended to keep it abreast of technological development. These have included some basic and applied research projects in its own laboratories. In addition, a member of its research staff has joined the team of Australians and Americans at Toowoomba who are working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s advanced technology satellites in the experimental project known as the ATS programme.
The recent Expo 67 telecast was a direct result of this work of the Post Office, the Department of Supply and the Department of Civil Aviation in association with NASA. The work on this magnificent experiment enabled us to bring the ATS satellite into contact with Australia. Recently we did what might be called a dummy run at Toowoomba. This occurred a few days before the Expo 67 telecast. By means of this satellite, which is 22,300 miles in the air, we were in communication with an aircraft over Alaska. So we were able to receive by satellite in a period of six seconds - three seconds up and three seconds downinformation on the current and forward weather position over Alaska. This will be a tremendous help to aircraft travelling in these areas. We also received from Japan the most magnificent colour television that I have ever seen. The Japanese must be congratulated on the really lifelike colours that they infused into that telecast. Of course, the Expo 67 telecast was a tremendous success.
This is one aspect that is overlooked. The forward planning by the Post Office in the field of satellite communications involves tremendous cost. I do not think this fact should bs overlooked. Satellite communications will be of great benefit to the people of Australia, but the service costs money. This is the money that the Senate is now denying to the Post Office and to the Government for the capital purposes to which I have referred and to cover the losses which I have mentioned. I have said that the demand for new telephone services has increased by 11%. At 31st March this year 55,000 applicants were awaiting the provision of telephone services. Capital expenditure is increasing at an average rate of 13% per annum. It is planned to make available S206m in 1966-67 for the capital works of the Post Office.
It has been said that these increases will increase the costs of the business community. To a degree, they will. But they will also be a taxation deduction for the business community. In seeking the disallowance of the regulations the Labor Party is supporting those who could claim these charges as a taxable deduction and proposing to throw the burden on to the shoulders of all taxpayers, large and small. Obviously the taxpayers will have .to meet the additional costs for the vast improvements which have been planned by the Post Office. I will not accept that the Post Office is
Inefficient. 1 have seen the technical achievements of this great organisation and I know what it has done and what it can do.
Australia has a population of only eleven million people but it has vast areas to be served by the Post Office. Telephone cables must bs taken great distances. Someone li.is compared our situation with that of Canada. 1 ask honourable senators to consider the population of Canada and the great cities such as Vancouver, Calgary. Winnipeg. Toronto. Ottawa, and Montreal which are dotted across that country. Where are there great cities between Adelaide and Perth on the Nullarbor Plain? The great distances to be covered in Australia add to the expense which has to be met by those who use postal services and by taxpayers generally. There can be no comparison between our costs and those that prevail in Canada. Again I reject the charge that the Post Office is an inefficient organisation because I have found quite the opposite, particularly in technical fields. 1 believe that the regulations should be maintained. The Government’s purpose in promulgating them is to produce revenue which is needed to cover losses and also - together with funds provided by the taxpayers - to meet part of the capital required for improvements to postal services. If the added cost is to be borne entirely by the taxpayers we will be. in effect, subsidising some services and the demand for these services will grow disproportionately because they are being subsidised and this will become an ever-growing problem for the Government. I support the regulations which I believe should not be disallowed.
Senator COHEN (Victoria) 1.5.18.]- The Senate is discussing a motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) for the disallowance of four sets of regulations. We have waited patiently all day to hear from the Leader of the Government (Senator Henty) some kind of rational explanation as to why the Government insisted on proceeding to make and promulgate these regulations after the Senate in May had twice rejected the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill.
– The Senate did nol reject these regulations.
– No. They were not in existence then.
– The Senate was told that they were coming.
– The Minister has just had half an hour in which to state his views.
– I would not like to see the honourable senator go wrong.
– Honourable senators opposite will find when I spell out my arguments that I am not under any misapprehension as to who has power to make regulations, who has power to disallow them and what the real relationship is between the regulations and the Bill which we twice rejected in May. When the proposed increases of Post Office charges were first announced in another place in May by the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) he made it perfectly clear that the Government’s plan would be implemented by means of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill and by regulations issued under the Post and Telegraph Act. There can be no debate about that. The regulations were part of the Government’s scheme.
– These regulations did not flow from the Bill which was thrown out and the honourable senator knows that.
– These regulations were referred to. What the Leader of the Government has been saying by way of interjection bears out my point. If the case that we heard from him tonight is the best that can be put by the Government on these regulations then the Government richly deserves the reward it will get when the vote is taken. I was about to say that of course these regulations were not made under the Bill which did not become law.
– The honourable senator admits it at last.
– There is no question about admitting anything. 1 know what I am talking about. The simple position is that the Postmaster-General said that the Government proposed to increase Post Office charges and had a scheme by which this would be done. He said that the Government was presenting a Bill to the Parliament to deal with part of those charges and it hoped that the Parliament would pass the Bill. He said also that some of the charges would be increased by way of regulation because that is the customary way of raising that kind of charge. The
Postmaster-General said that he was mentioning the proposed regulations at that stage because he wanted Parliament to see what the total proposals were. The Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, which contained certain increases, passed the House of Representatives and was rejected by the Senate. It was presented again to the Senate and again it was rejected. To my mind, and I believe to the minds of the Australian people, that was a clear indication by the Senate not that it was saying ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ to the Government but that it was saying no’. It was saying that it would not pass the Bill.
It is completely unanswerable that if the Government had sought to legislate in May for the increases it now proposes to make by regulation the Senate would have afforded the measure the same treatment as it gave to the Bill which we rejected twice. In other words, there is not the slightest doubt in anybody’s mind that these regulations are part of the Government’s broad plan for increasing Post Office charges. No rational explanation has been offered of the Government’s persistence in going ahead and by-passing the Parliament - an expression about which the Leader of the Government made so much play at question time this morning. I remind him that these were not my words; they were words used in an editorial in the Melbourne Age’. He should not stigmatise this move by the Opposition as politics and nothing else.
– Does the honourable senator agree with the phrase?
– I just wanted to be sure.
-I do agree with it and I stand by every word that I said the other day. 1 am grateful to the Leader of the Government for thinking so highly of what 1 said and for being so wounded by it that he felt it necessary to have a Dorothy Dix question asked this morning so that he could present his prepared reply accusing me of some kind of gross or deliberate misrepresentation. The performance by the Leader of the Government this afternoon was something of a virtuoso performance. He really had to dig to the bottom of the barrel to find some kind of basis on which he could get on level terms with the Opposition on this matter. His formula was to say that all this was in some way part of a political campaign by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate to get preselection. What nonsense.
– It was the greatest preselection campaign that we have ever seen.
– That is complete nonsense. If that allegation is correct it follows that every member of the Opposition in another place who voted against the legislation in May and every member of the Opposition in this place, the two Democratic Labor Party senators and the independent senator from Tasmania were all part of some enormous plot to have the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate re-selected by his party. The thing docs not really bear examination. If it were not probable that more people than usual are listening to the debate one would not feel it necessary to reply to the statement.
The Leader of the Government in the Senate found himself in great difficulties. He had to put up straw men in order to knock them down. He had to treat the Opposition’s case as though it were a major broadside attack on the Postmaster-General’s Department. He told us things we were pleased to hear. We know a great deal about some of the work being done by the Postal Department. We are aware of the enormous ramifications of its services. But the PostmasterGeneral’s Department was not under attack today by the Opposition. The Government itself was under attack because it was blatantly saying: ‘You have knocked back half of our plan. We will not treat that as a warning or as a signal to us to wait for the Budget. We will put up by regulation what we have always proposed to put up by regulation and let the Senate take the responsibility of knocking that over.’ The Leader of the Government in the Senate during his speech this afternoon behaved at one stage as though the Government had facilitated this meeting of the Senate. He was carried along by his own enthusiasm.
– If we had not tabled the regulations the Senate would not be meeting now. In that way we facilitated the meeting.
– There is no reason at all why the regulations could not have been put up in May. If it was possible for the Parliamentary Draftsman to draft a Bill for presentation to Parliament - twice presented and twice rejected- - it was possible for these rather simple regulations to have been drafted in May. When the Minister put up his plan as contained in the Bill, at the same time he should have had the regulations prepared, because they did not depend in any way on the Bills being passed. They were separate parts of the same set of proposals. The Minister knows perfectly well that if the Government had done its job properly in May and had brought these regulations in they would have come before this Praliament and would have been disallowed before we adjourned for the winter recess. I repeat that the Government hoped that we would go into recess without making provision to be recalled in order to disallow these regulations.
– What nonsense. The Opposition made provision for a recall of the Sentae and we brought in the regulations afterwards.
– And the Government opposed the Opposition making that provision. It is of no use for the Minister to bluster. He had a good half hour to make his speech and he will not put me out of my stride by constantly interjecting. The fact is that the Government did not want the Senate to be called together during the recess. Honourable senators opposite voted against Senator Murphy’s motion to make provision to call us together.
– Of course we did.
– If Government supporters had had their way we would not have been called together. The regulations would have been promulgated and would have been operating until we assembled in August.
– If we had had our way we would have had the Bill passed, too.
– Of course you would. Let us not have this hypocrisy. The Government should not pretend that in some benign, friendly way it has assisted in the process of calling us together and that now we are all here it will defend itself. The Government in effect, as Senator Murphy says, has been dragged here for this debate.
– It has been conscripted
– That is another word for it, but it is the same process. Honour able senators opposite would not have been anywhere near this place if they had had their way. The Senate is asserting its right to deal with these matters and to say to the Government: ‘Tell us what is different today from the position as it was in May? What arguments have you to advance that were not put and rejected during the debate in May?’ The answer is: ‘None.’ I challenge any honourable senator opposite to say: ‘I will now put to you an argument that is different from the argument put by Government supporters when we asked you to pass the Bill in May.’ Honourable senators opposite cannot do it, because the arguments are the same as they put before, and the counter arguments are the same. The Government must have a poor view of the Opposition and the honourable senators who have voted with (he Opposition on this issue if it thinks that in some miraculous way what has been said by honourable senators opposite today will change the view we have of the legislation.
The Leader of the Government in the Senate, caught in the problem that he has, engaged in a little more rationalisation on the subject. He said: ‘lt Ls very significant that the Opposition did not have these regulations referred to the Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee.’ Then he proceeded to tell us why that was not done; thai is, because the Regulations and Ordinances Committee would regard this type of regulation as entirely outside its province. He quoted from a report of the Committee - 1 think it is the Fourth Report. If I took an accurate note as he was speaking, the quotation was to this effect: there are some regulations which, although correct in form, give effect to some items of Government policy of a controversial nature, and those regulations dealing with the Government’s policy embodying a controversial aspect of its policy fall outside the scope of the Committee.
So what purpose would there have been in referring these regulations lo the Regulations and Ordinances Committee? lt would have reported to the Senate, or to any senator who referred the problem to it, that the regulations were outside the scope of the Committee. This is not a matter concerned with form: it is a matter of substance. We are concerned not wilh the form of the regulations but with their content.
We are adhering to the view we had when we opposed the legislation in the Parliament in May, that the Government is blatantly trying to use the Post Office as a taxing machine. We believe that these particular increases in charges should be justified and that we have not had sufficient justification given to us for them. The Government has put up a very thin case. We believe that if the increases should have been proposed at all. they should have been included in the Budget in August. So far the Government’s case has been completely unconvincing. Its case for introducing legislation and for bringing down these regulations at this particular time is virtually non-existent. 1 said the other day in the address referred to this morning by the Leader of the Government in the Senate:
The Parliament anil Hie people may bo forgiven for drawing the obvious conclusion that this was a brazen attempt by the Government to cushion in advance what seems likely to be a harsh and unpopular Budget on the eve of the Senate elections.
That is the reality of the position, lt is of no use the Minister talking about the Opposition’s action being a political stunt. or a political ramp, as I think he described it. The fact is that we are doing here what the people of Australia expect us to do; that is. to tell the Government that these increased charges by the Post Office have not been justified and, consistent with our duty, to play our pan in rejecting them. That is what we are doing.
Government supporters have indulged in some very odd talk about who is protecting whom. Senator Cormack seemed to argue himself into the view that the Government is protecting the little man and that in some way or other the Opposition in attacking the regulations is protecting privilege. He seemed rather uncomfortable in the position of defender of the little man. The cap did not fit him particularly well. It does seem to me that one of the things that has been overlooked in this debate is that these charges largely affect little people because the charges themselves will be borne, in the first place, by the business community but will be passed on to the community generally. The business community will include the charges in its costs, it will add its percentage of profit and it will pass on both elements to the consumers. That is what happens day by day whenever there are substantial price rises. This means higher costs of goods and services in the community and higher charges for such things as transport. It will mean flat rates for all the people. The business houses will get the advantage in two ways - from the profit margin on the cost they pass on, and because the charges, as the Minister said, will be an allowable deduction in their taxation returns. So it is no skin off their noses, but it will be something else that is passed on to the ordinary man in the community. Small business and the man in the street will suffer.
We believe that before charges are introduced in the way in which the Government is now seeking to do, such charges should be amply justified, but the Government has fallen a long way short of justifying them. There are only one or two other matters to which I should like to refer. Senator Gair, I think incorrectly, attributed to Senator Murphy a statement that the Government should not have proceeded to make regulations, as though the making of regulations was the inappropriate way of increasing the charges. As I understood Senator Murphy, he said nothing of the sort. He did not object to the particular charges being made the subject of regulations; he said that the Government should not have proceeded to make and promulgate these regulations having regard to the fact that the Senate had twice rejected legislation which was part of the same broad scheme. He did not say that the charges could not properly be the subject of regulations. Technically, of course, the Government can make regulations. We all know that.
– We can unmake them.
– That is so, we can unmake them. Technically, of course, the regulations do not cover the same ground as the Bills that we rejected did. This is a serious matter. It is a matter on which the whole weight of the Senate’s influence is being exercised in circumstances in which those who are seeking to disallow these regulations feel that the Government is abusing its power to make regulations, lt is an abuse because the Government is seeking to do by regulation what, had it been presented to this Senate, would undoubtedly have been rejected. That is the simple fact of the matter. We believe we have made an overwhelmingly strong case against these regulations and I support the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition for their disallowance.
– I want to deal firstly with the ridiculous argument that Senator Murphy put forward, and which we have just heard echoed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cohen), that the regulations before us in some way or other represent an attempt to by-pass Parliament or in some way or other indicate an intention to by-pass Parliament. Let us examine this proposition. We are here today because a majority of senators in this place - not just senators from the Australian Labor Party, because the Labor Party alone could not have done it - passed a resolution that the Senate should be recalled if a majority of senators asked for it. The majority of senators passed that resolution because they were told by the Government that regulations would be introduced in order to increase telephone charges. So the reason we are here is because the Government informed the Senate that it proposed to introduce regulations and the Senate, therefore, used its power of numbers to say: ‘Well, in that case, we wish to come back.’ ls there any indication there - the information being given that this was to happen - that there was some attempt to by-pass Parliament and not give it the foreknowledge it might need to be able to discuss this matter? Quite apart from that, had the Government wanted to prevent this Senate from being here now to discuss these regulations it could have done so in spite of the resolution which was passed by the majority of the members of the Senate. All that was required to be done was to prorogue the Parliament and the resolution of the majority of senators would have had no effect whatsoever.
– The Government would not have been game enough to do that.
– The Leader of the Opposition changes his ground and now suggests that the Government would not have been game enough to do that. Previously he said that the Government was trying to by-pass Parliament and that there was no way in which the Government could have stopped this meeting, but by his interjection he makes it clear that he agrees there was a way in which this meeting could have been stopped.
– I suggest that the Minister makes his own speech.
– I will do so, but I propose to reply to the honourable senator’s interjections which make it perfectly clear that he agrees - and if he does not agree he is silly - that there was a way in which if there had been any intention to by-pass this House of the Parliament it could have been carried out. But it was not.
– The Government would have to risk public scorn.
– I am glad that the honourable senator also agrees that it could have been done. The evidence before us is that if the Government had wished to do so, it could have prevented this discussion taking place. Secondly, if the Government had wished, it need not have informed the Senate and the Parliament beforehand that these regulations were to be brought in, thus denying this House the opportunity of meeting to discuss this question. There can be no valid suggestion that there is any indication of an intention to by-pass the Parliament; the whole of the evidence is on the other side.
Let us examine the cognate suggestion that has been put forward that the very act of bringing these regulations down in some way or the other flouts the will of Parliament. Remember that notice of these regulations was given and a resolution was passed that the Senate would meet when they were brought down, yet it has been suggested that the mere act of bringing them down is, in some way, flouting the will of Parliament. The will of Parliament is expressed in one way only. !t is expressed by a vote of Parliament on substantive legislation or secondary legislation which is before Parliament and which becomes the subject of a vote. The regulations before us now have never been before the Parliament and have never been the subject of a vote. In spite of what might have been implied in Senator Cohen’s speech, these charges were never before presented to the Parliament. They do not flow from the Bill which was before Parliament previously. That Bill dealt with different matters.
– They were all related.
– They did not flow from the Bill which was before Parliament and they would not have flowed from that Bill had that Bill become law. The question of the telephone charges these regulations put forward has never been before Parliament so there has been no expression of the will of Parliament, and a threat by a particular member of the Parliament that if something is presented to Parliament he proposes to try to defeat it is not a sufficient reason for not presenting to Parliament these proposed regulations. What a strange megalomaniac kind of approach it is to say: 1 said I would defeat this if it were brought to Parliament and it is flouting the will of Parliament even to bring it before Parliament and give me the opportunity to carry out my threat’. lt cannot be too strongly emphasised that what we have now before us is subordinate legislation which has never been before us previously, which has not been the subject of an expression of the will of Parliament and which seeks to raise that finance which the Government, for reasons it has given and reasons which have been accepted by responsible opinion, considers is necessary for the efficient carrying on of the Post Office.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– Mr President, before the suspension of the sitting I was adverting to two of the reasons advanced by the Leader of the Opposition as to why the regulations now before us should bc disallowed. You will recall that one of the alleged reasons was that the putting of the regulations before the Senate was in some strange way an attempt to by-pass the Senate. I pointed out that we are here discussing this matter because a majority of honourable senators passed a resolution which provided that we were to be recalled at such time as they might wish us to be recalled. That resolution was passed because the Government made it known that it proposed to bring down these regulations. I pointed out how ridiculous it was in those circumstances to suggest that this was an attempt to by-pass the Parliament.
– The Government did not want to recall the Parliament.
– I am thankful for the interjection. It reminds me that these regulations were brought down by the Government knowing that the Senate was to be recalled, should a majority of the Senate so wish in order to discuss these regulations. That is an additional reason why I say it is absurd to advance the argument that to put the regulations before the Senate was in some way an attempt to by-pass Parliament. I pointed out that if the Government had wished to by-pass the Parliament - we do not and should not wish to do so - it could have prevented this discussion by proroguing Parliament. But that would have been wrong; it would have been an attempt to by-pass the Parliament. But in the circumstances that existed it was known to all that this subsidiary legislation was to be the subject of discussion by the Parliament. Therefore, from that one cannot draw the conclusion that this was in any way an attempt to by-pass the Parliament.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cohen) in his speech asked: ‘Why were not the regulations ready when the Bill came down in May?’ Incidentally, these regulations have nothing to do with the Bill that was introduced in May. They were made under a completely different Bill. Why should the regulations have been available in May? The regulations provide for increased postal charges which were not dealt with in the Bill introduced in May. They were the same type of regulations as have been promulgated for the same purpose fifteen times since Federation and since Parliament, through another Bill, gave authority for this type of regulation io be promulgated. These regulations were to operate from 1st July. On no previous occasion have such regulations been questioned or has it been suggested that they should be disallowed. In those circumstances, why should they have been readyin May instead of at the normal time which, on previous occasions, has been to enable them to operate from 1st July?
Then I moved on to the ancillary and equally silly suggestion that to put before Parliament subsidiary legislation which had not been previously discussed was an attempt to flout the will of Parliament. I pointed out that the will of the Parliament is expressed in one way and in one way only - that is, by a vote on legislation which is before the Parliament. This legislation has never been before the Parliament. This is the only opportunity that the Parliament has had so far on which to express its will on the legislation now before it. The suggestion implicit in the Opposition’s argument is that because it threatened that the legislation would be disallowed it expressed the will of Parliament. I suggest that this cannot be supported for one moment by any member of the Parliament who has a proper appreciation of the role of either house. What sort of situation would it be if legislation was not brought before the Parliament to enable it to express its will because threats had been made that the legislation might be disallowed. Indeed, this would be, if not a flouting of the will of Parliament, then a prevention of the expression of the will of the Parliament. Neither of these two suggestions can be entertained seriously for one moment as a reason for disallowing subsidiary legislation brought before this Parliament for discussion.
Let me move on to the other reasons that have been given so far for disallowing this legislation. One of the reasons advanced by the Leader of the Opposition is that he does not agree with the policy which is inherent in the legislation, and which has been in similar legislation for years, that the Post Office should pay its way and that it should pay interest on the capital which is available to it apart from the resources which it can put aside from its charges. It is not a policy with which the Opposition as a whole has disagreed in the past. It is not a policy with which leading representatives of the Opposition have disagreed.
– To whom is the Minister referring?
– I am referring to the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) who is the shadow Treasurer of the Labor Party. May his shadowhood never grow less. He, in common with other members of the Labor Party, was a member of the Public Accounts Committee which suggested and agreed with the proposition that the Post Office, together with other governmental instrumentalities, should pay interest on money made available to it from sources other than its own charges. I presume that I was correct in referring to the honourable member for Melbourne Ports as a leading member of the Opposition.
– He is a very respected member.
– He is a very respected member who takes quite a different view from that taken by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Senator Murphy objects to the policy which the honourable member for Melbourne Ports has supported.
– Not on this occasion.
– Only on every occasion when the Opposition has the numbers. This is not a matter of policy or principle. On some occasions such regulations are all right; on other occasions they are not. If that is the basis of the Opposition’s objection to these regulations, then we have brought out into the open something upon which people may form their own judgment. They may judge whether this is a disagreement with policy or a disagreement with principle. I wish that the Leader of the Opposition would not stop Senator Cavanagh from interjecting, because it is very helpful.
– He made no attempt to do that.
– Good. We will keep going. What sort of arguments did the Leader of the Opposition advance in support of his objection to the Post Office paying interest on capital which it has borrowed? I would suggest that they were the most puerile arguments that have ever been advanced in the Senate in relation to such a serious matter. Let me deal with them. The Leader of the Opposition says that private companies do not charge interest on shareholders’ funds. But they charge interest on all borrowed money. Whether the money is borrowed by way of bank overdraft or debentures, they have to pay interest on it.
– Do they pay interest to themselves?
– Of course they pay interest to themselves on shareholders’ funds. That is the object of contributing shareholders funds. The object is to make a profit on those shareholders funds and to pay that profit to the shareholders. Of course, here we are not talking about shareholders funds. This is one of the major fallacies of the argument the Leader of the Opposition put forward. We are talking about borrowed money. All the institutions to which he referred do, of course, pay interest on borrowed money, and so do other government instrumentalities. So does Trans-Australia Airlines, so does Qantas, so does the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, and so, properly, do all other government institutions. What a ridiculous argument to put before this chamber.
And what was the only other argument? It was that this was an inflationary step.It was argued that it was an inflationary step for a public authority to raise sufficient money to pay its way without loss. What could be more inflationary, Mr President, than pretending that one can run government instrumentalities by going further and further and further into the red with millions of dollars every year, and thinking that this is not inflationary, that this does not have an effect - and a greater effect than anything else that could be done in the realm of government finance. These arc the only arguments advanced.
But whether those arguments are right or wrong - andI think they are wrong and the honourable member for Melbourne Ports must have thought they were wrong - the question of policy should not be one on which the Senate disallows regulations. I think that the Leader of the Opposition is doing a disservice by using his temporary fleeting majority in this chamber to disallow a regulation on the ground that he disagrees with the policy. The Senate itself has indicated the grounds on which it believes that regulations should be disallowed. I do not wish to present this as something which has been the result of the vote of the whole of the Senate at sometime; I present it as what the Regulations and Ordinances Committee appointed by the Senate believe to be proper grounds for disallowing regulations and I present it as something which the Senate itself has accepted since the time the Committee was set up. This is what the Committee reported - and I read from the bookAustralian Senate Practice’ written by Mr Odgers:
In the opinion of the Committee the work of the proposed Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances would be both preventive and corrective. It would be charged with the responsibility of seeing that the clause of each Bill-
And we are not now concerned with that - conferring a regulation-making power does not confer a legislative power which ought to be exercised by Parliament itself. It would be required to scrutinise regulations to ascertain -
And there is no question that these regulations are not in accordance with the statute -
It is not claimed that these regulations trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties -
Again, that is not claimed in this case -
And that, Mr President, is not claimed in this case. It has never been claimed that it is wrong to introduce these charges by means of regulations. Indeed, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate earlier today defended the charge made that his Leader had said that it was wrong to bring in this kind of subsidiary legislation in this way. So all these matters - and they are the only matters raised since Parliament has been using a Regulations and Ordinances Committee - have been taken into consideration andare not breached by the regulations now before us.
– Those arc not the only reasons why the regulations should be disallowed.
– This has been the practice since the Regulations and Ordinances Committee has been in operation. I may say, Mr President, that the Committee went on to point out that:
It was inevitable that many regulations would come before the Committee which, while correct in form.-
As these regulations are - gave effect to some item of Government policy of a controversial nature. After careful consideration of this aspect, the Committee agreed that quest ions involving Government policy in regulations and ordinances fell outside the scope of the Committee. This decision necessarily limited the Committee’s activities very considerably.
Mr President, there is a ground swell of interjection on the other side of the chamber. Technically, the Senate can take a different view from that which I have quoted. But I think that the Senate should consider very carefully before it does and before it overrules what has been the practice of the Senate after careful consideration for years. I think that if the Senate is going to adopt the practice and the policy of disallowing regulations because it disagrees with the policy of them, then it is misusing the power which it has and which it ought to have for use in the circumstances in which it has used them before and in which the Committee said that they should be used. By such misuse of its powers 1 think it does a disservice to the Parliament and a disservice to this chamber. I think that in this case the Leader of the Opposition here is doing a disservice to this House and to the Parliament; but particularly to this House in which, on occasion, he postures as a great defender of the proper use of senatorial powers. I believe that he disagrees with the policy; but I believe that his comrades, or many of them, do not share his views, and 1 believe this view is one which should not be the basis for disallowing regulations on matters of policy.
What is the other point which has been made to suggest that these regulations should be disallowed? It is that no case has been made out to indicate that higher charges are required in the Post Office. But a case has been made out, Mr President. Such a case was made out previously in relation to other matters which we are not considering now but which concerned the Postmaster-General, and a case has been made out here today by the Acting Postmaster-General (Senator Anderson) in relation to matters we are considering. That case has shown that unless increased charges are levied the Post Office will run at a greater and greater loss each year. This in itself means that unless greater charges are made for Post Office services then Post Office efficiency and effectiveness will be reduced; there will be a longer delay in the connection of telephones; there will be reduced ability in the Department to provide what telephone subscribers want and less ability to extend telephones into country areas. This will happen because funds will not be available. If this does not transpire it will be because funds will have to be taken from some other avenue of government expenditure and there will be less for other public demands such as for education, roads, development, or whatever it may be. One thing is certain: telephones, new lines, and the requirements of telephone users cannot be provided without sufficient money. If this money is denied the effect will be felt on government revenue and on something which is required by the people.
It has been suggested - I think by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition - that there has been no new development since the Senate last met to indicate that this matter is even mo-e urgent now than it was before. But a new element has been introduced, Mr President. There has been a new judgment about payments and requirements for those who work in the Post Office. Indeed, the recent decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission will add about S5.7m in annual wages and overtime lo Post Office expenditure. In other divisions of Post Office affairs there will be added another $3. 75m. This may not seem much to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, but since the last time we met the requirements of the Post Office have risen, as a result of that judgment, by over Slim a year. This does add force to the argument that the increases are required if the postal services needed are to be given, unless those services are to be provided at the expense of some other section of the community.
What will be the ultimate result of the exercise that is being carried out today? If the Parliament expresses its will in the way in which Senator Murphy thinks it will do so, the ultimate result will be not a prohibition on increased charges but merely a deferment for some months of increased charges. A certain annoyance will be caused and a loss of revenue for some months, and therefore a loss for some months of the services of which I have already spoken. Because these charges will be ultimately imposed. I do not think it is argued on any hand that they will not ultimately be imposed. What, then, are the purposes of this exercise? It is not based on principle. There is no suggestion that regulations are not permitted under the Act or that the promulgation of regulations is the wrong way to impose these increased charges. There is no suggestion by the Opposition as a whole that it is wrong for the Post Office to pay for the capital it gets from outside its own resources. Indeed if such an attitude were ever adopted by the Opposition and such a contention were accepted by the Government, this too would merely result in an inability to provide other things required by the community.
On what, then, is -this motion for disallowance based? It is not based on principle; not on any suggestion that this is the wrong way to achieve the result; not on a belief that this motion, if accepted, will ultimately and completely and finally prevent the imposition of these charges. I think it is based purely on a willingness to bc mischievous, to be destructive, to carry out what I think is a flashy and meretricious exercise in order to prevent for some short time the imposition of charges which will ultimately and inevitably be imposed, lt seems to me that in this way a great disservice is done to this Senate and this Parliament. This is an example of improper use of the Senate. We must not lose sight of the fact that although the Senate may do what it likes, the Government recently elected and charged with responsibility for the finances of this country has made out a careful case showing why increased finances are required by the Post Office. The House of the Parliament most recently elected - elected long after anybody here was elected - has agreed that these finances are necessary, and we must remember that it is that House of the Parliament which constitutionally has the major responsibility for providing the finance for the Government of this country. Yet all tne.se considerations are thrown to the wind. It can be done, of course; like a lot of other things this can be done, but it should not be done by anybody with any real devotion to constitutional practices simply for the sake of causing some small, short-lived embarrassment not to the Government but to those who are waiting for telephone services to be provided. I repeat that this seems to me to be a shabby, meretricious and unworthy exercise.
Let me conclude by reading, if I may be permitted to do so, or otherwise by quoting from memory, an editorial which appeared today in a newspaper with which I almost always disagree but with which on this occasion I find myself in agreement, lt reads as follows:
When the President of the Senate, Sir Alister McMuIlin, opens today’s proceedings with prayers he might well add: “And the Lord preserve us from pride and mischief”.
For this special Senate sitting is an exercise of political play at the expense of the public, lt is just a nuisance and an interruption to tha flow of government policy.
This noble and dignified House is being wound around the fingers of two DLP senators as a matter of political expediency and nothing else.
Interpolating there, 1 know that the Leader of the Opposition would prefer to think that he was winding this House around his fingers, but I am not going to enter into that argument. Both he and the DLP senators are doing so. as far as I am concerned, and as this editorial says, as a matter of political expediency and nothing else. The editorial goes on:
This Special Senate sitting, brought about by the alliance of these DLP men with 27 other senators, can only delay the rise in postal charges. Inevitably they will go through in a few months.
In any case this is a money matter- whatever the technical constitutional arguments may be - which is the prerogative of the popularly elected House of Representatives. This expedient alliance in the Senate is an impertinent interference with the rights of the Mouse of Representatives.
On that last assertion I part company with the leader writer. But I do think that what we are seeing tonight is a regrettable exercise of a power which needs to be held but which should not be used in this way. lt never has been used in this way, despite the fact that at least fifteen times in our history exactly what is being attempted by the Government now has been done by other governments composed of all kinds of political parties and at various times of the year, including times other than Budget time. Yet for some small, mischievous reason we see Senator Murphy today, whether for reasons advanced by Senator Henty or not I do nol know, playing-
– You flogged that one but it didn’t gallop.
– Well, 1 am searching around to find whatever trashy, transient, small political gain can have acted as the motivation for this exercise. But whatever the basis of it, if the motion of the Leader of the Opposition is carried it will react against the users of telephones, and in the long run I believe it is not good for this Senate to act in this way in circumstances such as those which exist at present. There will on future occasions arise a real necessity for this House to guard and to guide personal liberties and see that they are not in any way infringed, and crying wolf in cases such as this does not help the Senate in any way. It merely hinders it. as it is merely hindering the proper development of the Post Office.
– There has been a lot of talk by speakers on the Government side, from the Acting Postmaster-General (Senator Anderson), who led on behalf of the Government this morning, to the last speaker. Senator Gorton, about the necessity to impose these additional burdens on Australian taxpayers at this time by promulgating the regulations that .we are discussing. But surely all that emerges from the statements made by Government supporters is merely that this is a subtle device to get additional revenue from Australian laxpayers after the conclusion of the last sessional period of the Parliament and some six or seven weeks before the introduction of the forthcoming Budget. When we compare the amount of revenue handled by the Postmaster-General’s Department with the amount covered by the increased rates contained in these regulations, we must ask ourselves the rhetorical question: “Why is the Government “acting in haste and by this means?* When the Union of Postal Clerks and Telegraphists published its official journal for March-April 1967 it included on the cover certain facts for the information of ils members. It said:
Members, von arc an essential link in a business with fixed assets of $1,844,310,904. In 1965-66 financial year, you handled business worth:
Revenue Collections: $401,495,962.
Money Order Business: $434,216,644.
Business for Others: $538,622,113.
So about 14% of the revenue handled or collected by the Post Office and those employed in it is handled on behalf of other organisations - a total amount of well over $ 1 3,000m. Now, suddenly, six weeks before a Budget is introduced, after a parlia mentary sessional period has ended, the Government is trying to impose charges of this nature on the Australian people by regulation. Senator Gorton, the last speaker on the Government side, seemed to spend all of his time explaining the Government’s action in introducing these regulations at this stage. He made what seemed to me to be an absurd suggestion that the regulations had nothing at all to do with the two Bills which received the consideration of this Parliament last May. He went further and said that these were subordinate regulations which had never been before the Parliament and had never received the consideration of the Parliament, and therefore they had nol been the subject of the expression of the will of the Parliament.
These provisions might not in fact have been brought in as regulations and they might not have been disallowed as regulations, but the fact is that when Senator Anderson made his second reading speech on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill on 11th May 1967 he said, amongst other things, as reported at page 1362 of Hansard:
Other variations, details of which are set out in the statements available to honourable senators, will be effected by amendment of regulations or Executive action and will also operate from 1st July 1967.
In the same speech he went on to say:
After taking all factors into account, it is proposed that there should bc some increases in telephone charges to take effect from 1st July 1967. Details of these are shown in the statements which I am presenting to the Senate.
I emphasise the last sentence in that quotation. On 1 1th May 1967 the Minister laid on the table of the Senate a statement setting out increased postal and telephone charges which are exactly the same as those appearing in the regulations which are now the subject of discussion.
After that Bill had been rejected by the Parliament the Government again tried to introduce the increased charges towards the end of the sessional period. On 19th May 1967 Senator Anderson presented the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill (No. 2). In his second reading speech, which is reported at page 1810 of Hansard, in the very first paragraph he said: 1 thought I bad made it very clear in my second reading speech that I was informing the Senate fully on all the changes which were proposed, including those which would be covered by regulations and administrative action rather than by the Act. Some honourable senators, sections of the Press, and perhaps some of the public, seem to have assumed, quite wrongly of course, that all the charges included m the statement attached to the second reading speech were covered by the Bill.
In the next paragraph he went on to say:
The intention was to give honourable senators as much information as possible so that they would see clearly what we were proposing to do in the matter.
That second Bill was defeated. After that happened, the Government then moved to present these regulations and have them agreed to or otherwise. Senator Gorton stands at the Ministerial table and uses fanciful, flowery and colourful phrases such as ‘a purely malicious and mischievous action’ and ‘a shabby, meretricious and unworthy exercise’, but the fact is that it is utterly absurd for any of the Government speakers to say that regulations of this nature were not considered by the Parliament previously.
We of the Opposition oppose the passage of these regulations, principally on the basis, of course, that this is the Government’s third bite at the cherry. It failed twice before on 11th May and 19th May. Then, about three weeks after the Parliament had adjourned for the winter recess, it introduced these regulations. We of the Opposition, on behalf of the Australian people and particularly of the wage and salary earners who will have to carry the burden of the increased costs which will result from the passage of these regulations if by some mischance they go through, object to the Government, under the guise of providing funds for the Postmaster-General’s Department, imposing additional burdens on the taxpayers by the use of the regulatory power of the Minister as a taxing instrument. It seems to me that this is an attempt to use that regulatory power virtually to get around the introduction of a supplementary Budget a mere fortnight before the end of a financial year, a month or so after the end of a parliamentary sessional period and some six or seven weeks before the introduction of another Budget. Speaking of budgets, let me go back to the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) on 16th August of last year. At page 19 of the detailed statements of Government finances attached to the Budget Speech, under the heading ‘Post Office’ we read:
Expenditure is estimated to increase in 1966-67-
That is this financial year, which will terminate a mere fortnight from now: . . by $21,547,000, of which $18,726,000 is for telecommunications equipment to meet increased requirements for subscribers’ telephone services, trunk facilities and associated equipment. Expenditure on buildings, sites, miscellaneous plant and equipment, including motor vehicles, is expected to increase by $2,821,000.
The point I am making is that if the Government knew then that this additional money would be required this financial year to meet the increased operational expenses of the Postmaster-General’s Department, why were not these charges introduced at the time of the Budget on 16th August 1966? The fact of the matter is that because these increased charges amount to a comparative 5% increase in taxation and because four months after the introduction of the Budget the Government was to face an election, it decided to hold its hand until after the election had been held and to bring in a Bill to increase post and telegraph rates a week or two before the end of the Parliament and also by way of regulation to raise additional revenue, as it were, instead of introducing a supplementary Budget. What in fact are the real reasons for the introduction of these increases now? On the one hand we find that the Department is being run on business lines for the purpose of conducting the business affairs of different sections of the community and of the commercial life of this nation. On the other hand the employees of the Department who are engaged in the industry of postal services and employed in a revenue producing department under Public Service conditions, are not receiving, nor have they at any time received, any additional benefit for their increased productivity and output. They are paid under Public Service award conditions and, despite any productivity increase, or any increase in throughput or output - whichever term we like to use - they are working under minimum award conditions. They are not entitled, as they would be entitled in private enterprise, to any bonus payments. Nor are they entitled, as perhaps they would be in some private enterprise undertakings, to incentive payments. Again, while most public servants and most people in private industry work a five day week, these people who are working under minimum award conditions and who are not able to receive any additional benefits over those minimum award conditions, are expected to work a five and a half day week. While on the one hand the administration of the Department is geared for business purposes, and on the other hand the workers in the industry are working on the very minimum conditions, there surely must be a very greatly conflicting slate of affairs, ls it any wonder that there is very little regularity or continuity of employment? Is it any wonder that there is no satisfaction amongst the unions and the people employed in the industry with their wages and working conditions? Whilst these two conflicting situations continue there will always be unsatisfactory administrative arrangements in the Department.
Now let me say something about interest charges. Much has been said by Government spokesmen to try to explain away the huge interest payments required of the Department amounting to some $63m. from my recollection of the last annual report of the Department. While we see this blanket overall amount of $63m relating to interest charges incurred by the Department nothing seems to be said about the extracurricular services or additional activities that are carried out by the Department, as I understand it, free of charge. for other departments or organisations and financed by money supplied by the Post Office and on which the Post Office has to pay interest. I mention the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology as one example. 1 understand that the Post Office provides this Bureau with free telegraph services worth from $4m to $5m each year, lt also makes lines available to the Department of Civil Aviation free of charge. It would appear from a perusal of the annual report of the PostmasterGeneral that the Department seems to bc required to subsidise the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund to the extent of $7m or $8m each year. On page 26 of the annual report of the PostmasterGeneral we ure told that.:
The Post Office commercial accounts include as a cost an actuarial assessment of the Commonwealth proportion of pension entitlement accruing in the current year and which will be payable to staff after their retirement. For this purpose, it ls assumed that the Treasury receives a premium, the amount of the assessed liability from the Post Office each year. These premiums are deemed to be invested in long-term Commonwealth bonds and to form a fund from which the amounts paid by the Treasury to the Superannuation Board arc to be mct. The Post Office meets the annual premium, but the liability rests with the Treasury and does not. therefore, appear in the Post Office balance sheet.
So all of these extraneous activities or operations appear to be carried out by the Department on funds provided by it and on which it is paying interest.
I mention these matters to show that while the Post Office is paying interest charges on moneys used to subsidise other operations the postal workers, those employed in the industry, appear to be denied fair and reasonable wages and working conditions having regard to their productivity and output in comparison with their counterparts engaged in like operations in private enterprise. The fact is that the postal workers who are engaged in the industry on a comparable basis with such workers in other countries, really perform miraculous work. As I have said, for some considerable time nothing has been said in the annual reports of the PostmasterGeneral about this point, but. according to a circular published by the Postal Workers Union in 1962, whilst there was an increase of only 31% in staff in the period from 1948-49 to 1960-61 the Department in fact carried 42% more letters and parcels, handled 67% more local and 90% more trunk line calls, maintained 1.03% more telephone services and installed 1 26% more telephone services during that period. Therefore I believe that there should have been and could well have been an adjustment in the administrative arrangements of this Department at least until the forthcoming Budget is introduced in some six or seven weeks time instead of the Government introducing these regulations at this time, an action which has necessitated the recall of the Senate in order to discuss, debate and consider them.
On the evidence available to us, it would appear that, despite all the talk that has come from the Government spokesmen, there has been and still is white-anting of this huge Public Service undertaking by big and powerful private business. This whiteanting is being carried out at the expense of the wage and salary earners employed in the industry and at the expense of the ordinary Australian people. With the great growth of the telecommunications industry in Australia, and indeed internationally, the fact is that having regard to the working conditions of those engaged in the industry, people who have been trained by the Post Office administration at public expense for work within the Public Service are being snapped up, have been snapped up and will be snapped up by the great telecommunications organisations. Apparently as soon as a Director-General of the Department retires or moves over to private industry, so, too, do many others right down the scale, right down the line to the ranks of postal assistants, postal clerks, postmen and so on, if the huge annual turnover of staff is to be taken as a guide. I am told by officers of the Postal Workers Union that practically every Director-General of the Department, with the exception of one, since Sir Harry Brown, who I understand passed away recently, has gone to a permanent position in private enterprise. I am told that the late Sir Harry Brown went to British General Electric Co. Pty Ltd, that Sir Daniel McVey went to Standard Telephones and Cables Pty Ltd, that Sir Giles Chippindall went to Telephone and Electrical Industries Pty Ltd and the Plessy group of industries, that Mr Charles Stradwick went to American Telegraphs and Cables and that Mr Frank O’Grady went to a subsidiary of Telephone and Electrical Industries Pty Ltd.
As each of these people went over to private enterprise, many other officers went over with them, if one can judge by the annual turnover of staff that appears to have occurred in the Department. What is the situation in regard to the pink pages, which are published by the Department?
– What point is the honourable senator making on those appointments?
– It is a matter for them to decide whether they want to do this, but I am showing how the effect seems to be rolling right through the Department. As they go over, others are going with them. I suggest that the wages, working conditions and arrangements for those engaged in the industry are not sufficiently favourable to retain the officers in the Department and that this is adding to the administrative costs of the Department.
– Is it a sin to take a high position after retiring?
-I am not speaking about sin. I am showing the effect that these transfers to big business are having on the postal services of this country. 1 do not know what the arrangements are for the red telephones. I understand they are installed by a private company, that the lessee pays to the private company about $100 a year, that about $40 is paid to the Department for the use of the land line and that a part of the 5c paid for a call goes to the lessor. I speak subject to correction; the Minister may correct me if I am wrong. This reminds me of an article I read in the journal published by the Union of Postal Clerks and Telegraphists, to which I have referred. It is an article written by Mr Santocchi, President of the Italian Postal Technicians Union, who made a review of the postal situation in Europe as a result of Italy’s entry into the European Economic Community. Amongst other things, he said:
In the face of a decline in recent years (from the formerly high levels of economic progress in the Common Market countries) the big monopolists are trying to stimulate their own special progress by various counter measures aimed at postal workers and the general public which they serve.
They seek to raise charges, whilst lowering production costs, divert public revenue to their own developmental programmes, whilst keeping a strict check on wages through a series of national incomes policies. This co-ordinated drive by some of the big manufacturers of communications equipment, particularly in France, Germany, Italy, Holland and Belgium, now makes it necessary for the postal unions to co-ordinate their policies on a European front also.
The situation to which Mr Santocchi of Italy referred is comparable with the situation that exists or is developing in Australia today.
The Government seems to have gone into a lot of whys and wherefores to show that it is necessary to obtain this money now and to introduce the regulations at this stage. But not one word has been said by the Government about improving the wage structure or the working conditions of postal employees. It is obvious that the Government is determined to wring this money out of the Australian people before the next Budget is introduced. That is why we of the Labor movement are determined to sec that justice is done. We therefore oppose the regulations.
Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) 18.55] - I want to make one or two comments on the remarks that Senator McClelland has just made. He used a rather colourful phrase - ‘taking a third bite at the cherry’. In short, he is admitting that the calling of the Senate together today is a step taken by the Opposition to prevent a general expansion of the services of the Post Office for a period of time. Senator Gorton, who spoke a little while ago, quoted from a leading article in a newspaper. I should like to refer to another article published in a newspaper today. It neatly sums up the situation by calling it ‘oneupmanship’. In short, this move is made without any real concern for the Parliament, for the people or even for the Post Office. It is simply a vehicle to gain a few votes. This has been evidenced over and over again today by the weakness of the arguments that have been put forward by various Opposition members.
May I discuss the speech of Senator McClelland for a moment, because this is the one that is freshest in my mind. The honourable senator said that the Post Office had not recovered the costs of its services provided to other government departments and organisations. It should be pointed out that, for telephones, telegrams and postal services, other government departments, agencies and organisations pay the normal tariff. I remind the honourable senator that for agency services, such as the payment of pensions and child endowment, :he Post Office also recovers its costs, just as it recovers its costs of operating as an agent of the Commonwealth Savings Bank. I think I should also say a word about his reference to the positions taken by retiring Directors-General. As far as I can recall, he did not say that they went into these positions after they had retired from the Post Office at the end of years of service. They had rendered tremendous service to the Post Office during their years of administrative leadership and had proved their ability. After retirement, they moved into a variety of positions, which the honourable senator mentioned, and in these positions they again rendered tremendous service to our telecommunications system and to our national growth and development. Surely this is a compliment to the work of the Post Office. Surely it is a compliment to the training and experience that these people gained during their years of service in the Post Office.
All of this kind of argument, which has come forward today without a great deal of conviction, underlines what the ‘Australian’ this morning called ‘one-upmanship’. Indeed, we had a very good example of it right at the beginning of the debate when Senator Murphy made the point that the move to disallow the regulations had the approval of the Australian Labor Party and of the trade union movement. I have no doubt that lie could produce resolutions to prove his point, but this is only one section of the community. He referred to public opinion only vaguely and said that without doubt public opinion would support the move. This has been a political exercise. I do not know how many votes Opposition members will get for it, but I do not think they will get as many as they think they will.
I support the remarks made earlier in this debate by the Acting Postmaster-General (Senator Anderson). The obvious observation is that no-one likes to pay increased charges for anything, still less when increased charges are made for essential community services. There are services without which large sections of our community cannot move. Everybody knows that a suggestion that charges are likely to increase is not favourably received. But I remind the Senate that in any structure which is as large, as complex and as detailed as the Post Office is, which not only maintains the present structure for the service of the community but is constantly planning and engaging i,n programmes of research not only for next year but for years ahead, and which constantly meets demands for higher wages and a shorter working week, there must from time to time be some increase of charges if it is to have an income that will enable it to do its work.
To show that services are expanding and that the range of services is extending, I turn to a report of the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) presented to us some time ago. It showed that installations during the year numbered over 322,000 and this represented an increase of nearly 6% on the previous record. The number of cancelled services fell by only .6% when compared with the level of the previous year. The report showed that the increase in the network of 110,000 telephone services reflected the record connection of 203,000 services, involving new lines or equipment - an increase of more than 8% on the new services installed in the previous year. At 30th June 1 966 there were more than two million telephone services in operation, lt is well to refer to these statistics. But let us indicate also our sense of realism. In the same report there was a reference to what is called the unsatisfied demand for telephone services. Everybody knows perfectly well that the Post Office has to work extremely hard in certain instances to keep up with the demand on its services. At 30th June 1966 the unsatisfied demand for services stood at more than 55,000 applications. Of this number, work had commenced on more than 26,000 and quotations had been issued to applicants for a further 10,000-odd. The remainder were being examined to see whether a service could be offered.
In short the work of the Post Office has been moving at an increasing rale all the time. Figures contained in the ‘Year Book’ indicate the way in which the Post Office has been increasing its services to the public since charges were last increased in 1959. The ‘Year Book’ shows that in 1960-61 there were 1,620 million local calls made. In 1964-65 the number had increased to 2,040 million. In that year 1,016 local calls were made per service throughout Australia. In the field of trunk line calls the figure had increased from 75 million in 1960-61 to 106 million in 1964-65 and the number of trunk line calls per service had increased from 46 in 1960-61 to 53 in 1964-65. An examination of these figures will show that there has been an increase not only in business but in services provided by the Post Office. All of this points to the ever widening programme of research and extension of services and underlines forcibly, I suggest, the justification for bringing forward the regulations which have been the subject of our debate today.
In introducing the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill on 11th May last the Acting Postmaster-General (Senator Anderson) said:
Higher wage rates and rising capital charges associated with the heavy and rapidly growing expenditure on new facilities are having a pronounced effect on the profitability of telecommunications operations. As a result, a profit of $ 10.2m in 1963-66 is expected to bc reduced by more than half in 1966-67 and a loss of some millions of dollars is anticipated in 1967-68. . . . With Government commitments in other areas rising, the national interest requires us to find ways and means of minimising budgetary problems associated with Post Office capital funding. An important factor, therefore, is telecommunication charges for the future is the extent to which telephone subscribers may reasonably be expected to contribute something extra, over and above the overall operating costs of the service, to help in meeting the costs of developing and expanding the service.
We have heard it said a number of times that there has been no increase in charges since 1959. That was a long time ago. Since 1959 there has been a remarkable movement in charges and costs over a wide range of commodities and .areas. May I underline this point by reminding honourable senators that since 1959 the wages of postmen and mail sorters have increased by some 40% whilst the wages of postal clerks have increased by 50%. One has no objection to these increases but they indicate that in respect of this one item of wages, since 1959 the operating costs of the Post Office have risen in a natural and expected way. So it is thoroughly to be commended that there should be some return to the Post Office, necessitating some increase in charges which are the subject of the regulations now before us.
Any institution or agency seeking to increase charges must justify those increases. From what I have said tonight I think it is abundantly clear that the work of the Post Office has increased greatly since charges were last raised and that in that time the cost of operating Post Office services has increased. At the same time we cannot disregard the nature of the services provided now and in the future by the Post Office. Because the Post Office is an instrumentality providing a public service we must look at the ever widening range of services which a national Post Office must be expected to provide. In this connection I turn again to the report of the Postmaster-General for the year ended 30th June 1966.
Let us look at some of the services provided by the Post Office. I refer to subscriber trunk dialling, which has been mentioned many times and with which we have al! had experience. This service is appreciated by all of us. The report shows that during the year the international telephone service was extended to a further twenty overseas points, bringing the number with which Australia has established services to 170. There are more than fifty recorded information services of all types throughout the Commonwealth. Most of us are familiar with most of these services. A few of them are operated by private enterprise but the Post Office provides the facilities and makes the general arrangements. The report states that improved recording machines, currently undergoing field trials, should widen the field for these services. In Sydney there is a theatre programme service and in Brisbane there is a stock exchange report service. To indicate how much these services are appreciated and how they are valued I point out to the Senate that calls made to all recorded information services in 1965- 66 totalled more than 79 million compared with 69 million in the previous year. That shows a considerable increase in the use of this service. The range of other services provided by the Post Office and referred to in the report indicates the rapidly expanding nature of the Post Office.
Lcl me indicate now how the need of the Post Office for capital is growing. In 1956-57 Post Office capital works accounted for $61 m but ten years later the figure had risen to S2()6m. In the next five years about $ 1. 500m will have to be spent if the needs of the Post Office are to be met. About 95% of this expenditure is associated with telecommunications, lt -goes without saying that the capital made available to the Post Office is spent not only in the interests of existing subscribers but also in the extension of the network to cater for new business and new subscribers. But it will be appreciated that there is some difficulty in coping adequately and economically with the growing traffic from present subscribers. This factor was referred to earlier today, lt is also necessary to maintain a steady acceleration in the trunk line programme at the rate of something like 5,000 additional channels a year. As well as providing additional trunk circuits we must implement as quickly as possible a programme for the provision of modern automatic trunk switching exchanges. Some 4,000 country exchanges are awaiting conversion to auto.matic operation. All of these things surely justify the increased telephone charges. Look at the situation in country areas. The number of telephone services connected to telephone exchanges with restricted hours of manual service reached an all time peak of 60,000 some ten years ago. However, last year the number had been reduced to 41,000, which was approximately the level of twenty years ago. This reduction, of course, has been achieved mainly by conversion to automatic operation and partly by diversion of subscribers to other exchanges.
May I say a word about the development of the radio telephone system which is in its early stages. There is already a centre operating at Broken Hill and investigations have been made to ascertain whether further establishments of this type can be provided at Port Augusta and Katherine. There are a score of reasons why telephone charges should be increased and why these regulations are brought in, very properly, by the Government. I come back to the point with which I started. In truth, this is an exercise in one-upmanship in which the Opposition has endeavoured to discredit the Government. Earlier, Senator Gorton said that these regulations have come forward in a proper way. The Government gave notice of its intention and stated the justification for the regulations. The Opposition has given no concrete reasons why they should be disallowed. If I may say so, it has done this with less enthusiasm than it exhibited in the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill. 1 hope that the Senate will defeat the motion that is before the House tonight and sustain the regulations which the Government has brought forward.
– in reply - This has been a long and historic debate. Many other senators on the Opposition side would like to have spoken in this discussion. However, the debate has taken all day and the country is anxiously awaiting the outcome. The issues have been well defined and we believe that the debate should be concluded soon by a vote of the Senate. A number of matters have been raised by the Government and these should be given some consideration, lt has been said by the Government that it was frank with the Senate and with the people. The Government said in May of this year what it intended to do by way of increased postal and telephone charges. It said that some increases were to be imposed by legislation and others by regulation. It gave us notice and knew what would happen when the regulations were brought down. However, was the Government perfectly frank when it tried to prevent people from thinking that it intended to by-pass Parliament, knowing from what had been stated by honourable senators during the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill that this Senate was opposed to the increases? The Government knew that it would promulgate the regulations. It knew also that the Senate had passed a special resolution to enable it to be brought together in that event. It claims that it cannot be accused of attempting to deceive the Senate. However, the Government knew that under the Constitution and also by Act of Parliament the Senate was vested with the power to disallow regulations and also that a majority of senators had indicated that they were opposed to the proposed increases. Nevertheless, the Government brought down these regulations.
What does this mean? It means that the arguments advanced by Senator Gorton are an insult to this Senate. He spoke of the action which the Senate is now taking as being trashy, mischievous and so on. That is an attack on the Senate itself and on its exercise of its powers. The Government well knew what the attitude of the majority of senators was in regard to increases in postal and telegraph charges. It brought down these regulations knowing that a majority of senators were disposed to disallow the regulations if they could. Let noone be deluded by the suggestions on the Government’s behalf that it in any way facilitated the disallowance of the regulations. The Government endeavoured to prevent the Senate from passing a motion to enable it to be called together if the necessity arose - that is the necessity to disallow regulations which would be made against the clearly expressed will of this Senate as stated in the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, when the whole matter was canvassed. The
Government opposed that motion. It was opposed to the Senate being called together. It now attacks the Senate for exercising its powers.
The Government suggests that telephone users will in some way be harmed - that this debate will react against the users of telephones. Has anyone heard anything so ridiculous? Here are charges being increased by regulation. These are savage increases which will affect other users of telephones throughout the country. Telephone bills will increase sharply and people may even be forced to stop using telephones in the way that they have used them In the past. Telegraph rates are to go up. Every person who directly uses these facilities will be affected if these regulations take effect. Indirectly, every citizen, every corporation and every undertaking in the community will be affected because the costs of all goods and services throughout the community will be increased. A savage impetus will be given to the inflationary trends in the community. If the Government had any regard for the economy of this country it would be doing what it could to keep charges such as these down to a minimum. It ought to be setting in train means of combating inflation instead of adding to it. One Minister mentioned the recently announced increase in wages. But the wage earners are to be given a miserable increase of only $1 a week. Is the benefit of that to be taken away from them because of a direct increase in their expenditure every time they use a telephone and every time they post a letter? Are the costs of all goods and services to go up? Wages are not to be substantially increased, if at all, until August of next year. Will this help the wage earners of this country?
Nonsense has been talked in the Senate about the motives of the Opposition in having it called together today. Let the truth be known. The Australian Council of Trade Unions has asked trade unionists and everyone else to support the Opposition in the Senate in upholding the will of the Parliament and defeating the Government’s proposals to increase charges. Trades and labour organisations throughout the country have asked the Opposition to act accordingly. These organisations represent the wage earners in the community. The representatives of the postal workers themselves have asked us to take this action. Industry and commerce and the community as a whole want us to take this action. The Government knows this. It knows that its proposals are opposed to popular opinion. Yet it still persists with them.
It has been said here that the Opposition should not do as it has done, because the Regulations and Ordinances Committee would not have taken this action. I suppose that no more pitiful argument has been advanced on a substantial issue. Anyone in this Senate and those persons outside who are concerned with the work of this great Committee, the work of which is known and recognised all over the world by experts in the parliamentary supervision of delegated legislation, know that this proposition is nonsense. The Committee considers regulations which are referred to it according to certain criteria which were mentioned earlier by one Minister. If the Committee considers that, according to those criteria or standards, regulations should be disallowed it will report back to the Senate accordingly with some recommendation for their disallowance. That is an extremely important field. The work of the Committee is extremely valuable. The Committee is a model for the whole world, but everyone knows that it is not concerned with matters such as this. The Senate has the overriding power to disallow regulations for reasons quite unconnected with the standards dealt with by the Committee. As I have said, regulations such as these would not be of any concern to the Committee. They would in no way offend the criteria set by the Committee except in one respect which I shall mention shortly.
The Senate itself may disallow regulations of this character and, indeed, of any character irrespective of whether the Committee has made a report and irrespective of whether the regulations offend the criteria which the Committee follows. Every honourable senator knows that this was done in the IPEC case. In that instance this Senate disallowed a regulation because although the regulation was unexceptional in itself - there was nothing at all wrong with the regulation - the Senate nevertheless took the view that the circumstances in which it was made amounted to an abuse of the regulation-making power. The Senate exercised its authority on that occasion and I have no doubt that the Senate will exercise its authority in this instance to disallow the regulations although they would perhaps not come within the confines of the Committee’s consideration.
One other matter has emerged in this debate. It is true that 1 did not rest our opposition to these regulations on the ground that they would offend any of the criteria which the Committee would normally consider. The matter which has arisen is close to those criteria but nevertheless it concerns the Senate as a whole, lt is this: here we are dealing wilh regulations which impose increases amounting to some $34m. That is a very large sum of money. While the Government is given authority under the Act to impose those increases - there is no question about that; the Parliament has given it that authority - nevertheless we have moved into a sphere in which the supervision by Parliament of the raising of public moneys of this magnitude is directly involved. This vast amount of money should be raised by the Budget procedures. lt should be raised pursuant to laws passed directly by the Parliament. If we allow the growth of the practice of raising vast sums of money by regulation, then the proper parliamentary supervision will be lost. This is an important aspect because here we have an instance of this practice being adopted during a recess when the Parliament is normally not able to say whether it should be done.
Perhaps the proper approach when considerable changes are contemplated in the raising of public revenues is for the Government to obtain prior approval of the Parliament, not the subsequent disapproval as we have in this instance. The proper course would be for the Government to come to the Parliament and say: ‘We propose to increase public revenues substantially and we seek your prior approval’. What has happened here? The Government came to the Parliament and said: ‘We seek your approval for the raising of large sums of public moneys. We propose to raise some of. this revenue by Act of Parliament and we tell you, as we should, that we propose to raise the remainder by regulation’. What was the answer of the Parliament? The answer of the Parliament was that this proposal was not acceptable. The Senate rejected the Bill, not once but twice. The Government, therefore, knew what was acceptable to the Parliament and what was not acceptable to the Parliament, yet it has persisted with its proposal against the will of the Parliament.
The Government’s action has made this a great constitutional issue because it has pursued a course which shows ils determination to impose these increases despite the expressed will of the Parliament that the increases are not acceptable to it. Not only the Parliament but also the community as a whole believes that this series of regulations should be disallowed.
Another important matter was raised by Senator Gair. He adverted to the notice he had given of his motion for the adjournment of the Senate to debate a matter of urgency and the fact that it was not supported. He claimed that this motion for disallowance of the regulations should have been considered against the background of whether the Post Office should be converted into a statutory corporation instead of remaining a department of state. He said that it was in the incongruous position of exercising a dual role. He advanced the view that this matter should be considered in a serious way by the Senate. Let me say on behalf of the Opposition that we consider this to bc a serious matter. It is a great issue. The question whether the Post Office should be a statutory corporation or whether it should continue as it is should be considered in a very serious way by this Parliament, certainly by the Senate.
We considered it to be inopportune to delay the motion for disallowance of the regulations while Senator Gairs motion was dealt with. His proposal is one in relation to which all honourable senators were entitled to have adequate notice, nol the notice they received through the Press only a day or two ago. It is one which requires debate in depth after a study in depth. A great deal has been written on this subject. Australia has been a pioneer in setting up statutory corporations. We are perhaps the leading exponents of this form of experimentation, and before we take any step to convert the Post Office into a statutory corporation we should give the subject serious deliberation. At some more opportune time the Opposition would certainly be prepared to facilitate discussion of the matter to which Senator Gair has referred.
The Senate is entitled to exercise its power to disallow regulations. The Government was certainly entitled, under the relevant Act of Parliament, to bring down the regulations. But the Government knew that the Parliament was opposed to its proposals. It knew that this Senate had rejected the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill twice. It knew that this Senate would certainly disallow the regulations if it were given an opportunity to consider them. The Government may be forgiven for bringing in the Bill early in May because it misjudged the attitude of the Opposition, lt misjudged what the Opposition would do in the Senate and it misjudged public opinion on this matter. But once the Bill was rejected in the Senate the first time the Government could no longer be forgiven for misjudging what the Opposition would do. lt could no longer be forgiven for misjudging public opinion. When it persisted and brought down these regulations on 9th June after the Parliament had gone into recess and after the Senate had indicated that it would not tolerate the implementation of these regulations contrary to what had been said in this place, the Government showed that it was bent on self-destruction.
No government can afford to pursue the course that this Government is pursuing, lt will not listen to what I say on this matter; people who engage upon such a course never do listen to good advice. But I say to the Senate and the people of Australia that the Government is bent on selfdestruction and that that is the way all governments go. J ask the Senate to carry the motion and to disallow these regulations.
That the motion (Senator Murphy’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1966-67.
Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1966-67.
Australian Tourist Commission Bill 1967.
National Library Bill 1967.
Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill (No. 2) 1967.
Trade Practices Bill 1967.
Tasmania Grant (Fire Relief) Bill 1967.
Wool Industry Bill 1967.
States Giants (Advanced Education) Bill 1967.
States Grants (Teachers Colleges) Bill 1967.
Australian Universities Commission Bill 1967.
Supply Bill (No.1) 1967-68.
Supply Bill (No. 2) 1967-68.
Income Tax Assessment Bill (No. 2) 1967.
Income Tax (International Agreements) Bill 1967.
Estate Duty Assessment Bill 1967.
Gift Duty Assessment Bill 1967.
Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1967.
Petroleum Search Subsidy Bill 1967.
Sugar Marketing Assistance Agreement Bill 1967.
Customs Tariff Validation Bill 1967.
Excise Tariff Validation Bill 1967.
Broadcasting and Television Bill 1967.
Brigalow Lands Agreement Bill 1967.
Australian National Airlines Commission Equipment Bill 1967.
Homes Savings Grant Bill 1967.
Industrial Research and Development Grants Bill 1967.
Superannuation Bill 1967.
Narcotic Drugs Bill 1967.
Customs Bill 1967.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) - I have received from the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr Whitlam) a letter notifying that he has appointed Messrs Barnard, Beazley, Costa, Cross and Davies to be members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.
(Question No. 212)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice:
– The Minister for the Navy has supplied the following answers:
Motion (by Senator Henty) - by leave - agreed to:
That leave of absence be granted to every member of the Senate from the termination of the sitting this day to the day on which the Senate next meets.
Motion (by Senator Henty) proposed:
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn tilla day and hour to be fixed by the President, which time of meeting shall be notified to each senator by telegram or letter.
Amendment (by Senator Murphy) put:
At end of motion add: ‘Provided that the President, upon a request or requests by an absolute majority of the whole number of senators that the Senate meet at a certain time, shall fix a day and hour of meeting in accordance with such request or requests and such time of meeting shall be notified to each senator by telegram or letter.
For these purposes a request by the Leader of the Opposition shall be deemed to be a request by every member of the Opposition and a request by the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party shall be deemed to be a request by members of that Party.
Provided further that the request or requests may be made to the President by leaving or delivering the same to the Clerk of the Senate, who shall immediately notify the President.
In the event of the President being unavailable, the Clerk shall without delay notify the Deputy President, or, should he be unavailable, any one of the Temporary Chairmen of Committees, who shall be deemed to be required by the Senate to summon the Senate on behalf of the President, in accordance with the terms of this resolution’.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Original question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Murphy) put:
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent general business, notice of motion No. 2, from taking precedence over Government and other general business.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
Public Service - Superannuation Rights of Journalists - Answers to Questions upon
Motion (by Senator Henty) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I do not propose to delay the Senate for very long, but if honourable senators opposite continue to interrupt me as they are doing now, we will stay for an hour. It is my right to speak for that long, but if honourable senators opposite are reasonable, decent and courteous, I will not take very long. The first matter on which I wish to speak is economic justice for tens of thousands of people employed in the Fourth Division of the Commonwealth Public Service. For months we have been pleading for economic justice for these people. It took months for the Public Service Board even to make an offer. No retrospectivity will apply to any salary increases granted to these people because they are not the subject of arbitration. Members of grades 1 to 8 of the Fourth Division received certain offers of salary increases ranging from $71 to $525 a year. About a fortnight or three weeks later the Public Service Board made another offer which involved increases ranging from $71 to SS9 a year for grades 1 to 4. They were comparatively miserable offers. No real effort was made to lift the four higher grades. No real effort has been made to render economic justice to one particular section of the Fourth Division. I wonder when this Government will be seised of a sense of responsibility to these people and will do the right thing by them. As I said last year and have said again this year, certain retrospective adjustments were made to salaries of people in the Third Division of the Public Service. In some cases retrospectivity applied for months. Nothing has really been done to assist tens of thousands of people in the Public Service not covered by recent adjustments. Surely the Government must realise that these people face increased living costs and other costs. During the parliamentary recess the Government will have an opportunity to study the position of these people and must come to realise their basic rights as human beings.
I wish now to turn to a subject I have raised before. I refer to journalists, some of whom - trainees, learning the profession - may be seen now in the Press Gallery. They would not appreciate a good speech. However, I wish now to refer to their superannuation rights. People who work for a Commonwealth or a State government or for some private enterprise firms and contribute to a superannuation or provident fund for fifteen years may have returned to them not only their contributions but in some cases interest calculated at 31% or 4i%. They are entitled to the total of the contributions made by the employer, whether it is the Commonwealth Government or a State government or a private employer. 1 am aware that the Commonwealth is at present attempting to negotiate with the States as to the transfer of superannuation rights. In some cases contributors have certain rights after six years. Some private employers have set up committees composed of two employer representatives and one employee representative to decide whether complete superannuation rights are to be granted to contributors who resign - that is, full payment including employers’ and employees’ contributions. They make arbitrary decisions. If the two employer representatives decide that an employee who is leaving a job after ten years service is not entitled to full superannuation payment, he does not get it.
I believe that most honourable senators are possessed of an inherent flair for honesty and a sense of responsibility. An employee may commence at sixteen, eighteen or twenty-one years of age. Is he expected to work for one employer for about forty or fifty years in order to obtain full superannuation rights from that employer, irrespective of whether it is the Commonwealth Government, a State government or a private firm? Should he not be entitled after a certain period of years to some rights to superannuation? Originally long service leave entitlement applied only after 20 years service. Then the period was reduced to fifteen years, and now pro rata entitlements are established after ten years service. But in respect of superannuation, there are no basic rights. Would not honourable senators opposite agree that people should be able to change their jobs after ten or fifteen years service with one employer and obtain full superannuation rights? I suggest that the period of entitlement could commence at fifteen or twenty years and could subsequently be reduced to ten years.
Trainee journalists might know a little when they come here. I would not be aware of how much they know when they leave here. That is their own business. The smarter ones amongst them take a couple of years to learn their calling; the duller ones would take five or ten years. Perhaps they would never learn; but after all, they are human beings. Journalists have certain basic rights, including a right to change their jobs. Yet if they leave Queensland newspapers to go to the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, they have no rights of transfer in respect of superannuation. They have no rights to the total that has accrued, whether through an insurance company or whatever superannuation mechanism may have been adopted.
It is time that the Government examined this matter. We have accepted for years the rights of employees to long service leave. Almost every employer - the exceptions are rare - has accepted that people have a right to derive the full benefits of accrued superannuation. Is the Government wedded to the belief that an employee is entitled to the return only of his contributions and should not be paid any interest? Surely after a period of fifteen or twenty years he has given a measure of real service to his employer after going through the training period. He should be entitled to transfer all his superannuation rights to his new employer. By doing so he would derive on retirement at sixty or sixty-five years his full superannuation rights but would need to make smaller contributions. Thus he could furnish a better standard of living for himself and his family.
It seems that the Commonwealth Government does not favour a national insurance scheme and is completely divorced from consideration of the rights of individuals. As a young man I read of acclaim for a former Prime Minister by Government supporters at present in this chamber because almost thirty years ago he resigned from the Lyons Cabinet when it would not accept his proposal for a national superannuation scheme. This man then possessed a conscience. 1 do not know whether he possessed one later, but at that lime he resigned from the Lyons Cabinet because it would not approve a national insurance scheme. During the recess the Government - big as its majority may be in the other place - should spend time examining the rights of this group of people to protection.
These people have contributed to superannuation funds or, if because of ill health or disability they have not been accepted into superannuation funds, to provident funds and they are entitled, after ten or fifteen years, to receive in full the payments that they have made, the payments their employers have made and any accrued benefits by way of interest or otherwise. In all sincerity I plead with the Government to look at this situation and to recognise that this is something associated with basic human rights - something associated with and not divorced from economic justice.
– -I shall be very brief. Like other honourable senators I have had questions on the notice paper, some of them for a considerable period. The Senate rose about a month ago and as Ministers are not so overburdened when the Parliament has not been meeting I confidently expected that when 1 came here today there would be available answers to a number of questions that had been presented. I regret that apparently there was not one answer.
– There was one.
– Was there one? There would not have been any more. Surely with all the talk about deference to the rights of senators we are entitled to a better standard of performance than to have a notice paper as full of questions as is our notice paper after a recess of one month. I suggest that the members of this Senate are entitled to a better deal from the Ministers concerned. I want to refer to one question that I asked on 11th May of the Minister representing the Attorney-General. It is as follows:
Is it a fact that in the past two years there have been some extremely long delays in the hearing and determination of some major cases involving the Full Bench of the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission, e.g., vehicle industry case, clothing trades case, and journalists cas:’!
I was asked by important members of the trade union movement of this country to put that question on the notice paper. They say that it is a matter of increasing inquiry and concern in the trade union movement that little use appears to be made of the services of certain members of the Commission. Some members have gone so far as to say to me that if it were known, at a time when the trade union movement is complaining of the long delays in arbitration, how many days some members of the
Commission were unoccupied during the year the result would almost occasion a grave scandal. Among members of the trade union movement there is grave concern over the fact that, while these long delays are occurring, they are unable to find what use is being made of the services of certain members of the Commission. 1 urge the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) to look into this matter because unless something is done about it a very serious situation will arise.
– If any of Senator Dittmer’s comments pertain to any particular department of the
Public Service I will see that the attention of that department is drawn to his remarks. Senator McManus referred to a question placed by him on the notice paper on 1 1 th May last, and said that he had not received a reply. I will draw the attention of the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) to the fact that Senator McManus commented on this matter tonight and I will seek an answer to the question. I will also draw to his attention the supplementary remarks Senator McManus made about the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.5 p.m. to a date and bour to bc fixed.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 20 June 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1967/19670620_senate_26_s34/>.