22nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– The Opposition is most anxious that the Prime Minister should have an opportunity of reporting to the Parliament, and through the Parliament to the nation, on all aspects of the Suez Canal dispute, with which, of course, the right honorable gentleman has been closely associated. His report is awaited not only with eagerness, but with anxiety, so that the House may have an opportunity to debate it and to express an opinion as to what Australia should do in this great crisis. Can the Leader of the House now state when that report may be made by the Prime Minister?
– The Prime Minister will make his statement to the House, and to the country, next Tuesday night at 8 o’clock. I think that the House will agree that any such statement would be incomplete unless it made some reference to the second London conference, which is at present sitting, and will continue to sit for the next couple of days. The House will also agree that such a statement should include the matters considered by the second London conference, and therefore the Prime Minister intends to cover those matters in his general statement. I repeat that he will make his report on Tuesday night next, at 8 o’clock.
– And will there be an opportunity to reply?
– Honorable members will be given an opportunity to debate the matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Interior. What stage has been reached in the current review of electoral matters? Has wide publicity been given throughout Australia to the statement that the Government is willing to consider any proposals put forward by electors, or any body of electors, for electoral reform?
– It is true that a number of complaints and suggestions were received from electors after the last general election. It was then considered quite reasonable to ask whether any electors wished to put forward further suggestions for amendments of the Electoral Act. About the middle of last month, through the medium of the press, I invited the people of Australia to submit any suggestions that they might have for electoral reform. Several have been received, and within the reasonably near future they will be collated and most carefully reviewed, with a view to framing amendments to the act.
– Can the Minister for
Territories say whether there is any agreement or mutual understanding between Australia and the Netherlands with regard to a common policy for the development of the defence of New Guinea as a whole? If not, and considering the fact that both countries are pledged to a common objective regarding New Guinea and its indigenous peoples, and in view of New Guinea’s strategic importance to this country, does the Minister not consider that the time is ripe for an appropriate formal agreement or regional pact with the Netherlands to be negotiated?
– The Netherlands is, of course, our neighbour, and, indeed, the only country with which we share a common frontier. Over the years our relations with that country have been quite close and cordial. The cordiality of friendship between the two nations is such that I know of no outstanding matter that would warrant the negotiation of a formal agreement. That aspect of the honorable member’s question might more properly have been addressed to my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs. In the matter of administration of our own Territory of Papua and New Guinea, and of Netherlands New Guinea, there is very close co-operation. In a number of matters, such as that of quarantine, we have a common interest. On administration at the level of officials in New Guinea, we consult and co-operate on matters of common concern, such as health, native affairs, and agriculture. In addition to that co-operation at the local level, which works quite smoothly, from time to time discussions have taken place between my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs, and the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Government. I can say with confidence that the relations between the two countries, and the co-operation in all matters of common concern, are very close, and cordial.
– Has the Minister for Primary Industry studied the report of the officer in charge of the radioactive isotopes advisory service of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, in which it is stated that scientists in America have preserved meat by irradiation from isotopes for- periods five times greater than the maximum period for which meat can be preserved by other methods? This officer also stated that radio-active isotopes could destroy weevils in food, kill pests in grain, and increase the.’ safe storage time of potatoes and onions. Can the Minister say whether any such experiments have been carried out in Australia, and, if so, what the results of them have been?
– I have not read the report to which the honorable member has referred, but I have heard comments about the results of treating animal foods and other substances with radio-active isotopes. So far as I am aware, no investigations have been undertaken by the Government or the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization relating to the use of these materials, but some investigations are being carried out by the University of Technology in Sydney. 1 have also heard - although this is not official - that there is some danger of contamination or destruction of foodstuffs through treatment with radio-active isotopes. As the honorable gentleman has shown interest in similar subjects to this, I will obtain full details and communicate them to him as soon as possible.
– I ask the Minister for Supply whether he has been advised that quantities of surplus steel from the Australian Aluminium Production Commission’s works in Tasmania are now being exported to Japan. I ask the Minister further whether he is aware that the shortage’ of scrap steel in Tasmania was the subject of an investigation recently by the Minister who was acting for the Minister for Trade. If it is a fact that scrap steel is being exported to Japan from this source, will the Minister examine the position to ensure that this important metal shall at least be offered for sale locally before it is shipped abroad?
– I do not know the circumstances to which the honorable member has referred. After the completion of the plant at Bell Bay there were some quantities of surplus steel, but I do not know whether they have been exported or whether there is any proposal to export them. I shall have the matter inquired into and let the honorable member have an answer.
– I direct my question, to the Minister for Immigration. In view of the marked, decline, in the percentage of British immigrants entering, this country in 1955-56, is the Minister making a special effort in the United Kingdom to increase the proportion of British settlers during the present year? Is the right honorable gentleman satisfied that sufficiently imaginative methods of attraction and selection are being used, especially in parts of the British Isles such as Northern Ireland where some degree of unemployment exists? Is the British Government now showing a more enthusiastic attitude than during the premierships of Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Attlee towards the encouragement of British settlement in Empire countries?
– I welcome the question from the honorable gentleman because I think it is obvious that some misunderstanding prevails in parts of this country on what is happening in relation to British immigration into Australia. I can assure the honorable gentleman that British immigration remains the top priority in the planning of this Government and that Australia continues to succeed in attracting more British immigrants than Canada - our strongest competitor - South Africa and New Zealand combined. I direct the attention of those honorable gentlemen interested in this subject to the second report of the Overseas Migration Board released in August of this year, which has recently come into my possession. It confirms the fact that I have just stated to the House.
So far as Australia is concerned, the limiting factors are not so much lack of. effort in stimulating interest in the United Kingdom - indeed,, we maintain an active publicity and organizational campaign throughout the British Isles - nor lack of interest on the part of a sufficient number of British people to emigrate to this country. In both those directions, the results are quite encouraging. One of the limiting factors is accommodation in this country, which is restricted partly by the limitation of the special provision we have made through our own Commonwealth hostels; and those are. now occupied almost to practicable capacity, and partly by the need, in the case of other assisted passage immigrants for nomination by either friends or relatives, in Australia. We have never imposed any limit on the numbers who come here and are assisted by the financing of about 85 per cent, of the value of the fare to this country. So, we require accommodation at this end from those who will nominate friends and relatives, if that can be done. Secondly, we have some limitation by the shipping available.
– “ New Australia “ is on the Cyprus run.
– “ New Ausnralia “ is one vessel that has been under our direct control and which is temporarily off the run, but in order to offset that loss, we are chartering “ Fairsea “ for three voyages, which should give us almost the same intake as we would have had from the same number of voyages by “ New Australia “, though we certainly hope that “ New Australia “ will not be off the run indefinitely. In addition, we have booked all available shipping space with the private shipping lines, so that as berths can be provided we shall be able to fill them with British immigrants. It may have appeared from figures recently published by the Commonwealth Statistician that the percentage of British, in relation to other immigrants, has declined. In point of fact, the overall intake has not declined. The figure of 30,000 for the first six months of this year was slightly higher than the halfyearly figure for the previous year. We are at present discussing with the Statistician the adoption of a. more satisfactory method of analysis, because the figures include a certain number of Australians who leave this country for more, than twelve months but who are classified as permanent departures. We. do not get a corresponding advantage if those Australians come back short of the twelve-month period. On the point raised by the honorable gentleman concerning the attitude of the United Kingdom Government, I do not propose to analyse that matter in. any detail, but I can assure him that my discussions with the present Minister for Commonwealth Relations, the Earl of Home, when he was out here, were quite encouraging from our point of view, and from what I have been able to read of the accounts of debates in the House of Lords: in which he has participated since then, it is clear that he and his Prime Minister recognize the value, for all Commonwealth countries, of a steady stream of British immigration.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for External Affairs. I understand that arrangements have been made for the Australian Ambassador to the United States, Sir Percy Spender, to attend the London conference on the Suez Canal dispute. I should like to know whether any directive has been given to Sir Percy Spender, in attending the conference, or whether he has merely a watching brief. Has he been given any definite proposals or views of the Australian Government that he will express at the conference?
– After full discussion during this morning with the whole Ministry, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, I sent, on behalf of the Government, a full directive to Sir Percy Spender in London, to reach him just before the conference began. That will be supplemented by a further enlargement on the directive, I should hope, later to-day. Tt is not a question of a waiting or a watching brief. Australia is a full member of this conference that is opening in London to-day. Sir Percy Spender will represent Australia as the delegate of Australia, and he will be supported, I may say, by three most competent public servants, Sir Edwin McCarthy, Mr. ‘ Arthur Tange, the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, and Mr. Mclntyre, the senior representative of the Department of External Affairs in London.
– Will the right honorable gentleman make those instructions available - not to-day, but at the appropriate time - so that the House will be informed of the current Australian policy, and so that we may debate it?
– I do not really believe that the right honorable gentleman would wish the confidential instructions to be made public at this time.
– No, not at this moment.
– I should think that all relevant facts, including the proceedings of this current London conference, will be made plain by the Prime Minister when he speaks on Tuesday evening.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. What are the prospects of increasing our export figures by the shipment of hybrid maize to Japan and other Asian markets? Is it intended to promote the production of more profitable lines, such as this, rather than to persist with some of our traditional lines that are becoming increasingly hard to sell?
– The Australian Government is, of course, most eager to promote the production of any primary product that will help in solving our balance of payments problem and, for that matter, to help in the production and sale overseas of any of the products of secondary industry or of minerals. So far as hybrid maize is concerned, recently a deputation did go to Japan and it returned, I think, with a favorable report on the prospects for the sale there of maize. I do not think that in the past the sales of maize have been very high; they have been quite small and. frankly, the report which I recently read in one of the newspapers about the opportunities for selling 50,000 tons per annum was, I think, a little exaggerated. Nonetheless, I shall obtain the full facts for the honorable member and convey an answer to him just as soon as I can do so.
– I desire to ask a question of you, Mr. Speaker. I take it that your functions include seeing to the convenience of members of the Parliament and ensuring that all facilities are placed close to them, particularly for the benefit of those who may be crippled to a degree or advanced in years. As we have to buy our postage stamps now, we have to travel down to the dungeons of Parliament House, whereas at one time the post office was located on the main floor of this building. When postage stamps were free to honorable members, they were issued by the Correspondence Attendant. I hope to God that they will again be issued free. As the Correspondence Attendant was formerly entrusted with the issuing of stamps, surely the Postal Department could trust him now to sell stamps to honorable members. This procedure would be a little more convenient and we would avoid having to go up and down stairs. It does hurt me to have to do that, apart from having to pay for the stamps.
– I shall have a look at the matter raised by the honorable member and inform him later of the result.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that the highest price for tobacco this year was obtained by growers in the Ashford district of northern New South Wales? This price averaged about 156d. per lb., which is 20d. better than the average for the whole of Australia. If the Minister is aware of the suitability of the Ashford district for the growing of high-quality tobacco, could he say what action the department can take, and is taking, to increase the number of tobacco holdings in this locality, and has the department conducted a survey to determine the extent of suitable land in the district?
– I was aware that the prices realized by tobacco leaf-growers in Australia this year were both profitable and, 1 think, reasonable. I was not aware of the very high price realized in the Ashford district, but if it is in the honorable member’s electorate, I think it could be understood that he would be doing his best to get the best price that could be obtained for the growers there. I think you will know, Mr. Speaker, that with the possible exception of ex-servicemen settlers the Australian Government has no constitutional authority to settle persons on the land. Therefore direct settlement is the responsibility of the New South Wales Government. As far as incentives are concerned, I think that the Commonwealth is doing all that lies within its capacity. The amount of overseas funds allotted for the purchase of tobacco leaf has been substantially reduced and the quantitity of Australian leaf that must be included in Australian cigarettes and tobacco has been substantially increased as an inducement to use Australian leaf. Besides that, the extension services are actively working and therefore, we think there is a marked incentive for people to go onto the land and produce tobacco leaf. I think it can well be said that the opportunities for tobacco leaf producers are high to-day and should continue high in the future.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral have inquiries made concerning an application lodged by a constituent of mine, living at 146 Shepherd-street, Redfern, for the installation of a telephone service for business purposes? I have been told it is now ten years since the application for this service was lodged. The house in which my constituent resides, at the rear of a shop, is wired for a telephone and every year the department writes to inquire whether the telephone is still required. I should like to know when the facility will be provided.
– Obviously, I will not be able to give the honorable member an immediate answer to his question; I do not think that he would expect it. But I assure him that I shall have the case that he mentioned looked into, and give him a reply.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Immigration whether extradition treaties exist between Australia and Communist countries. Has any recent examination been made by the Government in regard to this question? Can the Minister give any assurance to new Australians that they would be safe from any false accusations that might be made against them and that no deportations will take place while any review is being considered of the extradition treaties with Communist countries?
– As my colleague, the Minister for External Affairs, pointed out to the House at an earlier time this year, we do have a certain number of treaties with countries that are now under Communist control. Those treaties were entered into with those countries at a much earlier point of time. Following one episode in which the Government found it necessary to act, a review has been taking place in which the Department of External Affairs, the Attorney-General’s Department, and the Department of Immigration have participated, and we are awaiting the conclusion of that review. However, I can assure the honorable gentleman that the Government is well aware of the special circumstances which exist in the Communist countries and the problems which arise when extradition is sought of any immigrant who has settled here in Australia. I can also assure the honorable member that, we shall take all action that we consider proper to protect the interests of a settler and to ensure that no charge which might be suspected of having some political background could be levelled under the extradition arrangements in a manner which would be detrimental to the interests of the settler here. Up to this point of time, we have acted fully to protect the immigrants and they can be assured that protection will continue.
– Will the Minister for Defence Production inform the House whether it is a fact, as stated by the honorable member for Chisholm, that as far as the St. Mary’s programme is concerned, there were far more mysteries about it than the Minister was prepared to disclose? If this is a fact, will the Minister unravel those mysteries before leaving for Mayfair, and explain why certain facts have evidently been withheld from the public in connexion with this huge undertaking?
– I have no knowledge of any mystery associated with St. Mary’s except the origin of the name itself. That may convey some idea of the mystery in the mind of the honorable member for Grayndler if he interprets it in the right way. The honorable member for Chisholm has spoken in very vague terms. Had he been much more explicit, I might have been able to unravel some of the mysteries that are worrying him.
– Has the
Minister for External Affairs seen a report that the United Kingdom is to grant independence to the Gold Coast within the British Commonwealth of Nations? Has the Government of Australia, which is a leading member of the British Commonwealth, been informed of the matter?
– It would be more proper to say that notice has been given by the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the United Kingdom Government of its intention to introduce in the House of Commons at an early opportunity a bill to give independence to the Gold Coast. I think it is proposed that, if this bill meets with the approval of the United Kingdom Parliament, independence shall operate from a date early in 1957. The Australian Government has been consulted in this matter and, of course, at once agreed to the proposal. I should say that this move is entirely in line with the pattern that the United Kingdom Government has followed, in its most enlightened way, for a great many years now - a pattern of giving to colonies, in the course of their evolution, independence within the British Commonwealth of Nations as soon as they are fitted for it.
– I direct to the Minister for Immigration a question concerning the practice of the Adelaide office of the Department of Immigration of notifying Government senators of naturalization ceremonies to be held in electorates represented in this House try Opposition members. Will the Minister arrange that, when Government senators are notified, similar notification shall be sent to the member who represents the electorate in this House so that he may at least know when these ceremonies are to be held?
– I have previously assured the House that no party political discrimination is exercised in this matter. The practice which I have tried to develop in order to impress upon the candidate for naturalization that his introduction into the Australian community has the support of, and is welcomed by, all sections of the Australian people, political and otherwise, has been to invite to the ceremony a senator who belongs to a party other than that to which the representative in this
House belongs, and f hope that this practice has been adopted in .all electorates. If not, 1 should be glad if honorable members would bring to my notice any departure from it. If a ceremony were to be held in the electorate represented by the honorable member for Kingston, who has the distinction of belonging to the Australian Labour party, it would be normal practice to invite a Government senator to participate in the ceremony. On the other hand, we would notify a Labour senator of a naturalization ceremony to be held in an electorate represented by a Government supporter. I shall inquire whether notification could not be given also to the sitting member in South Australia. 1 assume that the officers of the Department of Immigration believe that the local governing authority, in normal circumstances, would notify the sitting member but might omit to notify a senator. 1 shall investigate the matter and see that the honorable member’s .proposal is given effect.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Customs and Excise. Several recent newspaper reports have stated that cheap watches are being smuggled into Australia in large quantities, and are being sold in hotels, factories and other premises. Is this correct? Is the Minister satisfied with arrangements made to prevent smuggling of these and other articles?
– I have heard complaints of the sort mentioned by the honorable member. I am, generally, satisfied with the efficacy of the measures used by the Department of Customs and Excise to prevent smuggling. Indeed, I have been very much impressed by the attention to detail and the persistence of the investigation branch of the department in following up cases of alleged smuggling, and I am quite satisfied that there is no largescale smuggling of the kind mentioned by the honorable member. I am not so sanguine, of course, as to think that every case of somebody arriving on an overseas ship or .aircraft, with a watch in his pocket that he intends to sell, is discovered, or that we shall ever reach such a stage of perfection in the prevention of smuggling but I am .reasonably sure that no large-scale smuggling of watches into Australia is occurring. The honorable member will no doubt be interested to learn of the result of a careful investigation by the department of one complaint of the sort to which the honorable gentleman has referred. It was alleged that somebody was hawking, in an hotel bar; watches said to have been smuggled, but it was found on investigation that the watch concerned in the particular case brought to notice, far from being a smuggled watch, was one of a cheap make that had been imported in the ordinary way under import licence, and on which full duty had been paid. It was one of a large number of cheap watches which are imported legitimately in the ordinary course of business, but in this instance it was sold at about something between twice or three times the price for which it could have been obtained from any ordinary retailer of such articles. I suppose it is an odd commentary on human nature that apparently a hawker can always get twice the fair price of an article by suggesting, or stating, that it is smuggled, and that the buyer will be getting it cheap. As a result, he gets more for it than the price for which it could be obtained from a legitimate trader. I think that the only moral to be drawn from this story is that people would do very much better to go to established retailers and buy such articles in the ordinary way.
– Will the Minister for
Supply say whether any royalties are payable to the Commonwealth by private companies which mine uranium in Commonwealth territory? Has any uranium been exported by any such companies and, if so, what is the approximate value of the amount exported and what is the value of the royalties, if any, paid to the Commonwealth?
– I can give the honorable gentleman an accurate answer immediately to some of his questions, but I think the proper way to deal with the matter would be for me to give him, as soon as possible, a considered reply to all the questions.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. The right honorable gentleman will recall that, on the night of
Sunday, 12th August, the Government revealed the names and status of the gentlemen whom it had decided to appoint to the new Commonwealth Industrial Court and the new Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I now ask himwhy no disclosure was made that the Government had also decided at the same time to appoint a new chief judge of the old Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and’ Arbitration. I ask further why the announcement of this appointment was withheld until a special “ Gazette “ with an interpolated number and interpolated pages was issued on 4th September, more than three weeks later. Does the Government intend that the chief judgeship of the oldcourt shall be a sinecure? Or does it intend that that court should undertake, or continue to perform, certain functions? If so, what functions does the Government have in mind?
– I think, having regard to the. fact that certain proceedings are pending before the Privy Council, I should have a considered reply prepared in answer to the honorable gentleman’s questions.
– Is the Minister for Trade aware that members of the delegation from Rhodesia at present visiting Canberra have indicated that Australian farm implements and machinery are specially suited to Rhodesian conditions but that they are unable to obtain supplies; and further, that there is a potential market in Rhodesia for Australian consumer goods of a wide variety, if continuity of supplies can be assured? In view of the policy of the Government to expand our export markets, will the Minister investigate the possibility of improving our trade with Rhodesia and encouraging Australian exporters to meet the demand there for Australian goods?
– I am not aware that the visitors from Rhodesia now in Canberra have indicated that they are unable to placeeffective orders for agricultural machinery. However, I shall be glad to interest myself in that matter, because Australia hasa very big trade with Africa in the export of agricultural machinery - a trade worth some millions of pounds a year. I should think that the cause of the trouble is shipping difficulties rather than the actual availability of machinery, but I shall look into the matter. I am aware, as also are the officials of the Department of Trade, of the opportunities for Australian trade that exist in Rhodesia. A trade commissioner post has been opened in Rhodesia during the last couple of years. I am able to assure the honorable member that during that time a quite substantial additional trade from Australia to Rhodesia has been generated, but we think there is still an opportunity for a further expansion. I thank the honorable member for his interest in the matter, and I assure him that the Government is pursuing this trade opportunity.
– Recently the honorable member for Blaxland asked the PostmasterGeneral a question concerning a £10 fee for the installation of new telephones and also for removals. The Postmaster-General evaded the question and said that the matter would be fully explained in the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1956 when he introduced that measure into the House. I ask the Minister: Why was this important matter not explained in his second-reading speech on that bill? Is he now in a position to inform the House whether the £10 fee will apply to all outstanding applications for telephone services, some of which were lodged up to ten years ago - I heard the honorable member for West Sydney mention one such application this afternoon - or whether the fee will apply only to applications lodged after 30th September next? If he has not decided on the latter course, will he reconsider the charge and not impose it? 1 think he will agree with me that to impose a £10 surcharge on 60,000 or 70,000 applicants who have been waiting for so long for telephones would be adding insult to injury.
– I remember the question that was asked by the honorable member for Blaxland, to which the honorable member for Banks has referred. My recollection of my reply is that I said the matter would be dealt with during the budget debate. I said that with full knowledge of the fact that it would not be referred to in my second-reading speech on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1956, which is now before the House. The procedure with regard to increases of telephone rates is that such increases are made by regulation. There will be an opportunity to discuss the matter when the Estimates are under consideration. Possibly I was incorrect in referring to the “ budget debate “, but 1 was using that term in a general sense. If the honorable member desires to know the position regarding the imposition of the £10 installation fee, 1 can tell him now that the fee will be charged in respect of all telephones installed after the gazettal of the regulation, if the applications have not been processed by the department. In cases where a proposal has been made by the department and accepted by the applicant and an initial rental has been paid, the installation fee of £10 will not be charged.
– 1 have received complaints regarding the poor quality of wheat sold as f.a.q., at the appropriate price, for stock feed purposes. I ask the Minister for Primary Industry whether his department has any power to assist in solving this problem. If not, can the attention of the Australian Wheat Board be directed to it so that the farmer shall not be charged the full price for poor-quality wheal?
– 1 have not received any protests of the nature described by the honorable member, and 1 doubt whether the matter comes within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Government. Nonetheless, if he has any particular cases to which he can draw my attention, I will invite the Australian Wheat Board to consider the matter and say what it thinks can be done about it.
Motion (by Dr. Evatt) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) on the ground of ill health.
Motion (by Sir Eric Harrison) agreed to -
That Government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
Debate resumed from 18th September (vide page 631), on motion by Mr. Davidson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This measure was discussed last night by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He made some very pertinent comments on the question of the increased cost of radio licences, which must have a great bearing on the cost of living, and the general amenities of the community. I read his statement most carefully, and also the ensuing remarks by Government supporters, as well as some interjections by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson). It is not at all clear why the impost should be so high. It is obvious from the accounts that, like costs in every other section of community life, broadcasting costs have increased, but the proposed 15s. increase seems pretty stiff at the moment, lt contains implications for many people which ought to be considered. I do not think that the Postmaster-General and the Government should have made a sort of block decision upon this matter. They should have made some investigation of the impact that the extra 15s. will have on the holders of radio licences.
The fact is that, because of higher charges for transport, and other items contributing to the cost of living, even a small increase cannot be easily absorbed by the average person in the community. This could quite easily be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It might contribute to the operation of the law of diminishing returns - something that is discussed a great deal in this House. It may be that many people will sooner give up their radios than pay the increase, although that is almost unthinkable in a country like this, which has developed so greatly in the fields of radio and communications generally, and will, I hope, in future, develop television to a similar extent.
I realize that the increase relates only to licences held in zone 1, but the PostmasterGeneral hopes to get in quite a considerable amount of money from it. During question-time to-day he has told us what he is going to do in regard to telephones and, as I am out of order in discussing that, I shall mention it only in passing. It appears that the only future for the taxpayer is a very black one in which there will be higher charges for ali amenities. Everywhere he turns he will find increases being piled on to him. I have in mind such things as radio, transport and direct and indirect taxation, including sales tax. These increases have already become so burdensome that further increases which might normally be quite feasible can no longer be absorbed. I suppose that it is useless to suggest to the Postmaster-General a reconsideration of this matter.
The proposed increase in the radio licencefee brings up another question that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition discussed with some authority last night. I refer to the present overall fee for all radios in a home, irrespective of number. I do not know that the flat rate approach to radio licensing, pensions payments, or taxation, is the right approach in the long run. 1 put that forward for general thought by the Parliament. There is real merit in the criticism offered by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition of the fact that a family may have a radio in every room and in one or perhaps two cars for the payment of one licence-fee. In the days of the Chifley Government the licence-fee was much smaller, but it was levied in respect of every radio that was used. Perhaps if the new 15s. impost had been regarded as something that would put a last squeeze on people already hanging precariously on to their amenities things might have been different. It might have been better to consider the imposition of an extra charge upon persons who had lots of wireless sets. That seems a more reasonable approach, and more considerate of the purse and condition of the Australian people, than saying, in a blind sort of way, “ Well, costs are going up, and it will cost another 15s. to listen to your radio “.
Then we come to the extremely broad question of radio programmes. Quite obviously, the bulk of listeners tune into the commercial stations. It is not their fault that the programmes on those stations are not always good. Research groups in the fields of public relations and amusements have decided what the public like to hear, and they see that the public gets it; but if one listens to the radio from day to day and analyses just what the people actually get for their money, one realizes that much low-grade entertainment is provided. I do not know whether the experts think that it is necessary only to “ sing em muck “, but that is what the public gets. Naturally, our tastes in radio programmes differ greatly. Some people like to listen to symphony music, others like talks. Still others like the sporting features, and it is very difficult to decide which programmes should be broadcast. However, there is no great difficulty in determining quality.
If one looks at what the B class stations have done to us in this country, purely on the cultural level - and I hesitate to use the term - and turn from that to see what the Australian Broadcasting Commission has done to us on the same level, the difference is quite apparent. However, there is dead silence in most homes when any one wants to turn to the national stations and listen to the news, because the others in the family have been conditioned by propaganda to believe that the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s programmes are too heavy. There are many light programmes, of good general standard, but if one goes mercilessly on the number of listeners, one finds that the preponderance is much on the side of the B class stations.
If the Minister is determined to charge another 1:5 s. for radio licences, those who are playing “ Old Harry “ with our radio programmes - the radio advertisers - could be asked to take a share of the burden. I would remind honorable members, though probably they will not need reminding, that if at election time they wish to bring to the attention of the public their admirable qualifications for remaining members of the Parliament, the printer will charge them for the publicity and add to this 12± per cent, for sales tax. But there is no sales tax on newspaper advertising, or on radio advertising. The increase of 15s. constitutes a pretty heavy burden on the average citizen, and if extra revenue was required I am surprised that the Government did not try to obtain it in some other way, rather than taking it directly from the pockets of poor old John Citizen and his wife, from whom it gets most of its revenue. The Government should consider the immense amount of money that is being made by radio stations to-day. So-called stars are paid £50 or £60 a night to appear in soap operas. When these things are considered, it is obvious that broadcasting companies should make a greater contribution to government revenue, and that listeners should not be expected to provide all the extra revenue that is required.
I hope to be allowed to say a few words on the subject of television before my time expires, so I shall sum up my remarks on this aspect of the measure by saying that the 15s. increase is too heavy an impost. The Minister is a reasonable man, and I must say, in justice, that he is a very efficient Postmaster-General, except in industrial matters. In general, he has carried out his duties in a very fair manner, but 1 think he will agree that the Government is squeezing the average person in the community a bit too much by increasing the licence-fee by 15s., especially in view of all the other increased costs that are imposed upon him. It may be advisable to look closely at the whole field of radio entertainment and to consider the functions and performances of A class stations vis-a-vis the B class stations. It may be found that some persons who are making a lot of money out of radio are in a better position to contribute than is the average listener.
– Is the honorable member referring to commercial stations?
– I am, certainly. Sales tax is imposed on the written word if published as a dodger, but there is no sales tax on the written word if published as an advertisement in a newspaper or over the radio. I commend this suggestion to the Treasurer. He may find .it helpful as a means of at least beginning to obtain extra taxes from some other sources, rather than continually putting his hand into the pocket of poor old John Citizen.
I should like now to make a few remarks about television. I realize that this bill makes no provision for definite rates. I hope that the Minister is not indicating to Mr. Speaker that I should not talk about television in the debate on this bill.
– The honorable member may do so, because it is referred to in the bill.
– Yes, but no specific rates are set down, and this is a rates bill. However, I shall not argue the case against myself, and Mr. Speaker has made no demur. The Postmaster-General has indicated that the cost of maintaining our radio services has increased to such an extent that the Government is forced to increase the licence-fee. Television is now with us. It has begun in the capital cities in a small way and, apparently, very efficiently. The television licence-fee has been fixed at £5. The price of an average good television receiver is £205, although it should be about £45. That is about what a set costs in the United Kingdom, and a good set sells in the United States of America for a number of dollars equivalent to about £45. lt appears, therefore, that the Australian people are being mulct in high purchase costs because television is new. I ask the Postmaster-General whether we are to have a series of fee increases for television as well as for radio. Television will remain a curiosity and a novelty because of the high cost involved.
I ask the Minister to consider the prices of television sets to-day. The standard price is about £200. i have not seen sets displayed or advertised for less than that. I understand that about £6,000,000 has been spent, by the Government and by private enterprise, in the establishment of television in Australia, and that the number of listeners will be well under 100,000 for a long time to come. I believe that only about 3,000 sets have been sold up to date. The Sydney “ Daily Mirror “ yesterday published a splendid article on the subject of television, its implications, its challenge to radio, and other matters connected with the subject. It was revealed that only 3,000 television sets’ have so far been sold. I take it that that is the number sold in New South Wales, although it could quite possibly refer to the whole of Australia, because, apart from sets that -are being bought for hotels, restaurants and places of amusement, members of the general public have bought very few. The “ Mirror “ said that, even if the number of listeners is considered to be 6,000, allowing two to each set, .they all could be accommodated in the M. A. Noble stand at the Sydney
Cricket Ground. Having those matters in mind, and considering what television has already cost and what it will cost in the future, what will we get out of it? if, after television becomes firmly established, the radio industry finds itself in the doldrums financially, what in the name of goodness are we to be committed for for television?
The same article in the “ Daily Mirror “ suggests that a good quality set - and 1 mention no brand - costs about £205. The aerial and installation cost £35. A licence-fee of £5 has been imposed by the Postmaster-General. The owner of a set must put aside 10s. a week for repairs. The cathode ray picture tube, which carries the image, may last, like a car battery, for any period between twelve months and three years, and it costs £30 to replace. Apparently the average citizen will not be able to afford television for a long time. When we are confronted with all these facts, we must seriously consider the entertainment value of television, both in the commercial .field and in the field controlled by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. It seems that we can never hope .for as high a number of listeners as there are in the more populated countries, because I understand that reception is limited to a distance of about 50 miles from the broadcasting station, although there are certain classic exceptions to this general rule.
If we are committed to this continuing expenditure, and we are in the position of Australian writers in having a very limited market, then we should try to do a good Australian job. In this connexion 1 return to the theme with which I have probably bored honorable ‘members several times before. I suggest that the proportion of Australian artists, technicians and other employees engaged in the television industry should be kept at least as high as the Minister promised. It will be recalled that when the main legislation was being put through this Parliament the Opposition moved an amendment to the original bill, which the Government defeated by the use of its brutal majority. We did, however, wring an assurance from the Minister that the maximum of employment would be provided for Australian actors on television.
I believe that the Minister was sincere in giving that assurance. Television will cost us a lot of money, and it appears that it will not boom for a long time to come - and I should like to see it boom. We have an opportunity to be unique in our television presentation. We need not present only Yankee programmes, or British programmes, or continental programmes. Let our stations give us the very essence of Australia, through our own artists. We shall be paying plenty for it, and we would pay gladly if it achieved the very laudable purpose of expressing our own views and presenting our own way of life and ethical standards. We can do all this by developing the quota system, whether by a statutory provision or by the good judgment of the Minister himself. I look forward to television developing in such a way that Australians will be given every opportunity of employment in that field. 1 congratulate the Minister on one aspect of this matter. I have been watching developments closely, mainly for the purpose of ascertaining how the standard of entertainment will develop. I understand that the Minister looked at a programme which did not contain the proportion of Australian material that had been decided upon. 1 am not talking so much about employment; the programme did not belong to us. It was not Australian and did not have a sufficient quota of Australian personality to make it an Australian programme. It was rejected. If that is so, I congratulate the Postmaster-General.
– Permission to commence it was refused.
– I am very glad to hear that, because it means the PostmasterGeneral is honouring a promise that he gave, as I expected he would do. That is the beginning. If we continue to do that, we will not be worried about “ bodgie ‘’ programmes on B class stations or the imitations of the highbrow that are sometimes heard on A class stations. If the people demand through their representatives in this House the right to have Australian television, we will have high-class entertainment. That is the most important point with these programmes to-day.
The Postmaster-General has taken care with- quotas on television programmes. I hope that no pressure on him from the
Australian Broadcasting Control Board or outside sources will cause him to deviate from the line that he has set himself. He will have the distinction, and I should say it would be an honour, of bringing Australian programmes on television to this country. If he does that, he need have no fear that television sets will not be bought. He will have broken down a barrier that exists between the Australian and overseas monopolist who comes on our television, radio and everything else and is selling the outside idea to us. We do not exclude that; art is international; but there is not much art in ordinary everyday entertainment. We should be able to have our own share of entertainment, whether it is radio, television, or flesh-and-blood presentations on the stage.
A third point in which the Labour party is vitally interested is employment. Actors Equity of Australia has a membership of 2,000 or 3,000 people who are actively engaged in radio and stage work in Sydney and other capital cities. Their livelihood will be endangered if television programmes are to consist mainly of rescreening of films. A film being run through a television set is like home-movies for which one pays a licence-fee of £5 and all the old dreadful “ bodgie “ stuff is dragged up. If some one gets whirring on television in that way, the Australian will not be given a fair go in that matter. Therefore, the question of quota is important. I am sure the PostmasterGeneral now understands exactly what 1 was driving at because he is doing what has been suggested. If he continues to do that, he will be doing a very good job indeed.
There is another matter in regard to television that I should like to mention. Already trouble has arisen with the unions over television. This might even come to a case of the restriction of civil liberties. An employee may appear in person before a television screen, say, to advertise a certain product. While he is making this appearance in person, he is filmed. The company engaging him has the right to rescreen that film on television at any time and his one service may be repeated 100 times, according to the publicity value of the advertisement. The union, Actors Equity, is trying to create in the minds of producers and entrepreneurs the idea that he is a worker and as such he should not be asked to do one job so that it can be televised 50 times without a reproduction fee. A log of claims covering this and other matters has already been filed with the industrial court. It is the first trouble on the industrial side of television.
We ask the Postmaster-General to have a very serious look at this matter, and to confer with the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. If that matter is not alined quickly, no programmes will be televised because, unless the support of the advertiser is forthcoming, at least in commercial television, there will be no entertainment at all. It seems fair to suggest in this new medium, which is beset with so many difficulties, that the worker employed in the industry should get a chance. We are dependent on the actor and actress for the type of entertainment we will get and, if they are alive to the problems arising with this new medium, we should thank them. They made us aware of the effect of the “ canned “ programmes that had been finished with years ago in America. Nobody wanted them and they have been brought into this country in bulk to be served up on the old “ sing ‘em muck “ theory. They also apprised us of the need for quotas so far as Australian artists and script writers are concerned. Now they draw attention to their industrial problems in relation to a new medium.
The Postmaster-General should understand that this bill does not concern rates only. He has quite a human problem here in increasing the fee for radio licences by 15s. That increase is really a slug on the people. I know that age pensioners and others have special rights, but it is not only the pensioner who is feeling the pinch to-day - if I may make a pun. The ordinary person also feels the impact of 15s. added to other payments of 5s., 3s., 10s., and so on, ad infinitum. Costs are becoming mountainous and are causing grave concern. I know that the Government is not likely to retreat from its position, but it should examine other sources within the entertainment world from which to obtain money to pay for these costs. They should not all be shovelled on to the listener. If some one is making a good thing out of radio, he should pay a little more into it.
All the listener wants is the right to have cheap access to the communications of the world of entertainment. He should be able to twirl the dial of his radio for a licencefee of about 10s. On a flat rate, that is all it is worth. Instead of that, the licence-fee is now £2 15s., which is right out of all conscience.
On the television side, I ask the PostmasterGeneral to continue to watch the question of the use of Australians. By using Australians we must have better programmes and, if we have better programmes, the Postmaster-General will earn the eternal thanks of the Australian community.
.- 1 do not share the rather unhappy attitude of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) and, in one case, the viciously destructive attitude of the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who said that he switched off “ Blue Hills “ in disgust. That displayed some sort of inverted snobbery that is in his make-up. In other ways, the honorable member for Melbourne has a nice personality, but when he gets on to anything to do with propaganda he gets some sort of pathological sickness in his mind. I feel that if we were not in power we might have an Australian Broadcasting Control Board with pictures of the honorable member for Melbourne on the wall emulating “ Big Brother “ trying to find out what we were thinking, and controlling us in every way.
Without going into the fulsome praise that often is heard in Parliament, I believe it is fair to say that we are blessed with the best broadcasting system in the world. We have the best of both British and American systems. Britain has government broadcasting and America has commercial broadcasting; here, we have a blend of the two systems. We have an Australian Broadcasting Commission and an Australian Broadcasting Control Board. At first their functions were somewhat blurred, but it is now emerging that the Australian Broadcasting Commission controls the programmes and spends about £3,000,000 on them, and that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board looks after technical standards in broadcasting and is supposed to look after the programme standards of commercial stations. However, it needs a little more courage, to do. some things that 1 may mention later. In television,, the AustralianBroadcasting Commission will control the telecasting of programmes and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will again look after the technical work in presenting the programmes. The PostmasterGeneral said that the department was spending £5,700,000, or nearly £2,000,000 short of the total income, but he did not refer to the estimated expenditure on capital works for television, which is included in the budget. Last year, such expenditure amounted to approximately £346,000, and this year it is estimated that almost £2,000,000 will be spent. On the operations and maintenance side, £124,000 was expended in the year which ended on 30th June last, and it is estimated that £1,036,000 will be spent during, the current financial year. Those figures, of course, apply only to the national television services, not to services operated, by private companies, one of which commenced its. telecasts in Sydney last Sunday night. lt will be seen, therefore, that- the Australian Broadcasting Commission will be preparing programmes, and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will be erecting television masts, to the value of many millions of pounds more than the total revenue that will be received from the 15s. that the bill before the House proposes to add to the cost of- a listener’s licence. Nobody wants to make goods and services dearer, least of all this Government, but it is obvious that, for a number of years, broadcasting services have been costing the country millions of pounds more than the revenue they have earned. At a time when the Government must take a lead in cutting costs, it is important that those people who are receiving broadcasting and television services, and who appreciate them, should pay a little more, towards the cost of those services. Only by charging the people- who enjoy the services is it possible to ascertain their value. I suggest that not many people will decline to renew their broadcast listener’s licence because the fee. has been increased by 15s.
The service provided by the Australian Broadcasting Commission is very good.. We are proud, to know that programmes, broadcast by Radio Australia, which, no doubt, are prepared by- officers of the commission who also prepare, the ordinary programmes on several occasions have been adjudged, the most popular broadcasting programmes in the world. That has. been ascertained by surveys. I understand that, during the financial year which ended in June last, no fewer than 22,000 letters, mostly from South-East Asia, were, received by the commission in respect of Radio Australia programmes. You, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, and many other honorable members, know that Australians were very popular overseas during the war years, particularly- in the Middle East and Malaya. lt will be. remembered that, in the latter country, Australian prisoners of war weretreated with great kindness, by Chinese people: and others who. even risked: their lives to succour our men. who were starving and to help them in every possible: way. Those actions- demonstrated friendliness towards the Australian people. It. is important, therefore, that we should keep; in contact with the. people, of those: countries, by means of broadcasts such as thos© put out by Radio. Australia-. In my opinion, this broadcasting service, is- of priceless value to us, because it enables people, overseas to learn about Australian- plays, music and other things, and it does so. in a lighthearted, and friendly way.
The national broadcasting services- are of great value to the people of Australia. Let us consider, for instance, the broadcasts for the schools. I undersand that approximately 1,000,000 school children, or 85 per cent, of the total number of school children in this country, listen regularly- to these broadcasts, which are prepared not only- by the Departments of Education in the various States, but also by special officers, who co-ordinate the national education services. The school children are able: to enjoy these broadcasts free, of charge, because, no charge- is made in respect of radio sets used in schools. The effects of- the recent floods - one. of the most, tragic happenings in. our- history - were lessened- because of broadcasting services. In. this connexion* the national stations have done excellent work. I remember that, years ago, during floods at Kempsey, a man switched on his radio to. learn the: height of’ the river and what was- likely- to happen, but unfortunately, since, it was Saturday afternoon, all he hear,d was a race broadcast.. This service has since, been improved.. The honorable: member for Lyne. (Mr. Lucock) knows that the Australian. Broadcasting Commission now goes to great pains to gather accurate information about such matters as rainfall and the height of rivers, at critical points, in order to be able to forecast possible floods for the benefit of people, who live along, the lower reaches of rivers and who may be in danger. Such informal lion is not so important in. respect of the slow-running rivers, as it is possible to know weeks ahead that a flood is coming, but in respect of the fast-running rivers information of that kind prevents loss of life and damage to property, because precautions may be taken beforehand.
In New South Wales, there is an emergency rescue organization attached to the Police Department, and I hope that a similar organization exists in other States. L suggest that if the. signalman at South Head had. known of this service at the time, that he. received distress, signals from, the collier “Birchgrove Park”, it is possible that no lives would, have been lost. Everybody should know of these services and. everybody should, assist in gathering, information which is so. important to their successful operations, whether undertaken in respect of. people, who are in danger of losing their lives at sea, or in respect of bush fires, floods or other calamities. The national and commercial broadcasting and television stations and. in fact, all involved in these wonderful, instantaneous media, can assist by providing information. In some instances, newspapers cannot be delivered to flooded areas. For instance, when I visited Singleton some days after the. flood had reached its height, 1 found that the newspapers had not got through, so that the people would not have known what was happening had they not been able to listen to their radios.
As. a farmer, I hesitate to join the honorable member for Parkes and discuss the appreciation of fine music, but I am sure that many young people in Australia have been helped to appreciate fine music by the work of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
– 1 think- that that is agreed-.
– Recently, whilst working and making notes, I listened for some hours to a broadcast- of Handel’s oratorio. “ The Creation “, and I do not think I have ever- heard, anything more beautiful. I compliment the Australian Broadcasting Commission on its production of the work and on the high technical standard that it attained. It was really memorable, and I shall never forget it. Therefore, I, and I am sure many thousands of Australians, have something for which to thank the. commission. Opportunities for young: artists are much greater to-day because of the encouragement given to new talent through “ Amateur hour “ programmes. Those programmes are of considerable help: in training- people for- broadcasting work and giving them some incentive. The six symphony orchestras maintained by the. commission and subsidized by the State governments and municipal authorities provide fine concerts, including youth concerts. Unfortunately, many of us are not able to attend those concerts, but we are able, to hear at least a. part of them because of broadcasting. Talks and news reviews are most interesting. I am sure that many honorable members, after hearing talks on the radio, take the trouble to write for copies of them. Each week I write for copies of the one or two talks I have time to hear, and they are always supplied.
– All those good speeches of the honorable member’s which I read in “ Hansard “ are not his?
– I do not enclose myself, in a hermit’s cabin. I try to find out what is going on. I like to read the words of wisdom of other persons and I use them in preparing the speeches I have to make. I think that the honorable member for Parkes does likewise, because he, too, is sometimes well informed. In Australia, sporting broadcasts, are apparently very important. One cannot listen to a radio, on Saturdays, or any night when a boxing contest is being conducted, without being aware of that. The Australian. Broadcasting Control Board could, arrange, matters better and avoid having almost every- station broadcasting descriptions of racing events on Saturdays. This was certainly the. case some, years ago, and one. had. to turn to 2CH, the churches’ station, in order to hear music. I understand that the position in this respect has been improved,, and that on Saturdays 2BL does broadcast, musical and other programmes not related, to sport:
In our free country, persons are entitled to go to hotels, have a few beers, and listen to racing broadcasts, but this type of broadcast should not monopolize the time of radio stations. Such persons comprise only a small percentage of the Australian people. Most of us are home-loving persons who like to hear music. We do not want to hear racing broadcasts only, no matter how good the horses may be; we want to listen to other programmes as well. We are all looking forward to hearing broadcasts of events at the Olympic Games, if such broadcasts are permitted. I think that they will be permitted, although there has been some controversy about the matter.
Religious broadcasts are important. Many persons have reached an advanced stage of life, or are sick, or for other reasons are unable to attend church. They can at least listen to broadcasts of religious services and religious music. Before the news session on Sunday night, and after the session devoted to the guest of honour, we hear some very beautiful music indeed. It is not out of place now to say something about parliamentary broadcasts, because the persons who will have to pay an extra 15s. a year, if they receive the appropriate channel, may have to listen to parliamentary broadcasts, or perhaps they and others may want to listen to them. Some members of the Parliament have been fooled by people they meet in respect of the value of these broadcasts. I remember when, as a member of the New South Wales State Parliament, I was introduced to somebody, and he would say, “ Oh, yes, I have heard you on the radio “, and I would reply, “ No, I am sorry. I am a member of the State Parliament, the proceedings of which are not broadcast, so you have not heard me “. I suggest to some honorable members, who think that they are being heard by the outside public, that such remarks as “ Yes, I have heard you on the radio “ are made to them as some sort of courtesy, like passing the time of day. To those few honorable members who are at present in the chamber, I say that they are not heard as often as they think, and that listening to Parliamentary broadcasts is at a very low ebb indeed. Those persons who take these matters seriously ought to give this subject some thought. There is less regular listening to parliamentary broadcasts when a go vernment of our sort is in power. We do not do radical things; we go along in a prudent and wise manner, as the people expect. When a Labour government is in power, the people are glued to their radio sets, wondering what sort of mad thing is going to happen next. This does not happen when Labour is not in power, except on such occasions as the making of a budget speech, a speech by Her Majesty the Queen, or something like that.
Honorable members ought to give this matter some thought. Under the present system of constituting the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings Committee, with two members from this party, two from that, two from another place, and so on, there will not be any change of attitude, and there will be no improvement in the system of parliamentary broadcasts. I think that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is quite worried about the fact that one important broadcasting channel is completely taken up by parliamentary broadcasts. But how are we to decide upon a restriction? Who is to be cut out? We could not cut out question time, which makes good listening, and is interesting. We could not cut out the initiation of the second reading of a bill. We could possibly avoid broadcasting proceedings in a house when a bill was not being initiated. In the New Zealand Parliament, debates in the committee stages of bills arc not broadcast and, as far as I know, debates in the House of Commons are not broadcast at all. In this Parliament, on very minor matters, and even on a major matter like the budget, we do hear some very dull speeches. God forbid that what I am saying now should be considered dull, although the House is relatively empty. Parliament ought to give some thought to the broadcasting of proceedings, particularly hours and hours of the dullest parts of them. The present system of constituting the committee will not allow of any change, because committee members have to report back to their party rooms. We will continue to have this procedure, with very little outside listening to parliamentary broadcasts, until a radical left-wing Labour government comes to power.
Quite a number of things could be done. As I mentioned a few days ago, it is wrong to call honorable members by the names of their electorates; they ought to be called by their own names. Several honorable members have names which coincide with the names of the electorates of other honorable members, which is most confusing to people who may be listening. I know that the staff of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, who are in the control box in the chamber, from time to time mention on the air the name of the member who is speaking, but why not follow the example of the press and of “ Hansard “ and permit the use of honorable members’ names in debate? If it is not wrong to be recorded in “ Hansard “, why should it be wrong in the House to call a member by his own name? In order to make parliamentary broadcasts more interesting, I suggest that the time allowed for speeches on minor bills be restricted. Surely a member can say in five or ten minutes as much as he wants to say, in the debate on either the secondreading or committee stage of some bills. For instance, consider the Canned Fruits Export Control Bill. How would you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, like to spread yourself for half an hour on that matter? I suggest that even you, or the Minister in charge of the bill, or the honorable member for Parkes, might become dull in half an hour’s discourse on the Canned Fruits Export Control Bill. Proper machinery does not exist at this stage for cutting down those times.
Honorable members ought to be giving tremendous thought to the emergence of television. Many honorable members soon, when making an important statement, will suddenly find themselves confronted by a television camera. If they appear in news reviews, or make important news statements, they will be shown standing in a most searching light. It is all very well for those of us who are homely in appearance, but some will get a frightful shock. I suggest that the honorable member for St. George (Mr. Graham), smiling benignly, would be a very good subject for televising when making a statement. You, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I suggest, would appear well on the television screen, with your general demeanour and experience, and how well would the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon) look - in the morning, any way!
– I think that the honorable gentleman’s remarks could be a little more closely related to the bill.
– I am very grateful for that intimation. I am now addressing my remarks to clause 4 (c), which relates to a television viewer’s licence, and a renewal thereof. I am discussing television, to which this bill is related, because I regard it as an important matter. Members of the public ought to realize that they will be exposed to very bright lights and a searching camera which will reveal to viewers every little idiosyncrasy and habit which they may have. People get a different view of a man on a television set so that those of us who are very aware of the propaganda value of this medium and those of us who are photogenic may benefit. My friend, the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), who has been a colonel in the Army, knows how important these things are.
We regret that licences must cost a little more, when everything else is costing more, but we should realize that tremendous losses have been sustained in giving an excellent service. I suggest, again, to the House, that we are thrice blessed with our broadcasting programmes in Australia. We have the best broadcasting set-up in the world. We have taken the best of all continents and incorporated it in our broadcasting. Let us hope that we do the same with our television.
.- Whilst I agree with quite a lot of the comments made by the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) I must join issue with him in reference to parliamentary broadcasts. I hope that the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Committee, or the people who control the broadcasts of this Parliament, will never be persuaded that the present broadcasting system should be stopped. Whilst there are some factors that are open to criticism, I consider that any attempt to diminish the broadcasting and to sectionalize it by picking out certain passages could be open to abuse by the party in power, whatever party it might be. I consider that, in the present circumstances, everybody gets a reasonable chance to broadcast. All parties are given an equal opportunity.
There is no conniving to see that certain people are not on the air if they do not want their speeches to be broadcast.
The most potent argument in favour of broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings is that, irrespective of what the press likes to publish about a debate, the people can hear it if they so desire. Prior to the advent of the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings, if the press or certain reporters did not like a certain member he would not be reported and, to his constituents, he remained a silent member. J3ut while we have the .broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings, irrespective of what the press may think about a certain member and his views, it cannot silence him. In other words, the broadcasting of Parliament takes away from the press a power which, in the past, it exercised against certain members and certain parties. For that very potent and tangible reason I hope the time will never come when the majority of the members of this Parliament see fit to reduce the broadcasts.
The Australian Labour party is opposed to the bill because we consider that the increase in licence-fees of 15s. - an increase of 37i per cent. - will impose additional hardships on the people. I do not say that they will be very great hardships. 1 do not say that an increase of 15s. will break or mar a great number of people. Nevertheless, it will add to the cost spiral. The position, due to the continual increase of charges, is getting beyond the capacity of the average wage-earner to meet. The policy of the Government is to peg wages. That policy will be extended very shortly to Victoria. Whilst the Government wishes to peg the workers’ wages, it insists on increasing the charges that those wages are expected to meet. I say that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. While the Government is advocating a policy of pegging workers’ wages, I think that, if it is worth its salt, it should resist any policy to increase charges which have to be met out of the meagre wages received by the great majority of workers.
I think everybody is agreed that radio is an essential part of our everyday life. As such, any alteration made in the system of charging for radio licences should receive the very earnest consideration of the Parliament. This bill will take an extra 15s. from radio licence-holders’ pockets and, in addition, the increase in sales tax on radio sets imposed in the budget which was introduced earlier in the year has increased the cost of a wireless set.
I want to join issue with the Government concerning the way in which it assesses the amount of .a listener’s licence-fee. The fee was raised from £1 to £2 in 1951. The basis of the charge prior to that time had been £1 for one radio set and 10s. for each additional set in a house. The Government altered that basis and said that, in future, a person could pay a fee of £2 and have as many sets as he liked in the house, and even one in the motor car. I suggest, for the consideration of the House, that any family that has two, three, or even four radio sets - and I know of people who boast of one in every room - plus one in the car, is in a far better position to .pay an additional amount for the licence than many young couples who are starting off in life, and many people on the basic wage. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Government changed the basis that operated prior to 1951. The present provision is very difficult to police. The act states that a listener’s licence may be taken out by any member of a family, so when the fee of £2 is paid, every other member of the family may have a receiver in the house. The relevant section of the act reads - “ (10.) In this section, ‘ member of his family ‘, in relation to the holder of a broadcast listener’s licence, means a person who is related by blood or marriage to that holder.”
That particular section is just a joke. At the present time, there are numerous people residing in numerous houses who are in no way related to the owners or tenants of the houses but it is impossible to discriminate as between those who are related by blood or marriage and those who are just dependants or boarders. In other words, irrespective of who is in a house and how many wireless sets there are in a house, the Government receives only one fee of £2. I realize that the “former provision was difficult to police, but at least 1 am satisfied a charge of 10s. for every additional set, in accordance with the provisions ‘that operated before 19.51, would mean a definite increase in receipts from licencefees. Almost every second motor car has a wireless to-day, and. on the old basis. 10s. would have to be paid for each of those sets. Now their owners do not pay a brass farthing if they have licences for their sets at home. I suggest that the Government is by-passing a very good source of revenue by not reverting to that formula and charging 10s. for every additional set, whether it be in the house or a motor car. I cannot understand The policy of the Government because families with three or four radio sets are more affluent than families with only one receiver. Yet the people who can afford three, four, or five sets, are given preferential treatment. I am definitely opposed to preferential treatment for people who can afford to buy three or four wireless sets.
The Postmaster-General, in his secondreading speech, stated that, whilst the increase would be applied to families who were paying £2 for their licence, the fee of 10s. paid by the age pensioners for a licence - that is, the main category of age pensioners - would not be increased. I should have thought, judging by the very cavalier and shabby treatment that has been meted out to the pensioners in this budget, that the Government would endeavour to atone for its sins of omission and commission to the age pensioners and would give them the licence free, gratis and for nothing on this occasion. ‘Not a great many age pensioners are involved. The latest figures available from the Australian Broadcasting Commission show that about 154,000 are concerned. If free licences were given to them only about £70,000 or £80,000 of revenue would be lost. When balanced against the amount saved by the Government by not increasing -pensions by ls. a week, a mere £80,000 would not have made any difference to the Commonwealth’s exchequer. The Government could have made a gesture towards age pensioners, in atonement for its failure to increase pensions, by giving them licences without charge, but it has missed the opportunity. I must say that I am not surprised, because it has run true to form.
Instead of increasing licence-fees, the Government should have sought other means of obtaining revenue. It could have considered what could be done to obtain additional revenue from commercial broadcasting stations. Up to 1941, these stations paid only a licence-fee of £25 a year. As a result of recommendations made by the .Broadcasting Committee in 1941, commercial stations which made profits were required to pay, in addition to the £25 licence-fee, one half of 1 per cent, of their gross earnings. In the financial year 1955-56 the Government received from that source £34,287. In the previous financial year it received £29,300. These amounts seem by no means adequate when one considers the profits being made by the commercial broadcasting stations. The eighth annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, which was made available to honorable members just before this debate began this afternoon, deals, at page 10, with the financial results of the operations of the commercial broadcasting stations. It shows that, in 1941-42. when the additional levy of one half of 1 per cent, of the gross earnings was introduced, the total profits of the commercial broadcasting stations were £81,812. They increased to £141,003 in 1942-43, and they have steadily risen year by year since. In 1952-53 they totalled £778,544, in 1953-54 £1,060,260, and in 1954-55 £1,434,093. So it can be seen that the commercial broadcasting stations are doing extremely -well. It would not have been a bad idea for the Government to double or even treble the contribution of one half of 1 per cent, of the gross earnings. If that were done the net profits of the commercial broadcasting stations would not be seriously diminished.
– We altered that formula in the Broadcasting and Television Stations Licence Fees Act 1956. The effect is not revealed in the figures cited by the honorable member, which are only up to .30th June, 1955. The contribution has been doubled since then.
– Even if the fees were doubled they would amount to only about £68,000 .a year, and that is not enough. The commercial broadcasting -stations have a virtual monopoly .and make profits totalling £1,434,093 annually. They are doing exceptionally well, and the Government should reconsider their contributions, although they were increased only recently. Apparently the Government is content to allow the commercial broadcasting stations to carry on as usual, because no change of fundamental importance was made in the legislation introduced earlier this year or is to be made by this bill. The Government should re-examine the whole basis on which the commercial broadcasting stations are allowed to operate.
The move towards monopoly in broadcasting should be resisted. Sub-section (1.) of section 90 of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942-1956 partially restricts monopolies, because it provides -
A person shall not own, or be in a position to exercise control … of more than -
one metropolitan commercial broadcasting station in any State;
four metropolitan commercial broadcasting stations in Australia;
four commercial broadcasting stations in any one State; or
eight commercial broadcasting stations in Australia.
In other words, the Government has recognized the detriment the Australian nation could suffer if monopolies were allowed to develop, and has attempted by legislation to prevent an excessive movement towards a monopoly state. But, whether we like it or not, we are moving towards a stage at which a handful of individuals will have almost complete control of the commercial broadcasting stations. At page 11 of the report the Australian Broadcasting Control Board gives some examples of enterprises that control large numbers of stations. Herald and Weekly Times Limited owns or controls seven or eight stations, and M.P.A. Productions Proprietary Limited has an interest in a number of stations that are mentioned in the report. Other firms also are mentioned. So it can be seen that, as things are going, broadcasting, which is of vital interest, may soon be controlled by a very few people indeed.
The Broadcasting and Television Act also makes provision for the regulation of networks of commercial broadcasting stations, and section 16 seems to open up in section 90, which restricts monopolies, loopholes through which one could drive a coach and horses. The report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board states, at page 13 -
Section 16 of the Act empowers the Board to regulate the establishment and operation of networks of commercial broadcasting stations and the making of arrangements by licensees of such stations for the provision of programmes or the broadcasting of advertisements.
Various networks are mentioned in the report. The Macquarie Broadcasting Net work, which last year controlled seventeen stations, now controls twenty stations. So, it has extended its control over three more stations, and it is reasonable to assume that, at the rate it is swallowing up other stations, it will have control of almost every station in Australia in another five years. The Government should consider this matter carefully, because it is obvious that the commercial broadcasting stations have found a loophole in section 90 of the act. which was intended to prevent the concentration under one control of too many wireless stations and the forming of monopolies Monopolies are in fact being formed under the loose provisions relating to broadcasting networks. I suggest the Government should look at that matter very closely, because that could be something that acts to the detriment of the people.
Whilst it is true that commercial broadcasting stations have made a very definite contribution to broadcasting in Australia. I consider that something ought to be done about the kind of advertisements we hear ad nauseam daily, hourly, and almost every three or four minutes, over the air. Cheap patent medicines are blatantly advertised morning, noon and night. I know that the act contains provisions concerning the wording of such advertisements but, nevertheless, such advertisements are broadcast, apparently unimpeded, day after day. I believe that they have the effect of making many people believe that they are sick and start to swallow all sorts of nostrums which really do make them sick. Obviously, all sorts of confidence tricks are perpetrated on radio listeners as a result of the wording of advertisements for patent medicines which purport to cure every illness that afflicts mankind. I should like to see the provision of the law governing the wording of such advertisements tightened up and policed very stringently, so that only medicines with genuine curative properties will be allowed to be advertised over the air. Some of the claims made in broadcast advertisements for patent medicines are so extraordinary that they are almost ludicrous, but it is apparent that many people accept the claims made, and purchase these medicines because the manufacturers of the medicines are able to afford expensive advertising campaigns, year after year, in order to promote their sales. They would not be able to do so unless their advertising was meeting a public response. 1 suggest that the Government, with a view to tightening up broadcasting in this respect and others, should re-establish the standing committee on broadcasting which was abolished earlier this year. When that committee was in operation it performed very many useful services on behalf of radio listeners, and I suggest that the matter of untrue advertisements is one that it could well examine if it were re-established.
I think that the Government rendered a disservice to the people when it refused to accept an Opposition amendment to the Broadcasting and Television Bill 1956 to provide for a parliamentary standing committee to deal with television, because there are many problems now arising as a result of the introduction of television. Only by the sifting of evidence by a non-party parliamentary committee, on the same lines as the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Works Committee, which render such signal services to this Parliament in many directions, could these problems be dealt with. A television committee of the Parliament would render, I believe, important services similar to those rendered by the two other committees I have mentioned.
I turn now from the commercial stations to the national stations. We are told that the proceeds of the increase of the licencefee is to be used to finance the activities of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Six years ago the commission received only 10s. as its share of the licence-fee, which was then £1, and the return was sufficient to finance its operations. Its share was then increased to 15s. of the £1 licence-fee, and later it received £1 of the licence-fee when the fee had been increased. The bill provides that the whole of the new licence-fee of £2 15s. will be devoted to financing the commission’s services. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department incurs considerable expense in the provision of technical services to the commission, and 1 realize that there is some involved system of accounting which encompasses the whole of the financial operations of the commission and its connexion with the Postmaster-General’s Department for the provision of technical services. The Minister, in attempting to justify the increase in the broadcast listener’s fee, stated that £1,800,000 will be expended this year by the Postal Department on the provision of technical services for broadcasting. That, he said, was one of the reasons why the fee is to be increased by 15s. I point out, however, that last year the Postal Department spent £2,200,000 on the provision of such services - in other words, there will bc. this year, a reduction by £400,000 in the expenditure on such services provided by the Postal Department, so the Minister’s argument is not well based.
We should ask ourselves how much of the expenditure of the Australian Broadcasting Commission should be charged to the proceeds of licence-fees, and how much to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, because everybody knows that, in the present situation, the commission must maintain transmitting stations to provide services in areas where commercial stations will not operate, because of their sparsity of population. We all acknowledge that these broadcast services in remote areas must be provided for the welfare of the people in those areas. I am not suggesting for a moment that the commission should not provide those services, because the provision of them is a national job, and the commission is the authority responsible for doing that job. At the same time, I believe that it is hardly fair that the great bulk of radio listeners, who live in the State capitals, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, should be called upon to pay for these outback radio services. The money to provide those services should come out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, not out of the proceeds of the licence-fees which are derived mainly from the people in the capital cities. Although there is undoubtedly much to be said for the extension of broadcasting services in outback areas, the people of which are entitled to every possible amenity, I differ from the Government in respect of the method of financing the provision of such services. As I have said, J believe there should be a charge on general revenue, and not on the proceeds of broadcast listener’s licence-fees, mainly derived from metropolitan listeners. In those circumstances there should be a revision of the present policy.
Generally speaking, the programmes broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission are excellent. I realize that the commission is. attempting to cater for a wide diversity of tastes and 1 recognize, as do most people, that it is- practically impossible to please all the. listeners1 all the time. However, I have been informed by a number of people that some of the most expensive programmes broadcast by the. commission are those that have the least appeal to the majority of listeners. I know that it is necessary to have high-class symphony concerts broadcast over the air although, quite candidly, they leave me cold, however much they may delight people who have a better appreciation of music than I have. The Australian Broadcasting Commission also spends considerable sums in bringing overseas artists to Australia. I am not suggesting that such high-class programmes be discontinued, or that the commission should no longer bring overseas artists here, but I do suggest that the number of such artists brought out each year, and the amount of money expended on the provision of these high-class programmes, which appeal to a fairly limited section of listeners, should be carefully reviewed. Whilst I do not suggest a complete cessation of such services, I say that, in times of financial stringency, and when we know that most radio listeners prefer light A class station programmes and B class station programmes, it is wrong to spend too lavishly on other kinds of programmes. It is of no use - pretending that the great majority of radio listeners listen to A class stations, because they do not. They listen to B class stations.
– Last year the commission made a profit of £5,000 from its importation of overseas artists.
– What profit did it make on symphony concerts?
– On some symphony concerts it did not make a profit, but at the same time the presentation of those concerts catered for a very great volume of listeners.
– I should like, later, to obtain further figures from the Minister in regard to that matter, but my opinion is that the expenses incurred by the Australian Broadcasting Commission’ on certain programmes should be cut down. I realize, of course, that a balance must be preserved, and that the commission is doing all that it thinks it can do in the circumstances.
I turn now to another aspect of the activities of commercial: stations. I join with the honorable member for Macarthur in taking great exception to the volume of sports broadcasts sent out by almost every commercial station in the capital cities on Saturday afternoons. My remarks Prefer mainly to Melbourne, because I am familiar with the conditions there.
There is practically only one radio station in Melbourne which broadcasts, anything other than sport on Saturday afternoons. The result is that listeners are forced to listen to either sport or to the programmes broadcast by that one station. That does not give them much choice. On Saturday nights, in summer, three or four stations broadcast the night trotting events. One might be listening to a very interesting programme over a commercial station when suddenly it is interrupted and the station crosses to the night trotting course and broadcasts from there. Whilst trotting enthusiasts are entitled to some consideration, I think it is carrying things too far when three or four radio stations broadcast, simultaneously, descriptions of the same trotting race. Surely the radio stations concerned could co-operate, and share the broadcasting of such sporting events, instead of all broadcasting the same events week after week. This would, enable stations to broadcast other programmes on Saturday nights instead of all concentrating on trotting. It is; safe to say that in Melbourne, during the trotting season, Saturday night is the worst night for general radio listening.
With the advent of television, a number of problems will arise that are integrated with radio. Whether we like it or not, television will command increasing support from the people. That support will be reflected in due course by the transfer of programmes from commercial radio stations to television stations. The result will be that country people, who cannot receive television programmes, will receive inferior radio programmes. That has been the experience of other countries. I hope that the Australian Broadcasting- Control Board will give very serious consideration to this matter, with a view to ensuring that the radio programmes to which country people listen will not deteriorate as a result of a large: number of sponsors transferring their support from radio programmes to television programmes. This is a problem of formidable magnitude, but I say in all seriousness that, whilst the benefits of television may be apparent to dwellers in metropolitan areas, the outback areas-
Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Bowden). - Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- It appears from some of the remarks made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird), that, once again, the Labour party is putting up a sham fight. One of the most important points raised by the honorable gentleman related to commercial radio stations. Following the line of the propaganda usually put over by the Labour party, he referred to the enormous profits made by commercial stations over the years from 1941 to 1955. But he gave us no information at all about the number of shareholders who share in those profits. He criticized the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) for that state of affairs, but if he had taken the trouble to turn to page 9 of the annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Control .Board, instead of looking only at page 10, he would have found the following passage at the bottom of the page: -
The Commercial Broadcasting Stations Licence Fees Act 1942 was repealed during the year, and licence-fees will in future be payable in accordance with the provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Stations Licence Fees Act 19S6, which came into operation on 1st July, 19S6. Under this Act, the annual fee for a licence for a commercial broadcasting station, which is payable whether or not the station has in the previous year made a profit, will be £25, plus one percentum of the gross earnings of the station from the broadcasting of advertisements or other matter, that is to say, gross earnings from what is usually known in the industry as the “sale of the station time”.
The honorable member for Batman talked about a charge of only one-half of 1 per cent. If my memory serves .me correctly, the Labour party vehemently opposed the idea of increasing the charge to 1 per cent, a few short months ago. I am reminded by the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) that the memory of the honorable member for Batman is not too .good. I am , afraid that that is a failing, not only of the honorable member for Batman, but also of a number of other people on the Labour side of .the House.
I have .risen mainly to deal with some points that were made last night by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and with some comments that were made by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) in his speech on the .budget. The honorable member for Hughes said -
Similarly, the new importance of educating people to live contentedly in circumstances in which the average working week is closer to twenty rather than 40 hours should be taken into account.
If we ever do reach the stage of a 20-hour week, I should hate to think what the cows, fowls and the rest of the farm stock would do while we were enjoying our leisure time! The honorable member continued -
The prospect of increased leisure underlines the increasing need to teach the art of living as well as the arl of making a living.
Those of us who listened to the comments of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition last night or took the opportunity to read the “ Hansard “ report of his speech this morning know that the honorable gentleman, who opened the debate on behalf of the Opposition, criticized the Government, amongst other .things, for the small increase in the number of national stations since this Government came into office. Then he criticized the Government for introducing concession rates for the use of landlines by commercial radio stations to relay the Australian Broadcasting Commission news service to the people. Only a few minutes ago, my friend from Batman criticized the Government for not looking after the country people. Then the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said he doubted that, as the Postmaster-General expected, there would be an increase of the number of radio listeners’ licences during the coming year. He criticized the work of Radio Australia. He charged the Government with steadily going broke in the radio field. .He said that the Australian Broadcasting Commission was paying too much money to imported artists. He wanted a new set-up for broadcasting in this country. He finished by trotting out an old bogy, about which we heard a few comments the other day - the alleged reluctance of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to move ite head office to the Australian Capital Territory. I shall deal with each of those matters in turn.
It is perfectly true, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said last night, that between 1932 and 1949 the number of national stations rose from twelve to 37. 1 remind honorable members that that was a period of seventeen years. I remind the House, too, that members of the Labour party talked of the period between 1945 and 1949, when they were in office, as the golden age of this country. Let us have a look at what has happened in a period comparable with that. I take the period 1941 to 1949. I hate to include the war years, but most of the work was done in the postwar period. From 1945 to 1949 the number of national radio stations rose from 27 to 37. There was an increase of ten stations in the golden age, as that period was referred to repeatedly by the government of the day. From December, 1949, to the present time the number of stations has risen from 37 to 53 - an increase of sixteen. Those figures relate to medium frequency national broadcasting stations. Not one word was said by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition about short-wave stations, of which there are nine already. Radio Australia has three stations. Then there are four trial frequency modulation stations in operation. So it was somewhat unwise of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to bring that matter to the fore in this debate.
He criticized the Government for granting a concession for the use of land lines by commercial broadcasting stations to relay the Australian Broadcasting Commission news service. The honorable member for Batman, a few moments ago, criticized the Government for not looking after the country people.
I ask the honorable gentleman and his colleagues: What benefits do they think flow from the grant of land line concessions to commercial radio stations which relay the Australian Broadcasting Commission news service? Although the use of the land lines costs about £52,000 a year and the Government receives only £2,500 in return, the concession is a contribution to the welfare of people who live in the far distant parts of the country - people who live nearer to a commercial station than to a national station. It ill becomes any member of this Parliament to criticize a government which is prepared to make such a concession to broadcasting stations which are prepared to use news made available by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and transmit it to people living in country areas.
The honorable member criticized a statement by the Postmaster-General that it was expected that this year the number of radio listeners’ licences would increase by 35,000. If I remember correctly, the honorable member said that, instead of an increase, there was likely to a decrease, because the licence fee had been increased by 15s. If the honorable member and his colleagues care to take the trouble to make inquiries of the Postmaster-General’s Department, they will find that during last July and August, more than one-third of that expected increase was already realized. I will not give any definite figures on that matter, but suggest that members of the Opposition obtain the information from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Unfortunately, the honorable member criticized, in his colourful language, the work of Radio Australia and dragged into the debate such names as Bob Dyer, Jack Davey, Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Ray.
– He mentioned Louis Armstrong.
– What about the Andrews sisters?
– I thank the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) and the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. H. V. Johnson) for their help. Some one else mentioned Bing Crosby. The honorable member for Melbourne must obviously have listened to Radio Australia at some time or other. I remind him of the well-known axiom that a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest of men. Does the honorable member for Melbourne want Radio Australia to broadcast only such serious entertainment as talks?
– If that happened, Radio Australia would have no listeners.
– That is so. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) is experienced in broadcasting and was once, I understand, a regional director and highly thought of by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. At page 21 of the report that has just been put before us one finds an analysis of the tastes and wishes of Australian radio listeners. Radio Australia sends out information to the countries immediately to our north, and much of what is broadcast comes in the first place from the Department of External Affairs. That is as it should be.
Later, I shall deal with another comment by the honorable member for Melbourne to the effect that the control of the Australian Broadcasting Commission should be changed. If that happened we could say good-bye to our prospects of adding to our prestige in the countries to our north. It is wrong of the honorable member to say, merely because £108,000 was spent in 1955-56, and an additional £63,000 will be spent this year, that in the radio field Australia is steadily going broke. Much worse than that would happen if we reached the stage envisaged by the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) last night and had a twenty-hour working week. Where is this country heading, when responsible men in this Parliament make such statements?
– They are irresponsible men.
– But they consider themselves to be responsible though they talk such utter rot. How can any one suppose that this country would prosper and develop under a twenty-hour working week? The advocates of such a proposal are still living in the 50’s of last century. Professor Arndt, in giving the Chifley Memorial Lecture recently, described the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) and his colleagues as advocating principles that were acceptable 50 years ago, but not to-day. We all know that Labour leaders prophesied that the advent of machinery’ would put men out of work. Every one knows now that, to the contrary, it created more and more employment. Where would the United States of America be to-day if it had adhered to these theories of the horse and buggy days. To-day, it is one of the most powerful countries in the world and has a population of more than 160,000,000. Let us never entertain any idea of reducing the working week to twenty hours.
– The honorable member is knocking his own argument by saying that the mechanical age will reduce working hours.
– That is a fallacy cherished by the Labour party. I have merely said that the mechanical age will increase the opportunities for employment. The Postmaster-General’s Department this morning gave me information which proves the assertion of the honorable member for Melbourne, that in broadcasting we are going steadily broke, is absolutely ridiculous. Each expansion of Radio Australia, which is operating in the national interest, involves substantial additional operating, maintenance and programme costs. In the local field, much of the expenditure incurred is on educational, cultural and religious services, which contribute greatly to the welfare of the whole community. An organization supplying such services can scarcely be placed on a profit and loss basis.
It is a great pity that Labour supporters do not confer with one another before they speak in this House. Last night the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) said that the prospect of increased leisure underlined the increasing need to teach the art of living, as well as the art of making a living. Later in the same evening the honorable member for Melbourne criticized Radio Australia for not making a profit. The national broadcasting service is to be congratulated on the great work that it is doing in this field. It is completely unreal to regard Radio Australia as a trading organization. It offers to people who listen at night in countries to the north of Australia, the best that Australia can provide.
It is plainly wrong to judge a service on the difference between working expenses and revenue from licence-fees. To say that because there is a substantial adverse balance the Government is going broke in the radio field is to overlook the real facts. One might as well say that the Government is going broke in the educational field because it spends money upon improving educational facilities. The honorable member for Melbourne also criticized the granting of certain concessions, once more basing his objection upon a consideration of pounds, shillings and pence. What does the Labour party really want in the way of broadcasting facilities? I think that I can answer that when I come to the question of control.
I want now to deal with the remarks of the same honorable member on the high fees that- the Australian Broadcasting Commission pays to imported artists. One section of the Labour party wants the Government to set aside more finance so that people can be taught the art of living, while the other, knowing that we have not the material within our borders, condemns us for bringing it in from outside. How else shall we provide- top-ranking artists to inspire our own artists to work harder and Improve their- standards? It is true that the Australian Broadcasting Commission brings from overseas many artists of world class. Usually their fees- are based on a percentage of the takings at public concerts. A few moments ago the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) also made some comment on this matter.
I learn from the Australian Broadcasting Commission that during 1955-56 cash receipts from concerts exceeded gross expenditure on concert activities, including overhead, by more than £5,000. The Australian Broadcasting Commission does not appear to be going broke in that field. During 1956 it brought here such world-famous personalities as Victoria de los Angeles, Christian Ferras, Paul Badura Skoda and Miklos Gafni. These artists gave concerts not only in the city, but in many country centres as well. They were brought before the footlights in country towns, for the entertainment of country residents who would otherwise have no opportunity of seeing them. Is any honorable member game to criticize the Australian Broadcasting Commission for that policy? The criticism that we have heard so far emanated from the Opposition, when one of its members said that we should live properly, so that we could enjoy not only the art of living, but also the art of making a living.
It appeared to me that all the comments made last night by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) were made only in an endeavour to fill in time. He referred to the control of the commission. He said that we should adopt the procedure that obtains in New Zealand, which has a Minister for Broadcasting and a Department of Broadcasting, the head of which is a permanent public servant. The honorable member went on to say that we should adopt that practice, with all the risks and difficulties that it may involve. Speaking for myself, I hope that Australia never sees the day when such a practice is adopted. If we followed such a course, we would set up a party political propaganda medium, and would inevitably rue the day.
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has shown his determination during the last few days. He has shown that he can handle a situation. He is entitled to the congratulations not only of’ the members of this Parliament, but also of all the people of Australia, for the capable manner in which he handled the serious problem that arose last week in the Postal Department. I know that he will stick to his guns, and I hope that future postmasters-general will do the same, and that the Australian Broadcasting Commission, or any other broadcasting authority in this- country, will be empowered to function in its own right, subject only to ministerial control in certain special matters. Where would we be if Radio Australia were in the hands of a public servant, when Ministers and governments change so frequently? It is- a- wellknown fact that a Minister has not the right to hire and. fire public servants, but it is also a well-known fact that if a Minister is so minded he can get rid of a departmental head. I suggest that we should stick to the present procedure.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition last night asked the Postmaster-General to announce the date when a start would be made on the construction of the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Canberra. He referred to an act of Parliament. I am rather surprised at the honorable member, because he is an old member of this Parliament and is well aware of all the tactics that can be employed. The honorable member said that he had taken the trouble to peruse the Australian Broadcasting Act of 1942, and that he had found in Part II., Division 1, section 7 (4.), a provision to the effect that the head office of the commission shall be established in the Australian Capital Territory on or before a date fixed by the Minister. I remind the honorable member that his party was in government from the end of 1941 to 1949, including the period which, as I said earlier, has been described by Opposition members as the golden age. What did the Labour Government do to implement that provision of the Australian
Broadcasting- Act. The Opposition is in difficulties in many directions, and we find the gallant gentleman from Melbourne trying to. get the Minister to commit himself to a date on which a start will be made on the construction of the commission’s headquarters in Canberra. I suggest that the honorable member and all those who sit behind him should, look at their own record before they adopt tactics of this kind.
I now wish to make some remarks about Western Australia. Somebody has asked me where it is. I am sorry for people who live on the eastern seaboard if they are so poorly educated geographically. Western Australia is the bulwark of democracy for the British Commonwealth on the western coast of this great country. There are only two national broadcasting stations in the State, and the regional stations. In the north-west of Western Australia the residents find it very difficult to receive either the short-wave or the ordinary national broadcasts, because the strongest national station is 500 or 600 miles from the centre of the north-west area. I know that the Government intends to increase the power of station 6WA at Wagin to 50 kilowatts, but in the meantime the people of the northwest must put up with the prevailing conditions. I am reminded of some comments that were made by Mr. Norton, a member of the Western Australian Parliament, in a debate in the State legislature. The report appears in the Western Australian “Hansard”, No. 2 of 1956, at pages 122 and 123. Mr. Norton said -
Another service giving people in the North-west cause for complaint not only at present but over the years, is radio reception. People listen to one main station which is on a 32 metre band. There is another station on a 60 metre band which, 1 understand, gives better reception. From inquiries made in Perth, I find the wireless sets capable of receiving the 60 metre wave-length cost much more and are scarcer. They cost approximately £20 more than the ordinary set.
But when the people get these more expensive sets and try to tune in on the 60-metre band, which may have a little more power - although, not being a technician, I am not sure of that - they are subjected to a considerable amount of interference from the more powerful stations in countries to our north. Mr. Norton said also that the people in the area concerned do not quarrel with the advances being made on the eastern seaboard. They do not complain about the introduction of television. However, as Mr. Norton said -
I would urge the Australian Broadcasting Commission to give serious consideration to increasing the power of the stations which will serve the North-west and. the outback. . . . The- people of the North-west have very little, entertainment, and the only thing they can rely on for entertain- ment is the wireless- set, whereas people living in towns and districts to be served by television will have not only wireless entertainment but also television and other amenities, which- most people in the North are deprived of at present.
They raise no objection to the introduction of television.
At present station VLW has an aerial output of 2 kilowatts-, and station VLX has an output of 10 kilowatts, lt appears to me that they are working on- wrong wavelengths, because their broadcasts cannot be received without interference: from Asiatic stations. I am informed that it would not cost very much to increase their power or make some other- alteration to make it possible for the people in the northwest to receive these programmes satisfactorily. I suggest that the PostmasterGeneral might confer with his departmental officials on the advisability of establishing a station at Carnarvon with an output of 10 kilowatts. Carnarvon is very near the north-western corner of Western Australia, where the coast line takes a decided turn to the east and runs in that direction for several miles. The aerial of the proposed station should be so constructed that its signals would be thrown towards the inland districts rather than out to sea. I make that suggestion because of the peculiar geographical features in that area. I might mention, as an illustration, that there is a jetty on that section of the coast which points in the direction of Sydney. It is a peculiar geographical feature of the district.
The people for whom I am making this plea are in virtually a black-out area so far as radio reception is concerned, and I appeal to the Minister and the Government to give them some better amenities. I shall refer again to the remarks made by Mr. Norton. I am pleased to be able to bring this matter before honorable members, and I hope that I give some support to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. H. V. Johnson), who raised this matter the other day when he asked a question on the subject. The difficulties of residents of the north-west are well known to every honorable member from Western Australia, and I do not debate this matter from a party political point of view, but merely as a Western Australian. Mr. Norton said: -
At 4 p.m. I could pick up Wagin clearly which was 450 miles away, but I could not hear Geraldton which was 180 miles away.
Mr. Norton was using a car radio at the time. I understand that Geraldton is the station that has an output of 2 kilowatts. I shall not go into all the technicalities of it. I hope that the Minister will be able to do something to cater in a better fashion for these people situated in that vast expanse of country in the Australian continent - the north-west corner of Australia.
I support this legislation. The increase of 1 5s. in the licence-fee is comparable with all other increases that are taking place to-day. So far as I am concerned, the Labour party can complain as much as it likes. Let it look to itself first, because we can all recall in this Parliament that various members of the Labour party have said that they will endeavour to incite and encourage the working man to work against this Government, to make the most foolish demands in the world, and so on. But as soon as it appears that charges will be increased, they complain. Look at the stupid remark made by the leader of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia recently.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I am very glad that we did not hear the’ remarks that the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) proposed to make-
– Did the honorable member enjoy the rest of my speech?
– In parts, yes. With other members of the Opposition, I regretfully oppose this bill, for the brief reason that the endeavour to raise the licence-fee by 15s. is, in our opinion, completely unrealistic. As the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) said earlier to-day, that amount represents an increase of 37 per cent, in the charge for a listener’s licence.
We may have been prepared to support an increase of 5s., but certainly not an increase of 15s.
Another reason why we oppose the increase is that it will lift the cost of living still higher; After all, the wireless these days is a part of every home and is almost as important as a refrigerator. Wives listen to it consistently as they go about their housework. It is a companion day after day in the ordinary home. For those brief reasons, which are quite sufficient from our point of view, we oppose this increase.
According to the latest report, there are 1,909,368 ordinary licences held in Australia to-day. They are the ones for which the full amount has been paid, and that figure excludes pensioners, blind persons and schools. An increase of 15s. for each licence means that the extra income from this one source will be £1,432,035 in a full year. That is how wireless listeners throughout Australia are to be slugged by this bill. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) made a statement - I think it was outside the House - that he would see that government instrumentalities paid. That is a very laudable ambition. But were those instrumentalities created for that purpose? They are utility services, just as the railways in the States are utility services. They are not created to become profit-making institutions at all. They are in the country for service and service alone to the greatest number of people at the most reasonable cost.
– Did not the honorable member hear his deputy leader speaking last night?
– I do not agree with everything that the Deputy Leader said last night. He is being quoted everywhere to-day. He does not represent this party any more than I do and we may not agree in all our comments on every item raised in this House. After all, we are not a regimented party like the Government parties.
– Order! Will the honorable member for Wilmot proceed?
– Honorable members opposite may quote the Deputy Leader, but that does not commit me on these points. I agree with most of what he said, but I do not agree with all that he said. It is not our policy to raise extra revenue to make this service pay. We believe that the Australian Broadcasting Commission, like all other instrumentalities, was established for the sole purpose of serving the greatest number of people at the most reasonable cost and an increase of 15s. for a wireless licence is unreasonable and unjust in these days of rising costs.
I want to mention a few items as suggestions to the Postmaster-General for investigation. The first point is the great difficulty of obtaining decent radio reception on the east coast of Tasmania. Many times I have had to take up this matter for various people and the Postmaster-General’s Department has sent technicians to that area. They have made adjustments here and there to the electrical equipment of private homes and hotels, but tremendous interference still exists in that area, lt seems to be beyond our technicians. Perhaps it is due to the mineral content of that part of the island, but I stress again that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should make an allout concerted effort to try to improve the quality of the reception for the people on Tasmania’s east coast in my electorate and the north-east coast, which is in the electorate of the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard).
I mention also the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s studio -in Canberra. I have been in it several times and I can say without any fear of contradiction that it is a disgrace to have such a pokey, inadequate office for a capital city such as Canberra. 1 am told that the ambassadors and high commissioners of other countries are often in that studio to make recordings and broadcasts. They must be astounded at the poor facilities and the dilapidated look of that place. I trust that the Australian Broadcasting Commission will press on with all haste to have a new office built in Canberra. I believe that a move has been made to obtain the top story of a new building to be constructed by Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited. I trust that that will eventuate and eventuate quickly.
I should like to mention also that 5CK Adelaide is in the same category as the office in Canberra. The honorable member, for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) has specifically asked me to raise this matter on his behalf because he could not take part in this debate. He said that both the office and building there are antiquated and the staff is working under last-century conditions. It is a disgrace in a city like Adelaide. Again, on his behalf and on my own behalf, I urge that the Australian Broadcasting Commission get on with the modernizing of both the Canberra and Adelaide offices.
We in Tasmania have a northern regional news service broadcast from 7NT Launceston every night at 6.55, which is just before the national news. It is a splendid service. It brings into our homes the titbits of news from Stanley on the west coast of Tasmania right through to St. Mary’s on the east coast of Tasmania.
– Is there a St. Mary’s in Tasmania, too?
– Yes, there is a St. Mary’s in my electorate, but we have not a big defence building there; we have coal mining. This news service is of tremendous value to northern Tasmania. It serves a vast farming community, and I could not stress too highly the quality of its work. But there is no southern regional news service emanating from Hobart. To me, that is very strange. Why is it that there is a northern regional news service and not a southern service from Hobart to cover the vast Huon and Channel district, the Derwent valley and the Midlands as far as Oatlands? I hope the Australian Broadcasting Commission will consider the reasonableness of this request and that it will institute a southern regional news service of the high standard of the northern regional news service. I pass this suggestion on to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) while he is in the House for the earnest consideration of the commission.
I am a staunch supporter of the work of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The radio at my home is hardly ever tuned to a commercial station, but stays tuned to the national stations for practically the whole of every week. I cannot praise too highly the variety and quality of the national broadcasting services. As the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has pointed out, improvements could be made, but I am in entire agreement with the policy of the Australian Broadcasting Commission generally. Perhaps it would be of interest to honorable members if I were to refer to its programme policy. The commission has been in existence for 24 years, and during that time it has rendered great service to the development of the nation. The report of the commission for the year ended 30th June, 1955, states -
It is logical to infer that the dual system of broadcasting which operates in Australia (National and Commercial) imposes an obligation upon the Commission to conduct a service which will provide the community with broadcasting fare which would not otherwise be available with a private system. Fields of output which fall into this category have been well explored and developed during the twenty-three years-
Now 24 years - of this organization’s existence. Perhaps the most notable of these fields which, by reason of public contribution, we have been able to develop, are fine music, educational broadcasts, transmissions from Parliament House and the shortwave service to countries abroad.
Further on, the report states -
Clearly, the provision of public moneys to the Commission implies an obligation to specialize in those fields which would not otherwise be adequately covered. If this were not so there would ‘be little purpose in maintaining a national broadcasting .service.
I appreciate the knotty problem that confronts the commission continually in trying to strike a -balance between specialization and popular appeal programmes. Some of the criticism of the commission centres on the over-emphasis of some programmes and the under-emphasis of others. But the commission is trying to give balanced programmes and to provide a reasonable proportion of specialized programmes and those of popular appeal.
The report continues -
While this ideal of conducting a service which is both comprehensive and specialized is easily stated, its resolution into practical broadcasting is a continuing problem.
Still later, it states -
The major difficulty of the Commission in this matter, however, is met in our services to the enormous areas of the Continent beyond the reach of the two programme system of the metropolitan centres. Here, we are obliged to make a daytoday choice of a single programme which .as nearly as possible will serve majority and minority interests, although in full knowledge that no single programme ever devised can achieve this satisfactorily.
That part of the report refers to broadcasting services to country districts. After all, the Australian Broadcasting Commission is providing .something for the outback people that is not provided by the commercial stations. For that, the commission is to be commended. 1 also commend it for its policy of increasing the power of the various national .stations throughout Australia. It has done so in Tasmania, and it also has established a new station, 7QN, on our isolated west coast, which is a boon to the people who live there. The big mining centres of Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan are included in that coverage.
The variety of the commission’s programmes is most commendable. The programmes include music, drama, special features and special talks which, amazingly, accounted for 6,988 individual broadcasts during the year ended 30th June, 1955. There also are educational programmes, lt is interesting to note that, throughout Australia, there are 8,308 schools which listen regularly to the schools broadcasts, with special commentaries and talks on subjects covered by the curriculums. That splendid service is heard by 84 per cent, of all the schoolchildren in Australia. Then there is the “ Kindergarten of the Air “, which is of a very high standard and which also is broadcast over Radio Australia. It has been going for fourteen years. The education of immigrants is a very important new feature of the work of the commission. Many immigrants have participated in its programmes on the air, and in addition, by means of radio sessions, the commission is teaching immigrants to speak English. The news services of the commission are first rate and have a greater listening audience than has any other programme in Australia.
The commission also broadcasts variety programmes, whilst .its rural broadcasts for farmers are of great value. We have them in Tasmania, and I often listen to them. Since J represent a rural electorate, I try to gauge the value of those broadcasts. The commission’s actuality broadcasts are excellent, and the talks by experienced visitors from overseas on various aspects of agriculture must be of .great benefit to our farmers. I wish, too, to mention the religious broadcasts. In this field, the commission is doing a very fine job. The percentage ‘of religious matter being broadcast by the commission is 4.71, whilst the percentage broadcast ‘by commercial stations is 3.37, so that the commission is providing a greater degree of religious broadcasts than are the ‘commercial stations. The session “Hymns of All Churches “, which is broadcast on Sunday evening at 6.30, and which also is broadcast over Radio Australia, is very fine and must have a huge listening public. In a country that claims to be Christian, it is good to know that our national radio stations are catering for a vast field of listeners. The religious programmes are varied and inspirational and must be of considerable help to sick people and those who are forced to spend all their time at home. I congratulate the commission on what it is doing in this field.
The technical programmes of the commission also are excellent. So, too, are the women’s sessions. I should be happier, however, if the commission changed the introductory theme music of “ Blue Hills “. If it did so, 1 am sure that the programme would have many more listeners. In. my opinion, it is one of the most appalling tunes to come over the air at the present time, lt is so doleful and dirge-like that it reminds me of the policy of the Liberal party. The sporting programmes are comprehensive. The recent cricket broadcasts from England were first-class, even though the cricket was not. I congratulate Michael Charlton, particularly, for his good work, and I also congratulate J ack Fingleton and the other announcers who took part in the broadcasts. They did commendable work, despite the poor material with which they had to work.
Some persons have criticized the overemphasis by the Australian Broadcasting Commission of classical music. The statistics, show a very strange state of affairs. In 1953-54 programmes of classical music broadcast by regional stations accounted for 10.97 per cent, of all commission pro- grammes. Last year, the percentage, had decreased to 9.70. The percentage had likewise decreased in respect of metropolitan programmes. There was also a decline in the broadcasting of light music on metropolitan programmes. Light and classical music occupied 22.8 per cent, of the broadcasting time of regional1 stations. Music occupies 57.22 per cent, of the programme time of commercial stations. Admittedly, serious music occupies only .95 per cent, of the time, light music 2.48 per cent., and popular music 53.20 per cent. The last-mentioned category includes most of the rubbish which we hear in commercial musical programmes.
– Why is it called popular?
– That is the point. When one hears so-called “ hit “ tunes, one wonders about the mentality of the persons who classify them in that fashion.
– Does the honorable member ever listen to that kind of music?
– I do, and it is agony to do so. Radio Australia does a very important section of the work of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and its influence is growing every year. I commend its work to the Parliament. I asked the Postmaster-General several questions about Radio Australia, and I obtained some very interesting answers from. him. For instance, I asked -
What percentage of ait time was given over Radio Australia in 1955 to -
Discussions and commentaries.
Ideological warfare-, 01> Portraying the democratic way of life.
General talks, and-
Any other main items.
The Minister replied -
The Australian Broadcasting. Commission does not keep statistics under these particular headings. Ti may be of interest, however, to say that the programme statistics available show that News Bulletins comprise 13.39 per cent., of programme time, other spoken word programmes (includingtalks and commentaries),, 26,4 per cent., and the remaining programmes approximately 60 per cent..
It will be appreciated, of course, that listeners tune into a station as much for entertainment as for information and that programmes must be drawn up with that in view, bearing in mind the very considerable competition for the.- attention, of short-wave, listeners.
The 40 per cent., of the programme which is occupied by news commentaries and talks’ is designed directly or indirectly to be a valuable counter to Communist influence’ in Asia.
I am very interested m that angle, because Radio- Australia can be a tremendously powerful force, not only in’ portraying the positive side of Christian political democracy, as we know it, but also in countering the ideological warfare of the Communists in red China and South-East Asia. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has this matter definitely in mind. The Minister’s reply continued -
These spoken transmissions are designed to give a factual picture of the Australian way of life. stressing in particular the intellectual, social and spiritual freedom which is its basis. The dominant note of these transmissions is that high material living standards are not only compatible with democratic freedom, but indeed can only in the long term be secured on such a basis.
I am very pleased to know that the programme arrangers of Radio Australia have this ideological conflict in mind, because the battle for the minds of men is, in fact, in my view, the cold war. Ever since the conclusion of World War II. we have talked about the cold war. That is an ideological war, which the totalitarian nations have been winning without firing a shot. We can counter ideological warfare only with ideological warfare, and the matter which we can transmit from Radio Australia will have a very profound influence on whether we can save South-East Asia from becoming Communist by 2000 A.D., or even by 1970.
The languages which are spoken now in the transmissions from Radio Australia include English, French, Indonesian, Thai and Mandarin, the latter service having just commenced. The Minister went on to say -
The language service now covers some eight Asian countries. With the recent introduction of Mandarin the potential audience has greatly been increased.
I asked whether there was a check on the manner in which our transmissions were being received in South-East Asia, and the Minister replied -
The A.B.C. has a special Representative based in Singapore, who will visit S.E. Asian countries from time to time; one of his duties is to keep the Commission informed on reactions in SouthEast Asia. Recently, three senior officers of the A.B.C. . . . have made personal investigations in the area … Of great importance is the Radio Australia mail of some 20,000 letters a year received from the audience in Asia.
In a recent gallup popularity poll in Japan, Radio Australia came first and the British Broadcasting Corporation second. I think a similar poll was previously conducted in South-East Asian countries, and the result was that broadcasts from Radio Australia were shown to be regarded as superior to broadcasts by the British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America. The lastmentioned programme is of a purely propaganda nature. We shall never win the minds of men by propaganda alone. Argu ments have to be put in a factual way; perhaps one might even say, quietly and unobtrusively. That is the best method of winning the friendship of the person to whom we direct these broadcasts, and that is the job of Radio ‘Australia.
The Postmaster-General informed me that the staff of Radio Australia consists of 68 officers, 63 being full-time and five part-time. The cost of the service in 1954-55 was £76,600, which was grossly inadequate in the light of the responsibility resting on Radio Australia. The expenditure should be nearer £176,000, and nobody would object to the expenditure of such an amount on a service which is of such great importance in the fostering of friendships in Asia, popularizing the democratic way of life, and informing the Asians of our economic and political development. I trust that serious consideration will be given to increasing the allocation of funds for this excellent service. It is an ideological weapon to help us win the war of ideas that is being waged to-day in the vast region of Asia.
– In the few minutes which are available to me in this debate, I do not propose to answer the arguments of all honorable members opposite. However, the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) said that he had fears that, with the advent of television, country broadcasts might deteriorate. I feel that while the Australian Broadcasting Commission is in the hands of men such as Sir Richard Boyer who has been a country man all his life and understands country conditions, the standard of broadcasts to country areas will not deteriorate but will improve.
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), in his second-reading speech, said - . . the reason for raising the main licencefee is to bring revenue from broadcast listeners’ licences and miscellaneous charges closer to the expenditure incurred by the Government in connexion with the overall control of broadcasting generally and the maintenance and operation of the national broadcasting service.
That expenditure is in line with all other costs to-day. They have all gone up, and I feel that the people, realizing this fact, will be quite content to pay this extra charge for the service that they are getting which, in my opinion, is improving every day. I say without hesitation that radio still provides the cheapest entertainment in this country. Anybody listening to the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s services can hear a programme to suit his taste, because there is a wide variety of programmes.
I do not wish to discuss the details of the programmes provided by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, particularly in the metropolitan areas. I want to confine my remarks to the country areas. One service that is given by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in rural areas is called the Farm Breakfast Session. It comes over the air every morning. I believe that the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) when he was a regional director, was instrumental in having these broadcasts brought into being. For the information of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), I point out that when this session was introduced in New South Wales, the Tasmanian member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Dame Enid Lyons, thought so much of it that she recommended that it be taken to Tasmania. I believe that Tasmania was the first State subsequently to receive the rural broadcasts, particularly the Farm Breakfast Session. This session is of great interest to country people. It is given over the regional section of the broadcasting service. I should say that it is listened to by nearly 100 per cent, of the people in country areas. There is always something of value to them in that service.
Mention has been made of what this service does. Apart from weather reports, flood reports and that sort of thing, we have talks on that session by extension officers from the various agricultural departments. We have talks by overseas people who are interested in rural subjects. We get market reports. We get stock and produce reports. That is a wonderful service to the country people, and I hope that it will be continued. The value of that service would not be appreciated by people other than those who are interested in rural subjects. The service has been of wonderful value to people in country areas.
I see in the Eighth Annual Report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, copies of which have been given to us to-day, that there are plans for the further development of the broadcasting services which are set out as follows: -
My colleague, the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) mentioned the difficulties experienced in the north-western portions of Western Australia. I want to bring to the notice of the PostmasterGeneral again - for I have mentioned it before in this House - the great difficulty experienced by people in the south-western portion of Queensland and, I suppose, in the north-western portions of New South Wales and the portions of South Australia which adjoin them. The reception is very bad there. In addition to getting market reports and the weather information from the national stations, the people who live in those areas like to have a little racing news. One of my biggest complaints is that those people, who cannot go to the races as do their city friends, cannot get the racing news. Although I would not know how to put a bet on a horse and I do not go to the races, I do not object, as some honorable members might object, to the other person having his sport if he thinks it is for his own benefit. Therefore. I appeal to the Postmaster-General to investigate the conditions of reception in those areas. I know that the chairman of the board appreciates what I am saying because he has lived in the area and he has a property there. I ask that this matter be given very serious consideration. Some of these people are 900 miles from Brisbane, 700 miles in an easterly direction from Dalby station, and nearly 500 miles from Longreach station - that is some, but not all of them. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral will carry out the developmental programme which has been proposed in the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board.
I want to say something on behalf of the people who are operating the broadcasting stations in country areas. I have one in my home town and I know of others. I think that more attention should be paid to giving the people who operate those stations better conditions. Too much emphasis has been placed on the conditions in metropolitan or city stations. I know that conditions in country stations are fairly good but they are not as good as they are in other places. I should like country broadcasting officers to be allowed to attend the field days that are conducted in the country areas by the various government departments. These are of immense value and are becoming more popular every day. Country broadcasting officers should be allowed to attend them in order to contact the various people, broadcast what they have to say and educate our city cousins, if that can be done. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to look into that matter because insufficient has been done to provide for a better service for those country people who like to hear the broadcasts. I ask the Postmaster-General to ascertain whether he could provide another service for the south-west of Queensland at the same time as he is providing one for the north-west of Western Australia and other places that desire them. I also ask him to look into the provision of better facilities for the operators of our regional broadcasting stations.
.- I see that I have just one minute in which to speak on this bill. I should like to appeal, on behalf of the people of the western half of Victoria, for an increase in the news service from station 3WV. Prior to quite recently, they had a news service each evening from Monday to Saturday at seven minutes to seven and again in the morning. That service has been stopped on Saturday evenings and on Monday mornings. I appeal for that service to be restored on the Monday morning because, at present, listeners get only a re-hash of the results of sporting events and are unable to get news of what has happened over the week-end. In view of the time schedule that has been agreed to, I will not go on any further.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 19
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Roberton) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Social Services Act 1947-1955.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 11th September (vide page 361), on motion by Mr. Davidson -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The Opposition opposes this bill, just as it opposed the Broadcasting and Television Bill (No. 2) 1956 yesterday.
– Stamp on them.
– Yes, the honorable member for Parkes, with his usual brilliant turn of phrase, says that the Opposition will stamp on the Government in regard to this measure.
– It will cost an extra halfpenny to do it.
– It might cost even more to do it before very long.
Sir Eric Harrison interjecting,
– I would not say too much if I .were the Minister, because he will be in Mayfair before long.
– Order! These exchanges are very friendly, but they are all out of order.
– I think you are right, Mr. Speaker. We shall use the cablegram when we order the right honorable gentleman’s recall from the Strand and Mayfair. According to the printed copy of this measure, it may be described as the Posts and Telegraph Rates Act 1956. We think that it ought to be called the “ Posts and Telegraph Rates Slug Act 1956 “, because it is hitting all sorts of people, and it seems to be hitting them unnecessarily. If things are as good economically as the Government claims they are, why is it necessary for the Government to bring down this measure providing for these heavy increases of charges? Last year, when speaking to a big businessmen’s luncheon in Brisbane, the capital of the State from which the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) comes, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) said - -
Australia is at this moment more prosperous than ever before in its history.
If that be so, why is it necessary for the Government to bring down a bill which provides for such numerous and steep increases as are provided for in this measure? The Postmaster-General said in his speech that - there have been progressive increases in costs due to factors which lie entirely outside the department’s control.
He made that statement as though the department were separate, in this regard, from the Government. The factors do not lie entirely outside the control of the Government. If there is inflation, if costs are increasing all the time, then somebody has to accept the responsibility. Surely the Government does not think that the postal workers are responsible for the fact that the Postmaster-General’s Department is going bankrupt? Surely the Government does not suggest that the people who use the postal, telegraphic and telephonic facilities provided by the department are driving this great socialized institution into bankruptcy?
– The honorable member reckons that every one is going bankrupt.
– I know that the honorable member has always been mentally bankrupt. The Government had better find a more convincing argument than that used by the Postmaster-General in his speech, because the factors to which he referred are within the control of the Ministry of which he is a member, even if he is only in the second eleven. The Government and its supporters proceed to argue a case as if they could divorce themselves from the realities of the situation. They use the excuse used by the Postmaster-General when he said in his speech -
Cost of living adjustments alone have, since July, 1951, when the present rates were fixed, added almost £12,000,000 annually to the wages bill of the post office.
Why was that so? It was because of the failure of the Government to put value back into the £1 and stop inflation from racing, in the terminology of the scientists of the day, at a supersonic rate. The PostmasterGeneral went on -
Marginal adjustments in 1954 and 1955 and the recent basic wage increase have added a further £6,000,000 a year.
That basic wage increase to which he referred was of 1 0s. a week, and was granted by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Those are two of the complaints which stud the Postmaster-General’s speech.
– They are explanations, not complaints.
– I say they are complaints on the part of the Government against somebody. If it is a fact that the cost of living adjustment added £12,000,000 to the Postal Department’s annual wages bill, if it is also a fact that marginal increases and the recent decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court that the workers were entitled to share in the prosperity that the Government says exists added £6,000,000 to expenditure, why did not the Government control the economy so that the users of postal, telegraphic and telephonic facilities would not have to meet the deficits which are being revealed, and which are in prospect? By the way, Mr. Speaker, the deficits indicated in this beautifully printed document called the “ Annual Report of the Postmaster-General for the year ended June, 1955 “, which was produced at very great expense, was only £149,000 in i 954-55. The surplus in the previous year was £152,000. To look at this beautifully printed, prepared and produced document one would not think that there was anything wrong with the finances of the Postal Department. In our days in office we were content to supply the Parliament with a document printed on a much cheaper brand of paper, because we do not believe in wasting the public money, as this Government does, on expensive brochures. Such documents are not really reports only, they are brochures indicating what has been happening in the Postal Department.
Let me return to the Postmaster-General’s list of complaints. His third complaint was stated in these words -
These levels of expenditure-
The ones to which I have already referred - were increased still more by consequent higher costs of materials which the department uses in enormous quantities.
Of course there have been increases, not merely in wages, but in the cost of goods and everything else, and it is the demand inflation and the profiteering that is taking place in Australia which are forcing up costs and producing the cost inflation which some of the economists claim is really forcing up prices.
The fourth complaint of the PostmasterGeneral was put as follows: -
Stores, freights, motor vehicles, canvas and the hundred and one items needed to operate the largest business in Australia all rose in price over the period.
That period covered the last five years. Of course they did! Everything has been going up and up in price since this Government came into office, and there is no sign yet of any decrease, or even any halting, of the rising cost of living. As a matter of fact, the position is getting to such a dangerous stage that if this Government remains in office two or three years longer and continues to push up postal rates and everything else it will help to create a situation in which it will find, a lot of people will not only be anxious and ready, but will indeed be hungry, for a system of democratic socialism.
– Yes, the people who defend monopoly capitalism are making a complete mess of the nation’s economy as well as of the system they profess to defend. As a final argument to try to sway opinion in this House and justify the increases of rates that the Government is imposing on the community, the PostmasterGeneral said -
In addition, the Post Office has had to pay more to those contractors who carry its mails by road, rail, air and sea.
Why should it not have had to do so, if costs are going up, as they have been going up. The Postmaster-General says that all these factors have increased the bill of the Postal Department by £21,000,000 a year. Well, that is an awful reflection upon the present occupant of the office of PostmasterGeneral, and on his predecessor, both of whom are members of the Australian Country party. It seems that when there is any dirty work to be done the Government leaves its Australian Country party Ministers, and, in particular, the PostmasterGeneral and the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) to do it.
– They have a certain aptitude for it.
– I do not know whether it is an aptitude for it or a willingness to do anything, provided they get ministerial jobs. It seems to me that there is a good deal in that. Let us see what the increases are and how unfairly they work. The charge for letters was 3id. for the first ounce, but in future it will be 4d. In 1931, the charge was 2d. for the first ounce.
– You are going back a long way.
– Of course I am. We never fear going back to the past. We have no skeletons to hide. We can tell our story right the way through. If you will allow me to digress, Mr. Speaker, I want to say that the Labour party is the only party in this Parliament that has never changed its name. It has never had to do so. We have never floated around under different aliases.
I return hurriedly to the bill. In December, 1941, in order to help to pay for the cost of World War II., the Curtin Government raised the postage tariff on letters from 2d. to 2id. for the first ounce. At the end of the war, in order to help to pay for the cost of repatriation of the millions of people who wore one or other of our three uniforms during the war, we made that charge permanent. We did not increase it. Then the present Government came into power, elected on phoney promises to reduce costs and put value back into the £1. It had not been in office for a year before it increased the tariff on letters from 2 1/2d. to 3d. for the first ounce. There was no war then to justify that increase. On 9th July, 1951 - still no war was in existence - the charge was raised again to 3d. to 3id. Now it is to go up to 4d., and a little later it will go higher still.
When we come to printed matter, what do we find? The postage rate for newspapers was increased from 2d. to 3d. for the first four ounces in 1951. The present proposal is that that rate be increased to 3id. for the first four ounces. The rate for letters will go to 4d. for the first ounce, compared with 3d. in 1950, but the rate for newspapers will be only 3-Jd. for the first four ounces, compared with 2d. in 1950.
– What have they slapped on to message sticks?
– If they could put a tariff on message sticks, they would do it. The honorable member knows very well, and so does everybody else, that, under a capitalist system, if somebody could measure out the sunlight or sell the air at so much a cubic foot, those elements would be exploited.
However, let me return to the bill again. The charge for a telephone call in a country district has gone up from 2id. to 3d. It was the boast of the former PostmasterGeneral that he would not increase the cost of telephone calls in country districts, but the present unfortunate occupant of the office, unable to grapple with the factors which are driving him into decisions of this sort, has to make the best defence he can of what the Government has driven him into. The charge for telephone calls in metropolitan areas was increased from 2d. to 3d. in 1951. Not only has the cost of telephone calls increased greatly, but also rental charges have been increased substantially. In addition, if a person moves his residence and wants to move his telephone also, he must pay a fee of £10 for the privilege of having his telephone transferred.
We think that all those things are completely wrong. This Government, or some other government, had better get up to date on how to run the Postal Department and how to bring to account, by some new method set up for the purpose, the receipts from postal services, so that profits, when made, will not be paid into Consolidated Revenue and losses, when incurred, will not be passed on to the people to pay in the form of increased charges. Let me tell the House how Labour managed the Postal Department when it was in power. In 1941-42, we made a profit of over £5,000,000. In 1942-43, the profit was £6,000,000; in 1943-44, £6,000,000; in 1944-45, £6,000,000; in 1945-46, £6,000,000; in 1946-47, £5,000,000; and in 1947-48, £2,000,000. In 1948-49, and also in 1949-50, there was a loss of £1,000,000.
– You frittered away your substance pretty quickly.
– We did not. The honorable gentleman is very new in this House. He is only a temporary member, but while he is here I shall seek to educate him.
– Now, now!
– The Minister at the table, the so-called Minister for Primary
Industry, is also on his way out. In 1950-51, this Government lost £2,000,000 on the Postal Department. Because of the increases of 1951-52, it made a profit of £652,000 in that year. For the information of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox), who is not quite so colourful, dramatic and interesting as his predecessor, I shall read the accumulated profits of the Postal Department since federation. They show that the whole system of accounting is wrong. The accumulated profit . of the postal branch since federation is £33,000,000; of the telephone branch, £35,000,000; of the telegraph branch, £5,000,000; and of all branches together, £63,000,000. Those profits were paid into Consolidated Revenue and were used to finance other .governmental activities. That seems to me to be wrong accounting. If the Postal Department is to be a successful business enterprise, both its profits and its losses ought to be brought into the one account.
– The honorable member’ has defeated his own argument.
– I am trying to tell the Government what it should1 do rather than impose additional burdens on the people-. Every honorable member opposite who has visited’ his electorate since the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) brought down the budget, which provides for these increases, has found out how unpopular the Government is because of them. If the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) called a meeting of his electors who would give him a vote of thanks, he could put them all into a telephone booth. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) interrupts me. I remember when his great contribution to the solution of the problems of the Postal Department was to stop people talking on the telephone for longer than three minutes every time they paid 2d. for a call. He wanted comparisons made of how long people talked on the telephone in country areas and in the cities. However, he has dropped all that now. We oppose the bill.
I want to take this opportunity to refer to something that has never been referred to previously - something that came to my notice in 1953, when the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) was the Postmaster-General. I regret that illness keeps him out of the House to-night.
I have before me a document beaded “ Postmaster-General. News Copy “. lt shows how low some members of this Government can get, and how they misuse public funds to spread propaganda for their own purposes. The document, dealing with rural automatic exchanges, reads -
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony), said . . that whereas only 44 exchanges had been provided in 1949 by the Labour Government, no fewer than 56 had been established in 1950, 102 in 1951 and 121 last year by the present Government.
The truth is that the whole programme for that period was devised by the previous Labour government. We had drawn up a three-year plan of development. We had placed the orders for all these automatic exchanges and’ all that the new Government had to do was to install them.
– You could plan, but you could never do anything.
– Nonsense. We planned and we built a great deal. Alf thai this- Government is doing is basking in the reflected glory of Labour’s achievements, and continuing- the- work that Labour began.
– Your own words were that you. had planned but had. not really achieved anything.
Me. CALWELL. - We both planned and achieved a great deal.
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) to direct his remarks to the Chair, and I ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) to refrain from provoking the honorable member bv interjecting.
– The Minister is ;i member of a government which, is mentally sterile and so is incapable of producing even one idea. The document said, further -
Of the total of 480 rural automatic exchanges in operation, 279 had been provided in the past three years:
Therefore, the Labour government of the day could take credit for nothing! We do not hear to-day very much about automatic exchanges being installed, or for that matter very much about the Government doing anything. The most objectionable portion of this document, which, as I have said, was prepared by the former Postmaster-General at government expense-
– lt sounds just like what happened in the Department of Information, when you were the Minister for Information.
– When I was Minister for Information the department was used for governmental purposes. There was no abuse such as we see daily on the part of this Government. When the Estimates are before us the Government will have to tell us all about it. I have before me evidence of the kind of thing that is happening in all its departments. I shall read further from this most objectionable document -
Giving details of exchanges completed, Mr. Anthony said that Liberal and Country Party members of the Commonwealth Parliament had been untiring in directing attention to areas in need of this very essential service.
No reference was made to the efforts of Labour members of this Parliament, although half of Australia’s voters are Labour voters and pay taxes to maintain the Government. Members of the Labour party are more assiduous in their attention to the needs of their electors, but they were not mentioned by the Postmaster-General, who stooped very low in resorting to this type of propaganda. Here is a reference to the position in Victoria -
Mr. Anthony then gave the following details of rural automatic exchange work undertaken by the post office in Victoria . . .
He named nine electorates, every one of which was held by a non-Labour member of Parliament. He gave no details of installations in the electorates of Bendigo, Ballarat. Wannon, Lalor or Flinders, which were then represented by Labour members. Members of the present Government parties, when in Opposition, cried out about alleged abuse of the Department of Information, nut no previous government abused its trust as this Government has done and some day, when Labour returns to office, we shall tell the Australian people the whole story.
– lt will be a long time.
– Government supporters are fearful of Nemesis and it is much .later than they think. Even though the Prime Minister may continue to deliver his grandiloquent “ pie in the sky “ speeches, which are so popular with Liberal party audiences, the majority of the Australian people will not continue to accept these and other imposts without making a vigorous protest.
The Government is losing money in almost every field of its activity. Over the last seven years the Australian Broadcasting Commission lost £8,000,000. Since 1949, the commission has also lost several million pounds in operating Radio Australia. In every respect the Government has failed the Australian people. It is idle for the Prime Minister to say that we are prosperous. If we were prosperous this bill would not have been brought down, and if we are not prosperous, the people ought to be told the whole truth about this nation’s economic plight. The Prime Minister - if 1 might use a colloquialism - “ dribbled a bib-full “ in the United States of America the other day when he said that he was coming back to his “ battered domestic affairs “.
– He did not say it.
– Of course he did! lt is claimed that he ‘was misreported by the press, just as was the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) in referring to Australia’s readiness to send troops to the Suez Canal. Apparently both these gentlemen have been the unfortunate victims of the press barons who keep them in power. Surely the people are not expected to believe such disclaimers. Without the help of the press- the Liberal party and their allies would not win a single seat in this Parliament. I leave them writhing on the horns of the dilemma which they have themselves created.
.- The bill before us, which has been the subject of a half-hearted attack by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, has been brought down to meet the increased costs of the Postal Department. It is the first measure introduced by the Government for more than five years for the purpose of absorbing the increasing costs that have been operating throughout the land.
– And for which this Government is responsible!
– I am interested in the interjection from the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) because .1 want to talk a little on that subject later. I pay considerable tribute to the employees of the Postal Department for their work in keeping down costs during the last five years. As the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) pointed out in his second-reading speech, the Postal Department is not only the largest business concern in the Commonwealth, but is handling 34 per cent, more business than it did five years ago. That increase in business has, however, been accompanied by an increase in staff of only 10 per cent. I pay a tribute to the engineers, technicians and other skilled employees of the Postal Department who, by their energy, foresight, initiative and inventiveness, have been able to introduce time-saving methods which have cut costs and made the department the most efficient business undertaking in Australia.
An examination of the higher costs of the last five years reveals that the greater proportion has been attributable to wage increases. Labour supporters should be the last to cavil at that. Almost £12,000,000 was added to the annual wages bill of the Postal Department by the cost of living adjustments. Marginal adjustments in 1954 and 1955, and the recent basic wage increases have added a further £6,000,000 a year. We must also take into consideration the rise in the cost of the materials used by the Postal Department. I have in mind such things as stores, freight, motor vehicles and the thousand and one items that go to make the Postal Department the efficient organization that it is. When one considers those figures and the fact that the increased cost of delivering mail to country areas has been met without the imposition of additional charges one must congratulate the Government. The time has come, of course, when it has been necessary to take other means to absorb the greater costs.
This bill proposes an increase of about 9 per cent, in charges made to the public by the Postmaster-General’s Department. The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), and the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) by interjection, have suggested that such an increase is a disgrace to the Government. T suggest that honorable members consider the business undertakings under the control of various Labour governments in the States. When one compares the increases in charges imposed by those undertakings with the increases suggested in this bill, one realizes what a good job this Government has done. Consider the chaos that exists in the New South Wales Department of Railways. Charges made by that department have increased by about 55 per cent, in the period during which the Postal Department charges have increased by 9 per cent. Consider also the charges made by the State Electricity Commission of New South Wales, under a Labour government. Even without the further proposed increase of 20 per cent.. the charges made by that undertaking have already increased by about 40 per cent, in the period in question.
If we consider the results of the administration of the Labour hierarchy of Queensland, for which the honorable member for Brisbane has expressed such adoration, we find that electricity and railway charges made by Queensland Government undertakings have increased. Throughout Queensland the various business undertakings of the State Government have increased their charges to the public, in many instances to a prohibitive extent. It is, therefore, of no use for the Labour party in this place to try to condemn the Government, when the Labour party itself stands condemned in each State in which it has power. In some of the States it has had power for a longer period than this Government has been in office.
Let us make some comparisons to determine whether the rates proposed in this bill are extortionate. 1 shall gD back to the pie-war years, as did the honorable member for Melbourne, and tell the House the charges that operated in those days. As the Opposition is so keen on making comparisons in terms of the purchasing power of the basic wage. I shall tell honorable members the extent to which the present basic wage, and the basic wage that operated in 1939. can pay for the various services provided by the Postal Department. In 1939, a person was charged 2d. for the first ounce of material that he wished to send through the post. To-day, the charge is 4d. The basic wage in 1939 could be applied to the posting of 474 letters, whereas the present basic wage may be used to post 738 letters at the rate proposed in this bill. This is an ideal method of comparison, whether or not it satisfies the honorable member for Brisbane, who is seeking to interject. It enables us to get down to fundamentals, and it provides a yardstick by which we may measure whether or not the proposed increases represent the imposition that has been suggested by honorable members opposite.
Let us consider now the telegraph charges. lt is true that in 1939 the cost of an intrastate telegram was ls., and the basic wage at that time could be used to send 79 of such telegrams. The bill before us provides that the cost of sending telegrams interstate or intrastate, shall be 3s. About 82 of them may be sent for the amount of the basic wage. No matter which charges one considers, the comparisons are equally illuminating. Let me refer now to local telephone calls in metropolitan areas. In 1939, the basic wage could be used to make 758 such calls, but when the proposed increase is applied the basic wage will suffice to make 984 calls.
– -But surely our standards of living should be improving!
– I am trying to impress upon honorable members opposite that our standards are improving, and I am putting the proposition into simple language so that they may understand it. Let me now refer to trunk-line calls. For calls up to a distance of 10 miles the basic wage in 1939 would suffice to make 316 of them, whereas under the proposed rates the basic wage may be used for 984 of those calls. In terms, therefore, of real money, a call of that kind now will cost only one-third of what it cost in 1939. That is something for which this Government can take due credit, as can the officials of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, whose skill has enabled these improvements to be made.
The honorable member for Melbourne would have honorable members believe that this measure provides for increases in all Postal Department charges, but if one looks at the proposed charges for trunk line telephone calls one finds that the rate will actually be lower for short distance calls up to a maximum of 20 miles. Those are the calls that are made by a great many people who live in the outer areas of our metropolitan centres. For calls up to 20 miles the rates will be lower, and there will be no extra charge for calls up to 30 miles. For extra long distance calls throughout the Commonwealth the charges will be reduced. At present a person living in Brisbane pays £1 4s. 7d. for a three-minute call to Perth during daylight hours, but the bill that is before us proposes a reduction of that amount to £1, which will be the maximum charge for a trunk-line call in Australia. I can say with confidence that nowhere in the English-speaking world may one make a long distance trunkline call as cheaply as in Australia. Surely this Parliament should be able to take some satisfaction therefrom. When one examines the lowest rates charged for trunk-line calls, one finds that the charge for short distance calls has been reduced from 5d. to 3d., which is the lowest charge made for these calls anywhere in the English-speaking world. The minimum trunk-line charge in the United Kingdom, expressed in Australian currency, is ls., as compared with 3d. in Australia. In New Zealand the minimum charge is 5d. This kind of service is widely used by people living in the outer parts of the metropolitan areas and in the provincial cities of Australia, and the charges for it have actually been reduced.
It is very satisfying to realize that the rates for both short distance and long distance trunk-line calls in Australia are lower than in any other English-speaking country. It is particularly gratifying when one realizes the vastness of our continent and the importance of the various methods of communication.
Let us now consider charges for telegrams. In 1939, an interstate telegram cost ls. 4d., and this bill proposes that the charge be increased to 3s. The basic wage in 1939 could be used to send 59 such telegrams, whereas the basic wage to-day will pay for 82. Not only have the costs been reduced on the basis of a devalued £1, but also we are pleased to take credit for the fact that our charges for telegrams are much lower than the charges in other parts of the world. Honorable gentlemen will be interested to know that the basic charge for a telegram in the United Kingdom is 3s. 9d. compared with our basic charge of 3s. In the United States of America - and I notice that the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) nods his head in agreement - the basic charge is 6s. 8d. for a telegram.
– The basic charge in America is 2s. 8d.
– I join issue with the honorable gentleman. In America the telegram rates are based on zones and the rate for the shorter distances is 6s. 8d. The rates for longer distances are considerably greater. I suggest to the honorable gentleman that he is still thinking in terms of dollars and not of Australian pounds. I assure him that the basic rate in America is 6s. 8d. for the shorter zone areas. That should be compared with the fact that under the new scale of charges, a telegram can be sent from Cooktown round the coast to Broome for 3s.
When we consider the increase in postage rates, we should note that the charges for Australian newspapers, periodical’s and books posted singly or in bulk have not been increased. That has not happened by chance. The Government fully realizes that the conveyance of periodicals, newspapers and books through the post is a great contribution towards the cultural advancement of the people of Australia, and the Government has no desire to interfere in any way with, these rates. It recognizes that country people in particular should be able to obtain periodicals, newspapers and books at the existing rates
In the pre-war days the postal rate was 2d. When a 2d. stamp was placed on it, a letter could be sent through the post. After the passage of this bill a. 4d. postage stamp will be needed on the envelope to get it under way. But, when considering this aspect, let us bear in mind that, though the postage rate is twice what it. was in the immediate pre-war years, incomes and wages have at least trebled in that period, and that means that the postage charge on a letter is still cheap.. One often hears the statement that the postal system originated with penny postage when it was introduced by Rowland Hill some hundred years ago. At that time, wages were about 30s. a week or, in effect, about one-eighth of the present basic wage. Therefore, in real terms, the postage on a letter now is actually only one-half of what it was when Rowland
Hill introduced his penny postage 100 years ago. Therefore, there should be no complaint about the charges that are to bc introduced. The Government has been cognizant of its responsibility in this matter. It has been able to secure good men in the department to make sure that costs are kepi to a minimum despite the overall rise in costs throughout the Commonwealth.
Though it is true that the local telephone call fee in rural areas will, be raised from 2id. to 3d., that will be offset to a considerable extent by the reduction of 2d. in the charge for each short distance telephone call made over the trunk-line service. I have given some figures to the House. I dislike the use. of statistics but, when one is presenting a case on a matter like this,, in order to do justice to the Government and to the people who work in the department, it *i** necessary to establish a yardstick that cannot, be refuted and that stands firm agains)the Statistician’s figures. Using the basic wage as a. measure, I believe that I have demonstrated to the House - and I. am certainly convinced myself - that the Government and its officials in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department can take a good dea! of credit for the fact that these increasesare so relatively small when compared with the increased charges throughout other seivices operated by the State governments
Services have been increased, and made more efficient and their cost has been kepi down. In addition we find that the Postal Department itself has expanded considerably. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition made great play of Labour’s three-year: plan for rural automatic exchanges. He said that Labour planned all this. Goodness only knows if there was a plan ia existence! I doubt whether there was. Nevertheless.. it is a fact that instead of the- few score rural automatic, exchanges left by the Labour government in 1949 when it was tossed out of office by an irate public, to-day we find that just over 900 rural automatic exchanges are operating throughout country centres. They give to the people in those centres the benefit of continuous service day and nigh: in their own community and the ability to dial through to trunk-line services. That, in itself, is a great advance and, if the. Opposition is fair, then let it pay tribute to the Government that has provided the money and the technicians who have made it possible for these services to be installed.
– And the Postmaster-General.
– Of course! As my honorable friend from Deakin says, credit should be given to the Postmaster-General, also to his predecessor, who was always alive to his responsibility to country people and to telephone subscribers generally. 1 want to point out one thing which 1 believe is fundamental in governmental undertakings. It is that those who use a government service should be called upon to pay for that service if they have the ability to do so. The Postmaster-General’s Department is not a social services department. There seems to me to be no reason why the taxpayers should be expected to pay an overall flat rate of tax to meet any deficiencies that may occur because postal rates are kept down to an unsatisfactory level. I have demonstrated that the increases are small. In relative terms, they are good rates not only in Australia, when measured against our money, but indeed throughout the world. But, surely, we reach the point where we must be honest with ourselves, with the taxpayers and with the people who use the benefits and facilities provided by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. It is not a social service: it is a business and should be paid for by those who use it. If we recognize that basic fact and measure it against the costs, then we must realize that costs have risen over the five years since the charges were last increased and that these increases are indeed moderate. Let us pay tribute to the Postmaster-General. In this bill he has made sure that the burden has been spread equally so that no undue burden has been placed upon any one by these rates. We can take full credit for the fact that, in a young country, a big country, a country that is sparcely populated, we are able to say to other English-speaking peoples of the world, “ Our postage rates, telephone rates and trunk line rates are much lower than yours, although our distances are greater “. That is to the credit of the Government and the very efficient officers who have been able, by their initiative, inventiveness and devotion to duty, to keep down costs in this period of rising costs. I commend the bill, pay tribute to the Minister for introducing it, and wish it a speedy passage.
.- The charges that we are discussing will result in additional revenue of £5,500,000 for the remainder of the current financial year and £7,250,000 in a full financial year. There are two questions that need to be asked about these increases. First, why has it been decided to impose the additional charges, and secondly, what was the criterion that determined the allocation of the increases between letters, registered articles, newspapers, books, telephones and telegrams. In a vast undertaking such as the Postal Department, which has an estimated revenue for this financial year of more than £90,000,000, and an estimated expenditure of the same order, it must be a very difficult task indeed to determine why a letter that was formerly carried for 34d. should in future be carried for 4d.; why telephone charges should be increased by a certain amount; and why newspapers which are registered, and books, should not bear increased charges at all. How are these matters worked out against this vast background of £90,000,000 revenue?
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr Pearce) said that the Postal Department was a business undertaking, not a philanthropic institution, and he suggested that those who use the services should be called upon to pay for them. He suggested that that was the principle to be adopted; but that has never been the principle so far as the Postal Department is concerned. That fact was demonstrated very clearly when the vast functions of the department were considered by the Public Accounts Committee some years ago. At page 40 of the twelfth report of the committee, dealing with the Postmaster-General’s Department, the following statement appears: -
The principle adopted by successive governments was that of treating the Post Office results as a whole; the charges for the individual services of branches might be determined “irrespective of their financial position, so long as the objective of a satisfactory overall result was obtained “.
If honorable members refer to the last financial statements which have been published concerning the Postal Department - and, unfortunately, the latest ones available are those for the year ending June. 1955 - they will find, that in that year the postal section incurred a loss of £2,253,000. I might say that for accounting purposes the department is divided into three sections, postal, telephone and telegraph. The telephone section showed a profit of £2,904,000, and the telegraph section a loss of £800,000. If we adopt the principle suggested by the honorable member for Capricornia, that those who use the services should be called upon to pay for them, we might well ask why the telephone section, which made a profit of £2,904,000, should now be involved in additional charges.
Let me dissect the activities of the Postal Department, as the Public Accounts Committee did. The committee had this to say of the activities of the postal section, again at page 40 of its report -
Broadly, the letter rate of 3id. an oz. subsidizes (he bulk carriage of newspapers and periodicals.
It is significant that although the carriage of letters, which already is undertaken at a profit, is to be increased from 3£d. to 4d., newspapers and periodicals, which, in the year that the Public Accounts Committee considered the matter, were being distributed at a loss of nearly £2,500,000, are not to be the subject of any increased charge. Therefore, I ask: Why have the increases that have been decided upon by the Postmaster-General been imposed in the form indicated in the bill that is before us?
Secondly - and I suggest that this is- a missing link so far as this legislation is concerned - on what basis does the PostmasterGeneral contemplate that the raising of an additional £5,500,000 in this financial year and £7,250,000 in a full year is necessary in order to make the Postal Department accounts balance? I submit that he has no evidence on which to base these increased charges. I refer again to the important report of the Public Accounts Committee, which examined the finances of the Postal Department very closely. Later in my remarks, I shall attempt to distinguish between what are known as the Treasury accounts of the department, and its commercial accounts. The Public Accounts Committee, in discussing the commercial accounts, stated at page 10 of its report -
Since it may not be generally known, the Committee reports that these accounts have a significant influence in fixing charges for services.
Recently, I placed on the notice-paper a question addressed to the PostmasterGeneral asking whether he could give me, for the financial year which ended in June last, particulars of the transactions of the Postal Department, both as to its Treasury accounts and its commercial accounts, bearing in mind that it is on the results of the commercial accounts that tariffs or charges for particular services ought to be determined. The reply I have received to-day - two and a half months after the financial year of the Postal Department closed - is that the commercial results of the Post Office cannot yet be determined. But it is on the basis of the commercial accounts, as they are understood, that charges ought to be imposed. I suggest that we are entitled to know the basis on which these additional charges have been imposed. Is it merely another way of extracting, in the form of taxation, £5,500,000 during the remainder of the current financial year, and £7,250,000 in a full year, from the long-suffering taxpayers of Australia?
If honorable members look at the accounts of the Commonwealth, they will find that the revenue of the Postal Department is shown on one side as Consolidated Revenue and expenditure on the other side as part of the expenses of the Commonwealth. Approximately £90,000,000 of the £1,230,000,000 covered by the budget which we discussed recently is made up of amounts to be gleaned from the public through the various postal charges. Those are the Treasury accounts, as they are called. The Treasury, apparently, is a little more careful about getting its accounts closed by 30th June than is the Postal Department. I repeat that it is on the basis of the commerical accounts that the charges which the public pays for postal services ultimately are determined. Yet, this Government, which is increasing the charges, has not yet at its disposal the commercial results for the last financial year! If honorable members consult the last available report of the PostmasterGeneral, for the year ended 30th June, 1955, they will find that, in relation to the Treasury accounts, the Postal Department had a loss of £3,421,000 in round figures, but when what are known as commercial adjustments had been made, the loss of £3,421,000 was reduced to a loss of £149,000. Some items which are listed on page 10 of the last report are included in the commercial accounts but are not taken into consideration in the accounts prepared on a Treasury basis. The figures in the budget papers show that, on a Treasury basis, for the year ended 30th June, 1956, the loss of the Postal Department was £6,285,000, as compared with a loss of £3,421,000 in the previous year. I have shown that when the Treasury accounts for the previous year were converted to a commercial basis, the loss of £3,421,000 became a loss of £149,000. What is the commercial position for the year ended 30th June, 1956? The Treasury accounts show a loss of £6,285,000, but to how much would that be reduced if the accounts were treated on a commercial basis? As I said earlier, the commercial basis determines the operations. The Minister told us in his secondreading speech that the Government proposed to collect an additional £5,500,000 for the remainder of this financial year, and an additional £7,250,000 in a full year. In the light of the figures for the previous year, the loss as revealed by the Treasury accounts would have been reduced on a commercial basis to about £3,000,000, and we must bear in mind the figures that were cited by the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who showed that the transactions of the Postal Department from its inception, considered on a commercial basis, disclosed accumulated profits of about £63,000,000. The budget papers at page 145 show that, considered even on a Treasury basis, from 1901 to 1952 the excess of receipts over expenditure was £19,287,000.
I suggest that the Government has been premature in bringing this measure before the House. This is merely another example of the Government’s asking Parliament to adjudicate upon matters about which there is not sufficient information available. To indicate the kind of items that are taken into account in compiling commercial accounts, as contrasted with Treasury accounts, I direct attention to page 10 of the last annual report of the PostmasterGeneral, under the heading “Treasury and Commercial Accounts “. It is shown that included in Treasury accounts are engineering and general administration expenses, whereas in commercial accounts the pro portion of those items which is attributable to the capital works programme is included in the cost of new assets. The amount concerned was £6,134,000. In other words, the persons who paid for the various services of the Postal Department in the year ended 30th June, 1955, were mulct of an amount of £6,134,000 for costs which were not of an annual but of a capital nature. I suggest that there is serious ground for contemplation by this House of the basis on which the Postal Department is run. We agree that it is a business undertaking and that therefore the results ought to be determined on a commercial basis. But to-day the Government has not available to it the results computed on a commercial basis, and is guessing in the dark about the future of the undertaking. It would be a different matter if the Government were merely being prudent and suggesting that the 70,000 or 80,000 persons in the postal service were underpaid, as we on this side believe they are. Considering the positions of trust which are occupied by postal officials, and the average wage paid to them, there is no doubt that they are underpaid both in terms of the work performed and in terms of what this Government calls its productivity theory. The Minister said -
On ihe staff side, the number of employees in the post office has increased by 10 per cent, in the past four years, whereas actual business has increased by 34 per cent, in the same period. …
I suggest that if 10 per cent, more people are doing over one-third more work, there has been a considerable increase in the productivity per capita in the postal service, and that, therefore, there is a very good case for the postal employees to be paid additional wages for the services that they render. If the Minister, despite what he regards as a victory in the calling off of the recent strike, were merely being prudent, and if he said, “ On a moral basis I shall have to increase their wages anyway, and 1 shall take these steps in advance “, we might not cavil so much about it, but we do cavil, as the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) put it, at the basis on which this course is being adopted at present, because, first, there is no disclosure by the Government of the commercial results of the operations of the Postal Department; secondly, no reason is given, as it cannot be given in the absence of the commercial accounts, for the increase from 3 Id. to 4d. in the ordinary lettter rate, which is already profitable, as the Public Accounts Committee found two years ago. Why is that rate being increased, when there is no increase in the .postage rate for newspapers and periodicals, which already involve the Government in a considerable Joss? This is another example of a tax being exacted from the people who can least afford to pay it, and those fortunate sections in the community which can best afford it are not being asked to pay. The report of the Public Accounts Committee, to which 1 have already referred, at page 40 reads -
In reply to further questions by the committee, the department stated that, in its opinion, an increase in the newspaper rates would not affect the distribution of the large bulk of magazines and newspapers. Some of the smaller papers might bc affected.
If. in the considered opinion of officers of the Postal Department, very little damage would be done by an increase in the rates for the large bulk of magazines and newspapers, why is not any increased charge that is necessary to be fairly shared among all sections of the community instead of being applied only to the ordinary letter rate? Ultimately, the Minister, and the Government of which he is a member, have the responsibility for the various rates charged for services. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland), who is chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, knows that every time a member of the committee suggested to officers of the Postal Department, “ 1 suppose when all is said and done you fix the charges, because you say to the Minister, ‘ If you impose this charge for this, this for that, and so much for a telephone, your accounts will balance they cagily said, “ No, the policy of the Government determines whether the rate for a letter shall be 3W., for a registered article so much, and for telephone services or installations so much “. Therefore, it must be sheeted home to the Government as its responsibility. It is the members of the Government who should be answerable and who should state the position in much clearer language than the Minister has stated it to-day in reply to the question on telephone charges by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa). The honorable member asked the Postmaster-General to jay when he proposed to explain why the installation of a telephone should cost the subscriber £10. I suggest that the Minister will have a great deal of explaining to do, particularly when he looks at the latest financial transactions in relation to the Telephone Branch, taken singly as a service. In the words of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce), a telephone user, as such, should be asked to pay only for the telephone services.
The Telephone Branch earned, on a commercial basis, a profit of nearly £3,000,000. Surely we ane entitled to ask why an unfortunate person who has waited for four or five years for a telephone should have .to pay an installation charge of £10. Where is the justice in this sort of approach? Thai person has been denied the 918 -calls that he could have made, according to the computation of the honorable member for Capricornia in terms of the basic wage, over the last few years. Probably five ot six years ago, when he first applied for the installation it might have been only 450 calls.
I suggest that that is not a very sensible or tangible method by which to work out the cost of services. The cost of services ought not to have been worked out on the basis of proportion of the basic wage. The calculation should have been made on the basis of whether postal revenue, the telephone revenue, and the telegraph revenue met the expenses of the services. The tes! applied by the honorable member for Capricornia, who, I presume, was a leading spokesman for the Government because he was the first speaker after the PostmasterGeneral on that side of the House, failed to convince me. I submit, that, on the real test, the Government is bowled out.
Reference has been made, by way of interjection, to interest. This is an interesting question. It is raised in the budget. I refer to it now for the benefit of the honorable member who asked the question. Even in the amount of £90,000,000 of what is supposed to be normal annual outgoings, there was over £6,000,000 which, on a proper basis, should have been considered as a capital amount. In any case, apart from that side of the transaction, about £30,000,000 a year from the revenues of *he Commonwealth is devoted to the capital works of the Postal Department. That money is raised annually from the taxpayers of Australia, free of interest. I, for one, cannot .see any reason why there should be .any notional interest charged against the particular place to which these particular works are concerned.
We on .this side of the House have often been chided about being socialists and 1 do not want to hedge on the matter. We are a socialist party, and as a socialist party we hope that one of the things we shall be able to eliminate is the burden upon the community of this barren matter calle, interest. One of the methods by which that can be done is so to utilize the resources of the community - the manpower, the technical skill and everything else - sensibly from year to year, and do the things that most need to be done. Apparently, the Government has determined that £30,000,000 ought to be devoted to ‘the Postal Department this year. I do not want to go into the arguments about the choice not being open to the States. That is the Government’s choice, and if the ‘Government does it, I cannot see any reason why a notional amount of 3£ per cent - or 5i per cent, as it is under this Government - should be charged against the Postal Department. It is not charger! against the Postal Department; it is charged against the people who use the services of the department, and it means additional costs to them.
Honorable members on the other side of the House have suggested that we ought to reduce costs. There is a method by which the Government has reduced costs. The method does not impose an unfair burden on the services. Interest is not charged. The department, in its accounts, charged interest. I know that the matter is ‘coming up for review by the Treasurer, but I do not know what his opinion is. In the past, the view has been we should charge interest only on those items of expenditure which came out of loan moneys as distinct from revenue. The honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme) *s interjecting. I -asTc: Who m the community does not use the Post Office? One gets into this silly sort of circular argument in which -one makes a distinction ‘between an individual in the community and an individual ‘as a -taxpayer. In the Government’s accounts, the revenue of the Postal ‘Department appears as a tax, and I submit it is one of the taxes that is paid by every indi vidual in the community. I do not mean, toy that statement, that every indi vidua’ pays the same, but the theory is that he pays for the services rendered to him.
When one analyses the accounts and takes a dissection from the Treasury into the commercial accounts, one finds that it hua very shallow basis, because some users are paying more .for the service than it costs, and others are toeing subsidized by those sections for services which do no’ pay. I have taken as an example the ordinary letter writer and the person who receives newspapers and periodicals through the mails. When the committee examined the matter two years ago, there was a profit of £3,000,000 in respect of the one and a loss of £2,400,000 in respect of the other. The test of a government - I do not refer specifically to this Government hut to all governments - has been that so long as expenditure and revenue ‘balanced, it did not seem to matter. But if that be the basis, it makes very hollow and shallow some of the claims that are made by certain honorable members on the other side of the House.
I repeat the statement that I made at the ‘beginning of my speech. The question that ought to be answered by the Government is, “Why has this amount ot £5,500,000 for nine months, and £7,250,000 for the full year, been hit upon? “ Secondly. “ Why have the various increased charges been distributed in the way they have beer, between postal, telegraph and telephone services? “ I suggest that until those questions are answered, this House should oppose the measure that is now before it.
– They say that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose, but I do not think that it has the duty to oppose captiously. The speech of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) was confused, and I feel that it was meant to be confusing, because I cannot believe that he himself is as ignorant as would appear from die mature of the remarks that he has just directed to ‘the House. The accounts of the Postal Department ‘do not include either capital charges in respect of something over £100,000,000 of fixed assets, nor do they include current ‘charges which revenue is paying for the construction of additional fixed assets. You can take whichever one of them you like. You can , either have your accounts on a cash basis and charge into your current running the capital amounts as you pay them or you can charge into your current running an appropriate fixed charge in respect of these capital amounts. Do one thing or the other. Choose which you will do, but do not be silly and captious, as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has been, and suggest that neither should be done. I intend to speak about telephone charges. As the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) mentioned in his second-reading speach, these charges are prescribed by regulation under the act, not by the act itself. That has been the practice for many years, but I think it is bad. Telephone charges should be prescribed, as other charges are prescribed, by the act itself, and they should be altered only by amendment of the act. However, that in itself is a small matter and, it may be said, only of technical interest.
I want to address myself to one small problem. Perhaps it is not quite so small as it would seem, since, although it has local interest in my electorate, it is of interest also in other electorates. I refer to the rates charged for calls through marginal exchanges. By “ marginal exchanges “ I mean those exchanges which lie just outside the fringe of the metropolitan networks and in respect of which trunk-line rates are charged for calls into the metropolitan network. I know that every metropolitan network must have boundaries. I know also that it is fair that, beyond those boundaries, higher charges should be made for calls through the marginal exchanges, but I do not think anything can justify the steepness of the steps by which higher charges are imposed. This steepness has been traditional for many years in our system of telephone rating. Although it will be alleviated by the new proposals, I do not think it will be reduced to fair proportions. In times when, owing to the general rise of price levels, it has been necessary to increase telephone, telegraph and postal charges generally, there has been some decrease of this vital rate. I say this with gratitude, and I acknowledge what the Government has done. The charge for calls through the marginal exchanges beyond 10 and up to 15 miles will be reduced from 5d. to 3d., and beyond 15 and up to 20 miles from 8d. to 6d. That is a considerable improvement. But even now the Go vernment does not go far enough in my view, lt has not yet done the fair thing by these marginal exchange subscribers. I admit that its present proposals will decrease the inequity, but some inequity will remain.
Let me tell the House of the kind of thing that happens, particularly in my electorate - every honorable member looks first to his own electorate - and also in other electorates. The major part of my constituency is served by the metropolitan telephone network, but the Avalon and Palm Beach exchanges lie just outside it on a peninsula of land bounded on three sides by water. Nearly all the calls through those exchanges go, not into the ocean, but south-west into the main Sydney network. These calls are subject to trunk-line charges and conditions. The two exchanges mentioned are not surrounded by sufficient land to give them the normal calling radius. Under the new proposals, calls through these exchanges to some parts of the metropolitan network will cost 6d. for three minutes, compared with a charge of 3d. for calls made in the metropolitan network only a mile or two away. The difference may seem small, but I ask honorable members to bear in mind that the normal call in the metropolitan network may be of unlimited duration, whereas a call through the marginal exchange into the network will cost 6d. for only three minutes. Inquiries that I have made seem to substantiate that the average call from a marginal exchange into the metropolitan network lasts for two periods. Therefore, under the new proposals, it will cost ls., compared with a charge of 3d. for a call of similar duration within the metropolitan network. Even that is not the full story. The charge of 6d. for three minutes applies only to calls to the nearer part of the metropolitan network. A call to the far side of Sydney from one of the two marginal exchanges that I have mentioned would cost more. In point of fact, even under the new proposals, calls to some points within the metropolitan network will cost as much as ls. 9d. for three minutes. These charges are at least 300 per cent, dearer than those made for calls from points only a couple of miles away to other points within the metropolitan network.
The steps by which higher charges are imposed for calls through the marginal exchanges are too steep. This is inequitable. Furthermore, these charges of up to 300 per cent, more, or four times as much, are levied for a lower grade of service. The people served by the marginal exchanges do not enjoy the same facilities as do people served by the metropolitan network. They cannot dial direct and are sometimes subjected to serious delays because their calls must pass through a trunk exchange, lt is important to remember also that people in the metropolitan area cannot dial numbers at Avalon and Palm Beach from public telephones in the metropolitan network. Callers at Croydon, Lakemba or Edgecliffe, for example, cannot dial Avalon or Palm Beach numbers from a public telephone because the public telephones in the metropolitan network are not fitted with multi-coin attachments. So it is impossible to call from ordinary public telephones numbers in the Avalon and Palm Beach areas, which are really part of the metropolitan area. Therefore, the service received by subscribers at Avalon and Palm Beach is of a lower grade than the service in the metropolitan network. Yet the subscribers at Avalon and Palm Beach pay very much more. They are at a disadvantage, as are all who use trunk telephones. One must dial B071 to get the trunk exchange in Sydney. Not in normal times, but at the seasonal peaks, as honorable members who are familiar with Sydney will know, there is considerable delay in obtaining an answer from B071. The pressure on the trunk exchange at these peak periods reduces the standard of the service received by all subscribers who wish to make trunk calls through the Sydney metropolitan network.
This problem appears particularly serious in Sydney, because well over 60 per cent, of the area which is theoretically within the boundary of the metropolitan network is water. In this respect Sydney is much less favoured than is Melbourne, which enjoys better service. Indeed, I feel that the Avalon and Palm Beach exchanges are perhaps in a worse position than any other exchanges owing to their geographical situation. But I do not wish to suggest that these problems apply only to one State or one electorate. I believe they apply to many electorates throughout Australia. Nor do I plead for any special favours, or for something for nothing. One realizes that the metropolitan network must end somewhere. All I am pleading for is a practical recognition of the fact that to charge 300 per cent, extra for a lower grade of service just because of a geographical accident is not reasonable. It is certainly not reasonable in many cases of districts which lie just outside this theoretical airline radius, but which actually form part of the community of the metropolis.
I have mentioned this matter to officers of the department and to ministerial heads of the department. Time and time again ever since I have been in this House I have been endeavouring to have this inequity remedied, and I think it is about time that something more was done about it. A little has been done, but it is not nearly good enough. The inequity remains. I have mentioned the matter to other members of this House who have indicated that they support the view that something should be done to reduce the steepness of this step in charges. The honorable members for Robertson and Mitchell, whose electorates are in New South Wales, and the honorable members for Bruce and Deakin, whose electorates are in Victoria, are among the honorable members to whom I have mentioned it. The House will recall that some time ago the honorable member for Flinders expressed himself in the same vein. The honorable member for Angas, whose electorate is in South Australia, has spoken in support of this view in the past. In conversation with me only this evening he remarked that he had been handling a matter of this character in respect of the electorate of Barker, which is regrettably without direct parliamentary representation at the moment because of the death of our late Speaker. The honorable member for Angas, whose electorate is adjacent to the electorate of Barker, is looking after the affairs of the Barker electorate temporarily. The honorable member for Franklin whose electorate is in Tasmania, has indicated that his electors have the same problem regarding charges. You, Mr. Speaker, no doubt are in the same position although I am not trying to join you in with the other honorable members I have mentioned in this respect, nor am I trying to join in some of the Ministers who are similarly placed. I have no. doubt that there are also members of the Opposition who have occasion to realize the inequity of these charges. It is not a party matter just because an inequity is being reduced by this Government which existed continuously under the preceding Labour government.
Now I turn to the department’s proposals in respect of this matter. I have had to-day the benefit of a conversation with Sir Giles Chippindall, the head of the department, and he has authorized me to say some things in regard to it. I have had also the very great benefit of a conversation with the Postmaster-General in respect to it. The department has two things under consideration. First, it is considering: - it has not given any commitment on this, and’ it would be unfair of me to imply that it had - some modification of the rigid airline radius which at present prescribes the size of our networks. This airline radius is the practice in Great Britain, but on the Continent of Europe, and in America and Canada for example, the- size of the network is determined not by any arbitrary airline but by the general community of interests. If the boundaries were to be adjusted in this way, if the bits just on the edge of the network were to be counted as part of the metropolitan, network, where there is a community of interests and where they are properly part of the metropolitan area, then I think that honorable members who represent electorates of this character would feel fully satisfied. If the postal authorities were, to adopt a solution which, they tell me, they have under consideration, but on which they have given me no commitment, I feel that the position would be satisfactorily resolved.
Another thing that is in question is the introduction of multi-metering for these marginal exchanges. Multi-metering is a form of registration of calls whereby when there is a call for outside the local’ area the meter, instead of ticking over once, ticks over twice or whatever the appropriate number of times may be, so that although there is complete automatic dialling from the subscriber’s point of view, exactly the same as with a network call, the charge is automatically adjusted.
I was told some time ago by the department, in writing, that multi-metering was. to- be in existence in the marginal exchanges in my electorate by now. Unfortunately, the1 department was unable to live up to that commitment, but it has said that multimetering in these exchanges in my electorate wilL be in operation early in 1957. That will be of some assistance. It. will give direct outward dialling, without the interposition of a trunk line operator, to people in those parts of my electorate, lt will still have a couple of deficiencies, however. In the first place, multi-metering will not allow subscribers in other parts of the metropolitan network to dial inwards to these marginal exchanges without the interposition of a trunk-line operator. So; in addition to the grade of service, remaining lower, the difficulties of public telephone users that I have referred1 to will also remain. There is also - and this I think is vital, and something to which I should like the Minister to pay particular attention - the question of the charge to be levied in respect of this new system. One: does not expect, of course, that extra service, will be given for nothing; but I point out that multi-metering will be considerably cheaper to operate than the present system, of trunk line connexion, which requires, the interposition of an operator, the docketing of the call, the sorting of the docket and the preparation of the customer’s detailed account. There will be a considerable saving to the department, which should be passed on to the telephone subscriber.
– Would this be the first area in which this system is being installed?
– I cannot tell the honorable member that, because I do not know. I only know what has been told to me in respect of my electorate: I am no* in a- position to> say what is: happenings or will happen, in regard to any other electorate. Multi-metering costs should be substantially lower than the normal costs of operating trunk line services, and one. would expect that charges would be adjusted so as to reduce the steepness of the steps to which I have drawn the attention of the House. I hope that that will be done. I know that multi-metering is likely to be based on a shorter time interval than three minutes, with the charge correspondingly reduced, so that there will be some saving to the subscriber by reason of the fact that a four-minute, call, for example. will not be checked in as a. six-minute call, as under the present system. I want to be fair and reasonable on all these, points, but, even making allowance for that, and for the small reduction in rental,. I do not feel that the people in the marginal areas in my electorate will be getting a fair go unless the multi-metered charge is below the rate set out in the schedule.
There are other suggestions which I think should be pressed on the Government. The first is one that I have pressed continuously in the past, and which is at present under consideration by the department. It is that there should be reasonable and sensible adjustment of boundaries, in accordance with European, American and Canadian practice. The second suggestion concerns something which again obtains in America and Canada, and is that ‘a subscriber outside a. network should have the option of being connected to it on payment of an equitable surcharge. It is an option. There is no compulsion about it, but, if he so desires - this is the practice overseas - the subscriber can go on to the network by paying an equitable surcharge on his rental. The third suggestion is that where- the necessary junction lines are available-, the time component might well be eliminated from the charges made in these marginal exchanges, which really form a part of the metropolitan telephone network.
I am not asking for something for nothing. I am not asking for special favours for my electorate. Many electorates, represented by honorable members on both sides of the House, are concerned in this matter. AH that I am asking for is equity. I am asking that the surcharge, instead of being maintained at its present quite unreason: able level for exchanges outside the network, be reduced to something like a reasonable level. I am asking that the financial advantages of multi-metering be passed on to subscribers in marginal exchanges, rather than that those subscribers shall continue to be milked for the benefit of the rest of the subscribers. All that I ask for is equity. I know that the metropolitan network must end somewhere, and I know that there must be an extra charge for those who live outside the prescribed area, but I ask that the extra charge shall be fair, not monstrously inequitable, as it has been for so- many years past.
.- I support, the Opposition in asking the House, to reject the bill. I hope in the course of my remarks to prove that these charges are unnecessary and unjustified, and that, if there were a proper approach to these problems and a proper consideration of the subject, any difficulties which beset the Postmaster-General’s Department could be overcome. I direct attention to the fact that during the last ten years a surplus of nearly £9,000,000 has been shown in- the trading accounts of the department. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) dealt at some length with details gleaned from the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) and from the Director-General. He did not deal in any way with the proposed charges, nor did he attempt to justify the new rates - these new taxes on the people, of Australia. Therefore, there is nothing in his remarks to which I need reply.
I join with honorable members on both sides of the House who have paid a tribute to the employees of the Postal Department. We should be less than generous if we did not recognize that loyal and faithful service hasbeen rendered by the people responsible for seeing that the mails go through and that our messages are transmitted promptly and’ regularly. The need for good postal services must be- obvious to all. I suggest that, if a proper appreciation is to be made of this subject, we should concern ourselves, first and foremost, with, the human element - with those engaged in the physical operations of the department. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, dealing with developments in the department, said -
Output has definitely improved as the result of these positive measures;, and standards of service have- also risen. On the. staff side,, the number of employees in the post office has increased bv 10 per cent, in the past four years, whereas actual business has increased by 34 per cent, in the same period, and’ in addition, greatly accelerated capital works, programmes have been carried out.
That illuminating statement should be considered in the light of the Minister’s report to the Governor-General for the year thai ended on 30th. June. In that report, he stated: -
On behalf of Mr. Anthony,, and also on my own part, I would lite to pay a well merited1 tribute to the Director-General and to the 78,000 men, women,, boys and. girls who comprise the staff of my Department, as well as to the 15,000 Non-official Postmasters, Telephone Office Keepers and Mail Contractors, for their invaluable contribution to the development and improvement of
I lie services of the Post Office - an essential public utility which comes into very close touch with the everyday life of the community. A special tribute is paid to the employees who were called upon, often wilh great inconvenience and danger, to operate services during the disastrous floods in Eastern Australia and to restore facilities which had been disrupted. Once again, they gave effect to the tradition “ Service before Self “.
As a private member of the Parliament, I pay a tribute to the staff of the Postal Department, especially to the non-official postmasters - that army of people scattered among the hamlets and villages of Australia, working, in many instances, under conditions which it would not be an exaggeration to describe as deplorable. Their conditions are far from satisfactory, and I suggest to the department that an examination be made of them.
It is startling that during the last few days the postal workers, because of provocation and a feeling of unrest, found it necessary to go on strike, perhaps for the first time in the history of Australia. I regret that very much. I am sorry that that occurred, but I remind the House that, over the years, the postal workers, asking for just and reasonable treatment, have sought interviews with the Postmaster-General and departmental officials, that they have always placed their cards on- the table, and that on every occasion they have submitted their claims to arbitration. It was significant that the postal workers, as faithful public servants, submitted their claims to the Public Service Arbitrator, Mr. Castieau. He found in their favour, but this Government - the first to do so - appealed against Mr. Castieau’s determination. The Minister, in his report to the Governor-General, praised the work of the staff of the department in eloquent terms, but it would have been much better to give some practical relief and consideration to them.
In discussing the bill this evening, I want to put it to the Government that the device of increasing postal charges does not always meet with success. The objective of the Government is to increase revenue. Consideration should be given to the manner in which the department is being managed. The haphazard method of budgeting for only twelve months in advance is most undesirable and is not conducive to the smooth working of the department. The increased charges will have some effect. They will plug up the holes, so to speak, and the save the department for the time being.
This department, which has given sound service in the past, ought to be put on a proper business basis. Can any honorable member tell me of any worth-while business organization which, from year to year, budgets for sufficient funds to bridge the gap between trading and capital only? The necessity for providing adequate capital right at the outset ought to be quite clear. I appreciate the unfortunate position of the Postmaster-General in having to go to Cabinet to seek funds with which to conduct his department. Surely he should be able to say, “ I have a department to conduct. I should be able to obtain firm contracts for work to be performed over a period of years. I need post offices. I need exchanges and new buildings, and I can only obtain worth-while tenders if I can promise to keep builders going for two or three years “.
The Postal Department has been voted £30,727,000 for capital works in 1956-57. This represents an increase of £1,950,000 over the sum of £28,770,000 spent last year. The department is spending about £30,000,000 annually on the development of postal, telephone and telegraphic services. The greater proportion of this money is to be spent in the provision of telephone and trunk-line services, with their associated buildings, in an endeavour to meet a record demand. A programme of this magnitude involves most detailed planning, and careful co-ordination. I have tried to emphasize this because it deserves to be emphasized. One could not expect the Australian Mutual Provident Society or the Mutual Life and Citizens Assurance Company Limited to erect massive buildings if they could make their plans from year to year only. Any business worthy of the name must first have capital with which to conduct its affairs. Its business accounts will then take care of themselves from year to year.
Engineering materials and equipment, comprising thousands of items, and of a total value of £16,650,000, will be used in 1956-57. Thousands of men will be employed by the department in the erection of scores of buildings. In these days of keen competition for materials, it is more than ever important that the department should be assured of a flow of the materials that it needs. Labour should be in constant supply and not subject to the whims of various employers competing against one another. On the other hand, labour should not suffer as it has done at the hands of this Government on previous occasions. As soon as there is a tightening up of government expenditure some 5,000 members of the Postmaster-General’s Department get the “ axe “. The development of the department should be organized and orderly. That will only be possible if adequate capital is available. The projects of which I have spoken will be undertaken in every part of the Commonwealth, and hundreds of motor vehicles will be used to transport labour and materials to them.
All of this shows how great is the task of organizing the department’s programme. All phases of its activities must be dovetailed. The successful cutting in of a new service on half a dozen jobs may depend upon the completion of a building, and the equipment and men must be available on the spot when that building is completed. I have had an experience of that in Lithgow, in my own electorate, where a new automatic exchange was built. I was impressed by the magnitude of the task that confronted the department in dovetailing everything so that the changeover could take place without interfering with the services to existing subscribers.
I should like at this point to pay a tribute to the department for training men capable of carrying out this work so skilfully. I pay a similar tribute to the men themselves for the fine quality of their craftsmanship. To do all these things with a year-to-year capital works allocation must be a very difficult task. I am certain that it is. Contracts for the supply of materials have to be let yearly, and the Postal Department could surely get more favorable tenders if it were given sufficient capital funds for three years. Local manufacturers would then be able to tool up with confidence, and could, with longer contracts, reduce overhead.
This is also true of buildings, for a contractor can quote a lower price if he has other post office jobs to carry him into the next vear. This Parliament is voting about £30,000,000 a year for the Postal Department, but the department is not catching up the lag in the provision of services. I can recall some of the difficulties that have occurred in my own electorate as a result of the present catch-penny, hand-to-mouth practice of financing the department annually. There have been difficulties in the delivery of letters and telegrams, and even greater difficulty in getting telephones. In Bathurst, a post office and telephone exchange is needed. Its provision has been approved by both this Parliament and the Public Works Committee. A post office has also been promised to the people of Oberon, where the department owns certain land. A new postal building is also needed at Lithgow. Land has been bought at Katoomba for the same purpose, and, owing to the development in the Penrith area, a post office is needed in that centre also. All these things cost money, and all the encouragement honorable members get is a courteous reply from the department indicating that funds are not available, or that plant for the provision of telephones is not to be had. Not £30,000,000 but £120,000,000 should be voted for a threeyear period as capital for the Postal Department. This would enable it to put its house in order, and overcome the backlog in the provision of telephones. Post office facilities are needed by the people of this country. It is incongruous to see this great business organization refusing to sell its services to those who want to buy them. The people are entitled to those services, which are necessary in peace, and vital in war-time. Those who live in our country districts and who have not the advantage of a telephone service are hopelessly isolated. One of my objections to the new schedule of charges is that it appears that the charges increase as the distance of the customer from centres of population increases. The proposals to increase postage charges by id., to charge £10 for a telephone connection, and to increase various other charges should be considered as attempts to impose extra taxes on the people of Australia. This measure appears strange coming as it does from a government that purports to deplore increases in costs of production, which, it says, accelerate price rises and aggravate inflationary trends. T thought it utterly absurd for the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) to work out the basic wage in terms of postage stamps. His statement was one of the most futile that I have heard in this chamber for some time. It was so far removed from a serious consideration of the matter before us that the speaker who followed him evidently thought it unworthy of consideration.
Some people appear to think that the difference between Postal Department revenue and its expenditure on ordinary services, as shown in the budget, represents the profit or loss for the year. Any one with business experience can soon realize how erroneous is this idea. The budget figures are simply an income and expenditure statement, which is far removed from a profit and loss account. In the first place, they include many hems of capital expenditure, such as new motor vehicles, overhead on capital works, office equipment and mail-handling machinery. Until this financial year, the Treasury accounts also excluded earnings from weather telegrams and electoral services for -which the departments concerned did not pay the Postal Department in cash. Various other adjustments are also involved, and these are explained on page 10 of the PostmasterGeneral’s report for 1954-55. A much more accurate assessment of the financial position of the department may be obtained from this annual report, which shows that although the cash difference between revenue and ordinary services expenditure in the budget was £3,421,298, the actual trading loss for 1954-55 in its commercial accounts, which are based on normal business accounting principles, was £149,166. That does not show a disturbing state of affairs, and one must remember that an increase in charges very often tends to reduce income. Those in charge of the Postal Department must know that when telegram charges were increased some time ago the number of telegrams lodged immediately commenced to decrease. That kind of tendency may be reflected in other postal charges.
This bill should be rejected, and the Government should bring forward a more businesslike proposal. I find it strange that a government which represents, in the words of its own supporters, the masters of big business, and which believes in business economics, should continue to bring before the Parliament proposals of the ‘character that we are considering this evening.
Much could be said on various other aspects of this matter, but I shall not comment upon it any further, because I feel that the Parliament and the people will say that these are impositions that should not be visited upon the people at the present time. We are a much-taxed people. Additional sales taxes have recently been imposed, and the Australian people have suffered from direct and indirect taxes imposed upon them by this Government. When one considers all the other burdens that have had to be shouldered by our citizens in recent times, particularly those in the country districts, one sees how harsh and unjust is the measure before us. I therefore suggest that the PostmasterGeneral and the Government should reconsider the position.
I can give many examples, from my own electorate, of inadequate service given by the Postal Department. I received a letter recently to the effect that a postmaster in one of the Blue Mountains towns was obliged to close his post office so that urgent telegrams might be delivered. Those are the conditions that obtain at the present time. I do not blame the Postal Department for them because it lacks the money, the support of this Government, and the business organization to improve matters. I do suggest, however, that the Government should do something to overcome the difficulties experienced by the department. I have had complaints that in the greater part of the town of Penrith there is only one mail delivery each .day. I can only say that it is a very strange state of affairs that only one mail delivery a day is made in a town of the size and importance of Penrith, which is only a short distance from the City of Sydney. Representations made by me to the Postmaster-General’s Department resulted in about twenty extra people being given a .second daily delivery. I can only hope that some action will be taken .to correct these anomalies, that a new system of accounting will be introduced by the department, and that in the future the affairs of the department will be controlled in the same way as are those of Trans., Australia Airlines. The department will then be enabled .to function properly, and we will not be called upon repeatedly to consider increases such as those that are before us to-night, and which we of the Opposition say should be rejected in the interests of the people of Australia.
Mr. DRUMMOND (New England) 1 10.7]. - I represent a country electorate which, although by no means as large as some of those in Western Australia and Queensland, still covers an area as large as Holland, Belgium or Denmark, and I am almost moved to tears of sympathy when I hear the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) bewailing the fact that many of the people in the town of Penrith cannot get two mail deliveries a day. 1 am concerned with people who find it very difficult to get two mail deliveries a week. 1 pay tribute to the sympathetic attitude adopted by both the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) and by his predecessor, and to their attempts to provide an adequate service for people in outlying areas, while coping with the tremendous increases in costs. Complaints are made at times that mails are not delivered, but very often those complaints spring, from the neglect of . State governments to provide, sufficient money for shire councils to make, roads trafficable so. that the mails can be delivered. When we experience, abnormally wet seasons, such as have, occurred in the last, year or two, the difficulties are very greatly increased.
I sometimes wonder whether the people in the built-up areas and in the cities are treated unreasonably well,, compared with those in the outlying parts of the State who have to battle: along and carry on their businesses. I listened with the greatest of interest and sympathy to- the proposal of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe). He suggested that those, country people who erected private lines entirely at their own expense should receive a depreciation allowance for taxation purposes. It is a matter of some astonishment to me that this subject has not. been pressed more vigorously.
I can speak with some personal knowledge of a private line which commenced at the City of Armidale and continued for 17 miles. It was erected, at the expense of the people in that area and every three months four parties accepted the responsibility of servicing the line, replacing breakages and so on. I must say that each of the parties offered a silent prayer that a storm would not hit the line; in the midst of their shearing, haymaking or whatever it was they were engaged in when they were short-staffed during the war. I know that the State member for the area at the time made a suggestion to the Postal Department that it should extend its own line to assist these people. I pay tribute to the fact that as soon as an Australian Country party Minister took charge of the affairs of this department, provision was, made for the extension of that line for 10 miles. People who were constantly experiencing, great difficulty in using their telephones owing, to inefficient equipment, to-day have an adequate automatic service. They, ia common with many other people throughout the rural districts, are well satisfied with the assistance given to them.
Having said that, I return to the point 1 made concerning what a country person very often has to do to secure telephonic communication. Though the Government has been liberal, has restored and expanded the original Australian Country party policy and has lightened the load borne by these people, the fact remains that constituents in my electorate have had to pay £200 or £300 each, to ensure that they would have a telephone service carried through to the nearest departmental line. I do not say that that is not to a certain extent inescapable, but where people are really pioneering and developing, the country, consideration should be given to the grant of a depreciation allowance. That, of course, lies within the realm of the Treasurer. I think it might well be dealt with on- that plane and I shall pass on from it.
I want to refer to the remarks of the honorable member for Macquarie, on the necessity for each department to have allocated to it a specific sum of money for a given number of years- in order that it cant plan, and make the arrangements that a. business firm which enters into a contract has to make so that it will not go bankrupt. I listened with intense sympathy to the words, of the honorable member for Macquarie. The honorable member for Chisholm (Mr. Kent Hughes) expressed the opinion that he and one other member were the only ones in this chamber who had had ministerial experience in a State government. I am in that category. It was the anguished wail of every Minister who wanted to get on with his job that he did not know how much money he would receive in the future. If he knew exactly what he could do for the next three or four years, then he would be able to administer his department properly. As far as it is humanly possible, such a scheme should be attempted.
Government is the biggest business in this country and only one of two things can be done. The control of government can be cut away either by statutory corporation or by a purely business undertaking. Such bodies could be allowed to raise their own capital and to operate as business enterprises. A business enterprise could not allow an undertaking such as the railway from Dubbo to Newcastle to be started in 1938 and still not be finished. The Keepit Dam in New South Wales was started in 1938 and is still dragging on, like the Glenbawn Dam; but private industry could not continue in that way.
If that state of affairs is to exist, then two aspects of the work of government must be faced. The first deals essentially with business undertakings and the second with services. Services, unfortunately, must be considered according to the capacity of the taxpayer to pay and the general income of the country. Those services must be developed and maintained against the fluctuating fortunes of the economy. An undertaking conducted on private business lines has to work on an entirely different principle. It is one concern, but government is the biggest business of the country. lt is affected by the policy and by the politics of the country. Consequently, in government administration there are certain factors that do not and should not affect the proper conduct of an ordinary business undertaking. While I sympathize with the view of the honorable member for Macquarie, I suggest that he has not carried his thinking sufficiently to a logical conclusion to see where it would really lead.
I congratulate the Postmaster-General. He has recently taken on this heavy task and has tackled it in a capable manner. He has shown tolerance in dealing with an industrial situation and capacity in grasping the very wide range of activities of his department. I am sure that he will effectively discharge his trust as he gains more experience and has a wider and deeper view of the great problems that confront that department. 1 sympathize with him on having to introduce this bill. We can prove that the increased charges for which provision is made are not out of line with the general increase in charges in the community, but the fact remains that the bill does impose additional charges. A British statesman once said that it is not given unto mortal man to tax without offence. The Postmaster -General will probably learn that before his work is completed.
Generally speaking, the Postal Department has given value for the money received. Take, for example, rural automatic exchanges. Speaking from memory, 1 think there were approximately 240 of them when I came to this House about six and a half years ago; to-day there are nearly 1,000 of these essential aids to the modern development of the outback community. My own electorate has had a reasonable share, but 1 have many demands yet to be satisfied. So have we all. We have, too, demands for up-to-date post offices; but in the New England electorate during the last six years the department has built a new telephone exchange at Glen Innes, and it is building one at Armidale. My one regret is that it has not been found possible to provide better accommodation for the employees of a very important section of the department in the growing and important city of Tamworth. Those employees are performing their work in buildings such as temporary huts, and although the department tried to secure some very suitable buildings, the terms on which they were offered did not permit of it taking them over. The employees will have to wait until buildings are erected and that, in the long run, I think will prove to be in the best interests of the department.
I want to refer briefly to the finances of the department, because they have been rather under fire to-night. I have noted with very great interest that, in the first 50 years of the existence of the Postal Department, the total expenditure on capital works and services was £191,500,000, in round figures, and that in the next five years it increased to £300,700,000. That was an increase of almost £110,000,000 in five years. The estimate for the present year will add a further £30,727,000. That is enormous expenditure and indicates the tremendous task which has been imposed on the Postal Department.
As I have said earlier in this House, there have been constant complaints about the staff of the department, particularly the outdoor staff. Some of those complaints have been justified, but as I also have said previously, it is obvious that you cannot build up a post-war organization by training only indoor staff, which it is possible to train in greater numbers and which may be easily controlled. It is also necessary to train men to control the employees in the field, the centurions, as it were, or the captains or perhaps sergeant-majors of the task force. They have to be trained if the postal army is to be well served and its work is to be carried out efficiently. The tremendous expansion which has gone on is the measure of the difficulty of organization which has confronted the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) and his staff. I think there is altogether too much carping at times about what has not been done, and not enough credit given for magnificent achievements.
Now let me pass to another aspect. I notice that the interest bill for the current year is stated as £1,260,000. I have not been able to analyse this matter, but in general terms, it seems to me that that represents approximately the current rate of interest on a capital of £30,000,000. Over the years since the foundation of the Postal Department, expenditure on capital works and services has amounted to more than £300,000,000.
– A lot of it came out of revenue.
– Yes, I am coming to that. We find, if we calculate at the average rate of interest on loans, that £1,260,000 works out at approximately the interest on £30,000,000. Taken over the whole £300,000,000 of the debt, of course, it works out at a fraction of 1 per cent. It is aparent that if this policy of restricting our loan indebtedness by taking the money from revenue had not been in vogue - and incidentally, the capital debt of New South Wales was increased by roughly 100 per cent., to more than £600,000,000 - we should be paying in interest to-day not £1,260,000, but more than £12,000,000, and the balancing of our accounts would present a grievous problem. So, while some degree of criticism may be directed at the system of financing from taxation undertakings which will have a life of 50 years, or maybe much longer, there is something to be said for it when it is found that we are carrying only a nominal interest bill on such a vast undertaking as this. It is true that there is a great deal of capital expenditure which cannot be classed with the building of solid post offices and telephone exchanges. Like many other businesses, the Postal Department must have a great deal of equipment which is given a life of five years, ten years, fifteen years, twenty years, or even longer, according to the type. Therefore, it is not possible to have a flat rate of depreciation and amortization. Those rates have to be worked out on a business basis, and I assume that that enters into the decisions of the department.
I rose to-night, not to make a long speech on this subject, but really to touch on several points, and I think that I have covered them sufficiently for my purpose. During the Minister’s second-reading speech on this bill, he stated -
On the staff side, the number of employees in the post office has increased by 10 per cent, in the past four years, whereas actual business has increased by 34 per cent, in the same period.
That statement may be open to a certain degree of criticism. I recall the PostmasterGeneral’s predecessor, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), saying that the cost of providing certain services was such that the more business the department received the more money it lost, because it was unable, in the circumstances, to handle additional work without a lot of overtime being worked, and so on. But very often staff may be uneconomically occupied because it is not fully occupied, and perhaps additional work could be handled with junior assistance. Overhead would be reduced, because the principal staff could control effectively a much greater number of employees. Consequently, I think that this basis of comparison has only a relative value. Nevertheless, in certain circumstances it may have considerable real value and this criticism does not detract from the general credit that I give to the department, which in the short space of five years has handled such enormous expansion, on the whole with such efficiency that the department and the Minister deserve the ‘highest encomiums and far less .biting criticism.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) unintentionally misrepresented me, I think, when he said that I had claimed to be the only honorable member who had State experience. My diction must have been rather faulty because two newspapers had the same version this morning, and two other newspapers reported me as having said, as I thought I said, and as my speech is reported in “ Hansard “, not “ honorable member “ but ‘ honorable Minister “. I said that except for the Prime Minister no other Minister had, so far as I knew, ever been in a State government and had State experience.
Mc Drummond. - I lost no sleep over it.
– No. I just wanted to correct a wrong impression. The honorable members for Darebin, Lalor, Bradfield, and Isaacs, and many other honorable members have had State experience. I just wanted to catch the tin hare before it got away.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Bruce) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.32 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: - 1 and 2. The value of imports into Australia in each of the last ten years and the freight paid thereon, are as follows: - -No figures of total freight “ paid “ on Australian exports are available. The value of exports from Australia in each of the last ten years is as under: -
r asked the Minister for Defence Production, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are ‘as follows: -
b asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
I, 2 and 3. There is little I can add to the answers I gave in my replies on 27th October, 1955, and 21st March, 1956, to similar questions. Active steps are being taken by my department, with the endorsement of the Ministry of Labour Advisory Council, in collaboration with the State Departments of Labour, other State instrumentalities, insurance companies and the Bureau of Census and Statistics in an endeavour to improve the basis of Australian statistics. Until some uniform basis of statistical recording can be found which is acceptable to all concerned (and this must necessarily take time) no really reliable estimates can be made of the incidence of industrial accidents on an Australia-wide basis, nor, therefore, useful comparisons on such a basis. Despite the incompleteness of Australian industrial accident figures, there is little reason to doubt that the time lost on account of industrial accidents continues to be greater than that lost on account of industrial disputes.
A considerable body of effort directed towards preventing industrial accidents has developed, particularly in recent years. The work of State Labour and Health Departments and other statutory authorities in formulating legislation and administering inspection and advisory services is well known. An ever-growing number of enterprises conduct well-organized internal safety activities. Employer organizations and trade unions have contributed to accident prevention activities. Voluntary organizations such as the National Safety Council of Australia, the National Safety Council of South Australia, the Safety Engineering Society of Victoria, and the Association of Industrial Safety in New South Wales are helping to promote industrial safety through discussion of problems, and dissemination of information and through other services. An important contribution is being made by the Standards Association of Australia through its development of codes of safe practice and standard specifications of plant, materials and equipment. Training of supervisors and executives in the principles and techniques of accident prevention is being provided in some technical schools and by the Australian Institute of Management. With the collaboration of State Labour and Health Departments, my own department has been engaged in a continuing programme of study of safety problems in industry and, through advisory work, lectures and the issue of publications, it encourages the adoption of good standards of practice and physical working conditions. These and the activities of other bodies represent a considerable total effort aimed at reducing accidents in industry, and there can be little doubt that without it the yearly toll of injuries would have been very much greater than it is. Nevertheless, there is general agreement with the view of the Ministry of Labour Advisory Council that still greater effort is needed. Following the council’s initial review of the matter, there have been discussions between the Commonwealth and State Labour Departments on means for promoting the collaboration of all interested parties in a concerted drive to combat the accident problem. Some States are naturally in a better position to stimulate this collaboration than others, and information is therefore being exchanged between the Commonwealth and State Labour Departments on experience in safety promotional techniques. The action being taken is regularly reviewed by the Ministry of Labour Advisory Council, but it is clear that safety promotional activities must be continued over a long period and that spectacular improvements cannot be expected in the short run. Among the matters receiving the attention of the Council is the desirability of a widespread national campaign to reduce industrial accidents. It would, however, be premature to consider launching such a campaign before much more exploratory and factfinding work had been completed.
e asked the Minister for
Defence, upon notice -
– The following information is given in reply to the honorable member’s questions: -
d asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The following information is given in reply to the honorable member’s questions: -
n asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, it is pointed out that the main purpose of the treasury accounts is to record expenditure against the parliamentary appropriation. They are simply statements of cash transactions. Separate commercial accounts are maintained for the purpose of measuring trading results. As I informed the honorable member for Banks recently, these trading results for the postal, telegraph and telephone services for 1955-56 are not yet available. It will be appreciated that in an undertaking operating on so vast a scale. many end of the year adjustments to cash transactions including many involving overseas countries are necessary before the accounts can be finalized and this inevitably occupies some weeks. The honorable member may be assured that the trading results for 1955-56 will be made known as early as possible.
a asked the Postmaster-General upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
r asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 September 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1956/19560919_reps_22_hor12/>.