23rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– 1 direct a noncombatant question to the Minister for Defence. Has the Minister investigated the statement by a Tasmanian clergyman that in a recent rainstorm he saw a group of five flying saucers, attended by a mother ship, hovering over a north Tasmanian town? Has the Minister seen a statement yesterday by the president of the Victorian Flying Saucer Association, Mr. P. E. Norris, that as reputable observers are still sighting flying saucers the Federal Government should satisfy itself that unfriendly nations are not infringing Australian territorial sovereignty? Will the Minister appoint a committee consisting of the honorable member for Moreton and the honorable member for Griffith to ascertain whether anything red is going on up there in the sky and report to the Government?
– Yes, I saw the first statement, by the clergyman in Tasmania. I d’id not see the second statement.
– My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade in relation to trade with Borneo and the provision of a direct shipping service. Is there a new direct shipping service from Australia to Borneo ports? If it has been commenced, has there been any noticeable increase in trade between Australia and Borneo?
– I am able to inform the honorable member that there is a new shipping service between Australia and Borneo ports. It is conducted by the Austasia Line, which is an associate of the Blue Star Line. The direct service commenced in April of this year between eastern Australian ports and Jesselton and Labuan in North Borneo and Kuching and Cebu in Sarawak. The service is six-weekly and the vessels are fitted to carry refrigerated and general cargo. This service is in addition to the three-weekly service provided by the Royal Interocean Lines to Thailand and Borneo ports. As the new service was inaugurated as recently as last April it is rather too early yet to be able to say, with documentation, just what additional trade has occurred; but the Government and officers of the Department of Trade are conscious of the fact that a great number of trade opportunities for Australia depend more than anything else upon direct and suitable shipping services. The department has been instrumental in inducing a number of new services to the Far East, the Persian Gulf and African ports, and has under examination at the present time the possibility of establishing a separate service to South America.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. Has any final decision been made to transfer the Mallala airfield to the Department of Civil Aviation? As reports are current that it may be used as a place for glider exercises, I would like to know just what the position is. Is it to be disposed of altogether?
– I am not familiar wilh the position at the moment regarding Mallala airfield, and I will have to get an answer for the honorable member. At one time the airfield was owned by the Department of Supply. Then the Royal Australian Air Force was given permissive occupancy and used the airfield for training one of the Citizen Air Force squadrons which has now been allocated other duties. As I say, I do not know just what the present position is. but I will find out and let the honorable member know.
– I address a question to the Minister for Territories. Have arrangements been made for the Royal Australian Navy to undertake surveys of certain rivers in the Northern Territory? If so, what rivers will be included in this work? Would suitable forms of river transport assist the cattle industry and some agricultural industries, such as that of rice production? Is there any prospect of a meat works being established in Darwin, and would a river transport system improve the prospect of such a project?
– At the request of the Department of Territories, the Royal Australian Navy is shortly to commence a survey of the Adelaide River, in order to see whether it is suitable for navigaton. 1 know of no other such project. The use of rivers for transport depends very largely on a comparison of this form of transport with other available forms, and upon such questions as to whether the cattle or agricultural produce to be transported by river is to be trans-shipped or sent inland at the end of the river journey. I should think the Victoria River, in certain circumstances, would certainly lend itself to the development of river transport of cattle, assuming the cattle were to go to Darwin and be immediately unloaded there for some local use. I doubt whether there are any other rivers, except possibly the Roper River, that might be developed in this way.
As to the honorable member’s final queston, a special purpose lease for the building of abattoirs has been granted to William Angliss and Company. The site is in the vicinity of Darwin. Before an abattoir is commenced, however, a licence must be granted and, so far as I know, the company has not yet applied for a licence, although it has a lease of the land.
– I address a question to the Acting Treasurer. Has the Government examined the economic consequences of the toll of the road in Australia? Has any attempt been made to assess, in terms of money, the effect on the Australian economy of loss of life and injury in road accidents, taking into account such matters as loss of man-power and compensation payments and the cost to the community of invalid and widows’ pensions? Does the Government intend to do anything about the awful slaughter that is taking place on our roads? Will the Prime Minister consider convening a conference of Commonwealth and State authorities, to devise means of solving the many problems involved? Will the Government consider making available to the States extra money, either on a £1 for £1 basis or as straight- out grants, for the establishment of a number of driver-training ranges, so that all potential motor vehicle drivers may be properly and thoroughly trained in driving, and so that our young people may learn to drive while they are still attending high school?
– I am sure that the matter raised by the honorable member is one that concerns all thinking people and all governments in Australia. It would be easy to say that in the realm of govermental responsibility it is the State governments that are in charge of the roads and in charge of the licensing of motor vehicles and of drivers, and to let it go at that. But this Government has not taken that line. It has subsidized quite heavily the costs of the Australian Road Safety Council, which is a body that operates in close collaboration with the Federal and State governments. All the matters referred to in the honorable member’s question are given close attention by that council, in which government and private interests meet to discuss the problems involved. This Government feels that it is not for itself alone to devise policies in this regard but, on the contrary, that it should work in collaboration with State governments, particularly through the council. The record shows that the Government has gone a long way in the provision of financial assistance.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Last week, he promised to consider conferring with his ministerial counterparts in the States with the object of evolving a national plan for the technical training of sufficient skilled and semi-skilled workers to meet Australia’s requirements during the next decade under modern conditions of technological advancement and automation. Has he yet considered the matter, and if so with what result? Does the Minister recognize the importance of dealing urgently with this problem on a national level? I have in mind that the report of the Commonwealth Railways, which was tabled in this House recently, showed that the operations of this undertaking have been affected already by the shortage of tradesmen. Advertisements in the daily press in all capital cities were to no avail because no tradesmen responded to them.
– The assumption on which the honorable gentleman bases his question is not quite valid. There is a shortage of labour of all descriptions - technical and manual - and consequently, in the condition of full employment that we have to-day, it is not surprising that there is a shortage of tradesmen. The answer to the first part of the honorable gentleman’s question is that I have directed inquiries to the department to find out exactly what the States are doing in the field of technical training. I have not yet received a reply. I expect that it will take some time to come to hand, but as soon as I receive it I shall communicate with the honorable gentleman.
As to the second part of the question, the facts are well known, not only to the States but also to the Commonwealth. We know that this is an enormously important problem, and I can assure the honorable gentleman that the State governments are attempting to live up to their responsibilities.
– In view of the fact that officers of the Postal Department are transferred from time to time and that in some country towns suitable accommodation is at a premium, will the Postmaster-General authorize a survey of all country towns with a view to ascertaining the post offices which have residences attached or at which residences are available? Where such residences do not exist, will the PostmasterGeneral consider ways and means of giving the officers concerned some security of residence?
– I can give the PostmasterGeneral a start at Maroubra.
– Yes, you have mentioned it before. The honorable member for Wimmera wants to know the departmental policy in relation to the provision of residences, mainly, I take it, for postmasters and postal officials.
– I refer to postmasters.
– It has been departmental policy for some time not to provide residences for postmasters except in certain circumstances, such as where the obtaining of accommodation in certain country areas is pretty difficult. In those cases we do, from time to time, provide a residence for the officer either by obtaining a property ourselves or by leasing one. The rental then charged varies, according to a sliding scale, up to 10 per cent, of the officer’s salary. Another example occurs where residences are still provided in large post offices, mainly those built very many years ago when it was the practice to provide accommodation on, say, the second floor of the post office building. We are steadily getting away from that system. We do not turf postmasters out or anything like that, of course, but as the position of postmaster at such a post office becomes vacant, we obtain accommodation needed for post offices and telephone exchanges by advertising the position as only without accommodation provided. Representations have been made to us on this matter by the Commonwealth Postmasters Association. I assure the honorable member that it is not necessary for me to institute a survey, because the matter has been under consideration continually for a number of years. The policy which I am outlining now is that which has developed as a result of this continuing survey.
Very often, when we obtain for other purposes rooms above post offices which have previously been used for accommodation, we can use those rooms for administrative and staff offices or for telephone exchange purposes, and as a result, we are able to extend our facilities at a minimum cost to ourselves. That practice will continue. I assure the honorable member for Wimmera that a survey of the kind which he has mentioned is continuing all the time, and that if any further information which will be of interest to him becomes available from time to time as a result of that survey, I shall be glad to forward it to him.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Territories. Are any arrangements made with new recruits to the Public Service of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea that, if their services are no longer required or desired in the Territory when it attains independence or self-government, they will be employed by the Commonwealth without loss of status or emoluments? I particularly ask whether approaches have been made to the States to secure the future of young school teachers who are now being recruited for the Territory and who may not be able to pursue their complete careers there.
– No arrangements of the kind suggested by the honorable member have been made. The Australian Government is working on the assumption - an assumption which I think is supported by the Leader of the Opposition, because he has publicly expressed his support for it - that we shall be required in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea for at least another 20 or 30 years. Even when self-government comes, the indigenous people, who will comprise the majority of those exercising that self-government, will still have a very considerable need for assistance by the existing members of the Public Service in the conduct of their public services. I should not like the impression to get abroad among young officers joining the Public Service of Papua and New Guinea that they are entering a shortterm service. They still have careers in front of them.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Services. Has the Minister or the Department of Social Services considered the double penalty that is imposed where the spouse of a married invalid pensioner works, in that a penalty is first applied by the taxing of the income of the working spouse and secondly by reducing, according to the level of the gross income, the pension payable? Has the Minister considered the possibility of basing the means test on net income rather than gross income?
– The honorable member will be aware that the means test on income must be applied in all cases in precisely the same way. The Department of Social Services can have no knowledge of the income tax paid by any person in employment, and for that reason the department is required to assess the pension according to the income earned without regard to the tax payable. Difficulties which arise in cases of the kind cited by the honorable member are considered. But in all fairness and in all justice, the means test must be applied without favour to any particular section of the community.
– I preface a question to the Minister for Territories by referring to the recent announcement that W. R. Carpenter and Company Limited made an all-time. record profit ot £830,000 after providing for taxation and1 depreciation, that Burns Philp (New Guinea) Limited made a record profit, and that on top of that record profit, Burns Philp announced that freight charges between New Guinea and Australia will be increased by 6 per cent. In view of these facts, will the Minister take steps to ensure that native wharf labourers employed by those two firms are paid more than the present rate of ls. an hour?
– I am not as familiar with the balance sheets of these companies as the honorable member is, but I would point out to him that W. R. Carpenter and Burns Philp have interests and activities much more extensive than those in Papua and New Guinea. They operate on the Australian mainland and on other Pacific islands. That being so, the honorable member is creating a wrong impression by suggesting that the whole of their profit is accountable to transactions in Papua and New Guinea. The question of the wages of native wharf labourers in the Territory will be referred to the Administrator, and I shall obtain his comments for the honorable member.
– 1 ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he is able to say when the report of the committee of inquiry into the commercial accounts of the Post Office will be released. Is that report now in his hands, and does he expect to table it shortly in this House?
– I said in this chamber some little time ago that the report of the committee of inquiry into the commercial accounts of the Post Office and allied matters had been received by me. It is a voluminous report and, as I informed the House, it will require very considerable attention and consideration by the Government before any decision can be made about the adoption of the committee’s recommendations. That consideration is still proceeding. I have not yet been able to present a firm recommendation to Cabinet for consideration. I expect to be in a position to do so very shortly. The honorable member will realise that it will be a matter for Cabinet, after considering the report, to determine whether or not the report shall be tabled.
– I address a question to the Acting Prime Minister in his capacity as Acting Treasurer and Leader of the Australian Country Party. Will the right honorable gentleman consider as a matter of urgency the case of Mr. Lance Davis, farmer, of Bendemeer, New South Wales, and member of the Australian Primary Producers Union, to which I referred during the adjournment debate last night? Mr. Davis because of financial difficulties due to drought, found himself unable to pay the instalments on agricultural machinery which he had obtained on hire purchase by arrangement with the Commonwealth Development Bank and which was repossessed following the bank’s refusal to defer payment of an amount of £126 5s. 8d., plus £6 1 s. for interest, which is said to be owing. Will the Acting Treasurer say whether it is the declared policy of the Development Bank to assist in maintaining and expanding production, particularly in rural areas? If so, will he take prompt action to prevent the resale of the essential agricultural machinery which has been repossessed in this instance and arrange for it to be returned to Mr. Davis so that he may resume production pending a satisfactory arrangement for the future payment of the amounts owing, having regard to Mr. Davis’s circumstances?
– I shall have some inquiries made into the matter raised by the honorable member for East Sydney. 1 can assure him that it is the policy of the Development Bank - reflecting the policy of the Government and the Parliament which passed the statute under which it operates - that the bank shall enable primary producers to conduct their operations with advantage to themselves and in the interests of the development of the country. The management of the bank is under the control of a wise and experienced board which, over the years, has given a very successful account of its activities in reports presented annually to Parliament. So I have complete confidence in the bank. 1 have said that 1 shall have inquiries made, but I should like to add two points with which 1 think the House will agree: It would be a sad day if the relationship between a citizen and his banker were to depend upon the exercise of political influence or political pressure. I atn sure that no one would wish that situation to develop. In the second place, I believe that all honorable members would wish me to pursue a course, in whatever ministerial function I am discharging, which will preserve from public discussion the private affairs of private citizens.
– Has the Minister for Labour and National Service noted the serious shortage of linotype operators and compositors in newspapers throughout Australia? Is he aware that the great metropolitan newspapers have combed the various States, and even Great Britain and elsewhere, in an endeavour to secure staff that they require, notwithstanding the impact of automation? If these matters have not been brought to the notice of the Minister will he, in order to expand opportunities for young Australians, have the matter looked into upon a Commonwealth basis with a view to assisting the great newspaper services of Australia by ensuring an adequate supply of trained operators?
– I have already stated, this morning, that I am aware of the great shortage, not only of technical men, but of manual labour throughout Australia. I was not aware of the great shortage of linotype operators, but I can assure the honorable gentleman that I shall refer his question and this answer to all the State Ministers who are concerned with industry and ask them whether they can take some action to increase the output of linotype operators, either through apprenticeship or through the technical colleges.
– My question is addressed to the Acting Prime Minister. Did the Australian Government, as reported, make it plain to the British aviation minister, who was recently in Australia, that no more money would be invested in long range rockets at Woomera because there had been very little return from the £60,000,000 so far invested? Is it also a fact that this has led the Government of the United Kingdom to ask France for financial assistance to establish a long range rocket programme in Australia, in which at least two or three foreign powers would be involved? In view of the many statements that have been made in other parts of the world, indicating that people there are either informed or misinformed on this subject, will the Minister make a statement on it to this House in order that the honorable members may know the facts?
– The honorable member attributes a particular motive in the decision to discontinue a certain line of activity at the rocket range. He attributes the decision to the Australian Government, or at least asks whether it was not a decision of the Australian Government on the ground of the failure of this line of activity. The answer is, “ No “. To the extent that it has been decided to discontinue a certain line of activity, this was a matter for mutual agreement between the Australian Government and the United Kingdom Government.
– Can you tell us more about it?
– Merely that it is decided that other lines of action may be better. It is as simple as that. In the great adventure of endeavouring to probe the unknown in these scientific developments, a certain line of action has been abandoned - something which is done by all the great powers. The Canadian Government has had to abandon the construction of a particular fighter aircraft after having expended 1,000,000,000 dollars on it. There is no novelty in this. It is happening in all countries where this unpredictable kind of research is going on, and what we do we do in full co-operation and partnership with our greatest of all partners, the United Kingdom Government.
– But 1 am asking you to tell us more than you are telling us.
– Order! The honorable member must not interject.
– The Minister should talk less about it and say more.
– Order! The honorable gentleman will remain silent.
– It is problematical whether the question was asked to derive information or in an attempt to twist some one’s tail. The honorable member will have an uphill job if he thinks he can embarrass me, because he just cannot. To the extent that the United Kingdom has indicated its willingness to engage in discussions with France in respect of satellite research programmes, that willingness is related to commercial activity and not to military considerations.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral tell me what stage has been reached by the Postal Department in its consideration of the proposal to provide a new post office at Essendon, Victoria, to replace the present inadequate, out-of-date building?
– I regret that I am not able at this moment to advise the honorable member of the latest position regarding the Essendon post office. However, speaking without reference to my records I can inform the honorable member reliably, but with regret, that the item is not included in this year’s programme. I do not know, Mr. Speaker, what the actual position is regarding the design lists, but I will examine the records and supply the honorable member quite shortly with an answer.
– I address a question to the Acting Prime Minister. In doing so, I am asking for some friendly advice. A few weeks ago, I asked a member of the staff of the Russian Embassy to supply me with some material about Russia, and appropriate literature. I carried this home, and 1 am concerned that inadvertently I may have placed my family in a difficult and dangerous position. One of the books was related to-
– Order! I think the honorable member ought to ask his question. The Acting Prime Minister is not in control of the honorable member’s family.
– That is a good point, Mr. Speaker. It amplifies my question, as it is extremely unlikely that the Russian Embassy will have any control over it either. In other words, I want to ask the Acting Prime Minister, first, whether he would think that I have endangered my family from an ideological point of view; and, secondly, whether he thinks it would be appropriate for him, in his high position, in relation to questions asked on this subject by people in Victoria, including a Victorian Cabinet Minister, Mr. Rylah, members of the Free Library Service Board*, and the heads of some private schools, to admit that in this matter the authorities ought to put some faith and trust in the common sense of the people of Australia, and should themselves grow up.
– I listened attentively to the question, and all I can derive from it is that the honorable member through his contacts has had the unhappy experience of being brainwashed, and now feels obliged to make a public confession of his indiscretions.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Will the Minister say whether any progress has been made with respect to the proposal to establish an Australian fisheries council along the lines of the Australian Agricultural Council? Is it not a fact that interstate differences over the closed season for catching crayfish and the minimum length at which they may be taken, of themselves make the establishment of such a body desirable?
– About a fortnight ago, the officers of the various State departments and of my department had a fisheries conference - if I may so term it. They endeavoured to overcome the difficulties that arise between the States and the Commonwealth and to get some agreement on the various activities. They considered the possibility of a council on the lines of the Australian Agricultural Council, but that would need ministerial consideration. However, I would think that there is some merit in the proposal and perhaps we could at least have a council at the officers’ level with a view to ironing out the differences that arise between the Commonwealth and the States in regard to fishing grounds.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior: Is he in a position to give an unequivocal denial to the rumours currently recurring that the Government is considering, or negotiating for, the sale to a private firm of real estate agents or financiers of government-owned homes in Canberra? The Minister may recall that I put a question to him on this subject in March last. I ask him, further, whether he has found that Canberra rumours are frequently soundly based, and whether he will give whatever information he can to relieve the concern of many tenants in government homes who have approached me on this matter.
– If I spent time trying to track down rumours in Canberra, I would be far busier than I am now. However, I can assure the honorable member that I have not the slightest intention of selling government-owned homes; there are far too many people on the waiting list at present.
– My question is addressed to the Postmaster-General. When the zoning system was introduced for rural telephone services, the PostmasterGeneral, in answer to a question in this House, said that there were sure to be some anomalies which would be adjusted as soon as possible. I ask the Postmaster-General whether he is aware that some of these anomalies have been rectified by reducing certain trunk line charges, and in other instances investigations continue. Will a refund be made to telephone subscribers who during the investigation paid, say, 10s. for a trunk line call when the charge should have been 6s.?
– The honorable member for Mallee is quite correct when he states that some time ago, at the introduction of the extended local service area scheme, I said that obviously there would be some anomalies in a scheme as widespread as this and that we would do our best to correct them when they were discovered or brought to our notice. These investigations have been proceeding since the introduction of the scheme. Quite a number of honorable members have, during this period, had information from the department, through me, concerning the rectification of many of the anomalies that have developed. However, some applications for relief take longer to investigate than others. It was patent right from the start that a few anomalies should be adjusted, and they have been attended to rapidly. The necessary alterations to the regulations to enable an adjustment to be made are put through from time to time, generally at the rate of one batch a month. The honorable member asks, in effect, whether a retrospective adjustment will be made when the investigation takes rather a long time. I am sorry, but the position is that constitutionally I would not be empowered to authorize such a retrospective adjustment.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Services. Is it a fact that pensioners may let the exclusive use of one room and the joint use of other facilities of their residences without prejudice to their pension entitlement? I understand that they can do this five times over, simultaneously, with five different tenants. But if they sub-divide their home and let a self-contained unit of it their pension may be affected. In view of the many pensioners who would be glad to sub-divide their homes and to let selfcontained units thereof, thus making much urgently required accommodation available to the public, as well as providing homeowning pensioners with additional revenue to meet steeply rising rates and other costs, will the Government consider disregarding the value of any part of a pensioner’s residence which he may choose to let?
– It is a fact that a qualified age pensioner may let a room or rooms in his or her home for the accommodation of other people, and the letting of that accommodation does not prejudice the pension position in any way. On the other hand, if the property owned by a pensioner is sub-divided into two separate components, and one of them is let, then of course the property means test must be applied in the normal course of events. The rent that is paid in that case is exempt from the application of the income means test, but the value of the property concerned is invoked by the application of the property means test. There can be no way out of these difficulties so long as there is an income means test on the one hand and a property means test on the other hand.
– Can the Minister for Defence confirm the statement that the Department of the Navy has. called a conference in Canberra to determine priorities in a five-year plan for charting the Australian coastline? If that conference is to be held, will the Minister consider recommending to the Minister for the Navy that some priority be given to a new survey and a new navigation chart for that portion of the northwest coast from Legendre Island to Bedout Island, covering the approaches to Point Samson and Port Hedland?
– I am not conversant with the matter to which the honorable member refers. I will take it up with my colleague, the Minister for the Navy, and see that the honorable member’s comments are conveyed to him and given consideration.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry and is supplementary to that asked by the honorable member for Barker. Has the Minister considered asking the States to refer to the Commonwealth their present power to legislate concerning fisheries within the 3- mile limit? In particular, I ask the Minister whether he has considered making such a suggestion to the States bordering on Bass
Strait and its approaches, where the patchwork position arises that Tasmania has exclusive jurisdiction within 3 miles of its coast and within 3 miles of every island and rock in Bass Strait, and South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales have similar patches of exclusive jurisdiction along their coasts whilst the Commonwealth has exclusive jurisdiction over all the interstices.
– 1 have received a report from the officers who met at the fisheries conference and I am at present considering it. I think the recommendations they made to me will be discussed with the Ministers concerned at a meeting they will attend in January or February next. The honorable member’s suggestion might involve constitutional difficulties. However, I think that if the Commonwealth and the States concerned would agree on uniform regulations and the uniform application of their laws covering all fisheries, we might overcome the difficulty in that way. I will have a further look at the question.
– I ask the Minister for the Army: Is recruiting for the re-organized Citizen Military Forces progressing at a satifactory rate, and is it likely that the recruiting target set for this financial year will be met?
– I made a public statement on this question about two weeks ago. We are indeed delighted with the response to the voluntary system that now exists for recruitment to the Citizen Military Forces. The latest figures have very nearly reached 24.000, and considering that our objective is 25,000 by June of next year, it will be seen that we are well ahead of schedule. As a matter of fact, in some of the States - Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia, which are the less populous States - recruitments are well beyond expectations. On the whole we are indeed very pleased with the response.
– My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister. In view of the right honorable gentleman’s announcement that the Prime Minister is returning to Australia next Wednesday, is he in a position to say whether our principal representative at the United Nations Assembly meeting, the Attorney-General, about whose activities we have heard so very little, is likely to remain in New York for some time? In view of the fact that the Attorney-General is interested in some very important legislation which is before this House, will the Acting Prime Minister ascertain when the Attorney-General will be returning to Australia, so that honorable members will be able to arrange their programmes accordingly?
– I regret that at question time yesterday I was not in a position to announce to the House what I was in a position to announce publicly last night, that is, that the Prime Minister will return to Australia next Wednesday and will be in Canberra some time in the afternoon or evening of that day. I have not precise information with regard to the AttorneyGeneral, but I think I can indicate sufficient to satisfy the legitimate interest of the Leader of the Opposition. The AttorneyGeneral will leave New York just as soon as it is felt that it is proper for him to leave the United Nations Assembly. It is hoped that there will then be time for him to pay a very short visit to Ottawa and a short visit to Washington. I think it highly probable that he will be back in Australia the week-end after next.
– I preface my question to the Acting Prime Minister by directing his attention to the tragic death of inejiro Asanuma, the leader of the Socialist Party in Japan. Of course, the Socialist Party in Japan would have been successful at the next elections at the end of the year-
– Order! Comment in a question is out of order.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister ask Ambassador Mclntyre in Tokyo to make a full report on this tragic happening, and make it available to honorable members?
– On behalf of the Parliament and the Australian people I extend our sympathy in this tragic occurrence. Quite frankly, however, I cannot conceive that any analysis of what may or may not be known of this incident, which I have no doubt is likely to lead to court proceedings, could properly be assembled and presented to this House.
– May I just say that I join with the Acting Prime Minister in his expression of sympathy and regret at the assassination of the leader of the Japanese Socialist Party. We have seen too much evidence of this kind of thing in recent times and over the years. Our sympathy must go out not only to the relatives of the deceased, but also to the members of his party. Our common hope, I think, is that people everywhere will be able to live together and express their views in the way that we in democratic countries express our views, and either agree with one another or agree to disagree.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):
Motion (by Mr. Hulme) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of moneys be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to authorize the raising and expending of moneys for the purposes of housing.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Hulme and Mr. Townley do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Hulme, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to authorize the raising of loan moneys totalling £37,200,000, which will be advanced to the States in 1960-61 for housing in accordance with the terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. At least 30 per cent. of the total advances, that is, a minimum of £11,160,000 in 1960-61, will, in terms of the agreement, be allocated by the States to building societies and other approved institutions for lending for private home building. The balance of up to £26,040,000 will be available for the erection of dwellings by the States. The actual apportionment in 1959-60 was £10,834,000 for private home building, and £25,246,000 for the States’ housing programmes.
In accordance with the requests of the States, the estimated amount of £37,200,000 will be allocated among them as follows: -
The House will doubtless be interested to learn that as at 30th June last, the total of the amounts which had been advanced to the States from loan funds under the 1945 and the 1956 housing agreements was £378,000,000. The provision of funds of this magnitude is indisputable evidence that the Commonwealth has made and is continuing to make a significant contribution towards the alleviation of the housing situation in the States. In fact, since these arrangements commenced, the Commonwealth had provided, up to 30th June last, finance for the construction by the States of approximately 134,600 dwellings. In addition, since 1956 that portion of the advances to the States which had been transferred to home builders’ accounts - approximately £34,600,000 - had enabled the construction of a further 14,000 dwellings.
I might also point out that diversion of part of the total Commonwealth advances under the 1956 agreement to the home builders’ accounts has resulted in the provision of a larger number of dwellings than would have been the case if the total funds had been utilized for dwelling construction by the State Governments, and especially in the case of rental homes. There are two principal reasons - first, the expenditure from housing agreement moneys on dwellings is generally less where they are built privately with assistance provided through building societies. By way of illustration, whereas the capital cost of a dwelling, including land, erected by a State Housing Commission could be of the order of £3,500, a person building the same dwelling with a loan of £3,000 from a building society would himself contribute £500 towards the capital cost. Secondly, the periods for repayment by individuals when building with the assistance of a building society are usually considerably shorter than the 53 years over which the States make repayments to the Commonwealth, thus enabling some part of the principal moneys being made available at least a second time for the financing of additional dwelling construction. 1 commend the bill to the House.
– I direct the attention of the Minister to a question which I placed on the notice-paper five weeks ago. It is question No. 13, and the answer to it, if it can be obtained, will test the adequacy of the appropriation covered by this bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 12th October (vide page 1970).
– I want to say a few words concerning the finances of Commonwealth Railways. I refer to the annual reports of that undertaking for 1958-59 and 1959-60. The 1958-59 report deals with the freight rates on the carriage of Leigh Creek coal in this way -
The Electricity Trust of South Australia was debited at the rate of lis. 6d. per ton, the special concession rate granted the Government of South Australia by the Commonwealth Government for the haulage of coal from the Leigh Creek North coalfields to the State Government’s power house at Port Augusta.
The earnings figure in respect of this traffic, however, has been computed at the ordinary freight rate for the mileage involved. The figure so computed exceeds the amount received from the Electricity Trust of South Australia, on the 713,710 tons carried, by £767,238.
Finality in regard to reimbursement of this amount has not been reached at the close of the year. The question is still the subject of discussion. Credit for the amount of difference between the special rate for the carriage of coal, and the Commonwealth Railways standard rate, viz., £767,238, has been taken into account under the heading “ Sundry Debtors “.
As the report states, this matter has been the subject of discussion. The Commonwealth Railways has claimed justifiably that it should be reimbursed by the Treasury for the difference between the concession freight rate of lis. 6d. a ton - which, I believe, is one-third of the standard freight rate - and the standard rate. The matter has been left in the air. The Commonwealth Railways rightly claims credit for the difference in rates in its sundry debtors account. But the basis of my complaint is contained in the latest report of the undertaking which states -
When the annual accounts of this department for the financial year ended 30th June, 1959, were published, an amount of £767,238 13s. was included in “ Earnings “ for the Central Australia Railway. This amount was the difference between the charge, at the standard freight rate, for the haulage of 713,710 tons of coal from the Leigh Creek coalfield to Port Augusta and Port Pirie Junction, and the amount actually charged the Electricity Trust of South Australia, at the special freight rate granted by the Commonwealth Government for this service . . .
All figures and references contained in this report so far as they relate to earnings for the year ended 30th June, 1959, have been adjusted to exclude £767,238 from the data published last year. This was necessary to enable a proper comparison to be made between the operating results of 1960 and those of the previous year.
There is now no amount included in “ Sundry Debtors “ in the balance-sheet in respect of the difference in freight rates for the haulage of Leigh Creek coal traffic.
This must mean surely that henceforth the users of the central Australia railway system will have to bear the burden of this £767,238 which the Treasury has decided it will not credit to the Commonwealth Railways. The special concession rate was granted to assist a national project - the provision of electricity in an outback area of South Australia. The granting of the concession in the first place was justified, but there certainly is no justification now for the Commonwealth Railways imposing a penalty on the residents of the northern part of South Australia and of the Northern Territory who constitute the Commonwealth Railways customers. The Commonwealth Railways has the right to charge the full standard freight rates to all users of the undertaking, and arrangements were entered into originally whereby the Commonwealth Government agreed to reimburse the Commonwealth Railways for the difference between the concession rate and the standard rate. The amount involved perhaps was not very great when the carriage of coal commenced, but it has now assumed major proportions. It runs to £767,238.
This matter should be regarded on a national basis, lt was so regarded in the first instance and should be so regarded now. The undertaking is performing a very valuable service in South Australia. We welcome the concession rates which enable the Electricity Trust of South Australia to produce electricity at a reasonable cost and to pass on that reasonable cost to the electricity consumers, but we cannot agree that the people who live in the northern part of South Australia should bear the burden of cost associated with this project. That is what the Government’s decision amounts to because, according to the latest report of the Commonwealth Railways, the difference between the concession freight rate and the standard charge will not be taken into account.
The report indicates also that the tonnage of coal from Leigh Creek in the next five or six years will increase progressively to double what it is now. So it is apparent that the concession, which now amounts to £767,238, can very well increase to about £1,500,000. There is no justification for the Government placing this burden on the small section of the community to which I have referred. It should be borne by the taxpayers of the Commonwealth, and it would be borne by them if the Government agreed to reimburse the Commonwealth Railways to the extent of the amount involved.
The Government is showing poor respect to the country people, although from time to time it states that it is very favorably disposed towards them and that it is concerned always with their welfare. The Government now has an opportunity to show its sincerity in a tangible form by reimbursing the Commonwealth Railways to the extent that I have suggested.
We are entitled to ask why the Government has adopted this policy. The only possible explanation that I can imagine is that the Commonwealth Railways undertaking is earning a profit. The central Australia system has earned a profit for a number of years, mainly as a result of the dynamic vigour and drive of its former commissioner, Mr. Hannaberry, who transformed the railways from a small nonprofitable undertaking into the most progressive and financially sound railway business in the Commonwealth. The Government should not take advantage of that fact when considering the accounts of the Commonwealth Railways. It should reimburse the department the full amount involved and then show its interest in the country people by passing on the concession freight rates to the users of the system. The report indicates that freight rates have not been increased since 1951 despite the increased costs which have had to be borne. In fact, the report states that the tendency has been to reduce freight rates. That is the correct attitude for the railways to adopt, and it is an attitude which should be supported and encouraged by the Government which is so vitally concerned in the undertaking.
I appeal to the Government to reconsider its decision and to allow the reimbursement of the Commonwealth Railways so that the undertaking will have the opportunity to show its true earning capacity and the service and benefits that it can confer on the people in the northern part of the State.
Those honorable members who viewed the film about development in northern Australia which was shown in this building during the dinner break last evening must have been greatly impressed by the very desirable development that is taking place in the Northern Territory. As the narrator for the film said in his opening remarks, what is taking place there could well be described as the Northern Territory awakening. Here we have a situation in which the Government can make a material contribution to the development of the northern part of Australia. I refer particularly to the northern part of South Australia and to the Northern Territory.
In the few minutes still at my disposal, I want to deal with one aspect of this problem of development - the completion of the north-south railway to Darwin. The Commonwealth, by an agreement with South Australia made in 1949, undertook to complete this line. From time to time, we have heard from the South Australian Premier propaganda blasts against the Commonwealth Government. A few weeks ago, in order to test his sincerity, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) what representations had been made by the South Australian Government for the completion of this railway. The reply subsequently given by the Prime Minister was that the South Australian Premier and his Government had made no official representations for the completion of the line under the agreement signed in 1949. So we can take for what they are worth the propaganda blasts that the Premier of South Australia directs against the Commonwealth Government. If he were genuine in his apprehension about the non-completion of this railway, he would, from time to time and with great consistency, have approached the Commonwealth Government with a request that it honour its undertaking. But no such approaches have been made in the last eleven years.
We have a right and an obligation to direct attention to this sham fight, if I may so describe it, made by the South Australian Premier when from time to time, within the South Australian Parliament, he attacks the Commonwealth Government on this issue. I do not underrate the importance of the completion of this railway and the urgent need for it, but I do say that the South Australian Premier, as the Premier of a State which was a responsible party to the agreement in respect of the line, should make all possible efforts on behalf of his Government and the people of South Australia to see that the line is completed in accordance with that agreement. I leave the matter there, Mr. Chairman.
I hope that the Government will take some notice of the points that I have raised with respect to the Commonwealth Railways and its business undertakings.
.- Mr. Chairman, I direct my remarks to that part of these estimates which relates to broadcasting and television services. About this time last year, we were informed that pub lication of the wireless journal published by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, “ A.B.C. Weekly “, was to be discontinued, and unfortunately this happened. With many others, I believe that the discontinuance of publication of this weekly was a very serious blow to the system of broadcasting developed by the A.B.C. The commission’s programmes go to very many homes in all parts of Australia and in all classes of the community, and I believe that they are probably a greater cultural influence in our nation than is any other factor. The “ A.B.C. Weekly “ provided great support for these programmes. In this respect, I refer the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) to the influence in England of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s publication, “ The Listener “, and to the very fine articles which appear in it.
After all, we depend to a very great degree on the thinkers in our community, and we shall come to depend on them more and more in the future. The problems of the world are ever increasing. At present, there is great emphasis on the problem of how we shall feed the additional millions who will populate the world at the end of this century. Although that is a serious problem, I believe that an even greater one is the problem of how we are to live amicably together, with all these teeming millions in the world. Only by stimulating our thought and philosophies shall we be able to develop a pattern of living under which the millions of people in the world will be able to live amicably together.
Thinking and philosophy are not the preserve only of the universities, which in the past have produced some of our greatest thinkers and writers. I believe that to-day the universities are following more and more a pattern of specialization and are departing from the pattern of philosophical thinking that was followed several hundred years ago - a pattern which stimulated most of the modern development in the world.
The excellent broadcasts of the A.B.C. could well develop from among our young people minds similar to those of Bertrand Russell and J. Robert Oppenheimer. These broadcasts go to the whole Australian nation - not only to the cities, but also to those who live in the far outback - and they afford the people, and particularly our younger people, aa opportunity of hearing stimulating talks on a very wide range of subjects. We all know that one who is among the greatest nuclear scientists in England to-day had his beginnings on a cattle station in the Northern Territory. That is only one instance of one who was born and bred in the outback attaining the highest levels in science and other spheres. I recall others from Queensland, my own State. We cannot fail to reap the benefit of some of the stimulating thought that goes out to the isolated parts of this country in the A.B.C. broadcasts.
I understand that about £30.000 or £40,000 a year was lost on the publication of the “ A.B.C. Weekly “, but that does not matter so greatly when it is balanced against the tremendous value of this publication if it serves to stimulate only one or two people to seek higher attainments. For instance, one of the commission’s broadcasts might prompt a child living in a remote part of Australia to take a course in education and as a consequence to contribute to our community something highly valuable which otherwise would not have been contributed. It is difficult to assess the value of a publication such as the “ A.B.C. Weekly “ in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, as these considerations which I have put to the committee indicate, but I strongly urge that this publication be re-introduced. Admittedly, a new weekly, “ T.V. Times “ has been introduced in its place, but this contains little but lists of programmes.
– That is in the rock-‘n’-roll class.
– That is about the class of that publication, as my friend suggests. After all, we are an outpost of Western civilization in the Pacific area, and in building up our own culture, we have an opportunity to profit from the old cultures of Europe. Many of our people have made names for themselves in other parts of the world. Surely, with our history and our intelligent population, we have a great opportunity for the intellectual development of this community. The Australian Broadcasting Commission is the greatest cultural influence that we have in Australia. Previously, we relied on our newspapers and magazines, but, unfortunately, with a few exceptions, they do not contribute much to our cultural life now.
.- I cordially agree with everything which the honorable member for Mcpherson (Mr. Barnes) has said. The Australian Broadcasting Commission has done more to reduce Australia’s isolation from the rest of the world than any other agency or organization in this country. It has also done more to reduce the isolation of some Australians from their fellows along the coastal strip than any other agency or organization. Radio, more than any other medium, can establish contact between widely separated segments of mankind. Only a minority of mankind is literate and only a small minority of mankind can view television, but radio can be heard almost everywhere. Among our neighbours in particular, radio is the means of giving information and1 ideas. Our neighbours do not depend upon newspapers or television, but they do depend upon radio.
In Australia, we have two inestimable advantages with our radio. The first is that our language is one which we share with Great Britain, the United States and many Commonwealth countries as the first or only language. The language group to which we belong is better able than any other language group to pool its resources. Secondly, we live in an area where the second language for thousands of miles around is our only language, so the Australian Broadcasting Commission can be the means of spreading in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean regions not only Australian cultural ideas but also the cultural ideas of the English-speaking world. My only regret is that there are not similar agencies competing with and setting standards for the newspapers in Australia. Without being too specific, there is no question that if the Australian Broadcasting Commission ran newspapers in the same way as it runs radio and television stations, we would all be wiser and better informed.
I want to devote the rest of my remarks to the Commonwealth Railways. I hope that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) will give the committee an explanation of the matters raised by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Sexton). For the first time for some years, the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner’s report disregards the value of the concessions which the Government compelled1 him to grant to the South Australian Electricity Commission in relation to the transportation of coal from Leigh Creek to Port Augusta. The former commissioner had always insisted that as the concessions were made by ministerial direction, the act under which he operated required him to be reimbursed by the Commonwealth Government. Accordingly, he always listed in the profits of the Commonwealth Railways the value of the concessions which he had been forced to make. In recent years, they amounted to £750,000 and more.
The new Commissioner reports that in the last financial year the Commonwealth Railways made a profit of £1,172,890, the total earnings being £5,326,792. That is a very large profit, but it would be larger still - almost £2,000,000- if he had followed the procedure adopted by his predecessor and credited to profits the amounts which the Government compelled him to concede in freight rates to the South Australian Electricity Commission. 1 am surprised that the new Commissioner has departed from the practice followed by his predecessor. I am particularly surprised that he should have done so in view of the examination which has been made of this very question by the Public Accounts Committee. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), who is in the chamber, and honorable members on this side who are members of that committee have probed this very matter at sittings of the committee. The Acting Solicitor-General reported to the Public Accounts Committee last May that in fact the former commissioner’s contentions were correct. He gave it as his opinion that the commissioner should have charged the South Australian Electricity Commission the full rate for carrying coal, that the Commonwealth Government should have paid the South Australian Government the difference between the full rate and the concession rate, and that the South Australian Government should then have paid the money to the South Australian Electricity Commission. It is quite plain that the will of the Treasury has now been implemented by a ministerial direction given to the new Commissioner.
I believe that persons in every part of Australia should be able to secure electricity, petrol and other fuels at the same cost, for I believe that would make a larger contribution to decentralization and national development than any other factor. We can make that possible. I certainly would not complain if the citizens of Adelaide were able to secure electricity at the same cost per unit as the citizens of Sydney and Melbourne. But they should secure it in an open manner and at the expense of all the citizens of this country. They should not be securing it, as they are now, in a clandestine manner, at the expense of the customers of the Commonwealth Railways.
Over the course of some years the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) has asked questions on this very point. The people who use the Commonwealth Railways not only as the principal, but, for most purposes, the only means of transporting their products from central Australia to the coast, are penalized by having to pay for granting to the citizens of Adelaide a reduction in electricity costs. The citizens of Adelaide probably pay more for their meat because of it, but certainly the primary producers in the centre are paid less for their products. The whole of Australia should share in paying this subsidy. It should be an open subsidy. It should not be a concealed subsidy, and it should not be granted at the expense of one section of the community only. If the legal position were implemented by the Government instead of being miscarried at the Minister’s direction, freight charges on the Commonwealth Railways could be very greatly reduced. Obviously they could, because the railways make a profit of £2,000,000 on working expenses of just over £5,000,000.
The next matter which I believe the Minister should explain is one upon which the new commissioner and his predecessors have reported to the Parliament for many years past. They both have deplored the fact that there is unrestricted road competition with the Commonwealth Railways between Port Pirie and Port Augusta. I do not have unqualified admiration for the licensing of road transport to advantage rail transport but the position obtains in South Australia - and in no other State does it obtain so strictly and strenuously as in
South Australia - that road transport cannot compete with rail transport if it is State rail transport. But the State Government lets road transport compete with the Commonwealth Railways.
Why does the Commonwealth Government allow itself to be pulled by the nose by Premier Playford in this matter as in most other matters concerning the Commonwealth Railways? The Commonwealth Railways is a national enterprise which is promoting interstate trade for the benefit of all the people of this country. It should not be penalized to the advantage of Ansett Transport Industries Limited which now has taken over road transport between Port Pirie and Port Augusta. The Commonwealth subsidizes other Ansett activities and guarantees the company very adequately. In this case the State Government allows Ansett to operate to the disadvantage of Commonwealth Railways in a way in which road transport would not be allowed to operate to the disadvantage of the State railways.
The third and concluding matter which I wish to mention is one of vital and increasing importance. It is the delay in carrying out the 1949 rail standardization agreement between South Australia and the Commonwealth. The 1950’s came and they have gone and not a single step has been taken to carry out the principal feature of that rail standardization agreement - the standardization of the railway between Broken Hill and Port Pirie, thus closing the standard gauge link between Brisbane, Sydney, Kalgoorlie and, when South Australia wants it, with Adelaide. This project would make a larger contribution to knitting Australia’s economy together and reducing its internal and external transport costs than any other single action. The Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has reported, year in and year out, that this is basic to the standardization of rail gauges and railway equipment throughout Australia. For a decade, the Government has done nothing about it.
– It is also important to defence.
– I was dealing only with the economic aspects but the defence aspects are quite as clear. The Premier of South Australia, for internal consumption, constantly makes complaints in his Parlia ment and to his press - I think “ to his press “ describes the position correctly - that the Commonwealth is not assisting him in rail standardization. In fact, the pace of rail standardization in South Australia and the places at which it occurs are entirely his choice. He made no suggestion about the standardization of the Broken Hill to Port Pirie line until 1958 and, a year ago, he had still spent only £5,000 of the £50,000 which the Commonwealth made available for preliminary investigations of the route. One still does not know when all the information will be available and the work will start. It was the choice of the Premier of South Australia that the Mount Gambier section should be broadened before either the Alice Springs section or the Broken Hill section was standardized.
A great number of questions on this matter, on notice and without notice, have been asked by the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Edgar Russell) and the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson), myself, and many others, and it emerges very clearly that the priority for the work to be done was decided from South Australia. My complaint is that the Commonwealth Government has allowed itself to be led by the nose in this matter. The agreement states how any disagreement between the parties may be settled, but the Commonwealth has always tagged along. The Broken Hill line would make a very great deal of difference to the whole of Australia’s economy. In particular, it would make a great deal of difference to the parts of South Australia outside Adelaide.
Surely the railways, as far as the Commonwealth is concerned, are no longer to be built or modernized in order further to centralize Australia’s economy in the State capitals. The whole of the northern part of South Australia would benefit if there were a modern railway there. The goods which pass from Broken Hill to Port Pirie are pre-eminently those which can be transported on a heavy railway. Such a railway has been provided between Leigh Creek and Port Augusta. Railways are admirably suited to that sort of transport. Once a railway is established, the business for it multiplies. That has been shown wherever a modern railway has been provided. Nowhere has this been shown more clearly than by the Commonwealth Railways itself. I shall end by paying a tribute to the former Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. It was his drive and vision which transformed the Commonwealth Railways from the pariah of Australia’s railways into the paladin.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- First, I should like to agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) in the tribute that he has paid to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. This great instrument of culture and information has indeed transformed many aspects of Australia’s life. If one serves, as he has and as I have, on a committee of advice in a State, one is immediately brought in touch with the fact that there are a number of excellent programmes of which, in ordinary public life, we hear very little. This great instrument deserves all the praise that we can give it and all the financial support necessary to keep it going as it is at the moment.
Turning to the question of the Commonwealth Railways and Leigh Creek coal, I point out that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) has no legal authority to oblige the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner to determine freight rates, lt is the commissioner himself who is empowered to fix freight rates and if he does accept a ministerial request on the subject - and I do not believe that a directive has ever been given - it is because he chooses to fall in line and not because he has been compelled to do so.
As far as the transport of Leigh Creek coal is concerned, the issue is not quite as simple as it may appear at first sight. The freight rate which the Railways Commissioner struck on this coal was the same general freight rate as that which applied over the whole system. It is based on similar rates charged on the various State railway systems, and it has no real application to a line built with modern equipment for bulk handling. Clearly, the rate of freight charged, on any reasonable cost footing, should be much lower than the general freight rate which was computed by the former Railways Commissioner on the basis of a debt owing to the Commonwealth Treasury.
In any case, the Railways Commissioner should have charged, in the first place, the Electricity Commission and then allowed it to recoup itself. In fact, this vexed question is now put right. The true subsidy paid on the Leigh Creek coal is nothing like it would appear in the Commonwealth Railways accounts. I shall deal with these Commonwealth Railways accounts because at first sight one would say that there is a profit. A press statement issued by the Minister, following the general line of press statements issued by his predecessors, states that the working profit for the year was £1,172,000 but that, after allowing for all charges debited against Commonwealth Railways accounts, there remained a net surplus of £473,000.
But the accounts which appear in the report show that this profit is struck without allowing for even the charges which are shown by the Treasury. There is a reconciliation statement here with the Commissioner for Railways’ accounts and the other charges shown by the Treasury. Those are other charges which normally are not charged at all in ordinary expenses, and include even the salary of the commissioner himself. The balance sheet shows that there is an amount for capital installation there of more than £44.000.000. There had been provided in recent years from revenue £30,000,000, upon which no interest is paid at all. There is. as emerged during the hearings of the Public Accounts Committee, no allowance whatsoever for depreciation on the Commonwealth Railways system and if one took the apparent profit that is put out to the press - something over £1,000,000 - and deducted from it all the reasonable charges, including those due to the Treasury, and depreciation allowance and interest, there would not be a profit at all.
I suggest that the time is overdue when the accounts of the Commonwealth Railways should be put on a proper businesslike footing. There is an historical reason why these accounts are kept as they are. The Commonwealth Railways were not established for any particular business or economic reason. They were established to help develop Australia in certain important aspects, and in the capital structure there is a legacy of capital still there, and applied in different ways over the years, which could not reasonably be charged against in any ordinary business undertaking. So it would be a very reasonable proposition to reconstruct the capital of the Commonwealth Railways and scale it down. But here we have, year after year, a railways system publishing what is practically a net profit, when an analysis of its accounts on ordinary business lines, allowing for depreciation and interest on capital, shows that there is no such thing as a profit there.
– That applies to other Government departments also.
– I agree that it applies to other departments, but I think the new broom may with advantage go through the lot of them. I do express the hope that those enthusiastic Ministers who in so many ways are doing an excellent job in the departments will find the time and energy to go through their basic accounts and put both those otherwise excellent undertakings on a proper footing.
Finally, I should like to pay a tribute to the Commissioner for the Commonwealth Railways for the production of his report which is highly informative, even though the diagrams it contains may in some respects be criticized. I suggest to the Minister that next year the report could well include an index for the benefit of people wanting information from it rapidly. With these remarks I again express the hope that we shall get some reform in the financial structure of our business undertakings, particularly the two under discussion.
– I am not surprised by the approach of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) to this particular matter, or by his desire to see the financial structure of the Commonwealth Railways altered. No member on the Government side ever wants any government undertaking to show a profit. In fact, the desire of honorable members opposite is to reduce the standards of the Commonwealth Railways to those of the State railways to-day. The honorable member for Wentworth wants the capital value of the Commonwealth Railways to be written down, and certain charges to be offset against its revenue. That would suit the type of thinking that he and the Government indulge in.
– Do you not believe in depreciation?
– I am astounded that the honorable member keeps dragging in this matter of depreciation. If the Commonwealth Government had paid to the various railway systems of Australia compensation for the depreciation in their assets that occurred as a result of their war efforts, those railway systems would be the best, and not the worst, organized shows in Australia to-day. When the honorable member talks about depreciation in regard to Commonwealth Railways does he look on this undertaking as just a straight-out business undertaking? Does he not appreciate that every item of service rendered by the Commonwealth Railways represents a national asset? Is he not going to give any credit for the national service given by that undertaking? Must he look at the matter purely on the level of pounds, shillings and pence?
The proposition put by our friend is typical of the Government’s approach to any government institution or authority that is operated on behalf of the nation. I am not surprised at the honorable gentleman’s approach, because we are accustomed to the Government and its supporters indulging in this kind of reasoning. That approach to such matters is the reason why, under this Government, we are not progressing as a nation in the way that we should.
We talk about the standardization of railway systems. In January, 1959, the Premier of Western Australia wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) commending the Kalgoorlie-Fremantle rail standardization project and indicated his view that sufficient information was available to commence the project if the Commonwealth allocated funds for it. Nothing further has happened in regard to that.
In relation to competition from the roads the Commissioner for Commonwealth Railways has this to say in his report for 1959-60-
Prior to the introduction of pick-a-back haulage, the Trans-Australian Railway suffered very seriously from competition from road hauliers. Since the carriage of vans and semi-trailers by the pick-a-back method began, road competition has steadily fallen off.
I invite the Minister, if he does not already know the facts, to look at international reports on this subject, particularly the last one available from America. These show the standard of service that the railways can give in helping the national economy. Over the last four years, America, with the best roads in the world and with the road hauliers organized with the best equipment that can be had anywhere, has turned to this pick-a-back system, which can be used with success, I am sure, only in conjunction with standardized railways systems. The Americans have used the system to reduce the pressure on their economy over the last four years. The use of the pick-a-back system has doubled in each of these last four years in America, and so have the savings made possible by it. Yet we get somebody in this chamber talking about reducing the capital structure of our Commonwealth railways system, which is doing so much for the national economy.
– But altering the financial structure does not make any difference to the standard of service.
– That is the type of thinking we get from the Premier of South Australia, from this Government, and from the Minister for Shipping and Transport. He says that the financial structure is not reflected in the costs of the undertaking, if I understand him correctly. There is a complete disregard by the Government of the requests of the Premier of Western Australia for help in regard to the standardization of the railways out west. It pays more attention to the standardization of the line from Broken Hill to Port Augusta. Every pick-a-back cargo loaded at Port Augusta and hauled to Kalgoorlie is already costing more than it would cost to send it the whole way from Sydney to Perth on a standard railway system. Although the Western Australian Premier told this Government, in January, 1959, that he was ready to proceed with standardization in the west there has not been one bit of action from the Government. It is a well-known fact that if the Playford Government in South Australia had its way it would push the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge system through to the east coast. It suits certain supporters of this Government not to adopt rail standardization, which is so essential as a basis for the future development of Australia.
Another matter that I want to raise now was mentioned by me in a question this morning. Before coming to it, however, I want to say that I adopt entirely what has been said by honorable members on this side of the House regarding the Commonwealth Railways, including the tributes paid to the former Railways Commissioner. On page 27 of his report, the Acting Commonwealth Railways Commissioner said -
Operations in sections of the Mechanical Engineering Branch were affected by a shortage of tradesmen.
Any one listening to replies given by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) to my questions concerning the training of tradesmen must put the Government’s approach to this problem in the same category as its approach to transport. The. Government is not thinking nationally. It is thinking only of this afternoon and to-morrow morning; it is not thinking even of next week. Surely when the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner reports that he advertised for tradesmen in every capital city and did not receive one reply, the Minister for Labour and National Service should be alive to the fact that the training of tradesmen has now become a national problem and is not one that can be left to the six States. The training of our future mechanics to meet the requirements of modern developments is so essential that the Government must revise its thinking if Australia is to develop successfully.
The same comment applies to the South Australian Government. If South Australia is to develop as it should, this situation cannot be allowed to exist any longer. If the people of South Australia, particularly those around Port Augusta, really want their State to develop, they must hammer the Playford Government and this Government to ensure that Melbourne and Sydney will not be the only cities to profit from a short-sighted standardization programme. They will insist upon an extension of the programme not only to South
Australia but also to Western Australia so :hat we will, have a standardized line between Sydney and Perth. This would reduce the cost of carriage of goods between the eastern and western States. South Australia and Western Australia would be able to develop more rapidly. It would be a big help if we could transfer some of the development now taking place around our two major cities to South Australia and Western Australia as a defence project and as a matter of urgent national development. However, when one considers the report of the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, it would seem that either the two Ministers I have mentioned have not the weight that they should have in a government of this character or, if the Ministers have their eyes open to their national responsibilities, the Government is not concerned with the future development of Australia.
In the remainder of the time allotted to me, 1 want to mention several matters concerning the Postmaster-General’s Department. First, I pay a tribute to what I believe is the intention of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson). I believe that he is anxious to do his best in the development of postal services for the community at large. However, for some reason, there seem to be some logs on the road, and I do not know where they are. lt is not usual for me to deal with local problems in a debate such as this, but mention of local matters sometimes shows the principles that are involved. The Postmaster-General’s Department has failed to move with the development of communities. For months, I have been trying to persuade the department, even at ministerial level, to acquire a decent site for a new post office at Berala, which is developing rapidly, before land prices sky-rocket. However, the department prefers to wait. It will wait until the area has developed and then will pay twice as much as it should for land that is available to it now. Unless the department moves with the times and keeps abreast of developments such as those at Berala, Seven Hills and other places, it will add substantially to its costs in acquiring sites after the development has occurred.
The principles being followed in the conversion of telephone services to the duplex system are completely wrong. Time and time again, the telephones of businessmen are being converted to the duplex system. I have in front of me six files which give instances of such conversions. One concerns a master painter who has been connected with a master builder to a duplex system. As a result, both businesses have virtually collapsed; both the painter and the builder are unable to receive all their incoming calls. Then, the telephone of a taxidriver, who uses his telephone only to receive incoming calls, has been converted to the duplex system. A mechanic and maintenance electrician to the Prospect County Council and St. Joseph’s Hospital has had his telephone similarly converted. He is required to be on call day and night to meet the needs of these important organizations, but his telephone has been converted because the department says he does not have enough outgoing calls. Businesses of this nature do not have many outgoing calls; they connect a telephone mainly to receive incoming calls. One of the worst instances to come to my notice concerns an organizer in a textile trade union. He may be required at any time to deal with a dispute, but again his telephone has been converted to the duplex system because he has not enough outgoing calls.
Ample opportunity has been available in the past ten years for this state of affairs to be corrected. A new telephone exchange was erected at Lidcombe ten years ago. On 4th October, 1950, in reply to a question that I had asked, the then PostmasterGeneral said that equipment to provide telephone services for 4,000 subscribers would be provided initially and the ultimate capacity of the exchange would be 9,000 lines. But now, in October, I960, 9.000 lines have not been provided in this precise area. This is one of the most important business sectors in the metropolitan area of Sydney, but the businessmen in the area cannot obtain the telephone service that they need. The department should not allow such a situation to develop. Land for industrial development is being released each month, but the department fails to provide for the needs of the business sector. I am not pleading for Mrs. Jones who wants a telephone so that she can talk to her daughter. I am pleading for men who need a telephone in their business. I ask the Postmaster-General to make his department alter its approach to these matters and not to use outgoing calls as the factor on which it will decide whether a duplex service will be provided. The incoming calls are important. In the types of business 1 have mentioned, the outgoing calls are limited. These businessmen will not allow their wives to make too much use of the telephone because they need the telephone to be free for incoming calls.
I conclude by referring to the master painter whom I mentioned earlier. Only fifteen months ago, he had eighteen men in his employ. His business has been impeded to such an extent by conversion of his telephone to the duplex system that he has now work for only himself and one other person. That is the situation that confronts many businessmen. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to reconsider all aspects of this matter.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Mr. FORBES (Barker) [12.291– I have been rather interested in the comments of the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) concerning action under the rail standardization agreement with South Australia. The honorable member for Blaxland left the impression that the only places where work had commenced under the agreement were in the larger States of New South Wales and Victoria. He made a plea that the smaller States should be brought into it; but I remind the honorable member that work under that agreement in South Australia has been going on for many years and was completed, in my electorate, only a few months ago.
– All on the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge.
– But for very good reasons, lt can be converted, because of the way in which the work has been undertaken, to the 4-ft. 8i-in. gauge over one week-end, when it becomes necessary. How stupid it would be to make the gauge to the south-east of South Australia 4-ft. 8£-in. when the line between Adelaide and Melbourne is of the 5-ft. 3-in. gauge. My main point is that contrary to the impression conveyed by the honorable member for Blax land, work has been continually carried out under that standardization agreement in South Australia almost since its inception right up to a few months ago. It is only a few months since the last section of the south-eastern line to Kingston was opened. As I understand it, the Premier of South Australia then made representations to the Commonwealth Government with respect to the Port Pirie to Broken Hill section of the line, and discussions have been taking place as to the best method to carry out that work.
The only other comment that interested me was that made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). Unlike the honorable member for Blaxland, he admitted that work had been carried out under the agreement in South Australia, but he criticized the priorities involved. He said that work on the south-eastern section should not have been undertaken before work on the Port Pirie to Broken Hill section. He said that the South Australian Government decided those priorities, but should not have decided them. They are South Australian Government Railways. His view seems to me to be typical of the thinking of the Opposition - that just because we make money available for these purposes which come within the jurisdiction of the States, we should tell them what is best for them to do. The Government of South Australia - and particularly the Premier - is perfectly capable of deciding the priorities in the best interests of that State. I do not believe it is our role to step into that sphere and tell the South Australian Government what it should do.
I wish now to deal with a matter which I have raised previously with the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson), but about which I am still not very happy. Before doing so, I congratulate the Minister and his department, first, on the conception, breadth of view and originality which brought into being the extended local service area system; and secondly, on the smooth way in which the system has been brought into operation. This has been described as a community telephone system. It has enabled people in the country who have community of interest to contact each other more easily and more cheaply than before. Therefore the introduction of this system has played a valuable part in building integrated communities. I would like to make it clear that in the larger part of my electorate - and, I think, in the electorates of most other honorable members - there is considerable satisfaction with the Elsa system. It involved an enormous amount of work by officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to bring it into being and it has, on the whole, worked very successfully and adequately.
But there is one section of telephone subscribers who I believe have been harshly dealt with under the Elsa system. I refer to telephone subscribers - there are many of them in my electorate - who are in the country immediately adjacent to the metropolitan area. I do not know whether this applies in the other States, but it certainly applies in South Australia, and the effect of the introduction of the Elsa system on those people was, in most cases, to increase their annual telephone rental from £7 yearly to £16 10s. in one jump. That is a much bigger relative increase in rental than was imposed on any other section of telephone subscribers. It is easy to see, as honorable members know, how that happened. The system which the Postmaster-General’s Department uses to calculate its rentals depends upon the number of subscribers that can be reached for a unit fee untimed call. These people in country areas with small exchanges, who previously were able to reach only about 1,000 people for a local fee, went in one jump from the lowest category of rentals to the highest. It has been argued that the advantages these people will enjoy will compensate, and in some cases more than compensate, for the increased rentals, because immediately - in the case of Adelaide - they will be able to reach 80,000 subscribers in the metropolitan area of Adelaide for an untimed local call fee, instead of 1,000 subscribers.
That argument is all right in theory if you happen to be a person who has community of interest with the metropolitan area - in other words, if a large proportion of your calls is made to the metropolitan area. That applies to some of the exchanges which are very close to the metropolitan area, where prior to the introduction of this system from 70 per cent, to 80 per cent, of the calls were made to the metropolitan area. There is no reason whatsoever why those people should not pay the increased rental. But in respect of the majority of the exchanges, as the Postmaster-General himself has told me, the percentage of calls that goes to the metropolitan area varies from an upper limit of 39 per cent, to a lower limit of 14 per cent. I suggest that those telephone subscribers will not get anything like the benefits that would be necessary to compensate them for the big increase in rentals that they have had to pay; and the reason for that is that those people have not community of interest with the Adelaide metropolitan area. Most of them are primary producers, on their own properties, with their own local centres - to which they could previously make local calls, and still do - where they do most of their business.
As I have said, in the case of some exchanges the percentage of calls to Adelaide was as low as 14 per cent, of the total calls made. The object of the introduction of the Elsa system was to introduce a community telephone service. This implies a community of interest. In this case, I submit, there is quite definitely not a community of interest. I know that when introducing a complicated scheme of this kind, one cannot take into account every anomaly that may eventually crop up. In this case, however, I suggest that the Postal Department should have foreseen the shock, particularly the psychological shock, that would result from a rental increase of such proportions, from £7 to £16 10s. in one jump, even if the subscribers received” the expected benefit. If the rental cannot be fixed at a lower level, then I suggest a reasonable case can be made out for at least a more gradual increase, so that subscribers would not be hit with an increase of the order of nearly 150 per cent, all at once. I ask the Minister to have another look at this problem. I do not believe that the procedures of his department are so inflexible that they could not be made to provide for a more gradual rental increase in cases such as I have mentioned.
I want to make one other comment with regard to the Postal Department. I refer to telephone service faults. For instance, a subscriber sometimes finds that he cannot make a call because his line is out of order. At the present time the practice is not to remedy such defects, except in urgent cases such as those involving hospital telephones, during a week-end. I can understand the reasons for this policy. 1 know that extra labour costs would be involved, for instance. But I suggest that in this respect the Postal Department compares very unfavorably with other public utilities in South Australia. For instance, if there is a breakdown in electrical services at any time the Electricity Trust of South Australia will send technicians to restore the service. The standards of service in the Postal Department are quite high in all other activities of the department, and I would like to see some attempt made to alter the present practice, so that a telephone subscriber will know that if his telephone goes out of order at any time somebody will come to repair it. I would ask the Minister to consider carefully such a change of policy, even if it involves some increased cost to the department.
Sitting suspended from 12.43 to 2.15 p.m.
– My chief concern in the debate on these estimates is with the operations of the Commonwealth Railways. I want to refer briefly to the part that it has played and is playing in the development of certain areas. I am concerned particularly with the Northern Territory. Two railway systems in the Northern Territory have been before the public eye. One is the north-south railway which is partly constructed and which stretches from Adelaide to Alice Springs and from Birdum to Darwin. The gap between those two sections of the line remains to be bridged. The only alternative to bridging that gap is to construct the Barkly Tableland line which, it is envisaged, will link the system in the north of the Northern Territory with either the Queensland or the New South Wales railway systems.
Let me deal first with the Barkly Tableland proposal, and point to some of the advantages that would follow from its construction. When the matter of communications is under review, I stress most strongly that consideration be given to the construction of this line. The proposal has received a considerable amount of support from all sections of the community. It would be of advantage to the people who live in the area and would have a good deal of defence value, besides playing its part in the normal development of the area. The construction of this line would result in closer settlement in that part of Australia. When I refer to closer settlement, I do not have in mind closer settlement of the kind envisaged in the southern parts of Australia. Closer settlement in the Northern Territory, in the north of Queensland and in the north-west of Western Australia is completely different. If this line were constructed large holdings in the Northern Territory could be cut up and many more people would settle in the area.
Another advantage that would accrue would be in the form of drought insurance, not only for the Northern Territory but also for Queensland. In the not so distant past we had experience of droughts in the eastern part of the Northern Territory. Owing to the lack of communications between the drought-stricken areas and other regions many thousands of head of stock died on the properties. Had a railway or other means of communication been in existence, the stock could have been shifted to the more lush areas and could have been saved.
– Are you completely disregarding the road aspect?
– I am not completely disregarding the road aspect at all. I am merely stressing the railway aspect. In the last couple of years there have been enormous drought losses in Queensland. Had a railway been in existence the cattle that died in the drought-stricken areas could have been moved to other parts. The value of the stock that would be saved in droughts would offset some part of the cost of constructing the railway line.
There are people who advocate the construction of railways and people who advocate the construction of roads. I admit that it would be wrong to undertake a programme of the wholesale construction of railways simply for the sake of building them, but a strong case can be made for the construction of the two railway lines to which I have referred.
– What route do you suggest for the Barkly Tableland railway?
– Investigations would have to be made because circumstances very from day to day. You would have to make up your mind at some point on what you consider would be the proper route. The problem would solve itself. Broadly, the line would traverse the tableland. It would serve a dual purpose - it would afford a means of transportation of stock, and it would lead to the development of the huge mineral resources in the Gulf country which are of no value until we provide some means to get them out of the area. This applies also to the agricultural possibilities of the Gulf country. At present there is no way of moving the produce of those areas, lt is useless to grow things unless you can move them to a market.
The cost of constructing this line could be regarded as an insurance premium covering ourselves against stock losses on both sides of the Northern TerritoryQueensland border, and affording a means of developing the primary production and mineral potential of the area. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) admitted recently that although various crops can be grown in the Ord River area in the north-west of Western Australia, the problem of transportation remains unsolved. There is a bottle-neck which must be removed at some time in the future, and the longer that we delay in attacking the problem the more costly for Australia will be the solution. What applies to the Ord River area applies also to the Northern Territory. It does not matter what we do in relation to growing crops and herbs; if we do not have some cheap means of moving our produce we are wasting our time. Although the construction of roads will go a long way towards meeting the situation, it will not overcome entirely the problem of transportation in that area. I cannot think of any project which would confer greater benefits on the northern parts of Australia than the construction of a railway system.
Let me turn now to the north-south railway. The matters that concern the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Sexton) and the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) also concern me. I refer to the subsidy which the Commonwealth Government should pay to the Commonwealth Railways to balance the concession freight rate at which coal is carried from Leigh Creek. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) has said that in actual fact a loss, and not a profit, is being shown by this undertaking. But we are concerned with the accounts of the Commonwealth Railways, and I do not think it can be disputed that if a loss is being shown the subsidy of about £750,000 would not have any more effect on the Government’s finances than if the Commonwealth Railways were being reimbursed out of the Treasury. At present, the users of the line are bearing the burden and the repercussions are being felt as far away as Darwin. The effects do not end at Alice Springs with the railway line because a considerable amount of the traffic that is hauled on that line finds its way to Darwin and to other places en route to Darwin. If the undertaking is showing a loss, that loss would be minimized to the extent of £750,000; if the undertaking is showing a profit, that profit would be augmented by the addition of £750,000. Over the last five years the difference between the standard freight rate and the concession rate which has been applied to the carriage of coal from Leigh Creek to Port Augusta has amounted to over £3,000,000. If we added this sum to the credit side of the accounts of the Commonwealth Railways, there would be a considerable profit, and freight rebates to a total of that amount could be given.
As I have said, the accounts of the Commonwealth Railways should be straightened out. We should know definitely, one way or another, who is paying for these freight concessions on Leigh Creek coal. We should know who is to foot the bill. The honorable member for Wentworth stated that the Treasury should not reimburse the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner in respect of these concessional freights. I point out to the honorable member that if that were so, these amounts would not appear year after year in the accounts of the Commonwealth Railways. The concessional rates would have been struck as standard rates, and that would have been the end of it. However, over the years, the Commissioner has insisted that the amount of the concessions be included in the accounts and shown on the credit side of the operations.
We have the added statement by the honorable member for Wentworth that these concessional rates were struck because of the increased efficiency and better facilities made possible by the conversion of the Leigh Creek line to standard gauge. That may be, but if the Commonwealth Railways are prepared to charge lower freight rates for the haulage of Leigh Creek coal because of reduced operating costs over the line, surely the whole range of freights could have been reduced. Lower rates have been charged only for the carriage of coal from Leigh Creek. I know that the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) will say that the reduced operating costs have at least enabled freights to be maintained at the existing levels and have avoided increases. But I point out that the rates charged for the carriage of Leigh Creek coal have not been maintained at the former level. They have been reduced almost to one-third of the normal rates. I believe that the freight charged on Leigh Creek coal is now about 13s. a ton, whereas the standard rate formerly charged was about 34s. a ton. However we look at it, the users of the railway pay for the concessions made in respect of Leigh Creek coal. If the concessions were granted because of reduced operating costs since the conversion of the line to standard gauge, the concessions could have been spread over the whole range of freights and services.
Is there not an unanswerable argument in the proposition that reduced operating costs would justify the conversion to standard gauge of the north-south line as far north as Alice Springs and the provision of a standard-gauge link between there and Darwin? If, as the honorable member for Wentworth has suggested, savings can be effected by the conversion of some 200 miles of railway, would not equivalent savings be made by the conversion of the balance of the existing line - about 600 miles? Would not even greater savings be made if the standard-gauge line were then taken right through to Darwin? Yet, when negotiations for the conversion of the Leigh Creek line were in progress,” the South Australian Premier did not press for the continuation of the standard-gauge line beyond Marree on the north-south railway. That will never cease to be a wonder to me. The South Australian Premier has recently made state ments to the effect that the Commonwealth Government is not living up to its obligation to convert the existing north-south railway and to continue it on to Darwin.
– The Commonwealth spontaneously initiated the conversion of the line to standard gauge as far as Marree. The South Australian Premier did not ask for it.
– I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) a question about the matter, and I was astounded to receive from him the reply that no representations had been made to him by the South Australian Premier over a period of some nine years. I should have thought that the Premier would have grasped the chance to have the standard-gauge line continued when the conversion from Port Augusta to Marree and Leigh Creek was initiated. That was his opportunity to squat on the Commonwealth’s doorstep and insist that the whole of the existing north-south railway be converted and that a standard-gauge link to Darwin be constructed.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– Mr. Chairman. I always listen with great interest to what the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) has to say about the development of the area which he represents in this Parliament. He has suggested that a railway across the Barkly Tableland be seriously considered. I give close attention to what the honorable member has to say about communications in that area, whether by road or by rail, and I support any proposal that will give us better communications there. I agree with the honorable member that a railway should be built across the tableland in order that stock may be moved from the Northern Territory to Queensland, with benefit to everybody concerned. I believe that this would be an economic proposal. I think that the tableland does not present any great engineering problems, as any one who has travelled across the country there will probably agree. A railway across the Barkly Tableland would serve a very useful purpose. I leave the matter at that, with the comment that I support the advocacy of the honorable member for the
Northern Territory for the provision of better communications in that part of the north.
Now, I want to devote my remarks to the Postmaster-General’s Department, with particular reference to the status of the Post Office, and I propose to compare the situation of the Australian Post Office with that of similar organizations in other parts of the world. I do not wish the committee or any of the officers of the department to get the impression that I am critical of the way in which the Post Office is administered under the handicaps with which it is confronted. I believe that it does a remarkable job within the limits of its resources and the limitations presented by the manner in which funds are allocated to it over the years. Down the years, the established practice has been that the Post Office, which is a business undertaking, has every year to go to the Treasury cap in hand and submit its estimates for the year. It then receives an annual allocation of money to enable it to undertake necessary capital works and provide for its administration. I think I am right in saying that in no year has it received all the money that it has asked for. Therefore, the Post Office has been unable to carry out its work as it would wish t:o do. Nevertheless, it and its officers do a remarkable job. But they will never be able to give complete satisfaction until the organization is put on a business-like basis.
Although my time is very limited, I should like to make just a few comments about the position of the Post Office in Great Britain. As we know, in recent years, the British Post Office has been divorced absolutely from Treasury control and has been put on a business-like basis. Experience since 1955 has shown that as a result the British organization is now giving better and more economical service. I believe that to a limited extent similar considerations apply to the Australian Post Post Office. I suggest that it investigate the system which now operates generally in respect of the United Kingdom Post Office. In March of this year, a White Paper entitled “The Status of the Post Office “ was presented to the United Kingdom Parliament by the Postmaster General there. I should like to read just a few extracts in order to convey to the com mittee what I have in mind. Paragraph 3, at page 3 of the White Paper, reads -
It is now proposed to give the Post Office greater commercial freedom while remaining under the direct control of the Postmaster General. Its current finances will be severed from the Exchequer and, subject to the Postmaster General’s obligations as a Member of the Government and to Parliament, he will have greater scope and responsibility for running the Post Office as a self-contained business.
I think that we all agree that that is very true. Paragraph 4 states -
The Post Office has many social obligations. But the existence of these obligations does not mean that the Post Office should be run primarily as a vast social service without regard to the economic facts of life.
Indeed, in most essential respects, it is, and ought to be recognized as - and function as - a commercial organization. If after allowing for its social responsibilities, it fails to approach the problems of management and organization with a business mind it will quickly become inefficient.
That is very true. It goes on -
The Post Office must be free to make quick decisions.
The Australian Post Office cannot do that now, with its limited resources. It is not the fault of the Post Office. It has to spread the money as equitably as possible over a number of projects, and therefore must work to some scheme of priorities. Invariably, when we make requests the reply we receive is, “ Yes, we agree that this is essential, but, owing to our limited resources, it cannot be taken in hand at the moment”. If the Post Office were put on to a more businesslike footing under the control of the Postmaster-General, or even a commission, and allowed to conduct its own affairs as a business undertaking, raising its own money and using its own revenue, it could work to a programme and we would have a better and more economical service. It is time this great business undertaking, the assets of which are worth something like £600,000,000 even after a considerable amount of writing down, was put on a better business footing than it is to-day. The pamphlet to which I have referred continues -
In common with other departments, the Post Office now has to prepare estimates for annual cash requirements. These cover salaries and wages, purchase of materials, contract payments and so on. There is a consequential obligation to ensure that money is spent according to the sums voted by Parliament after approval of the estimate.
The final results have to be shown in an appropriation account.
This type of accounting is quite out of place for a commercial organization. It gives no indication of the profitability or otherwise of the services financed by the expenditure. Neither does it show the assets and liabilities of the business. In brief, it does not help either as an instrument of control for management, or as a source of information for Parliament and the public.
I hope those extracts will impress upon honorable members the desirability of adopting a similar system in Australia. I do not suggest that the United Kingdom system would be suitable for adoption in its entirety, but if certain aspects of it were put into operation here I am confident that our Post Office would be more like a true business undertaking. I suggest that the Government, through the PostmasterGeneral, should conduct a thorough inquiry into the United Kingdom system with a view to ascertaining whether it would be suitable for application to Australia. At present, if the officers of the Postal Department submit estimates it is more than likely that they are told immediately to reduce them by £5,000,000 or £6,000,000, which means going over all the work again and making new plans. We should be able to do a better job here. 1 should like to refer now to another matter. We heard much this morning from the honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Barnes) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) about the tremendous influence of the old “ A.B.C. Weekly “ in promoting education, and so on. As has been said, that journal is no longer being published. We have also heard much recently about the need for closer contact with our near neighbours to the north. Some honorable members have recommended that we study their customs and their languages in order that we may establish better relations with them. Others have advocated that Asian languages should be taught in our schools and universities. Yet, in the face of all this advocacy of the promotion of better relations with our near neighbours, we find that radio amateurs are prohibited from broadcasting to these people in any language other than English. This is the only country in the world in which such a prohibition applies. It is a stupid restriction. We have been told that it is applied because of the difficulty in monitoring the amateurs, but I remind honorable members that Australia is not the only country where monitoring is practised. Many other countries are monitoring radio broadcasts, and if amateurs should attempt to disseminate propaganda or to go beyond the law, the monitors of other countries will check them. Surely there is some liaison in the monitoring of radio broadcasts. I have asked before, and I ask again, that the amateurs be given liberty to converse at least with our neighbours to the near north in a language which they understand. It is high time this stupid regulation was repealed, and the amateurs given more freedom to converse with our near neighbours.
.- The estimates before the committee cover a variety of activities, but I find myself compelled to confine my remarks to the administration of the Post Office. First, let me congratulate the Minister for having done me the honour of requesting me to open officially the new post office in Crownstreet. Unfortunately, the new Crownstreet post office is the only new work that has been carried out by the Government in my electorate in the last ten or eleven years. I have many requests before the Postmaster-General now for the carrying out of urgently required work through the whole of my electorate, including Lord Howe Island, which seems to be the forgotten land so far as the Postmaster-General and other Ministers are concerned. Before dealing with matters ranging from requirements of Lord Howe Island to the G.P.O. clock in Martin-place, I should like to bring to the Minister’s notice the hardships being endured by the people of Glebe. There are now 10,000 residents in the Glebe area, and more new Australians are coming in all the time. Some are buying homes, but all are not enrolled, and I should say that at the present time the Glebe post office is required to cater for the needs of at least 20,000 people. It is the only post office catering for the needs of three sub-divisions, and I can assure honorable members that it is a cruel sight to see the unfortunate pensioners endeavouring to obtain their pensions there on pension mornings. There is no room for these people to stand or sit in the post office. They have to go 200 yards up the street and climb a number of stone steps into an almost disused room which is opened only once a month for the pensioners to be paid. Possibly, the climbing of those steps is not as bad for some of those people as coming down again.
This is a serious matter indeed, although it may not be so regarded by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), who is interjecting. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) will listen to my remarks. I cannot tell him to do these things straight away, but I think that if he sent an officer there something would be done. At Easter and Christmas time there are some twenty people working in a room about 14 feet by 12 feet at this post office, trying to pack bags and get them on their way. That is not the way to run a post office. I have spoken several times to the people who work in the post office, and they are the best of people. If they were not, they would not be able to carry on the work of the post office in the space available to them. They have told me that there is no ground available for the extension of the post office unless the PostmasterGeneral takes over a dwelling or shop next door. If that cannot be done, at least a second post office could be opened down at Glebe Point.
About four years ago, I urged that stamps should be sold in newsagencies and in other shops. Elderly people have to pay sixpence for a tram ride to go to Glebe post office to buy a stamp before they can post a letter. That is not fair. If a newsagency can legally sell a lottery ticket for the State Government and get a commission on the sale there could be nothing wrong with the Commonwealth Government allowing some profit on the handling of stamps. One cannot expect a shopkeeper, who has to pay rent and wages, to sell stamps merely for the convenience of the general public. The reason that I suggest that newsagencies would be particularly suitable for this purpose is that they already sell note paper, pens, envelopes and everything necessary for the sending of letters.
Twelve months ago the PostmasterGeneral increased his department’s charges by £18,000,000. The price of stamps went up from 4d. to 5d. But that is past history. At meetings at which the Glebe post office has been discussed I have said that I thought that some action would be taken by the Postal Department, now that it had plenty of finance, but the position has gone from bad to worse ever since. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to inspect the Glebe post office for the sake not only of the customers but of the people who work there. I ask him to give them additional accommodation. If this cannot be done, a subbranch should be established further down, at Glebe Point. The 25,000 people in this area deserve some service.
Some years ago when I was associated with Labour leagues in the Newtown area, we wrote letters to the Postal Department asking for a letter box to be provided on the left-hand side of Newtown bridge, coming in from Marrickville. A representative of the department inspected the area and pointed out that there was a letter box 200 yards away. I told him that the distance was 400 yards and that, in any case, nobody went that way. I wanted a post box to be placed1 in the most convenient position for the people of the area. It is not sufficient to argue that there was a pillar box on the other side of the railway line. To reach that box it is necessary to cross a road in which there are converging lanes of traffic from four directions - Marrickville, St. Peters, Enmore and Surry Hills. Every morning at nine o’clock and every evening at five o’clock you would risk your life to cross that road to post a letter. Yet the children have to go across there. All other services, including the police station, the library, the picture show and the ladies and gentlemen’s conveniences are on the side of the road on which I have asked that a letter box be provided. It is all very well to say that there is another letter box not many yards away. Does the department propose to wait until a life is lost before doing something about this matter,
Now we come to Lord Howe Island. I am sorry to say that, two weeks ago, a man named Gerald Kirby who was very concerned about Lord Howe Island passed away. He was less than 50 years of age and had a wife and four children. He made two or three trips to Canberra to try to influence the Civil Aviation Department to build an airstrip on Lord Howe Island. He has worked every year for the last ten years to get something done about this.
He also brought to my notice the subject of postal facilities on the island. Lord Howe Island is seven miles long and the inhabitants have to trudge to a post office at one end of it if they want to post a letter. The Government has ignored this matter as it has ignored the necessity for an airstrip on Lord Howe Island. Mr. Kirby came to Canberra and pleaded with the late Senator McLeay, who was then in charge of the relevant department. He also came to see Senator Paltridge. The Government has done nothing in response to his representations. I was told in this chamber, about three months ago, that the Government would attend to this matter but, alas, nothing has been done.
The principal subject on which I wanted to speak is the General Post Office clock in Sydney. For seven or eight years I have spoken about this clock. Time is running out. During the last eighteen months the Sydney City Council has authorized the construction of buildings costing between £1,000,000 and £5,000,000 with u total value of about £60,000,000. Yet the Government continues to contend that there is no need for this clock to be restored. Recently, representations concerning the clock were supported by the honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Jack), the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) and1 the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth).
There is plenty of money around for buildings for solicitors and other wealthy people. I do not need the honorable members opposite whom I have mentioned to join in with my efforts to have the Sydney G.P.O. clock restored. I am the member for the division of West Sydney, and if there is any correspondence to be entered into in regard to this matter I will enter into it. I do not want any second-hand help from those honorable members. They came over to make an inspection, and had their visit televised. Perhaps that was the only reason they came. We visited the post office and had afternoon tea there. The Minister has said that the foundations are not good enough to allow the tower to be re-erected. For £2,000 we could find out for certain whether they are good, bad or indifferent.
But has anything been done in that regard? No. Apparently, we shall have to wait until the honorable member for Mackellar comes back from the United Nations to find out what is happening in regard to this clock tower.
I wish that these three honorable members, instead of worrying about this clock so much, would leave that matter to me, and would visit the electorate of the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) and have a look at the position there of 300 people who are to be thrown into the street by this Government in order to make way for a new mail-handling branch at Redfern. For the last two years the PostmasterGeneral’s Department has been harassing these people. The Commonwealth has refused to grant the State government £300,000 or £400,000 to enable it to house them. It simply tells the residents of the houses to be torn down in Redfern that they must get out. Then it will leave them to their fate. So if the three honorable members that I have mentioned want some work to do they ought to go round to Redfern when Jim Cope comes back, and try to do something for the people who will be homeless in another couple of weeks if the Government gets its way.
Turning again to the G.P.O. clock tower, I remind honorable members that if this clock is to be replaced in its original form surely it is not too much to investigate the state of the foundations. The Minister has said that it would cost £200,000 to replace the clock. If the clock is not to be replaced because of some reason, such as bad foundations, that is all very fine.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I have three minutes left.
– No, the honorable member has exhausted his time. -
.– The bracket of estimates with which we are dealing includes those for the Commonwealth Railways, the Postmaster-General’s Department and Broadcasting and Television Services. These are all very comprehensive, but it is impossible in fifteen minutes, as the previous speaker discovered, to deal with all of them in the manner in which they deserve. Consequently, one has to concentrate on one undertaking, and even then only in the most transient fashion. If enough time were available I should like to be able to deal with the estimates for each of these departments, and direct attention to the advantages as well as the disadvantages to the taxpayer that accrue from the operations of the departments concerned. It would be just and fair to do that, not only for the sake of the department, but also for the sake of the Minister who. I know, is most conscientious in administering his important portfolio. However, because of lack of time, one tends to concentrate on the features of the estimates that appear to be most glaring.
I have examined with interest the estimates for the Postmaster-General’s Department, and in particular, the available details concerning the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which are included in those estimates. I direct the committee’s attention to the fact that the Australian Broadcasting Commission this year expects to spend £12,865,000 of taxpayers’ money on a. very wide variety of things - a much larger sum than the commission was spending, say, five years ago. Television services, no doubt, are the reason for the increase, and I understand that it is true that television is a demanding medium, and one that leads its people into strange paths. I am sure this must be the case, for clearly the Australian Broadcasting Commission is being led into strange actions. Within the past few weeks, for instance, I have learned that the A.B.C. proposes to make films for release overseas, although there is nothing in the estimates now before us to indicate that the commission is to replace the News and Information section of the Department of the Interior. I would have thought that this section is far better equipped to do an overseas job. It has the experience, and I suppose the best measure of success is the state of the box office receipts at London and New York. I think the committee will agree that it is not necessary to have two highly specialized film sections both doing the same job, as will be the case under what is proposed. It seems to me that there is legitimate ground here for a take-over of one section by the other. Either the A.B.C. should take over the News and Information section of the Department of the Interior in regard to this film activity, or vice versa.
Within the past few weeks also I learned’ something of the A.B.C.’s intentions regarding land acquisition in my own electorate. There is no specific provision in these estimates for this move, other than that the A.B.C. proposes to extend, which is a pity, and there is no specific mention of the details of it in the commission’s annual report. That is a pity too, because this particular transaction is a matter of great public interest, and the committee is entitled to know something of the pounds, shillings and pence of the project.
Not so long ago, land acquisition by the Postmaster-General’s Department was the subject of a special inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee. If this acquisition to develop a new site in Victoria is approved by the Minister the A.B.C. will have succeeded in using taxpayers’ money to buy up land earmarked as a public park. It will be able to buy the land cheaply. The present owners will be encouraged to sell the land to it more cheaply, because any normal sale for extensive industrial purposes would be disallowed by the local authorities. The same local authorities are trying to defend their parklands against the Australian Broadcasting Commission, but the A.B.C. is showing remarkably little respect up to date for their views. Perhaps it is fortified with the knowledge that, after all is said and done, the Queen can do no wrong. I hope that the Minister will not support the application of that principle in this instance.
These skirmishes are going on over the A.B.C.’s television studio block at Ripponlea, which is actually in the suburb of Elsternwick and within my electorate. When the A.B.C. first used funds voted by this Parliament to build the television studios, it gave a series of undertakings to the Caulfield City Council. On those understandings the council gave its approval to the development of a very limited area, for this is a well established residential area of very high standard. The mast was to be only so high. The number of people working in the new buildings was to be limited. Audiences were to be limited, and so on. Every one of these undertakings has been breached. In fact, I recently inspected the area at the request of the residents, and found that the A.B.C. has been quite irresponsible in some of its general activities. I do not want to go into the sordid details of that on this occasion, but one might almost suspect that the A.B.C. had done everything it could to be a bad neighbour. Now, in spite of the fact that it has demonstrated that it is a bad neighbour, the A.B.C. plans to buy more land on the Ripponlea site, and develop the whole of its activities there. I think that this is monstrous. First, the land that the A.B.C. proposes to buy is marked down as a park area. We are finding in Victoria to-day that it is uncanny how many people can make out in their own minds a good case for using park sites for something other than parks. It is astonishing how vigilant the local authorities and citizens have to be to protect their reserves. This proposal is a case in point. Why should the commission be allowed even to contemplate the use of town planning preserves in this way? The people who are planning our cities, or trying to plan them, have to put a “ hands-off “ sign on this land, with very good reason. Does this mean nothing?
Secondly, on its record to date, the commission is not a fit owner of residential land. The fact of the matter is that other television studios in Melbourne are in industrial areas. If surveys of viewers are any guide, they have not found this to be any handicap. The evident wish of the Australian Broadcasting Commission is to rationalize its activities, and this is very commendable. But surely we cannot let the efficiency experts of industry completely disregard local laws because of some complicated reasoning of their own, and put incongruous factories in some of our neighbourhoods. I represent the people who live in this area and I have no hesitation in saying that they are unwilling to accept the commission as a neighbour. From my personal experience. T think that their objections are justified.
Thirdly, another, and in some ways more serious, reason is that the conduct of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in this matter has from the very start been arrogant, dictatorial and unreasonable. Local authorities have been made to feel that, in dealing with the commission, they are dealing with a junta of people who live in another State and who are determined to go their own way. They have behaved, I think, as private opportunists rather than as public administrators, and this, from people who are administering funds voted by this Parliament, I find most objectionable. Surely the Minister will not sanction a branch of his department acquiring land ear-marked for public parks, over the most strenuous objections of the local authorities and of residents in the area. If this acquisition does go through in its present form, then one can only conclude that the administration of the Australian Broadcasting Commission is out of control.
There is a thought here, Sir, which I think could be developed. Unfortunately, I have not time to do so extensively in a debate of this nature. The whole of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department will spend £155,000,000 in the ensuing year. This is far more than the total Commonwealth expenditure for 1939 and indeed far more than the States as a whole spent. This one department is easily the largest in the whole of the government service. In fact, I doubt whether it can be matched in size to-day by any private industry. I think the time has come to ask whether it is too large to be controlled economically. The Australian Broadcasting Commission in particular seems to be one section of the department which could very well be lopped off and removed to another ministry so that rather more oversight of its activities could be exercised. The commisison to-day is spending £13,000,000, which is nearly half as much again as the amount spent by the essential and admirable Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Apparently, the commission regards itself as what an investor would call a “ growth stock “. It certainly has developed the modern technique of land acquisitions and take-overs. It is highly desirable that the commission should grow. I think we all agree with that view, but I think it should grow as the country as a whole grows. I for one would like to see control go with growth where public money and public parks are concerned.
My final observation concerns figures which appear at page 43 of the twelfth annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. When one looks at the figures of receipts and expenditure, one wonders whether the Postmaster-General’s Department is not charging the taxpayer too much for the services of television. Gross expenditure for last year was £8,098,347 and cash receipts from broadcasting and television licences were £10,333,590. It would appear that the surplus was £2,235,243, and this excludes the cash revenue of the commission itself. On top of this, 1,000,000 television licences have been issued, which means, of course, 1,000,000 television sets. With each of these, £6 was paid for a cathode tube. I would say that Consolidated Revenue benefited by approximately £6,000,000 from this source. It would appear that there is a very good case for a reduction of television licence-fees. I would like to go further into this subject, but when one’s time is limited, one must be extremely brief.
I would like to say something about the extended local service area system. I congratulate the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) and the department for the advances they have made in bringing this modern service into operation with a minimum of interference to the taxpayer. I now have little more than a few split seconds of my time left. I conclude, therefore, by saying that I will be pleased to hear the Postmaster-General’s reply to my remarks. I regret that I have not more time to develop this very interesting examination of these estimates.
.- I wish to range over the whole field of the items relating to the Postmaster-General’s Department, including radio and television, but I shall not refer to the Commonwealth Railways. One point I wish to raise now that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) is in the chamber concerns the assassination of the Queen’s English in advertising. Parents and friends organizations and school teachers are greatly troubled by the bad influence that incorrect spelling in television programmes is having on children. Recently in Sydney a school report on English composition revealed that seventeen children out of twenty in a class spelled “ cool “ with a “ k “. This shows the power, influence and effect of television advertising on young minds. The advertiser will no doubt be pleased to hear of the success of his advertisement.
We see this assassination and mutilation of the Queen’s English spreading at an alarming rate in advertising. For instance, on television and in advertising generally “ to-night “ is spelled “ tonite “ and “ supertread “ becomes “ super-tred “. Children who have become familiar with this spelling in various advertisements adopt it in their school work. Then we have the slogan “ Eta extra egga day “. These are illustrations of the trend in spelling, and I ask whether the Postmaster-General can do something to promote truth in advertising on television. The mis-spelling of words surely is not truth in advertising.
The next point I wish to raise is the need for another national transmitter in northern Tasmania. The north-east and eastern parts of Tasmania are badly served by national radio stations. The reception in those areas is very poor and most erratic. That applies to the whole eastern side of the city of Launceston, and down to Swansea and up to St. Helens on the north-east coast. There is only one way in which to give these people a fair chance of viewing national programmes and that is for another transmitter to be erected in that area. This matter has previously been placed before the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), but I take this oportunity to raise it again. Times out of number technicians and experts of the Wireless Branch have had to tour the east coast of Tasmania to check the interference caused by the atmosphere and by mineral deposits, and the reception by private sets in that vast area of Tasmania.
I take heart from reading the latest report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission - it is beautifully got up - for the year 1959-60. At page 7, the report says that the commission intends to increase the efficiency of radio transmission, and adds -
In the meantime, we are doing all we can to maintain and improve the standard of our radio programmes . . .
With regard to the former objective, we have this year begun a planned extension of regional broadcasting in a number of districts that are likely to be beyond the range of television for some time to come . . .
The commission is particularly pleased that during July of this year new radio transmitters will be in operation in Tennant Creek and Katherine, in the Northern Territory, and in Mount Isa, in northern Queensland.
That is a very good forward move for those isolated areas, and I appeal for action along the same lines for the portion of Tasmania to which I have referred.
The next point I wish to raise relates to television in its fourth stage. We are now dealing with the third stage, and we hope soon to have the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board which heard applications for television licences in the third stage of the introduction of television in Australia. I appeal again to the PostmasterGeneral in respect of the fourth stage of television, which will vitally affect the north-western and western portions of Tasmania. Quite a number of television sets on the north-west coast have been receiving for two or three years. They have been receiving Melbourne programmes quite well on fine days, although the distance from Melbourne is 250 miles. That is a very good effort indeed. And at the moment some of those sets are picking up Hobart. When the third stage of television is completed and Launceston gets its station, these people will be able to pick up the Launceston programmes also.
However, because of the nature of the terrain, there will need to be a booster on Mount Roland in the north-west. That mountain is 4,000 feet high; it is about 40 miles south of Devonport. The Government of Tasmania is going to build a scenic road to the top of this mountain, and we believe that if a booster was placed there it would be possible to pick up Hobart programmes on the north-west coast right around as far as Queenstown, across the rugged mountain ranges of Tasmania. This booster would also enable sets on the northwest coast to pick up Launceston more clearly when that station is operating. For that reason, during stage four of the development of television, we will continue to keep this matter before the PostmasterGeneral, who has been kept up to date with it during the last twelve months. We will continue to press for a booster station on Mount Roland, or at least for some technical device to enable the north-west coast to take its choice of programmes from Melbourne, Hobart and Launceston.
The next point with which I wish to deal relates to station AB2, in Hobart. During the severe winter that has been experienced, severe icing occurred on the huge AB2 towers on Mount Wellington. Falling ice did a great deal of damage to the equipment with the result that the station has been on one-half or three-quarter power for several months. Unfortunately, we struck the worst winter for ten years, and one of the coldest. These huge towers are at an elevation of 4,000 feet and are the highest television installation in the Commonwealth; and they suffered severely from icing during the past winter. I make this appeal on behalf of all the people of the northern part of the island who bought television viewing sets in April or May but up till a few weeks ago had not been able to pick up AB2 at all, although that is the only station they can get on their sets. They have had their sets for five months, but have had no use from them at all in spite of the fact that they have paid their licence-fee of £5. The PostmasterGeneral should consider extending the licence period for these people - in view of the reduction in power of AB2 in Hobart - by perhaps four months. That would only be fair, considering that the station has been on reduced power for some time.
I wish now to make a few general comments. First, I congratulate the Australian Broadcasting Commission on its use of Australian artists. It is certainly giving a lead to some of the privately owned TV stations, although I believe Channel 7 is also doing a very good job in respect of Australian talent and live shows. The A.B.C, of course, is expected to set the standard, because it is the Government-owned instrumentality. Having read its report I congratulate it on its excellent use of Australian artists of all kinds in TV and radio work. I suggest that an Australia-wide competition could be conducted by the A.B.C. for a TV play or radio serial by Australian writers. Such a competition, conducted every year, would give great encouragement to gifted script writers and others in this country who, if they had the opportunity and impetus to write something of that nature, could do it, just like the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). We have plenty of these gifted people around.
Some of the most excellent programmes from the A.B.C, television and radio, are its rural broadcasts. As I represent a rural electorate, I know the impact of such broadcasts. The farmers certainly appreciate the great variety of rural broadcasting put over for their benefit; the programmes cover almost the entire range of agriculture. 1 congratulate the A.B.C. on those broadcasts, and also on its “ Forum of the Air “, with its fine list of subjects, which are listed in the commission’s annual report. The folk in the A.B.C. who originate programmes have a very difficult task in providing fresh material. The “ Spotlight “ session and “ Guest of Honour “ features are very good. There are also top-class musical and dramatic sessions, whilst the broadcasts to schools cannot be commended too highly.
I believe that 93 per cent, of the schools in the Commonwealth to-day are served by radio and listen to the specialized radio broadcasts provided by the A.B.C. I am delighted, also, with the religious broadcasts which are being extended. Last year 465 hours were devoted to metropolitan religious broadcasts and 284 hours to regional broadcasts. This showed an increase of 35 hours in the first case, and nine hours in the second, over the figures for the previous year. The new TV programme entitled “ Australian University of the Air “, which the A.B.C. is now investigating, will be a fine addition to the programmes, and I commend the officers of the commission for thinking this one up. I hope it will become a reality.
I do believe, however, that the A.B.C. must never be afraid to include controversial subjects in its talks and interviews. There has been a great deal of hesitancy in this regard, and there is no need at all for any hesitancy. The cross-current of opinion is the lifeblood of democracy. Full-blooded political discussions will always be appreciated by the Australian public. Such discussion stimulates thinking and comment among viewers and listeners.
I believe, too. that there should be more actuality broadcasts on TV. Such broadcasts are the key feature of television and the more mobile teams of cameramen that we have picking up actuality material and broadcasting it, the greater will be the value of the medium from the education angle. It will also be more valuable from the point of view of entertainment, because these broadcasts will help us to replace some of the cheap imported American material that is now being used. We have some fine subject-matter in Australia for TV presentation. I speak not only of our beaches but of other scenic features as well. We should use the great resources that are at hand.
– What about the adjournment debate last night?
– Yes, that would have been interesting. Let me say, finally, that the extended local service areas system has obviously produced many anomalies in certain areas. I am glad that the PostmasterGeneral has promised to investigate genuine complaints. Community interest was supposed to be the basis of the introduction of the new system, and in this regard I would like to refer the Minister to the Beaconsfield municipality in my electorate, and also to Deloraine.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- When my friend, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), pleaded for additional broadcasting channels in the northeast or west of Tasmania, he touched on a subject that I would like to follow up. For some time, I have been complaining to the Postal Department, on behalf of my constituents, about the poor radio reception in the upper Hunter valley area of New South Wales. The problem involves some complex considerations. Let me refer, first, to some comments that were addressed to me as far back as 1958 by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson). The honorable gentleman said: -
There are serious obstacles in the way of authorizing additional broadcasting stations due to a shortage of operating frequencies.
This appears to be a case in which the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is helplessly accepting limitations which it created for itself. The Minister went on to say -
Furthermore, as there are many areas in the Commonwealth where better reception of the programmes of the national broadcasting service is desirable, the establishment of additional stations would not be an economical or practical means of overcoming the difficulties, having regard to the high cost of erecting and operating the number of stations which would be required, and of the necessary programme lines.
What does this mean? If it is true that there are no more operating frequencies available, if it is true that large areas of the country are unserviced by national radio programmes, and if it is true - and all these things have been claimed - that it is impracticable to serve these areas because of the cost, then one can say, in plain terms, that the broadcasting service as it exists in Australia to-day is all but frozen. We cannot provide more stations, we cannot extend the range of the stations already existing beyond certain narrow limits, and there the matter rests.
However, as an outcome of my approaches in July of 1958, the PostmasterGeneral was good enough to tell me that plans were in hand to improve the position in the upper Hunter valley by the provision of a new radiating system designed to push further out the fringe of fade-free or distortionfree service. There the matter rested for quite a while until, in December of the same year, the Postmaster-General told me that the installation of this new radiator was delayed, and that it was unlikely to be in operation until the beginning of the next year. These discussions all arose from a suggestion of mine that the department might consider taking one of the two national stations which serve the lower Hunter area - the concentration of population around Newcastle and the Maitland area and the district further north - and shifting it further up the Hunter valley. This would certainly have had the effect of reducing the service - but not to the point of uselessness - available to the people of Newcastle from the alternative national service, but it would have had the beneficial effect of providing a national service which is not at present available in the upper Hunter area. The Postmaster.General said, “ Let us see how this new radiating system works out. If it does what it is planned to do there will be no need to pursue your proposal to move one of the stations.” He pointed out that the two stations had been established in Newcastle in order to bring the benefits of an alternative service to the maximum number of people possible. I believe that the time will come when the needs of country listeners will have to be considered first, rather than the desirability of making the twin service available to the people in the more populated centres. The need for this change of attitude is clearly illustrated by the position in the area to which I have referred.
Time went on and we still waited for this new radiator. I received a telegram from the Postmaster-General in July, 1959, that being the time when the honorable gentleman had assured me that we could reasonably hope for the new radiating system to operate. He said in his telegram -
All effort will be made to reduce delay to a minimum and hope to complete by the end of September.
That presupposed a further delay from July until September - it was, of course, September of 1959 - but the hard fact is that this radiator did not come into service until August or September of this year, twelve months later than the time when the PostmasterGeneral had hoped it would operate. I am sorry to say that the radiator is not operating satisfactorily even now.
I am not going to be unkind enough to suggest that somebody goofed on this, because I know there was a bit of experimentation involved in the installation of this radiator. Nevertheless, I must say that the radio art has progressed to the point at which one does not have to do very much guessing on a proposition such as this. I would seriously ask the Minister to tell me the full story about the development, the construction and the operation of this radiating system. It seems to me that the two or two and a half years that have been spent on planning and erecting it have been altogether too long a time. I would urge the Postmaster-General, as I have done previously, to tell us something of the story behind this matter. Nobody will be impatient if the department is in genuine technical difficulties. But if somebody is being careless or lacking in a sense of responsibility in the matter of the provision of better radio services in this important area, then I, for one, would certainly like to know all the details.
Chambers of commerce and local government bodies in the upper Hunter area are becoming justifiably concerned about the level of broadcast reception. As I have pointed out, the signal strength in these areas is too low for satisfactory service. As the use of electrical services and the provision of light mechanization increases in the upper Hunter valley, the signal-to-noise ratio drops. This effect is being felt a little more with every passing month. It is becoming more and more difficult for anybody to listen with any degree of comfort to the national broadcasting service.
The time has come when the PostmasterGeneral must look for some solution to this problem and of similar problems in other areas, such as that referred to by the honorable member for Wilmot. I doubt whether there is a single member in this Parliament, representing a country constituency, who could not speak of a similar problem in his district. How are we to bring satisfactory services to people in sparsely populated country areas? I know the technical and economic problems involved in bringing radio services to poorly populated country districts. It may well be that the answer to the problem will be found in the early introduction of frequency modulation broadcasting from what we might call satellite feeder stations in the country areas. This problem, in turn, is wrapped up with the question of the availability of frequencies for television services.
I questioned the Postmaster-General recently about what was happening in this field. I am afraid that I have to be patient, but 1 do not know how honorable members, and the people of Australia, can continue to be patient in view of the abnormal delay that has occurred in the presentation and consideration of this report. Now we have to wait until the Government has made up its mind about television before we shall know what is to happen in the field of frequency allocations, because it is quite probable that the frequencies that have been set aside for frequency modulation broadcasting will be taken to provide for the extension of television to country areas. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing because there are other frequency channels which can be used just as well for frequency modulation broadcasting in country areas. But I urge the Postmaster-General, and his department, to give some real attention to this problem. I just do not believe that it is insoluble.
I have pointed out in this House times out of number, until I am tired of hearing myself bring it forward, that in the same area in which we can operate, technically, 150 or so stations in Australia, about 2,500 or 3,000 broadcasting stations are operated in the United States of America. I refuse to believe that we are so lacking in capacity or in imagination that, after having managed to provide 150 broadcasting stations in Australia, our best technical men have to sit down, wring their hands and say, “ We cannot have any more because we have run out of frequencies “.
The time has long since passed when this country ought to have some telecommunications administration which will get to work on this problem and will use its imagination and its ability. If the necessary ability does not reside in the Postmaster-General’s Department, the Minister and the Government should give the job away and set up an independent authority which is liberally endowed with the brains, capacity and power to deal with this problem. If we do not do something along these lines, we shall find that at a time when we should be doing our best to encourage people to go to and stay in the country areas, we are denying country people the best radio and television services. I leave the matter at that. As I have said in this chamber on other occasions, my view is that the control of telecommunications in Australia should be taken away from an operative department like the Postmaster-General’s Department, and vested in a completely independent telecommunications commission or some similar body
I should like to spare one thought to promote the views which have been put forward by my friend, the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe). During his address he directed attention to the fact that the radio amateurs in Australia are restricted to the use of the English language in their communications with people of other countries. Now that amateur communications are moving out of the field of morse code and are turning to the use of telephony and the more advanced technical developments in international communications, the language used is very important to the amateur. If we are to be restricted to the use of English, our opportunities for contact with people who speak other languages are restricted greatly for no good purpose.
Already the regulations prevent the amateur from exchanging messages of other than a technical nature in relation to his hobby. He is prevented from exchanging even information which, because of its unimportance, would not be sent by the ordinary public means of communication. The position seems to me to be pretty safe. It cannot be argued that there is a security risk because I cannot imagine amateurs using broadcasting to convey security information.
As far as I recall it, the recommendation of the International Telecommunications Union conference was that amateurs should be restricted to plain language. But plain language does not mean the English language. Once again the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is being unduly and, in my view, unnecessarily restrictive in the conditions which it imposes upon radio amateurs. There I leave the matter.
.- I rise to bring to the notice of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) some matters which affect Postal Department employees in the post office at Mount Isa. Some time ago I took up this matter with the Minister and placed before him copies of correspondence that I had received on behalf of the employees at Mount Isa. Subsequently the secretary of the Postal Workers Union in Brisbane, Mr. Waters, wrote and asked me to support representations which his union had made in association with the Australian Third Division Telegraphists and Postal Clerks Union, the Fourth Division Postmasters, Postal Clerks and Telegraphists Union and the Postal Telecommunication Technicians Association. The letters directed attention to the anomalous position of these employees when compared with wages and salaried staffs at other establishments in Mount Isa.
The letters to which 1 have referred carried appendices which indicated the differences in wages and salaries received by Postal Department employees on the one hand, and employees of Mount Isa Mines Limited and business houses in the town, on the other hand. In addition, the appendices contained references to the high cost of living and gave a list of other disabilities from which Postal Department employees suffer in comparison with other residents of Mount lsa, particularly tradesmen, shop assistants and clerks. The letters ask that the Minister give favorable considera tion to - and so recommend to Cabinet and the Public Service Board - the granting of a special disability allowance.
It is true that the Minister is still having the position examined. I give him credit for that. He told me that he proposed to investigate thoroughly the representations that have been made to him. I rise to-day to support the unions in their request for a special disability allowance. The employees of the Postal Department are unanimously of the opinion that this allowance is warranted, and they are supported strongly by their unions. The allowance would give the employees some semblance of parity with other residents in the town and enable them better to meet the high cost of living.
Mount Isa has a hot, dry climate, and it is 600 miles west of Townsville. All goods, including foodstuffs, have to be hauled by rail 600 miles from Townsville, and the freight is added to the cost of the commodity. It is true that in recent times road trains and semi-trailers have come to Mount Isa from Alice Springs to which point goods have been brought from Adelaide. But even the goods so freighted, be they foodstuffs, clothing or anything else, carry the additional cost of freight. Consequently, the cost of living at Mount Isa is very high. It is considerably higher than the cost of living in Brisbane.
The high cost of living keeps the living standards of the employees of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department at Mount Isa lower than the standards of their counterparts employed at Mount Isa Mines Limited and business houses in the town. Perhaps this is one of the main factors contributing to the small number of married personnel on the department’s staff. I understand that, apart from the Postmaster, only three members of the total staff of 54 employed by the department are married. Men in the lower salary gradings have great difficulty in obtaining homes of a standard comparable with those of their counterparts employed by Mount Isa Mines Limited. All these things add to the dissatisfaction among the department’s employees. These conditions are not new, it is true, but the steep increase in the cost of living in recent times has accentuated the disavantages of the departmental employees and caused them to make representations direct to the PostmasterGeneral for the consideration of th ‘ir anomalous position.
I now propose to make a fair comparison of the conditions of employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department and those of employees of the mine and business houses. About 90 per cent, of the workers at Mount Isa are employed by the mining company. The employees of Mount Isa Mines Limited receive not only their award wage and a district allowance, but also a bonus of about £8 a week to enable them to meet the additional cost of living at Mount Isa. Employees of business houses in the town, also, receive a bonus or an addition to their wages - whichever one likes to call it. I find that male pressers employed by dry-cleaning establishments receive in addition to their award wage a further £7 6s. a week, which is tantamount to a bonus, whatever one calls it. Butchers receive a bonus of £10 5s. 8d. a week. Female assistants in chemists’ shops receive £3 a week over the award wage. Bakers receive £10 a week in addition to their award wage. Senior male assistants in grocers’ shops are paid a bonus of £6 a week. Plumbers receive a bonus of £7 14s. a week.
The additions to the award wage of unclassified labourers employed by Mount Isa Mines Limited bring their minimum yearly wages to £1,262. Technicians and linemen, who are comparable to a number of men on the Postmaster-General’s staff, receive a minimum income of £1,534 a year - £35 more than married senior postal clerks receive. A married senior postal clerk employed by the Postmaster-General’s Department receives £1,499 a year, including district allowance, on the maximum of his scale. A married postal clerk and telegraphist on the minimum of his scale receives £1,025 a year, including district allowance. A clerk employed by Mount Isa Mines Limited receives £1,396 at 21 years of age. This is £371 more than is paid to a married postal clerk and telegraphist in the department. An unmarried postal clerk receives £60 a year less. A married postal assistant is paid only £999 a year. I could go on through the list, Mr. Temporary Chairman. These figures illustrate the disparity between the wages of employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department and those of employees of Mount Isa Mines Limited and of tradesmen, shop assistants and the like in the town, who receive a bonus or disability allowance, if one likes to call it that. I have been told that because of the situation at Mount Isa there was a 100 per cent, turnover of the staff of 54 employed by the department there in the fifteen months prior to last August. This indicates the measure of dissatisfaction with the conditions under which the department’s employees work.
I now turn from wages to housing. It is impossible for a departmental employee at Mount Isa to rent a house of a standard that the Government would expect him to live in for less than £7 10s. a week unfurnished. A house of the standard supplied by Mount Isa Mines Limited to its employees of similar status would cost a departmental employee £10 a week. Again, employees of the department are at a disadvantage as compared with those of the mine. In addition, Mount Isa Mines Limited has a co-operative housing scheme. I am informed that more than 500 houses have been built under that scheme and that the company has invested approximately £1,500,000 in it. This scheme has enabled workers at the mine to have their families with them and to be reasonably housed. The company makes homes available on very generous terms under its housing scheme. Some workers have purchased homes from it on terms of no deposit and interest at 2 per cent. A company employee who owns his own land may obtain a building loan from the company at 2 per cent, interest. Furthermore, the company rents to its employees two-bedroomed cottages for £2 5s. a week, with 100 units of electricity free. Such housing arrangements are not available to married employees of the Postmaster-General’s Department who, as I said earlier, have to pay as much as £7 10s. a week for an unfurnished house - if they can get a house at all. Perhaps this is one of the principal reasons why there are only three married men on the department’s staff at Mount Isa.
I could deal with the prices of various items contained in the regimen according towhich wages are assessed, but they all are before the Minister. I ask him and his advisers to look carefully at the case that has been put by the unions. I have given only a very brief resume of the position, and perhaps the unions, too, have given only a somewhat brief resume of it. Nevertheless, I believe that because of the time that has been taken in obtaining an answer, the Minister is considering the matter very seriously. The situation warrants the most serious consideration. As I said earlier, resentment and dissatisfaction have existed among the department’s employees at Mount Isa for a long time because of the cost of living and the disparity between their income and that of employees of the mine and of business houses in the town. The staggering increase in the cost of living in recent times has more or less brought the dissatisfaction to a head, and I appeal to the Minister to make the strongest possible representations to the Government and the Public Service Board for the payment of a special disability allowance to a very deserving section of the department’s employees.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- First let me support the suggestion made by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) that a five-year plan similar to that adopted by the Commonwealth for the allocation of moneys under the Federal Aid Roads Act be adopted for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. On previous occasions, I have discussed with the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) the manner in which the accounts of his department are presented to the general public. The system now adopted gives the average person a false impression of the trading position of the Postal Department. As a general rule, the accounts show that the department has made considerable profit whereas, in actual fact, the profit is nowhere near the amount represented. I understand that the Postmaster-General is now considering a report which deals partly with this matter.
I rose mainly to speak of the need for more rural automatic telephone exchanges. The allocation of funds for automatic rural exchanges has been a sore point with country residents for many years. A perusal of the figures discloses that over the last ten years 1,300 rural automatic exchanges have been established, and that of that number 1.100 were put into operation this year. That is an excellent effort, but 1 feel certain that I speak for the residents of all country areas when I say that even greater efforts should be made to set up rural automatic exchanges more rapidly than at present. In my electorate alone there are approximately 80 exchanges awaiting conversion to the automatic system. Of that number, only four were converted last year.
A telephone is of tremendous importance to residents of country areas, especially farmers. Where farms are some distance apart easy communication in times of emergency is essential. The telephone provides that easy means of communication but, where it is not available, disastrous results can occur. Again, in areas where there are only manually-operated exchanges, most of the exchanges close down for the greater part of the week-end. As every one knows, emergencies can arise at the week-end just as easily as during the week, and if rapid communication is not available at the week-end, tragic results can follow. That, I suggest, is one obvious reason why close attention should be given to the speedy provision of more rural automatic exchanges. It has often been argued that many of these exchanges do not pay their way, but in my opinion that is no good reason for denying this amenity to the country people. They are the producers of the nation’s wealth and are entitled to any facility that makes homelife easier for them.
Whilst dealing with rural automatic exchanges, I should like to pay tribute to the district telephone officer and the divisional engineer, and their staffs, in the electorate of Indi. They have given me full co-operation, and the greatest possible assistance. They are doing a magnificent job with the limited resources available to them.
Next, I ask the Postmaster-General to consider requesting his department to plan for a great and rapid expansion of national television stations. Even after the present stage is completed there will be over 3,000,000 people still without this amenity. It has been suggested after investigation that it will take at least ten years before all of these people will be catered for by commercial stations. Further, it has been estimated that about 50 stations will be needed to meet the demands of these people, and that the probable cost will be £12,500,000. But the other side of the picture has to be considered. For instance, the additional revenue derived from the establishment of the extra stations would be considerable. It would probably mean that 1,000,000 more television sets would be bought. This, in turn, would mean additional revenue to the tune of £5,000,000 by way of viewers’ licences each year, and I suggest that the extra revenue coming to the Commonwealth in excise duty on the picture tubes used in television sets would amount to a further £6.000,000. On those figures, it would appear that the expenditure of £12,500,000 in providing this amenity for the people of the outback would be a good business investment. I realize that the Postal Department has many schemes under way at the moment, and that the staff is working almost to the limit in carrying them out, but I do ask the Postmaster-General to consider at least formulating a plan for the establishment of national television stations in the outback areas of Australia. After all, it is upon the outback people that Australia depends for her export income, and we have an obligation to do everything possible to bring modern amenities to them. It is difficult in present circumstances to induce people to go into the outlying areas, but if we could offer them enjoyment of television programmes, especially the excellent programmes provided by the national stations, they would have some incentive to settle in the isolated parts of the continent. In conclusion, F again ask the Postmaster-General to give serious consideration to the suggestions I have made in the interests of the progress of Australia and the welfare of the residents of country areas.
.- The first matter with which I should like to deal relates to the Post Office, and particularly to telephone services in outback areas. I make a plea for a better deal for people in isolated areas who are treated unfairly by the scheme known as Elsa - the zonal trunk service scheme. I have made a number of representations to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) to have some of these zones reviewed but, so far, no action has been taken. I think the delay is unreasonable. I have been promised that consideration will be given to the objections and complaints and I think it is pretty near time that some decision was made.
One of the chief complaints by subscribers is that the new trunk service is costing them substantially more than they paid in the past. They are not being connected to the exchange where their common interest lies. For instance, I have had complaints from people who deal directly with Cobar that they have been included in a zonal scheme centred on Shuttleton, a little centre which could hardly be called a village, outside Cobar. It is seldom that they wish to ring other subscribers connected to the Shuttleton exchange. The whole of” their business is conducted with Cobar and centres beyond. Because of the arrangement of the zones, many calls which were previously local calls are now trunk line calls and this has added considerably to the telephone bills of the people concerned. This is not an isolated case.
I have made representations concerning similar circumstances in the Bourke and Brewarrina districts and, I think, in the Coonamble and other districts. These matters should be investigated rapidly and adjustments made where necessary. I am told that it is proposed that a new telephone exchange should be established on the Carinda road from Coonamble and that, consequently, some people to whom local calls to Coonamble were previously available will have to pay trunk line rates to be connected to that town. This position should receive attention.
On another matter, I have written to the department but have not received what I consider to be a satisfactory reply. This relates to the mail contract between Brewarrina and Godooga. Tenders were called a little while ago for this service, and I believe that four tenders were received. The lowest tenderer did not get the contract. Some of the information which the department has given to me on this subject has been stated by the tenderers to be incorrect. A returned soldier settler was given the contract in preference to others who depend on such work for their livelihood. This settler was given 20.000 acres in the Brewarrina district to assist in his rehabilitation and he has since made sufficient money to buy a further 15,000 acres. He runs a Poll Angus cattle stud and a merino sheep stud on his property. He also has a motor garage business in Brewarrina.
One of the tenderers for the contract informed me that he had sought admission to the ballot for the 20,000 acres which the other man, Mr. Oliver, won, but was refused entry to the ballot by the Western Land Board on the ground that he had a good class of business and was adequately maintained in the town. Because he had a garage, the board held that he was not eligible for a returned soldier’s block. Now, the man who drew the block has taken the mail contract from the other man who had operated the mail service for some years. 1 think that the principle is entirely wrong.
I understand that the successful tender by Mr. Oliver was £1,850 and that there was a lower tender from a man named Mitchell, whose price was £1,800. Mr. Oliver got the contract because being a returned soldier he received a 5 per cent, preference although he had previously drawn a returned soldier’s block as some measure of compensation for his services in the war. I think that any assistance to which he was entitled was adequately provided when he received his block of land. He has been more than substantially rehabilitated. The Postal Department has been entirely wrong and unjust in dealing with the tenders in this way and giving preference to a man who did not need preference His tender should not have been considered at all if it was higher than any other tender.
I hope that this sort of thing will not happen again. The Government should examine the position and see whether something cannot be done about it. Some of the unsuccessful tenderers for this contract have families in the area and depend on this class of work for their ordinary livelihood. There are not many jobs offering in a district such as Brewarrina. A prosperous man with 35,000 acres of well-stocked land should not be given a mail contract. This might be Government policy but I think it is wrong. We know that the Government’s policy is to foster monopolies. It has done that in other spheres, and it appears that it is also doing it in this respect by giving to those who have instead of to those who are in need.
I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to the need for the provision of a television service at Broken Hill. 1 have previously spoken to the Minister about this and have been informed that Broken Hill just missed inclusion in stage three of television development. Because of the special circumstances and the absolute isolation of the people of Broken Hill, 1 think that their claim for television should not be overlooked. Broken Hill has a population of 34,000. It is in fairly flat country and I think that television could be received over a very wide area. At the present time, there are people who are able to get some reception from the Adelaide stations. This indicates that if a station of substantial power were established at Broken Hill it could cover a very wide district.
This is one of the amenities that could be brought to the people of the outback. They pay taxation which provides services for the people of the cities, although those people already have many other amenities which are not available in the outback. It is important that the Government should do something in the very near future to extend television to the country areas. I hope that the Minister will include Broken Hill in the next stage of television, at least for the establishment of a national station. I agree with the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Holten) that the Government has not attempted sufficiently to extend the national service. I join with the previous speaker in saying that the Government is not doing sufficient in the way of providing a decentralized national broadcasting service. It appears that the national broadcasting service is to remain mainly centred in the capital cities. Services could be operated in the Broken Hill area and other outlying centres of New South Wales and the other States by the Australian Broadcasting Commission much more efficiently than could be done by private enterprise. I see no reason why the Commonwealth should sit back and allow many areas to do without this facility, which would be a boon in parts of the Commonwealth distant from the capital cities.
I turn now to the question of rail standardization, with particular reference to the railway from Broken Hill to Port Pirie. This is a matter which has been discussed for a very long time. Year after year the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has urged that this line be standardized. It has often been pointed out that this is an absolute necessity. I understand that during the war, if, as it turned out, our troops could not have been moved quickly enough towards the war theatres, the Americans would have done this job themselves because of the great disadvantages that they were experiencing at that time in moving equipment and men from the east to the west. The standardization of this line is absolutely essential for defence and national development, and the Government should do something urgently about it. It is only a short link, but it will provide direct rail communication between Brisbane and Port Augusta. The Government committee that inquired into standardization, and members of the Opposition, have all agreed on the importance of this work.
When the work is carried out I should like the Minister to see that the Silverton Tramway Company, which controls about 30 miles of the line between Broken Hill and the South Australian border, is not left to operate that stretch of line. If it were, it would have under its control 30 miles of the direct line stretching between Brisbane and Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta. To leave the company in control of that line would be like giving Ned Kelly a licence to rob the coach. Nothing could be more ridiculous than to allow the company to operate the line, because that would put it in the position to collect toll from the nation for its ownership of this small section. The section should be taken over either by the New South Wales Government or the South Australian Government. Certainly it should not be left to the Silverton Tramway Company to exploit to the full. Even under the present set-up the company’s charges are higher than rail charges in South Australia. It costs more to send goods over that line from Broken Hill to the South Australian border than it does to send them from the South Australian border to the South Australian coast, although the distance from the border to the coast is ten times greater than the distance from Broken Hill to the border.
I hope that the Postmaster-General and the Minister for Shipping and Transport have listened to my remarks, and will consider the matters I have raised.
.- I address my remarks to the estimates for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Most honorable members have taken the trouble to study these estimates and the very informative annual report, and the financial statement that accompanies it, prepared by the Postmaster-General, and will agree that the picture that emerges is of an immense organization with assets of about £500,000,000, a turnover of about £1,000,000,000 and earnings in the last financial year of more than £105,000,000. I think it would meet with fairly general approval to say that the organization is not only immense, but has played a very large part in the development of this country, which has gone on with great speed since the war. It is also fair to say that from the evidence contained in the report on the general activities of the department there emerges a picture of efficient and active management of a department in which methods of increasing efficiency are introduced each year and in which, in spite of the general tendency for costs to rise, the costs of particular items have been, and are still being, progressively reduced. In this case all of us who, whether or not we like it, must accept some responsibility for the progress or lack of progress of the department, are entitled to be pleased about the results.
I want to refer, Sir, to one particular aspect of the activities of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department which benefits not only my electorate, but also many other electorates throughout Australia in which the areas of development have been greater than in some others. I want to say a few words about telephones. Here again, Sir, we get a picture of a very active organization whose work has more than kept pace with the development that has resulted from an increase of population and a rising standard of living over the last ten years. The annual report of the department shows that in 1949 there were, in round figures, 1,028,000 telephones in use in Australia, and that by 1959 this number had grown to about 2,056,000. In other words, there was an increase of 100 per cent, in ten years.
Speaking from memory, I think that the density of telephones per 100 of population was thirteen in 1944, and about twenty and one-half by 1959. The annual report shows that applications for telephones last financial year numbered 148,000, an increase of 12 per cent, over the number of applications received in the previous year. I make these points because I think it only fair and right that we should recognize the work which has been done, in a most capable fashion, by the department. Of course, we are also entitled to question the capacity of the department to meet the increase in the number of applications for telephones. Unless some further general improvements are introduced or more money is allocated - although I do not want to develop that theme - the department may not be able to cope with the increased demand. While the overall picture in regard to the department is good, clearly it can be challenged in regard to various aspects. Indeed, it is logical to have the doubts about various matters that I and other honorable members may have. The all-over picture is there and it is clear and positive, but in fact we represent all the different areas of the country.
I would think in relation to the development of the telephone services, an important and essential service in these days, that when we are scrutinizing the estimates of the department, the figures should be related, not only in regard to telephones but also all other activities of the department, to at least four areas of activity. The first of these would be the centre of the capital cities where great activity in the construction of new buildings is occurring, with consequent demands on postal services. The next area would be the old established residential and industrial areas where the position is more or less static. Then, we would have the rural areas, where the ebb and flow of population has been fairly marked over the last ten or fifteen years; and the last of the areas would be mostly outer suburban and inner rural areas where the bulk of the new population and new industry has gone. It seems to me, from the continuous but friendly battle .1 have had with the Postmaster-General’s Department since I have been in this place, that not the same attention is paid to the demands of these new areas as is paid to the demands of other areas, particularly the old established areas in the city proper.
I am constantly approached by people who have had applications for a telephone lodged with the department for three, four or five years. At the same time, I am constantly told that, while they have been waiting, others with a lower priority, on the face of it, have had a telephone installed. I had one exceptional case with a senior officer of a Commonwealth department. He had waited for some four years for a telephone, but had had to put the Commonwealth to considerable expense because one was not installed. His occupation required him to be on call over the week-end, and when he was wanted a Commonwealth car had to be sent some 20 or 25 miles to take him to his work. This was occasioned by the lack of a telephone. I took this matter up with the department. I must acknowledge that I received nothing but courtesy and cooperation from the Postmaster-General and the bead of the department in Victoria, and the matter was eventually adjusted. But these complaints are too numerous to dismiss. In relation to the total number of telephones installed or being installed each year, they are, of course, small, but in total number they are quite considerable and they represent a real problem.
Frequently, people have been jeopardized in their employment because they have been unable to obtain a telephone that is essential to them, and others have been forced to sell new homes in the new areas because it was impossible for them to obtain a telephone. It may be possible for some modification of the present programme to be made to meet this situation. However, in my opinion, the truth lies in the allocation of priorities by the department. I have no doubt that on the highest levels the policy on priorities is strictly observed, but I very much doubt whether, at the levels where the priorities are actually allocated, on the district basis, the priorities laid down by the department are consistently observed. While I have the opportunity, I ask the Postmaster-General to say what checks are made of district allocations of priorities. Who makes the checks and what sort of report is furnished? I frequently have correspondence with the department on this matter and on many occasions the replies have been unsatisfactory. I have been unable to establish proof to the contrary, but my impression is that areas of local inefficiency are being covered up. 1 would think that this sort of thing would justify the attention of the Postmaster-General and senior officers so that a different form of check at least could be introduced.
I turn now to another matter. The introduction of extended local service areas has been mentioned by other honorable members, and differing views on the merits and demerits of the scheme have been expressed. I want to refer the committee to an attitude that I think should be carefully scrutinized when we consider the allocation of considerable sums. I refer honorable members to page 5 of the Melbourne telephone directory, which purports to deal with the extended local service areas. The first statement made there is a propaganda and publicity statement. It says -
All subscribers benefit from the new telephone policy.
I would not dispute this statement if it said that in a general sense subscribers would benefit from the new telephone policy. As it reads now, all I can say is that a number of people in my electorate in the rural and outer metropolitan areas would not agree with it. They have a good deal of evidence to support their view. The Postmaster-General has said that anomalies would be examined and an effort would be made to correct the anomalies.
I shall give one or two illustrations of the anomalies that occur. The bulk of telephoning by people in the tourist areas some 40 or 50 miles from Melbourne and outside the areas of the metropolitan Elsa group is done by trunk line to Melbourne, from which most of their visitors come. Elsa has resulted in their telephone charges being greatly increased. Further, people in the nearer rural areas have had their charges inceased but without very much additional benefit. I have received a number of letters from a progress association in a fairly large town in mv electorate. I have been in touch with the Postmaster-General on this matter and he is still, I trust, investigating the position. One person at a meeting of this progress association said that to balance the additional annual charges, he would need to make an extra 300 local calls. It is extremely unlikely that a normal person living in these areas would make anything like that number of calls.
I do not wish to weary the committee with these matters of detail, but I think they are worth while mentioning in view of the assurance given by the Postmaster-General that anomalies will be adjusted. In all fairness, I want to say that if the policy is to provide the greatest good for the greatest number, there is no doubt that the Elsa scheme is worth while. But it has created areas of considerable disadvantage to individual subscribers and to areas of subscribers, and the department would be well justified in examining these areas with a view to correcting the anomalies that have resulted.
I have spoken of areas when dealing with questions of priorities and telephone services. I think it is logical to say that the control over varying areas is not equally efficient. Any one who looks at this problem, as I have over the years in trying to meet the needs of electors, would agree with my comment. I think some further examination at the top level should be made of district administrations to see that such administration is brought to a common high standard. Having said those things, I come back to where I started; the additional information, along the lines I have indicated - although it might be difficult to get - would be of great assistance to the committee in determining the sort of approach it should make to these very large and significant estimates.
– I propose to direct my remarks to the item Broadcasting and Television Services, and to say something about the twelfth annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The first thing I noticed was a very interesting fact in relation to the financial results of the commercial broadcasting stations. One would have thought that as the result of the advent of television on a competitive basis, the profits and popular appeal of the radio stations would have diminished; but when we look at the financial results we find the opposite to be the case. Television has been in existence in Australia now for nearly four years - for three complete financial years - and we find that for the year 1956-57 the profits of the 108 broadcasting stations in Australia amounted to £1,489,000; but three years later, in spite of intensive competition from the television stations, we find that the profits last year were £2,372,000. So, although one would have expected a diminution in the profits of the radio stations, such has not been the case.
However, an examination of the programmes put over the air nightly leads one inevitably to the explanation. The fact is that the radio programmes over the last three years have shown a marked deterioration in quality. As far as the commercial stations are concerned, one can turn from one station to another and find oneself always listening to one of the 40 top tunes.
– They are all right, are they not?
– Yes, they are all right; but I would suggest that some consideration be given to the adult section of the community in this matter. It is very amusing to hear the great excitement that the radio commentator puts into his voice when he tells his radio audience that the number about to be played was No. 37 on the national chart last week and is now No. 36. Apparently that is a matter of great national importance; and we get that kind of thing at all hours on every day of the week. I agree that we must make some provision for the musical tastes of the adolescents and teenagers, but some consideration should be given to the requirements of people of 30, 40 and 50 years of age or more. That is certainly not being done by the commercial radio stations at the present time.
It is true that the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board refers to this matter, but I feel that it airily skims over the problem. On page 19 of its report under the heading, “ Broadcasting - Programme Services “, the board states -
From casual listening it may appear that the programmes offered by commercial broadcasting stations lack variety and consist mainly of frequently repeated American popular tunes. However, the table of composition of commercial broadcasting programmes on page 20 shows that there is also a considerable amount of material of general interest and value.
I must be one of the unfortunate members of the community, because whenever I listen to any radio station in Melbourne - I think there are six of them - I consistently get this continual blaring of American bands, rock and roll, jive and all the rest of it. It is high time that some protest was made on behalf of the section of the community which, after all. plays some part in Australia’s progress - the older people. Whilst it is very nice to pander to the insistent demands of the teenagers, so far as their musical tastes are concerned, when all is said and done the articles being advertised over the air during those sessions are not, in the main, bought by teenagers, but by young married couples, middle-aged and elderly people.
– Many of the teenagers do not like the programmes to which you have referred, and they buy classical records.
– I am glad to hear from the honorable member for Fremantle that lots of teenagers do not like these programmes and that they buy classical records. But there seems to be a pandering on the part of the commercial stations to lower musical tastes. I hope that the Minister will take notice of my representations, because I am speaking for thousands of Australians who have mentioned the matter to me continually over the last couple of years. The reason why the profits of the broadcasting stations have risen so much over the last few years is because the programmes have deteriorated owing to the drivel we are expected to listen to every day.
I refer to these programmes because, again, we find that the radio stations are not doing what they should. On page 21 of its report the Australian Broadcasting Control Board refers to children’s programmes. In paragraph 52, it says -
While the Board appreciates that, in a period of rapid and perhaps fundamental change in broadcasting practices and in the habits of listeners, the broadcasters may find some difficulty in providing suitable programmes for children according to the spirit of the Standards, this does not excuse the large number of stations which almost completely ignore their responsibilities in this field. Certainly there is, in most cases, no financial reason for this, as will appear from the table showing the financial results of the operations of the commercial broadcasting service in 1958-59.
That is the profit to which I referred. The report continues -
The Board is reluctant to give directions to licensees as to the content of their programmes or the manner in which they should discharge their responsibilities, since these are primarily matters for the licensees, subect to compliance with the appropriate standards.
It is high time the board dropped its reluctance and gave definite instructions that it expects these stations to broadcast children’s programmes of a reasonably high standard. I think that the commercial broadcasting stations are deliberately ignoring the instructions of the board, and the intentions of this Parliament when it laid down the instructions in the original act. I would like to see the Minister make provision to ensure that children’s programmes shall be of a reasonably high standard and cover a reasonable number of hours per week.
In respect of advertising by commercial radio stations, we find that the board has laid down instructions as to the amount of time that can be devoted to advertising, but I think it is safe to say that those instructions are disregarded more than they are observed. The act lays down that in a programme not exceeding fifteen minutes there shall be not more than two and a half minutes of advertising, and in a fiveminute programme, not more than one minute, but I believe that in most instances the period devoted to advertising is greatly in excess of those limitations. The Australian Broadcasting Control Board recognizes this fact because in paragraph 59 of its report it says -
Even so the Board has had occasion to invite the attention of some stations to their failure to keep their advertising matter within specified limits.
I hope that the board will get tough with these people, because apparently they have got away with it for so long that they find they are getting more and more advertising in this way, as can be seen by the increased profits they have made over the last three years. The increased profits have been gained as the result of the deterioration in both the standards and duration of programmes. It is reasonable to expect the commercial broadcasting stations to do the fair thing by the Australian public. Whilst the board makes those comments, which are very significant because they are critical, they are of no earthly use unless the board’s instructions are enforced. I hope the Minister will have a discussion with the board with a view to ensuring that the broadcasting stations live *p to their responsibilities under the act.
I propose now to say something about television programmes and particularly their Australian content. This has been a matter of much discussion in this House over the years. On many occasions honorable members from this side of the chamber have expressed to the Government the view that it should see that there is a reasonable Australian content in all television programmes. When the bill for the purpose of establishing television was introduced in this Parliament we on this side pressed for the implementation of a quota system. While the Government opposed such a system, it assured us that it would see that a reasonable proportion of Australian material was included in television programmes. Actually this has not been done. The twelfth annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, for the year ended 30th June, 1960, gives a table showing the proportion of time occupied by programmes of Australian origin on commercial television stations. A perusal of the figures shows that in all cases the proportion of programmes of Australian origin declined substantially from June, 1957, to June, 1959. The figures are as follows: -
It can be seen that the commercial stations have not taken much notice of the Minister, although his remarks on this matter in the Parliament have demonstrated his optimism. There has been a progressive diminution in the Australian content of the programmes. The report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board says, in paragraph 99 -
Early in 1960 the Minister, after considering a report by the Board, invited the attention of all commercial television stations to the provisions of section 114 and expressed the view that at the end of three years operations the proportion of Australian programmes televised by any station should be not less than 40 per cent, of its total hours of transmission.
The Minister expressed this view, but I have given the figures, which show that not one station has reached the level of 40 per cent. and quite a number are far below it. As a matter of fact, despite the pressure on the commercial stations that was applied by the Minister - and it was not a very heavy pressure, unfortunately - there has been very little improvement. During the last twelve months ATN has increased the Australian content of its programmes by .6 per cent., TCN by 2 per cent., GTV by 1.7 per cent., and HSV by 1.7 per cent.
It would appear, therefore, that the Minister has quite a big job ahead of him. I think he has made a genuine effort to increase the Australian content, but unfortunately he does not seem to have had much success. He has made certain pronouncements, but 1 would like to see the Minister get tough with the stations and see that Australian artists and Australian culture are not thrust aside in the interests of commercial profit for the television stations. After all, we cannot accept any statement by the commercial television operators that they are forced to show more American programmes because they can buy them more cheaply. I know they can buy them cheaply, but I direct the attention of the committee to the fact that although in 1957-58 the television stations incurred a loss of £56,000, a year later they enjoyed a profit of £959,000. It cannot be said that they are running in the red and therefore have to buy cheaper programmes.
I suggest that the Minister must seriously consider insisting on a much higher Australian content in television programmes. Even when the stations claim that the Australian content is about 38 per cent., we find that the Australian programmes include quiz sessions, amateur talent quests, news and weather sessions, sporting sessions, talks, interviews, cooking and dress-making demonstrations and various audience participation features. These cannot be said to be covered by the requirement in the act regarding the production and presentation of Australian television programmes. What we want is the inclusion in the programmes of more Australian artists. Is this nation going to be led by the nose and forced, in season and out, to look only at programmes consisting of importations from America? It is easy for commercial stations to present American programmes because of their low cost. This country has erected tariff barriers to enable Australian industries to compete reasonably with their counterparts overseas, but what do we find in the case of imported television programmes?
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I would like to make only one comment concerning the remarks of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird). He referred to the reduced Australian content of television programmes, and he cited figures which do indicate, of course, that the actual proportion of Australian material in those programmes has fallen. But this statement does not give the complete picture, because it might lead one to believe that the actual number of hours devoted to Australian programmes in any one week had been reduced. I understand that this has not been the case. The number of hours service given by the television stations has been greatly increased. The extra hours have been filled in very largely with imported programmes, and there has been no actual addition to the Australian content of the programmes. It would be wrong to infer, however, from the honorable member’s remarks, that there has been a positive reduction in the number of hours devoted to Australian programmes.
I would like to commend the PostmasterGeneral’s Department on the way in which it has, in recent years, met the twin challenges to provide better telephone services and, at the same time, to cater for the developmental needs of a rapidly expanding community. However, this rapid development, and the changes that have been introduced in order to provide a better service, have at times brought with them difficulties and inconveniences for certain subscribers. I know that the department does what it can to overcome these difficulties, but there are one or two matters I would like to bring to the notice of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) at this time.
The first concerns the extended local service area system. I understand that this system was introduced as the first step in a programme which would eventually result in a service enabling any person to call any subscriber in Australia simply by dialling that subscriber’s number. But I think it was clear from the statement made by the PostmasterGeneral, in announcing the introduction of Elsa, and from subsequent statements, that the system was designed, in part at least - and, from the subscriber’s point of view, the main part - to bring the benefits of a metropolitan local call service to many people in rural areas. In other words, it would enable people in country districts to be connected readily to reasonable business centres in their districts. This result has not always been achieved.
I do not suggest that this has been because of any ill will on the part of the department. I understand that there may have been considerable difficulty in drawing up the various zones. However, in my own district in western Victoria no less than twenty completely separate submissions, supported by local councils and by a great many residents, have been made with regard to Elsa. In one case a particular area mav have been included in a zone centering on a town seldom visited by the inhabitants of that area, while being cut off from a town the services of which are frequently used by those inhabitants. In another area we may find a complete zone having no sizeable town that the people in the zone can call on the local service basis. When we remember that trunk-line charges were increased about the same time as Elsa was introduced, it becomes all the more important for us to make sure that the people in rural areas have reasonable and sensible access, on the local service basis, to a decent business centre.
There are two ways in which the department may be able to correct some of these anomalies. T can understand why it has taken some time to provide solutions to the various problems. I realize that if you alter one zone you must alter all the other zones in the vicinity, and you cannot then be sure where the repercussions will end. I appreciate that because of this, difficulties have arisen and perhaps delays have occurred in giving answers to some of the questions that have been raised.
There are two ways of overcoming the difficulty when people in one zone cannot ring the town or business centre on a local call basis. The first is to juggle zones, which has its difficulties and, because of those difficulties, there may well be some zones which, even after juggling, still cannot be connected to a business centreTherefore, in those cases where a change of zones will not connect people to the business centre which is the natural one for them, I ask the Postmaster-General to allow those people to ring through the second zone into the third zone where their usual business centre may lie. If the Minister approves this suggestion, rural subscribers will receive the full benefits that the department intended they should receive following the introduction of this system.
The other matter concerns the provision of television in western Victoria. I think it was during the debate on the Estimates last year that I spoke very strongly in favour of making television licences available to independent companies. I still believe that where possible independent companies should be given television licences, but not flagrantly to the detriment of television viewers.
– What do you mean by independent companies?
– If the honorable member will listen for a moment perhaps he will understand what I have in mind. Two applications were made for a television licence for the Ballarat area. One application came from an independent company which, in large measure, is sponsored by people in Ballarat. The other came from an off-shoot of GTV9. It may be thought that because TCN in Sydney has a controlling interest in GTV9, that would rule out the second applicant, but I understand that the managing director of GTV9 has indicated to the department, or to the board, that his company would be prepared to organize another company to serve this area, and to keep his company’s shareholding in the second organization to less than the 15 per cent, which is required by the act. Therefore, there would be no contravention of the act.
It is well to consider the two applications, one from an independent company with shareholders centered mainly at Ballarat, and the other from GTV9 which has undertaken to organize a television station for this area. The independent company has stated that it is prepared to offer 30 hours viewing a week in the first year, 35 hours a week in the second year and 40 hours a week in the third year. GTV9 is prepared to offer 75 hours viewing a week in the first year.
The so-called independent company made it clear that it did not want to proceed with its application if a second licence was granted, lt wanted a complete and absolute monopoly of the area. GTV9 does not mind any competition that will arise if two licences are issued.
The worst aspect of the application which was submitted by the independent company relates to the site which the company said would be preferable for the erection of a station. It wants to erect a station on Mount Buninyong, which is in very close proximity to Ballarat. But GTV9 wants to erect a station on Mount Buangor, which is about 35 miles west of Ballarat. This would bring about 60,000 or 80,000 additional viewers within range of adequate reception. If a station were erected on Mount Buninyong, these people - would not receive any transmissions from it. Why does the independent company want to place the station so close to Ballarat? It is well known that, at present, more advertising is available in Melbourne than the two commercial stations there can handle. If a station were placed on Mount Buninyong it would be possible to filter a service into Melbourne so that in effect, there would be three commercial stations serving the people in the metropolitan area. If this were the position, a good deal of advertising would be attracted to the station. I sincerely hope that neither the Minister nor the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will consider granting a licence in these circumstances. We do not want to give additional service to the metropolitan area, which already is well served. The purpose of this operation surely should be to bring as many new people as possible into a viewing area in which they will receive an adequate and satisfactory standard of reception.
The independent company, in submitting its application, completely ignored this criterion. Its intention to place a station on Mount Buninyong clearly is an underhand way of trying to get Melbourne advertising which would not be available to it if the station were placed on Mount
Buangor. As I have said, a station on Mount Buangor would not receive the benefit of Melbourne advertising but would extend the benefit of television to some 60,000 or 80,000 people.
The attitude of the two applicants, as brought out in the hearings before the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, clearly indicates which company would give the consumers the best service and which company, to my mind, has the interests of th; viewers at heart as opposed to its own particular and immediate interests.
I have stated that we should not support independence at the expense of the viewers. This is most important. 1 am in favour basically of an independent company getting a licence if it will play fair and give the people an adequate service. These circumstances epitomize, in a way, something on a much wider scale throughout the community. Very often a large concern gives better and more efficient service to consumers than does a small and possibly inefficient organization that wants to create a monopoly for itself because it cannot stand up to competition. I suggest that the independent company should have a good look at this matter generally and revise its ideas in regard to the programmes that it would be prepared to give to the people in western Victoria. It should also revise its ideas in regard to the siting of the proposed station so that a more honest estimate of the best site for the people in the area can be made. Further, it should revise its ideas in regard to competition.
For the reasons that I have given 1 oppose, as strongly as I can, the site which has been chosen by the independent company. I oppose the granting of a monopoly in this area to any company, be it independent or otherwise, and I oppose giving a licence to the independent company at the expense of the people of western Victoria. It is clear that the best interests of the people in that area would be served if two licences were given, even though the independent company has said that it would not be interested in obtaining a licence if GTV9 were granted a licence also. If two licences cannot be given for this area - my opinion is that the district is populous enough and rich enough to support two stations - clearly, on the statements of the two applicants, the people in the area would receive the best service from GTV9 or a company organized by that firm. The worst service would be- given by the independent company standing alone. I repeat that basically my instincts in matters of this kind would lead me to favour the independent concern, but my prejudice will not carry me to the extent of supporting the independent company if this will be at the expense of the people in western Victoria.
.- I want to devote my remarks to a consideration of the Post Office estimates. Because the Post Office is described in the Estimates as a business undertaking, it is not possible to look at this matter properly without looking also at the revenue side as well as the expenditure side of the department’s operations. The precise position of the department has been clearly stated in the Budget papers which have been circulated for the use of honorable members. It is estimated that in this financial year revenue will exceed expenditure by not less than £22,000,000. Nowhere is it more clearly shown that this Government is blatantly using the Post Office as a taxing machine. The Budget papers give the financial history of the Post Office from its inception in 1901 to the end of June, 1960. The astonishing thing is that over that period of 60 years the difference between the revenue and expenditure of the Post Office has amounted to only £11,000,000; but in this year alone the surplus of revenue over expenditure is no less than £22.000,000.
I suggest that the Parliament should have given a little more attention to this matter than it has done. It was all very well for the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) to say in his Budget speech last year that he intended to set up a committee to investigate that matter. That committee is really only a whitewashing committee to find an explanation for the Government - the Government has not got one - for the increases that were made in the postal charges in October last year. Unfortunately, we have not yet got the report of the Postmaster-General’s Department for the financial year 1959-60. The report for the financial year ended 30th June, 1959, showed, on what it called a commercial basis, a profit of £6,000,000. Despite that profit, this Government put excessive charges on telephone services, letters and telegrams amounting in all to something like £20,000,000. The results clearly bear out the prophecy that I made nearly twelve months ago that the commercial accounts of the Post Office for the year would show a commercial profit in the region of £20,000,000. Nothing shows more clearly the fact that the last increases made in postal and other charges, which affected everybody in the community, are just another way of putting £20,000,000 into Consolidated Revenue.
I invite honorable members to consider the Budget papers, which give details, not only of the revenue and expenditure of the Post Office, but also of the history of the capital works of the Post Office since its inception. At 30th June, I960, £442,000,000 had been expended by the Post Office on capital works. Of that £442,000,000, an amount of £402,000,000 came from the revenue of the Commonwealth and not from the loan accounts. We on this side of the chamber believe that capital works in the community should be financed out of revenue so far as possible, and there should not be recourse to loansbecause attached to loans is an interest burden. A major part of the finance for the capital works of the Post Office - £402,000,000 out of £442,000,000 at the end of June, 1959 - had been supplied out of revenues raised by the Commonwealth.
Now, the Commonwealth Government can do one of two things; and those things are all that the committee set up by the Government can recommend. It is up to the Government itself to follow the recommendations of its committee or not as it chooses. Ultimately, what is charged in the Post Office depends on the policy of the Government. When members of the Public Accounts Committee were examining this matter, we were faced with the amazing network of the Post Office. You would ask yourself, “Why does a letter cost 5d. to post? Why does a telephone call cost 4d. or a telegram so much a word?” When you looked at the financial results of the Post Office, you noticed that over the years the practice had been, roughly, to make the revenue of the Post Office match the expenditure. . That is borne out by these figures I have cited from the Budget papers for the first 60 years of Post Office history in this country. Over the whole of that period, the balance of revenue over expenditure amounted to only £11,000,000.
The policy followed by various governments over the years was that the Post Office should pay its way; but in the last financial year a change was made by this Government. It increased charges by an aggregate amount of more than £20,000,000, and the result is clearly reflected in the papers we have before us. Revenue has amounted to £135,000,000 and expenditure to £113,000,000. That leaves a surplus of £22,000,000. But we have had no explanation whatever from the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) or the Treasurer as to why this has been done, beyond the fact that a committee was set up in October and it will find a reason. The fact is that the committee can find only one of two reasons. It can notionally charge a sum for the capital used in the Post Office which came from revenue and which bore no interest payments or it can put a notional charge of 4 or 5 per cent. on the money. The committee might find that explanation to justify the £20,000,000 difference. The committee could say - and this has been half enunciated as a theory - that the present users of the postal services should be asked to pay a little extra to pay for some one else’s extensions to-morrow.
I say that both those approaches are erroneous and fallacious. The Government should face this problem for itself. It does not need a committee to tell it what to do. The Government should say that it is using the Post Office as a taxing machine to provide £20,000,000 a year. The impost is being borne by everybody in the country who uses a telephone or a postal service. We have heard arguments about the new charges and new methods. The new charging was not necessary at all, and that fact should be shot home to the responsible people - that is, to this Government. No one but the Government is responsible for the policy of the Post Office.
No matter what the Government calls its committee and regardless of whether it is loaded with accountants. Post Office officials and Treasury officials, the committee can reach only two solutions, neither of which fits the picture at all. There might have been, some sense in setting up the committee before the Government decided to increase charges, but how absurd it is to set up a committee to find an explanation after the decision has been made. That is the situation which faces us now in our contemplation of the Post Office estimates.
When the report of the Post Office for 1958- 59 came out in December last year, editors blazoned across the pages of their newspapers the news that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department had made a profit of £6,000,000.. I can give the press a tip in advance, and the newspapers can write the story now, that the Post Office will show a profit of at least £20,000,000 for 1959- 60; that is, unless the Postal Department slips in a bookkeeping entry to the effect that £20.000,000 has been taken away because it is now an interest charge on the capital moneys invested in the Post Office which came out of revenue and for which there is no warrant. If that happens, I want the people to understand that it is a mere bookkeeping device to cover up an unjust tax of £20,000,000.
– Did not the honorable member say that he wanted the Post Office to be run as a business enterprise?
– I believe the Post Office should be treated as a business enterprise. I believe also that because the Post Office is a public undertaking, it should aim to give its services in the cheapest possible way. If it is in the fortunate position - which is not open to private enterprise - to finance its capital without an interest charge, why should it not do so? That, basically, is what has been done, because the Budget papers show that in respect of capital £402,000,000 of £442,000,000 has been raised out of revenues derived from other sources or has come out of the ploughed back profits of the Post Office itself. The Post Office’s services ought not to be subject to any capital charge. The Government is giving it in the aggregate about £20,000,000 a year less than it needs. I suggest that there is no case whatever for the increased charges that were imposed in October of last year.
I rise at this stage merely to point out that. here the figures are exposed in all. their cruel nakedness. The Government cannot hide the fact that, merely on the revenue basis of cash received as against expenditure made, there is a surplus of £22,000,000. The commercial basis cannot make very much difference. It may bring it down to about £20,000,000. Perhaps there will be £1,000,000 more or £1,000,000 less, but there will be near enough to £20,000,000 of profit on what has been accepted as the commercial basis of accounting for the Post Office ever since its inception in 1901. That is all I have to say on the matter, Mr. Chairman. I feel that these things ought to be said, because the Government has blatantly used the Post Office as a taxing machine.
– Mr. Chairman, I do not propose to take a lot of time at this stage of the debate.
– Hear, hear!
– I am glad that I have received the approval of one Opposition member immediately.
I feel that 1 should deal with several matters which have been brought up by various honorable members. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) touched on the difference between the concessional freights on Leigh Creek coal and the freights generally charged by the Commonwealth Railways. The concessions on Leigh Creek coal total £766,321. The honorable member chose to remark that this amount should have been incorporated in the earnings of the Commonwealth Railways, but I think he was answered very effectively by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), who pointed out the inaccuracies that could develop in the accounts if that method were adopted.
I cannot quite understand why the Deputy Leader of the Opposition chose to devote his attention to that aspect of the operations of the Commonwealth Railways, because the proposal that he makes is regarded as being of doubtful legality. The proposition that the difference between the amount actually paid in freight and the normal freight rates should be regarded as earnings has received some attention from the Auditor-General. I point out that at the present time the matter is being considered with the intention of arriving at a reasonable rate to be charged for the transport of coal in bulk from Leigh Creek.
When that is determined, the amount of reimbursement can be calculated. I see that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has now entered the chamber. I point out to him that until the reimbursement can be calculated, in all the circumstances, the proper method is to regard the amount given in concessions as not being earnings, and I am emphatic that the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner was correct in not regarding the amount as being earnings.
– Has the Minister mentioned in my absence the AttorneyGeneral’s opinion?
– No. I have mentioned only that the Auditor-General had given the matter some attention and that it was considered desirable to keep the amount represented by freight concessions separate from the earnings and to regard it as a possible subsidy. To treat it as earnings is to give a wrong picture of the situation.
References have been made to Mr. Hannaberry, who was Commonwealth Railways Commissioner for so many years. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to his record as a most outstanding and excellent administrator. Mr. Hannaberry made quite a number of forwardlooking and progressive moves, not the least being the complete dieselization of the Trans-Australian Railway. In retrospect, we can see that this has made the line a profitable undertaking, on the basis of the present accounting system, which, after all, is comparable with that which has been in use all along. By reducing costs, dieselization has enabled this line to show profits. Indeed, this development has been a most important factor. Then there are other things for which the credit goes to Mr. Hannaberry - the development of the use of welded rails and the introduction of the pick-a-back service, which enables motor transports to be placed on the train at Port Pirie for carriage to Kalgoorlie, from where they are driven to Perth.
I should not like it to be thought that the moving of this excellent administrator to another occupation and the appointment of Mr. Smith as acting commissioner have been in any way to the detriment of the Commonwealth Railways. Mr. Smith is a mechanical, electrical and production engineer who has had long and most meritorious experience in railway administration. It is important to remember, I think, that Mr. Hannaberry, who is such a dedicated railway man, recommended him very highly and had experience of his capabilities over almost ten years. Mr. Smith is proving a worthy successor to Mr. Hannaberry, as has been demonstrated by his efforts in introducing the method of laying prefabricated track and in passenger promotion. On the passenger promotion side, he has just inaugurated what is known as the Wildflower Special. That is a train which travels between Port Pirie and Kalgoorlie on a slower schedule than usual. Passengers are able to take their own cars on the train and reduced rates are charged for fares and freight. The train arrives at Parkeston at about 7 a.m. and passengers are able to take their cars off the train and drive along the excellent road from Kalgoorlie to Perth, which they can reach easily on the same day on which they leave the train. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating, of course. This special train has proved remarkably popular. One of the innovations in conjunction with it has been the use of flat-top cars extended at the sides so that a greater numbers of cars may be carried.
I mention these things just in order to indicate that the Commonwealth Railways has a live outlook on the development of its’ services As I have indicated, the new’ developments have proved extremely satisfactory. A further advance will be the arrival, shortly, of air-conditioned passenger cars from Japan, which will be of outstanding benefit for transcontinental passenger services. It is thought that they will enable much more comfortable accommodation to be provided for passengers travelling to and from Alice Springs, also, because some of the cars at present used on the transcontinental line can be transferred to the Alice Springs line. That matter is now being investigated. I am sure that the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) will be particularly interested in this proposal in view of his obvious enthusiasm for the development of better railway facilities to serve the Territory.
– Will the carriages which are at present used on a line of 4 ft. 8i in. gauge be modified for service on the narrower gauge?
– Yes. Since the earliest days of the operations of the Commonwealth Railways the splendid spirit of the staff has always been obvious. The men who are concerned in running the railways have a morale that is completely their own and they have a tremendous interest in their work. This is due to the leadership that has been given by those in executive positions who still maintain a very close and sympathetic interest in the welfare of their staff. It is necessary only to be alongside the men at their work or to speak to them to understand why the Commonwealth Railways is successfully competing with other forms of transport.
Mention of Alice Springs reminds me that the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) made quite a number of references to the development of new railways in the Territory. No one could fail to be impressed by his enthusiasm for his project but, as usual, the question of cost emerges. Having checked on the submissions that he made, I find that at least £25,000,000 would be required to develop the railways in the way that he urged. As we are now in the closing hours of the debate on the Estimates, perhaps I might point out to the committee that an amount of £300,000,000 would be needed to adopt the suggestions that have been made by members of the Opposition in regard to various departments. An amount of £100,000,000 for education was one of the figures mentioned. An amount of £100,000,000 was as nothing in the estimation of those members who sought improved roads. For the suggested improvements in social services, perhaps £50,000,000 would be required. Taking suggested expenditure on railways into account, we get a total figure of about £300,000,000. Obviously, we must look at the matter in two ways. Is each project that is advanced to be eliminated in favour of another as the discussion of the Estimates goes on, or is that total amount to be added to the Budget if all these projects are accepted as feasible? It is easy to point to the development which would result and the value that would accrue to the country if all these things were done, but we must have regard to the realistic side of the matter.
As I have said, an amount of at least £25,000,000 would be required to develop the railways to the degree suggested by the honorable member for the Northern Territory. We have to look at railway standardization and railway development generally in order to determine the order of priority in which projects are to be undertaken. Obviously, they cannot all be carried out together. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) suggested that there is a resistance by the Government and by the Minister to the development of the railways. We know, of course, that he is a very sensitive soul where railways are concerned. He has been alongside them all his life and he is prepared to champion their cause. I point out to honorable members that the railways are really making progress. The south-eastern division of South Australia has been converted from the narrow gauge to the 5-ft. 3- in. gauge. Some criticism was expressed by the honorable member for Blaxland because the conversion was not to the 4-ft. 8½-in. gauge, but that criticism was answered very effectively by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes), who pointed out that in the circumstances of the moment the conversion undertaken was more economical and there would be more immediate value in it.
I should like honorable members not to overlook the standardization of the AlburyMelbourne line. It should be emphasized that the Commonwealth Government is meeting seven-tenths of the cost of between £10,000,000 and £11,000,000 for the standardization of this line. That is probably one of the most outstanding advances in railway standardization that could be undertaken. I think it will be the most important factor in proving whether or not railway standardization will be as valuable to Australia as has been so often claimed. As it has been claimed that complete standardization of the line between Sydney and Melbourne will lower costs and reduce transport time so much, I feel that it will be one of the major factors in proving whether or not standardization will be as good as so many of its champions have asserted.
– Are you going to wait till you see how the standardization from
Wodonga to Melbourne works out before commencing standardization of the line from Broken Hill to Port Pirie?
– I should not like to express myself definitely on that at the moment. The Albury-Melbourne standardization will undoubtedly be finished towards the end of next year. If it is decided to standardize the section from Broken Hill to Port Pirie - the decision has not been made yet - a commencing date will have to be determined. In answer to the interjection, I say that that would not be influenced by the Albury-Melbourne line. The Broken Hill to Port Pirie line is under- consideration at the present time. Some criticism has been offered about the delay. A lot of money is involved, as I have said so often, and the details must be thoroughly considered. Progress has been made and. as I have indicated in answer to questions, at a not far distant date there should be a definite conclusion on the standardization of the line from Broken Hill to Port Pirie.
Some criticism of the Premier of South Australia has been offered. I think that of all people he can be considered to be completely interested in his own State. He hasdone very great things for South Australia and I think his impatience at times can be accepted as an indication of his desire to get things done. In myposition, I have an appreciation of his qualities,but that does not cause me to overlook Com-, monwealth-wide responsibilities. I do not feel that there is any resentment when censure is offered of what are called political manoeuvres in relation to this matter. We can sift out the things that should be done by us and I am quite certain that the Premier of South Australia has enough interest in his own State to do the very best that he can for it, and that he appreciates that we are doing our best on the Commonwealth side.
– Have you taken up with him the matter of road competition with the Commonwealth Railways between Port Pirie and Port Augusta?
-No. I have noticed reference to it in the commissioner’s report.
– And in reports for years back.
– Yes. I have not yet taken that matter up with him personally. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) referred to the Silverton tramway. I think his choice of words was unfortunate. He said that to leave the line between Broken Hill and the South Australian border under the control of the Silverton Tramway Company would be - to use his own words - like giving Ned Kelly a licence to rob the coach. To date, the Silverton tramway has been a most efficient and helpful link in. our railway organization. Whatever the circumstances in the future may be, I feel confident that there will be ways and means of making any requisite adjustments. I cannot comment further on the matter at present, except to repeat that so far the Silverton tramway has provided an outstandingly efficient service. 1 am sure that when he reflects upon the matter the honorable member for Darling will feel, as I do, that the company will not hold the system to ransom as he suggests. 1 say again that the Commonwealth Railways is one of the most efficient and progressive of the railway systems in Australia to-day.
.- I wish to address myself to one or two matters related to the estimates for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. First, I wish to refer to a matter which has been mentioned quite often and in connexion with which the Minister has not as yet acceded to our requests, although he has sympathetically received them. As the matter is urgent, and as it refers to deserving people, I refer to it again now in order to keep it fresh in the Minister’s mind, in the hope that at a very early date he will see his way clear to grant the requests which have been made to him on previous, occasions, and which I shall renew to-day.
I refer to the free installation of rent-free telephones for blind persons in Australia. This matter was first raised in. I think, 1 946. I do not absolve any Government from the responsibility of not granting this very worthy request. No doubt various explanations of why it should not or could not be acceded to have been advanced through the years, but that is no reason why we should not remedy now what 1 consider to be an injustice visited upon blind persons by refusing to give them this essential amenity.
Some time ago, the Minister received a deputation which I introduced to ‘him in connexion with the matter. That deputation had the support of members of all parties. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) - members of the Liberal Party and the Country Party - and other members of this Parliament have expressed their support of the proposal. The request of the Blind Communications Committee is that telephones be provided, free of installation charges, and free of rental, in the homes of blind persons. To support its request, the committee says, quite rightly, that a telephone in the home is not a luxury. This is especially so in the home of a blind person. Those who understand the sufferings of people deprived of sight suggest that a telephone is almost a pair of eyes in the home of a blind person. It is a means of contact and of being contacted. It is a means by which many blind people may supplement their pensions. It is a way by which they can offset the cost of living - and the cost of living of a blind person is far in excess of that of a sighted person. Another reason why blind persons require telephones in their homes is that a public telephone is not easily accessible to the blind. It will be appreciated, therefore, that the lack of a telephone causes considerable inconvenience and indeed hardship and suffering to these people. I repeat that a telephone, which is a necessity in the ordinary home, is an urgent need in a blind person’s home.
Some time ago I asked the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) how many blind persons there were, and I requested other statistics relating to them. I have already placed that information before the Postmaster-General. In an answer to a question asked, by me, the Minister for Health stated that at 30th June, 1959, there were 5,088 blind persons in Australia. That figure is based on the number of recipients of pensions from the Department of Social Services. Of that number, 2,543 were males and 2,089 were females. Of the 5,088 blind persons, 2,183 were married. 1,575 were single, 874 were widowed and 406 were maintained in homes for blind persons. Allowing for those who are married and for those who already have a telephone provided, and taking into account that others may not require a telephone, there would not be a great number of blind persons involved, and therefore the cost of providing free telephones would not amount to a mammoth sum. I suggest that the provision of these telephones might well be considered a necessary adjunct to our social services programme. It would seem that not more than a maximum of 2,000 people would require them. 1 therefore urge the Government to give further consideration to this matter.
It is interesting to note that already certain benefits are given to blind persons by the Government. For example, they receive free radio and television licences. On 31st August, 1959, free radio licences had been granted to 2,690 blind persons and free television licences to 265 of these unfortunate people. Some people might feel inclined to scoff at giving television licences to the blind, but, as the Minister knows, the deputation which I introduced to him pointed out that some people are blind, but can see a blurr on the screen and in that way enjoy some form of entertainment. That, in its way, is of great benefit. If television can be of benefit in that way, of how much greater benefit can the provision of a telephone be for these people? I mention radio and television licences merely to emphasize the point that the Government has already established a principle which might well be extended by making telephones available to blind persons free of installation costs and free of rental. 1 have said that this claim has the support of members of all parties in this Parliament, lt is not a suggestion emanating solely from the Opposition. Many honorable members from both sides of the Parliament have been invited to attend meetings and other organized functions to consider this claim. I have attended a number of such meetings and that experience has convinced me that no one could fail to be greatly impressed by the sadness of the plight of people who are entirely deprived of sight. Some of these people have been blind all their lives while others did have their sight at some time or other. All of these people would derive great benefit from the provision of telephones. Some months ago I was in the Sydney Domain when a woman stood up and spoke at a meeting. She was perfectly attired. She spoke well indeed and had no notes. She spoke sincerely and put forward an excellent case for the granting of the assistance I have suggested. And that woman had been without sight for the best part of 25 or 30 years! I am certain that if they heard the submissions put forward by that woman and other blind speakers, honorable members on all sides of the Parliament would agree that this should be considered entirely as a non-party matter. I am certain that they would all agree that it is only just that this essential service should be granted to these unfortunate people.
Perhaps one of the reasons why the request has been ignored by successive governments is that there are so few people involved that it is not considered important. It is possible that if their numbers were big enough to create a pressure group, the Government would more readily appreciate the necessity for this concession. I might point out here that the Government grants remissions of taxation for donations to certain causes, some of which must have comparatively little support, and in that way has set another precedent for doing justice to these deserving people, who are not strong numerically. I make this urgent plea for reconsideration of the request.
I do not wish to introduce politics into this in the real sense of the word, but, in fairness, I think I should mention that the cost of telephones has increased tremendously since this request was first made. I remind honorable members that it was first made about fifteen years ago, in 1945 or 1946. At that time no installation fee was charged, the rental charge was lower than now and the cost of calls was a minor item compared with the cost at the present time. The pension being what it is to-day, it would cause tremendous hardship to require these people to meet installation costs and to pay rent for a telephone. According to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who spoke a few minutes ago, the Government has a surplus of revenue over expenditure amounting to about £22,000,000. I suppose it would not cost more than a few thousands of pounds to provide this essential requirement of the blind people for whom I plead. Quite frankly, I hardly think that the amount would be missed. I am sure that if the Minister looked through his estimates he could find some unnecessary provision and make the amount available for telephone services of the kind that I have suggested.
I mention this matter because I think it is worthy of consideration. I do not like raising it persistently but history of success shows that success in achieving things is attributable, in the main, to the process of constantly putting forward a case for greater benefits. Consequently, I continually raise this matter in the hope that the Minister and the Government will see their way clear to granting the request. Under date 26th July, 1960, the Blind Communications Committee wrote to the Postmaster-General over the signature of Mrs. J. Black, honorary secretary, and Mr. H. Wilston, president, as follows: -
The above Committee met on Monday( 25th inst., to discuss further activities with a view to obtaining its objective of concessions for the blind as regards telephones.
On the 4th December, 1959, the Committee wrote to you seeking information in respect of their deputation on the 16th September. 1959. Receipt of the letter was acknowledged by your secretary.
At a Public Meeting held on 26th June, 1960, a resolution was carried by sighted and blind persons and conveyed to you by courtesy of Mr. F. Daly, M.H.R.
After our interview with you on the 16th September, we left Canberra with the opinion that in principle, verbally, you were in accordance with our objective. That opinion was conveyed to the Committee on our return, and they feel that no further activities should be undertaken until hearing from you.
We are aware that an investigation as to a means of granting concessions to the blind takes considerable time but feel sure there is a way round this problem that would give to the blind something vital to their needs.
We would appreciate a reply as to the progress of the investigation, and if not 100 per cent, in favour, would welcome a suggestion from you as to how we could achieve our objective.
The Minister has not yet replied to that letter. It is unlike him to fail to reply. I should like him to inquire whether the letter has been received in his department. If it has not gone astray, perhaps he could let me have a reply, because I was recently told that he had not acknowledged the letter. If that is so, T feel that it is an oversight. The Blind Communications Committee would appreciate a reply. Again, I emphasize that I raise these matters because I feel that it is necessary to do so. I do not intend to go over the volu minous correspondence which the Minister has received and which has been placed before me.
In summing up, let me say that 1 do not think anybody can deny the justice of these claims. I feel certain that the Minister is in accord with the principle involved. I know that costs have to be considered, but this involves an extremely small amount in view of the number of persons affected. The committee does not want these concessions for blind people who are well placed. Those who have sufficient means will pay for telephones. But it is submitted, that, as a first step, the concession should be given to those who are entirely dependent on a pension and who require a telephone service. This will ensure that the concession is received by those who really need it and not by those who can afford a telephone service.
Some blind people are very well off financially, but I do not know of any greater disability than to be denied sight. It involves great suffering and tragedy. Even on wet days when it is difficult to get around, blind people come from all over Sydney to attend a meeting at which individual cases are submitted. Any honorable member who cared to attend one of these meetings and see the trouble and inconvenience to which these people go in order to make their submissions, could not fail to be impressed. It would impress even the hardest hearted Minister with the need to do something about this matter.
I make this appeal, therefore, in quite a non-political way. I do not seek to excuse previous governments for what they did or did not do- But the Minister might well consider the proposals that I have put forward and give this relief to people who suffer from loss of sight. It would assist them to overcome the hardship of high costs and perhaps ease the suffering associated with living in the way they do. It would be a real contribution to the welfare of many people who are not so well off as ourselves.
.- I want to correct something which I said in my previous speech. The estimates under consideration relate, of course, to the year ending June, 1961, and the increases in postal charges did not become operative until October, 1959. My remarks concerning the profit of £20,000,000 referred to the financial year ending June. 1961. As I have said, unless the Government finds a device for transferring £20,000,’000 out of the accounts as they traditionally have been kept, when the report for the year ended 30th June, 1961, becomes available it is likely that the commercial profit will be considerably higher than in the previous year.
– I rise to order. Is this a personal explanation?
– It is not. Surely I am entitled to speak a second time on these Estimates,
– I rise to order. 1 point out, Mr. Chairman, that the honorable member for Lyne sought the call.
– The point of order is not upheld.
– I rose to my feet and was given the call. I am merely endeavouring to correct what was an honest misrepresentation concerning a particular financial year. My remarks applied to the year ending June, 1961, to which the estimates before the committee relate. It is patent from the figures as published that, unless the Government finds an explanation of some sort, there will be a profit of about £20.000,000 on Postal Department undertakings up to the end of June, 1961. These estimates clearly point to a surplus of revenue over expenditure of about £22,000,000.
I rose to speak on this occasion because although “ Hansard “ correctly reports what I said, I intended to refer to the current financial year. I hope that my friends, the experts opposite, will understand the point that I am making. Probably, they already know the commercial profit for the year ended June, 1960 and perhaps the PostmasterGeneral will give us a preview of this to-night. I think that the figure will be considerably above that for the previous year because the increased charges began in October ,and the revenues would have gone up without the expenditure going up correspondingly. This will be reflected in the commercial results. The figure in the Budget showed that, on a cash basis, the expenditure was £107,000,000 and the revenue was £121,000,000, a cash surplus of about £14,000,000. The commercial figure is generally a few million pounds below that. Probably it will be in the region of £10,000,000.
I trust that these remarks will be accepted as a modification rather than a correction of my earlier speech. My prophecy related to a financial year other than that which I mentioned.
.- First of all, before going on to the estimates before the committee, perhaps it would be appropriate for me to express appreciation of the executive and staff of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in my electorate. I have had from them a degree of courtesy and assistance that has been beneficial in the work that we have been doing in that area. Sometimes, we do not get the opportunity to express our appreciation to such people. Therefore, I should like to express my appreciation for the assistance that they have given.
With regard to the estimates before the committee, I want to speak mainly on matters concerning the Postmaster-General’s Department I think that the Australian Broadcasting Commission has done an excellent job in the broadcasting sphere and in the new medium of television. We have an ideal set-up in Australia in our dual system of commercial and national stations. They are able to provide a service to the community by working one with the other. The commercial radio stations are able to do things that the national stations cannot do, and in turn the national stations are able to do things that the commercial stations are unable to do. The set-up is ideal, and I pay a tribute to the work of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the broadcasting and television fields.
I support .the suggestion made this afternoon by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) regarding the control of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Possibly some honorable members will recall that I made this suggestion to the PostmasterGeneral in the form of a question some time ago. I understand, of course, that it has also been made on other occasions in this chamber. The suggestion is that the Postmaster-General’s Department should be removed from the control of the Public Service Board and should be conducted by a commission. The department is performing a service to the community, but it is also a business undertaking. If it were to be controlled by a commission, as is Trans-Australia Airlines and other organizations, it would be able to float its own loans on the loan market. I am conscious of the fact that a number of difficulties would arise, and I realize, too, that the department does receive money from Consolidated Revenue. However, I think the suggestion that has been made should be investigated. I know, of course, that the Postmaster-General has considered this matter on. a previous occasion.
Another suggestion I have to make is that a five-year programme should be inaugurated so that the department will be able to work out its future programmes rather than wait from one Budget to the next to plan its works on the basis of the finance to be made available to it for a year. I know that the department has on a number of occasions prepared three plans in anticipation of certain moneys being made available to it; but if the department could plan five years ahead that would be a great advantage, and I am sure it would avoid a certain amount of waste. When I make that statement, I am referring not to waste caused by inefficiency, but to waste due to the difficulty of making plans ahead.
The extended local service area system has certainly worked out to the advantage of many people. Some honorable members have said that certain anomalies exist. I know that there are anomalies in many areas throughout the Commonwealth, but I understand that the Postmaster-General has promised to give consideration to rectifying them. I feel that when we can overcome some of the anomalies that have been created, the value and the benefits of the new service will be appreciated by many. The Postmaster-General and his officers are to be congratulated on the forward step that has been taken. For some time in the future the department will have to concentrate on providing telephone trunk lines because the extended local service area system will naturally mean that these lines will be used more frequently and for longer periods. I hope that will be one sphere of activity to which the Postmaster-General will pay attention.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I referred to the telephone section of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I want to speak briefly now about amateur radio operators and to support my colleague, the honorable member for Maranoa, who suggested that amateur radio operators should be allowed to broadcast in languages other than English. I think he made a very good point when he spoke about the need to establish closer and more friendly relations with countries to our north. A tremendous advantage would be derived from allowing Australian amateur radio operators to broadcast in foreign languages. They could learn the languages of the countries to our north and, in speaking to the amateur radio operators there could give them a closer appreciation of Australian conditions. In addition, such contact with these people in their own languages would create an affinity which would be of inestimable value.
We know the job that amateur radio operators have done, but I do not think that their work has been appreciated by a sufficiently large number of people in the Commonwealth. They have been mentioned here when frequency allocations and other matters have been debated. I believe that they should be given some consideration because of the valuable contribution that they make on many occasions.
I want now, Sir, to speak briefly about television. No matter how great the advances that have been made, this new medium of entertainment is still in its infancy here. Australia, with its vast area and small population, has problems that are not experienced in other countries. Therefore, in developing television in Australia, due consideration should be given to the circumstances that obtain here.
I must express a degree of disappointment at the delay in hearing applications for the allocation of licences in country areas, although I have a full appreciation of the difficulties confronting the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson). Some action should be taken to speed up the hearing of applications and the granting of licences. We have spoken on many occasions about the need to provide country people with the amenities that are enjoyed by city dwellers, and television is one of the amenities that we can provide for them. Therefore I hope that positive action to grant country licences will be taken in the near future.
One matter for which the Government deserves commendation is the stress that it has laid on the need for people in country areas to control the local television stations. Too much emphasis can never be placed on this point, because there is a need for these stations to be controlled by local people who understand local conditions. Some arrangement similar to the present link between country radio stations and city radio stations would have a double advantage. Local interests would control the country stations, but the smaller country stations would have access to a wider range of programmes than otherwise would be available to them.
As I have said, I hope that action will be taken in the very near future to speed up the granting of licences for country television stations so that people in country areas may soon be able to view television programmes that at present are being viewed only by people in city and near-city areas.
.- Like the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock), I want to say something about television, but I want to deal with a different aspect. What I am concerned about is the action of the Government in permitting this great medium to fall into the hands of monopolies. I think that this could involve very serious considerations for Labour organizations. Not a great deal of publicity was given to it, but I understand that recently there was only one metropolitan television station in Australia which was not under the control of the newspaper ring. Going through the list of stations, we find that ATN-7 in Sydney ls controlled by the “ Herald-Sun “ group: TCN-9, Sydney, by Australian Consolidated Press Limited; HSV-7, Melbourne, bv the “ Herald-Sun “ group; BTQ-7. Brisbane, by Queensland Newspapers Proprietary Limited; QTQ-9, Brisbane, by Truth and
Sportsman Limited; ADS-7, Adelaide, by the Adelaide “Advertiser”; NWS-9, Adelaide, by the “ News “; TVW-7. Perth, by Western Australian Newspapers Limited; and TVT-6. Hobart, by the “ Mercury “.
The only station that remained outside newspaper control was GTV-9, Melbourne. But the Government has now permitted that station to fall into the hands of the Packer newspaper interests. This was done in a rather ingenious way. The Government, in making out a case for preventing foreign capital from controlling either radio or television services in this country, decided to provide by legislation that 80 per cent, of the capital of a station must be held in Australia. The aim of this provision, so the Government said, was to prevent foreign control of radio and television, and I think that aim would be approved by most honorable members. But those who supported this proposal did not realize that what the Government intended to do. while preventing control from going outside Australia, was to create monopoly control inside Australia.
As a result of the legislation it was necessary for some of the shares in GTV-9, Melbourne, to be disposed pf. General Television Corporation Proprietary Limited is the licensee of the station. The majority of shares in General Television Corporation Proprietary Limited was held by Electronic Industries Limited, in which Sir Arthur Warner, a well-known Liberal in Victoria, is interested. Electronic Industries Limited had to dispose of the controlling shares it had in this television station. So. Sir Arthur Warner negotiated with Sir Frank Packer of the “ Telegraph “ newspaper in Sydney, and the shares were sold to Independent Television Corporation Proprietary Limited, which in turn is controlled by Television Corporation Limited, and Australian Consolidated Press Limited holds about 39 per cent, of the shares in Television Corporation Limited. By going through these devious channels ian effort was made to create the impression on the Australian public that the real control is not with Australian Consolidated Press Limited at all.
It is rather interesting to note that the control of this television station has caused a good deal of concern to rival newspaper interests. We find that to-day the Packer interests - and this probably accounts for the delay in the issuing of licences for country stations - have involved themselves so deeply financially in taking over these shares in the Melbourne channel 9 station that they now have no ready capital to invest in country television licences. As a result, there has been delay until such time as an arrangement can be made by the Government that will suit these interests.
– ls that why the “ Telegraph “ is supporting the Menzies Government.
– ] believe that is the case. I think that arising out of this arrangement which was negotiated between Sir Arthur Warner and Sir Frank Packer, they are now supporting this Government. I think it is part of a deal. As a result, the Government now has the support of this newspaper ring. It is an important matter from the viewpoint of the Australian Labour Party and the trade union movement. While it is true that radio is largely under the control of the same interests, there were one or two stations for which the trade union movement was able to secure licences and at least ensure that it had a voice: but with television it is different. There is so much capital involved in the establishment of the industry as to keep Labour out. and there is also the fact that the Government of the day has the right to hand out of the licences.
Everybody knows that the Labour Party tried to get a licence. An application was made by the former Leader of the Opposition and Mr. Dougherty, the secretary of the Australian Workers Union, and an endeavour would have been made to secure capital from the Labour movement, but their application was unsuccessful, as it was believed it would1 be right from the outset. The anti-Labour people in this country are trying to keep this medium completely within their control. They are building up the machinery of the police State, as instanced by their telephone tapping legislation and the proposed amendment of the Crimes Act. They also intend to tie up the medium of television as well. They already have the major newspapers and radio stations, and if they monopolize tele vision also, it will be almost impossible for progressive elements in the country to get a point of view before the public. I think that this is a most important and serious matter. It is to be hoped that too much damage will not have been done before a Labour government takes control at the end of next year and revises the whole system. It is essential, if we are to preserve democratic government in this country, for a complete review of these media for transmission of the views of political bodies and organizations.
In the few minutes that remain to me let me turn to another matter which, I think, requires some explanation by the Minister. He tried to brush it aside recently when I raised it here. I refer to the granting of a radio broadcasting licence in the City of Darwin. Four applications were made for the licence, two of which were withdrawn. The successful applicant was Darwin Broadcasters Proprietary Limited, but it obtained the licence under rather strange circumstances. I do not blame the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. It did its best to bring the facts before the public, and whilst the board finally made the recommendation that resulted in the licence being given to Darwin Broadcasters Proprietary Limited, I am of the opinion that it did so only because pressure was brought to bear to force its hand.
Let us have a look at some of the evidence that is on record and available for any honorable member who is interested to read it. We find that there were two hearings in dealing with applications for the radio broadcasting licence at Darwin. When the Darwin hearing was first called on, John Thurgate Taylor, a company director from Sydney, appeared on behalf of the company which was eventually formed and called Darwin Broadcasters Proprietary Limited. He was assisted by James Frederick Bowditch, who was the managing editor of the “ Northern Territory News “. The honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock) thinks that it is very important that local interests should control both radio and television. Mr. Bowditch was called in to give evidence because it had to be established that Eric White Associates Limited, one of the principals in making the application which was eventually successful, had some local interest in Darwin which would justify the granting of the licence to that company.
1’he witnesses who were called at Darwin were completely unsatisfactory because they were not able to give the evidence which the board required to establish that they were local people who were making the application. At page 103 of the transcript of the evidence we see that the chairman, Mr. R. G. Osborne, in addressing himself to Mr. J. W. Lyons, who was the advocate for Darwin Broadcasters Proprietary Limited, at the conclusion of the Darwin hearings is reported as having said -
Mr. Lyons, the Board wishes me to say that, if you wish, we will be happy to afford you an opportunity to submit further evidence, because we are far from satisfied wilh the evidence on some of the questions, that we have the necessary information There are some relevant matters which have not been put to us . . .
The transcript continues -
Mr. Lyons. ; I am fully aware of that Sir . . .
Chairman. - Both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Bowditch were unable to answer some questions. You had witnesses who knew nothing about what wo obviously desired information on.
Let me point out that Mr. Eric White, the principal of this organization, was not called to give evidence at all. I stress that point particularly, because in correspondence that I received from the Minister he told me that the board had recommended the granting of the licence, and he said that the board went into the whole matter with great care and was satisfied in regard to the decision it had made on the evidence given. Nothing of the kind!
Let me show what happened at the Melbourne hearings. I may say that the matter was transferred to Melbourne to give the applicant an opportunity to produce additional evidence. At the Melbourne hearing, the legal representation of the successful company was changed. Darwin Broadcasters Proprietary Limited was then represented by Mr. R. L. Taylor, Q.C., assisted by Mr. H. H. Mason. According to Mr. Taylor, the company by that time had been registered and ?35,000 bad been subscribed. But the Australian Broadcasting Control Board was not satisfied about who had provided the ?35,000. It had been represented at the Darwin hearing that Eric White, on behalf of Eric White Associates Limited, held a control ling interest in the Northern Territory News, when the fact was that long before the application was heard that interest had been disposed of to the Stuart brewery, which had joined with the company in the application for the licence. The Stuart brewery was a completely owned subsidiary company of the Swan brewery. So, we can see the link-up.
The board wanted to know where the capital had come from, and because the ?35,000 had been paid in, Mr. Taylor argued that there was nothing further for the board to inquire into, but nevertheless the board still wanted further information. Mr. Greenwell, who appeared for the other applicant company, wanted Mr. Eric White called for questioning, but he was -not called, and neither the board nor Mr. Greenwell was given the opportunity to interrogate him. Mr. Taylor, Q.C., said at the Melbourne hearing -
May I say that it was felt, following the adjournment of the hearing in Darwin, that perhaps the applicant had been to some extent wantting in not having available for the Board . . . all the information necessary as to the financial standing of the company to carry out the undertaking. lt was felt that although Mr. White of Eric White Associates . . . had given the company’s undertaking as to its share of the capital, the Board were not, for good reason, altogether satisfied with the matter. For that reason, and to comply with Mr. White’s undertaking, we have taken steps to restore order to our house that may have been described when we left Darwin as being somewhat dishevelled.
The chairman said - -
The Board is concerned to establish the identity of the applicants and their financial position. . . We feel at this stage at any rate some uncertainty as to the identity of the major shareholder in Darwin Broadcasters Pty. Ltd. . . . We think we should give the applicant, Northern Territory News Services Ltd., an opportunity to submit evidence on this matter, which apart from what Mr. Greenwell has said, the Board itself would like to test by asking some questions.
The only person who could give the answers to those questions was Mr. Eric White, and he did not appear either at the Darwin hearing or at the hearing in Melbourne. The chairman went on to say -
So, although the board had very serious doubts, it was forced to proceed and make its determination without evidence and answers to questions that it regarded as of the utmost importance. I want to know why the council refused. Why was Eric White not called to give evidence before the board was obliged to give its decision? I think that undoubtedly there is a case to indicate that pressure has been applied by the Government on the broadcasting board to induce it to recommend the granting of a licence.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I shall address the committee very briefly only, on the estimates of the Postmaster-General’s Department, and shall deal with the telephone section. I should like to make passing reference to the challenge which always comes to a member on this side who gets the call after the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) sits down. 1 think the challenge is to keep one’s chin up, because according to the honorable member there never seems to be anybody decent or honest or above suspicion in the whole of Australia. I do not agree with him. I should like first to compliment the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) and his department on the great job which, in my opinion, they are doing throughout Australia at the present time. This Ministry has many problems in keeping pace with the great development throughout Australia. This is a task which presents great problems to the Minister and the department and I think that, within the confines of the money and man-power available to them, they are doing everything possible to catch up with the great demand. I agree with what the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) said this afternoon, about the problems of those areas which are developing on the fringe of the great metropolitan cities. I think this development affects, in Victoria, particularly my electorate and those of the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) and the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden).
– And Lalor?
– I agree, it is a problem which affects that electorate, too. Throughout Australia, people are moving from the closely settled metropolitan areas. As a certain amount of prosperity has come to them, they are moving out and are buying their own homes in the newdistricts on the fringes of the metropolitan areas. I believe that planning is necessary by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. It should, perhaps, divorce itself a little from the cities and plan for the future of the new fringe areas. We do find - as the honorable member for Deakin said - people who have had applications for telephones in for up to four years but who have not yet received them. I do not think that is always the fault of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Sometimes we find subdividers and speculators going out and selling blocks of land to people to build homes in isolated areas, after which the Postmaster-General’s Department is asked to provide telephones. In many circumstances and in many areas it would be impossible for the department to install one, two or three telephones that are required in such a district, because this could only be done to the detriment of a much greater population somewhere else. I think the Postmaster-General’s Department should know which way the future trend of development is going in most of the cities and adjacent areas - there are town-planning branches in the municipalities considering which way the city or district concerned should develop. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department should perhaps now start planning for the requirements of the outlying areas for the next five, ten, fifteen or twenty years, so that, it will be able to cope with the future demand and not always have to write to members saying that there is not sufficient cable or not sufficient of this or that - the usual very charming and polite type of letter which we receive, but which frequently provides no solution to the problem. I believe it would be a good thing if the Postmaster-General’s Department published a plan of its proposed development of the various areas for the next five years or so, so that people, when they bought property, would know what delay there would be before getting a telephone. The same idea - although this is not a Commonwealth matter - could well be applied to sewerage, drainage and all the other necessary services. I think that both the Federal and State Governments should indicate the areas to be developed and thus let the people know what chance they will have of getting services in any particular area.
I wish now to deal with the extended local service area telephone system. The Postmaster-General has always been most delightful, charming and courteous when I have asked him for information concerning the problems of Elsa in my electorate. We have there a very substantial township called Emerald and another called Wandin North. The comment I shall make concerning the telephone numbers of subscribers in those towns applies also to large towns in the electorates of Deakin and Bruce. On the front cover of the Melbourne telephone directory there appears a diagram, bounded by a curved line, which shows the exchanges in the metropolitan area that are listed in the directory under the Elsa system. As the location of Emerald and Wandin North exchanges is just beyond the area embraced, they are not shown in the diagram or listed in the directory. I do not know whether the person who drew the diagram intended to draw a circle, as would appear to be the case; if he did, he must suddenly have had a nap, because evidently his compass slipped and those towns were excluded. Some people are sure that that is what happened. 1 realize that is not so. and that there were probably other very good reasons for the non-inclusion of these two centres. However. I have written to the Minister asking that the position be reviewed, and he has assured me that it is being reviewed. I am concerned because already consideration is being given to the printing of the next issue of the Melbourne telephone book and I have not yet been informed of the Minister’s decision in this regard. The people of Emerald have always done the majority of their business with the city of Melbourne and have always been listed in the Melbourne telephone directory but now, all of a sudden, for some reason that I cannot quite understand, they are listed in section 5 of the directory, which relates to the Benalla, Healesville, Mansfield, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warburton and Wodonga districts. I repeat that everyone in Emerald has his main contacts with the city of Melbourne, and the same applies to Wandin North. The small business men and storekeepers in those centres have to order their goods from Melbourne, and Melbourne people go to Emerald for their holidays. But now Emerald and Wandin
North are not even listed in the Melbourne telephone directory. To contact them, one has first to find section 5 of the telephone book. That applies even to me, as a federal member. Whereas once I could be in touch with my electorate by consulting the Melbourne telephone directory, now I find 1 have to go from book to book, and it is rather trying. I would ask the PostmasterGeneral to re-include the Emerald and Wandin North subscribers in the Melbourne telephone book where they had previously appeared and in which the telephone numbers of their business and social associates are listed.
Another point I wish to raise has reference to the adjoining zones exchanges in the Melbourne telephone book. When one wishes to ring a subscriber in one of these zones, one first turns to the back of the book and whips through the yellow pages to find Belgrave, Tecoma or Upwey. He then ascertains the number he should dial to get that subscriber. Then he has to turn back to page 3 to find the dialling code of the exchange. By the time he has done that, he has forgotten the number he got from the yellow pages. It is most confusing. I understand that a card was issued to every subscriber, courteously and kindly, by the Postmaster-General. Surely he and his department realize what may happen to a small card in a home after a few days or a week. I do not think any subscriber has ever kept that card. T ask the Minister to consider having the appropriate exchange numbers printed with the name of each area listed in the yellow pages. Further. I ask the Minister favorably to consider having Emerald and Wandin North included in the Melbourne directory because the telephone is the life-blood of such centres and, as much as the residents appreciate Elsa, we would like the subscribers in those towns to be listed in the main telephone book.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– The debate this afternoon and to-night, Mr. Chairman, has produced many interesting criticisms of the administration of my department. I have been very glad to hear them because, in the main, they have been offered in a very cooperative spirit. There have been some quite plain criticisms of the operations of the department - many of them have been of value to me and to my officers - including comments on the way the public has received certain major changes which we have carried out in the last few months, and suggestions as to ways in which Post Office services could1 be made even better. I accept the criticisms on that basis. If I attempted to deal with all the points that have been made, I am afraid I would take up too much of the committee’s time. As it is, I anticipate that I shall take quite a long time. If some of the points made by honorable members are not covered by my reply, it will be found that they refer to local matters, to services in particular areas. I shall leave those matters for reply by letter within quite a short period.
Mr. Chairman. I had intended to deal with the various representations that have been made more or less in chronological order, but after hearing the speech of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) T would prefer to get my reply to what he said off my chest at the beginning of my remarks. His speech is the only one that has been made this afternoon and this evening in which I feel there is little merit. Therefore, I do not intend to spend very much time on it.
He referred to the granting of a commercial broadcasting licence at Darwin. That was his second point. For some weeks I have been at a loss to know just what it is that the honorable member for East Sydney has been trying to get at in this matter. After the applications for the Darwin licence had been heard, the honorable member contacted me by telegram and asked to be supplied with a transcript of the evidence given before the Australian Broadcasting Control Board.
– Who paid for the telegram?
– I will not go into that. As the honorable member was seeking information to which I considered he was entitled. I immediately made the transcript available. I hope he will correct me if I am wrong now. Either in that telegram or in another one I received shortly afterwards, I was asked to withhold the issue of the licence until that transcript had been seen by the honorable member. I think that request was made in the original telegram. In any case, the request for me to withhold the granting of the licence was received after the licence had been granted. Then I received certain correspondence from the honorable member for East Sydney, which seemed to suggest that be considered there was something wrong in this matter. 1 think the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) expressed the position very well a short while ago when he said that when one listens to the honorable member for East Sydney one gains the impression that there is no one who is decent.
– Yes, he did. The honorable member for La Trobe said that one gains the impression that there is no one who is decent. The honorable member for East Sydney gave the impression that in this case something sinister must have happened or there must have been something behind the evidence. 1 read through the transcript and I could not find anything which suggested that - these are the honorable members own words - some pressure had been brought to bear, not on the board - he more or less exonerated the board - but on the Government, which means myself, to ensure that the licence was issued as it was. Mr. Chairman, that is completely incorrect. There was no pressure whatsoever.
I want to state the position very briefly. This was not an easy matter to determine. The Government believes that, particularly in places like Darwin and other country areas, if it is possible to have a broadcasting or television service operated by people with local interests, that is the way in which the service should be operated. There were actually only two applications for the Darwin licence. One was from a group of Melbourne businessmen who had no real association with Darwin. The board was forced to make a choice between the application from that group of Melbourne businessmen and an application which was originally made on behalf of a company to be formed. Finally a company was formed. The company to be formed was Darwin Broadcasters Proprietary Limited, with a paid-up capital of £35,000. The two shareholders in the proposed company were Eric White Associates (Holdings)
Proprietary Limited and Stuart Brewery Limited. As the honorable member for East Sydney said a few minutes ago, Stuart Brewery Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Swan Brewery in Western Australia.
There were certain elements of the latter application with which the Broadcasting Control Board was not completely satistied at first, and quite properly the board said, “ We want to hear more about certain aspects of the shareholding and certain aspects of the local interest “. The board adjourned the hearing to Melbourne and completed the inquiry there. At the Melbourne hearing Eric White was represented by counsel. He was quite entitled to be so represented, if he wanted to be. I am stating the position briefly. 1 do not want to go into a lot of detail, because that is unnecessary. As the extracts from the transcript read by the honorable member for East Sydney indicated, at first the board was not completely satisfied. But after making a very thorough investigation it finally reported to me in favour of this application. In my experience of the board, it would not have done so had it not been satisfied that the recommendation it made was a proper one.
Eventually, Eric White himself took over the interest of Eric White Associates (Holdings) Proprietary Limited, and Stuart Brewery Limited remained as the other party to the successful application. They both agreed to put 49 per cent, of the shares which they held on to the local market in Darwin. Regrettably, the people of Darwin have not taken up as many of those shares as we would like them to; but as far as humanly possible we have ensured that this company is representative of local interests. There is nothing at all in this matter to suggest that there is some aspect which warrants an inquiry. The board has already made a thorough inquiry, and I have no intention of starting anything in the nature of a witch hunt just to satisfy this queer reaction of the honorable member for East Sydney, who, as the honeable member for La Trobe said, always seems to see something sinister in matters such as this where everything is not completely straightforward right at the start. I stress that I said “right at the start”. The position is that I am satisfied that the application that was granted was the best one. The applicant company will provide the citizens of Darwin with a commercial broadcasting service of which they would otherwise have been deprived.
The honorable member for East Sydney also referred to the negotiations which took place after the passing of the amending Broadcasting and Television Bill by this Parliament not so very long ago. When that measure came into force a shareholding in station GTV became a breach of the act. The position before the passing of the amending bill was that Pye Limited, an English company, had acquired between 47 and 49 per cent, of the shares in Electronic Industries Limited, and that company held 62i per cent, of the shares in the company operating station GTV. Until the amending bill was passed in the last session, that arrangement was quite in accordance with the act; but immediately the amendments came into force the holding of Pye Limited in Electronic Industries Limited, in view of that company’s holding in the company operating station GTV, became in breach of the act. Therefore, it became necessary to take action to remedy that breach of the act.
Mr. Chairman, the intention of this Parliament in passing that amending legislation - which intention has always been in the act, as a matter of fact - was that a foreignowned company could not hold more than 15 per cent, of the capital of a company operating an Australian broadcasting or television station. So action had to be taken in order to remedy that breach of the act. A number of discussions took place between the chairman of Electronic Industries Limited, myself and the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) in order to determine the best method of remedying that breach. Finally, a proposal was suggested to me, as the Minister, for a transfer of the shares in Electronic Industries Limited to the TCN interests. That was the second proposal.
The point I want to make is this: As the Minister, I have no authority to bar any change in the membership or shareholding of any company, unless it is in breach of a provision of the act. Up to that stage, the TCN interests, Consolidated Press Limited, or the Packer interests - whatever you like to call them - held a controlling interest in only one television station in Australia. Under the act as it has stood since 1956, they are entitled to hold a controlling interest in two television stations. Therefore, any proposal which might have been agreed to, not by myself and not by the Government, but between station GTV or Electronic Industries Limited and Consolidated Press to acquire control of station GTV, was not in breach of the act. This matter has been investigated very thoroughly indeed. It is not my function to determine whether a Melbourne television station, which is not associated with the press, should or should not ‘be acquired by newspaper interests. It is not my function to determine whether it is desirable that a Sydney newspaper company should or should not obtain control of a Melbourne company. That is for the principals .themselves to decide. My function is to decide whether any proposed alteration is in breach of the act. If it is not in .breach of the act. then according to section 92f (3.) -
The Minister shall not refuse his approval under this section except for the purpose of ensuring observance of, or compliance with, this Division . . .
The negotiations took place. The agreement which was arrived at between the two companies was not in breach of the act, and therefore no power resided in the Minister to do anything but give his consent.
Let me now go on to deal with some of the points raised by honorable members during the day. The honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Barnes) gave a very interesting address, mainly on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s publication, “ A.B.C. Weekly “, which, as he pointed out, has been discontinued. It was discontinued last year, in fact, and the honorable member deplores the fact that this publication, which has done such a good job in furthering the aims and objectives of the A.B.C, has been discontinued. I have referred to this matter before, but I want to give a bit more information on this occasion, because some time has passed and I want to give honorable members an up-to-date picture.
The “ A.B.C. Weekly “ was commenced quite a few years ago, when the A.B.C. was building up its broadcasting services. It became evident that if the commission was to rely on newspapers for the advertising of its programmes it would have to pay very heavy charges indeed. This was back in the early days. The amounts which the A.B.C. would have had to pay to certain newspaper interests to ensure that its programmes were fully advertised would surprise honorable members. The result was that the A.B.C. decided to publish its own journal, under the authority which was conferred upon it by. I think, section 60 of the act. It was decided to publish a journal which would, first, give all the information possible about radio programmes, and which would be built up eventually to carry a number of very interesting articles of high artistic anr) cultural merit. But this publication was circulating in Queensland and New South Wales only, and because of its small circulation it was costing Quite a considerable amount of money.
With the advent of television, it was realized that a similar service would be required to cover the commission’s television programmes. It was considered undesirable for the A.B.C. to bear the cost of publishing two weekly journals, one covering radio broadcasting and the other television, and so it was decided to discontinue the “A.B.C. Weekly” and to publish instead a paper known as “TV Times “. “ TV Times “ has been published regularly for some time. There has been some criticism of the fact that it carries only information concerning broadcast programmes, and as yet has not reached the stage of including the interesting articles that used to appear in the “ A.B.C. Weekly”. I have no doubt that as the publication develops and its circulation increases, this defect will be remedied.
I would like to point out that it is estimated that the excess of expenditure on “ TV Times” over receipts will be more than £40,000 this year. This will be a good deal less than the figure for last year, which was about £70,000. However, in any assessment of the value of the journal consideration must be given to the fact that the figures do not take into account the cost that the commission would have to bear if it were forced to advertise its programmes in newspapers. No credit is given on account of this factor, but, nevertheless, it must be taken into account.
Already “TV Times” has built up a circulation, according to the latest figures available, of 85.000 in New South Wales. 28,000 in Victoria, 17,000 in Queensland and 13.000 in South Australia. We are confident that as it develops, and as television expands throughout Australia, we will build up a journal which will properly take the place of the “ A.B.C. Weekly “ and, at the same time, eliminate the cost difficulty that it had so far experienced.
I was glad to hear, in addition to the honorable member for Mcpherson, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) make complimentary remarks regarding the “ A.B.C. Weekly “ and, indeed, many other A.B.C. services.
The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) made some proposals of a local nature, with which 1 will deal later by letter. He also referred to a problem concerned with the conversion of certain subscribers’ individual telephone services to duplex services. He stated that certain businessmen in his area, who had a low outgoing call rate, have had their telephones converted to duplex services because the department did not give consideration to the number of incoming calls. That statement is not correct. Incoming calls are considered in many cases by the department before a decision is made to convert a telephone to a duplex service. I can tell the honorable member for Blaxland that I make this statement after having checked his submissions with the head office of my department late this afternoon, and 1 can assure him that this is the practice of the department. It may be that in the check made in the cases he has in mind the department did not obtain full information from the subscribers as to the number of incoming calls. If the honorable member will give me details of the cases I assure him I will have them looked at. If any case concerns a business which is dependent on incoming calls to such an extent that it would be adversely affected by having the telephone service converted to the duplex system, we will try to do something about it.
The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) referred mainly to two matters. He mentioned increased rentals as a result of the introduction of the extended local ser vice area system, and he said also that if a fault developed in a telephone service during the weekend it is not the practice of the department to send technicians to repair it, except in very exceptional circumstances. This has, indeed, been the practice until quite recently. Technicians have been sent out to remedy faults only in cases of considerable urgency, because in the great majority of cases repairs are not immediately necessary, and subscribers are not seriously inconvenienced. But as a result of discussions which took place in the department a few weeks ago, and in which I participated personally, it has been decided that as a general practice, and wherever it is practicable, we will provide a service to remedy faults developing over a weekend.
Honorable members will notice that I qualify my statement by saying “ as a general practice, and wherever it is practicable”. It will be realized that in some cases, for instance when a major fault develops in an outlying area, it is difficult to get immediately enough technicians of sufficient skill to attend to the matter. A fault may develop in some isolated area where it is difficult to send a technician immediately, because our practice is to have technicians stationed in various centres in the country districts to serve fairly extensive regions. A fault could develop in a place to which it would be difficult to send a technician during the weekend. But, with those qualifications. I can say that the policy in the future will be for the department to handle service faults at the weekend.
The honorable member also referred to increased rentals under the extended local service area system. 1 know very well the interest of the honorable member for Barker in this matter, and indeed, the interest of a number of other honorable members who have approached me on the matter. I was glad to hear honorable members saying this afternoon that they realized anomalies would inevitably appear in the introduction of the new system, and that in the main the promise given that everything would be done to consider and, wherever possible, to correct anomalies, has been carried out.
The honorable member for Barker referred to one aspect of the Elsa project which can hardly be classed as an anomaly.
He referred to the position of subscribers who are adjacent to a large city area and who previously were connected to an exchange covering perhaps only 200 or 300 subscribers but who suddenly found themselves required to pay substantially increased rentals. In a few moments I shall tell the committee how many subscribers are involved. As a result of the extension of the department’s policy to base rentals on the service available at local call rates, some rentals have had to be increased. The alternative would have been an alteration of the whole basis of rental charges, which was not justified. The operation of the Elsa scheme is highlighted when some one finds that his rental is increased from £7 to £16, even though he has very little use for the new service. But the honorable member for Barker himself was fair enough to say that he realized that a majority of the people concerned have gained a benefit. Another honorable member - I forget who it was - said it was realized that we had to legislate in a matter like this to obtain the greatest good for the greatest number of persons. I believe that is what has been done on this occasion.
Let me quickly cite a few figures to the committee. Only 14.6 per cent, of the total number of telephone subscribers in Australia had their rentals increased as a result of the introduction of the Elsa scheme. In October last, all rentals throughout Australia were increased as part of general tariff increases. Honorable members may criticize that if they wish. The point I am making is that the increases that have been effected as a result of the introduction of the Elsa scheme have nothing to do with the general increase in tariffs. I want the Elsa scheme to be judged on its own merits. Therefore, I repeat that only 14.6 per cent, of the total number of subscribers in Australia have had their rentals increased as a result of the adoption of this scheme. But, mark you, 38 per cent, of the country subscribers have had their rentals increased. What I am about to say will interest the honorable member for Barker, and I am sure he will concede the strength of the point. Only 2.8 per cent, of the total number of subscribers throughout Australia have suffered the heavy increase in rental of about 100 per cent, that I have referred to. It will be seen that the greatest good has been given to the greatest number.
Let me make another point. People on the fringe of a metropolitan area who suddenly have been given access to another 10,000, 15,000 or 50,000 subscribers at local call rates and who have had their rentals increased are on exactly the same basis as subscribers who for many years have been just inside the fringe of the metropolitan area and who have been paying that rental with no more use for their telephones than have the fringe subscribers. That is a factor which may not generally be realized. The honorable member asked me whether we would consider some way of breaking down the impact of this proposal. I am always prepared to have a look at other suggestions, but what I have just said is in explanation of the situation as it now exists.
The honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) spoke about several matters, the main one being the situation at Ripponlea. We have conferred for some little time about the acquisition by the Australian Broadcasting Commission of a site at Ripponlea for the purpose of extending the commission’s buildings and established services. The commission plans ultimately to concentrate all its facilities in Melbourne, and in the other major cities, in one building if at all possible. It proposes to place its broadcasting service, its television service and its studios under the one roof in order to reduce the amount of travelling that is now done and the cost of leasing other premises and so on. That is a good plan. In an attempt to carry out that plan in Melbourne, the commission set out to acquire a further area of land at the site it occupies at present at Ripponlea. Unfortunately, there have been faults on the part of the local council and of the commission. I have examined the files on this matter. Apparently in the early stages there was some misunderstanding. I believe there was a lack of consultation between the two bodies. The situation arose in which the commission had an offer from the lady who owned the original property on which its studios are now situated to sell another area in Gordonstreet. The local council objected, because it wanted the area reserved either as park land or for further housing development.
The honorable member for Isaacs an:l certain other honorable members who are interested referred the matter to me some time ago. Eventually, my approval of the acquisition of the site was sought. But I have withheld approval pending further efforts to find a basis of settlement that will be satisfactory to all concerned. My latest information is that unfortunately there is still something in the nature of a deadlock. Following discussions between toplevel representatives of the commission, the council and the owner of the property, which 1 told the honorable member I would arrange, the owner of the property has flatly refused to sell the alternative site along the railway line, including the lake. The council still says that it does not want the commission to build along the Gordonstreet frontage. So I inform the honorable member for Isaacs that I shall continue to try to break the deadlock and to see whether the interests of all concerned can be met. I fully appreciate the desire of the council to reserve this area for building sites.
The honorable member also referred to the need for control of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to be placed under some other Minister. As a matter of fact, the commission has statutory authority for its operations and it comes under my control only to a very minor degree. Often that is not realized by honorable members who ask me why I do not do this, that or the other thing in relation to programmes and so forth. I do not hide behind that fact. Sometimes I am required to approve expenditure and hirings, and to pilot the relevant estimates through the Committee of Supply. But 1, as the appropriate Minister, have not a great deal of day-to-day control over the commission. Whether it is desirable to extend that control and whether, if it is extended, it should be given to another Minister is something which I leave to the consideration of the committee.
In addition to directing attention to the matters I have already mentioned, the honorable member for Isaacs suggested that, on the figures which appear in the Estimates, we are charging too much for television licences. He pointed out, quite rightly, that the figures contained in the Estimates show that in relation to television services there is a considerable excess of of income over expenditure. That is true.
But the honorable member did not point out - perhaps it escaped his notice - that quite the reverse is the case with broadcasting services. In fact, these two services, which operate more or less as one instrument under the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Government, are breaking a little better than even following the good results which have been obtained since the introduction of television. If it is a logical argument that because there is an excess of income over expenditure in relation to television services viewers’ licencefees should be reduced, it is also logical that an excess of expenditure over income in relation to broadcasting services is a reason for an increase in broadcast listeners’ licence-fees. I do not hold with either contention. I claim that for the present the licence-fees should remain as they are, because, let us remember, in the next few years, if we are to expand our national television service as we intend to expand it. we shall have to bear a very considerable expense.
The returns that we will receive in the future from the national television service when it is extended to country areas will not be so high as those we have received from the highly populated areas in the main metropolitan centres. Therefore, the present situation is not likely to remain unchanged for very many years. But it is fortunate that we are in a position to proceed with the extension of television in country areas knowing that we are doing so on a sound financial basis.
The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) put up a very interesting proposal, as he has done on several occasions previously, regarding the business basis of the Post Office. He referred to the fact also that recently the British Post Office has put out a paper in which it suggests certain basic alterations in the financial control of the undertaking. I point out to the honorable member that already we have set up a top-level committee to conduct an extensive inquiry into the financial position of the Post Office and into the question of how its accounts should be held. I interpolate here that this has some bearing on the comments made by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean). This committee was directed to investigate fully the financial relationship of the Post Office vis-a-vis the
Treasury; to investigate and report upon the proper treatment of such vital matters as costs, interest to be charged, the amount on which interest should be charged, if at all, the proper treatment of depreciation and the proper treatment of superannuation - a number of very important matters which have been properly determined over the years and in relation to which we are now reaching the stage where, while it can be contended that each year we submit the commercial accounts of the Post Office they still do not meet the requirements of a normal business undertaking.
The honorable member will see, therefore, that already we have moved in relation to one of the matters that he has been mentioning for a considerable time, in order to try to bring the accounts of the Post Office to a sound commercial basis so that there will be a proper relationship between the commercial accounts of the Post Office and the Treasury, as disclosed in the Budget papers.
Mention was made of a report dealing with a proposal in Great Britain to give greater autonomy to the Post Office. I have been studying this report with great interest for some time. All I can say to the honorable member for Maranoa, and to other honorable members who are interested in this subject, is that the proposal has received, and will continue to receive, consideration to see whether it is desirable to introduce a similar system into our own administration.
The honorable member for Maranoa, the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall) and the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock), mentioned the restriction on the use of foreign langauges by amateur radio operators. This matter has been brought to my attention on several occasions in the past, and to-day a written reply to an honorable senator was read in 1he Senate. After pointing out that certain action has been taken from time to time for security reasons, the gist of the reply is “that we consider this to be a matter which warrants further consideration. It is now being given that consideration to see whether it is possible to lift the embargo.
The honorable member for Paterson made some very interesting comments in relation to broadcasting and television ser vices, with particular reference to the services available in the Hunter River Valley. He mentioned the difficulties which he has experienced over the last two years in improving radio reception in the Hunter River Valley. The facts which he presented to the committee are correct, and it is a matter of regret to me that there has been a considerable time lag in providing the improvements which the Australian Broadcasting Control Board decided were desirable to overcome the poor reception to which the honorable member has referred. After mentioning the number of occasions on which he has sought information regarding the installation of the new radiator, he said that some explanation was necessary for the great number of hold-ups that have occurred.
The position is that a contract was let to a certain contractor who has done a considerable amount of fabricating work of this nature for the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. He has always given satisfaction in the past. He is a good contractor. I shall not mention the name of the firm concerned, because in this instance the service was not so good as we had expected it to be. The radiator was supposed to be available within a certain time, but it was not. On inspection after erection it was found to be unacceptable to the board. Consequently, the contractor was required to remedy certain defects at his own expense. This took about twelve months, but the work was done. Hold-ups occurred as a result of faulty workmanship which had to be remedied. Unfortunately, the contract did not contain any penal clause in relation to the time for completion of the work. Probably that is an omission in drawing up the contract, but I can assure all honorable members that we have benefited by our experience, and that all such contracts in the future will contain a penal clause as to the time for completion of the work.
In dealing with frequencies generally, the honorable member for Paterson also stated that he could not understand why the board from time to time claimed that it was short of frequencies and could not improve an existing station or .permit the installation of an additional one. He stated that there are some 5,000 broadcasting stations in America and, surely to goodness, if frequencies can be made available in America they can be be made available in Australia. That does not follow, because the 5,000 stations operating in America are not comparable with the stations which we have to install in Australia. To achieve that number of broadcasting stations the administration in America has been forced to adopt practices which would be unacceptable and impracticable in Australia. For instance, 500 of those 5,000 stations are allowed to operate only in daylight hours. Quite a number of others may operate only for very limited periods. Because of the high density of population in America that system can be adopted with profit to the companies concerned, but it would be quite impossible to operate such a system in Australia, particularly in our country areas.
In addition, the power on which these stations operate is so low that in many cases they have a radius of not more than 5 or 6 miles. In America, with its much greater population density, a coverage of 5 or 6 miles is sufficient to enable a small station to operate reasonably profitably, but imagine what would happen in most of our country towns if we told the radio stations that they could have a licence but that their broadcasts would be allowed to cover a radius of only 5 or 6 miles from the station. They could not carry on in those circumstances. That is the main reason for the difference to which the honorable member has referred.
The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) advanced some proposals, most of which I have noted for further discussion. He made a favorable comment concerning the increased efficiency in the Postal Department. T should like to forward to the honorable member some information in relation to this matter so that he will be even better informed than he is on this very important subject. The efficiency of the department is something of which it is proud, and it will bear comparison with any private industry in Australia. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan)-
– Hurray! A Labour member gets a mention - one in seven.
– I have already referred to the honorable members for Blax land (Mr. E. James Harrison) and East Sydney (Mr. Ward). Where is the differentiation? I am taking them in chronological order. The honorable member for Kennedy referred to a request that has been under consideration for some time concerning the need for some special allowance to be paid to Post Office employees at Mount Isa. As I told the honorable member privately a week or two ago, this matter had been referred to also by representatives of the Australian Postal Workers Union in Brisbane and also was mentioned to the Director of Posts and Telegraphs when he was in Mount Isa. It was referred to central office for discussion with the Public Service Board which is vitally interested. Without giving the honorable member actual details. I can inform him that that payment has been approved, as from 28th September, of special allowances to officers and employees at Mount Isa on terms which I shall be able to give to the honorable member shortly. I will convey them also to others who have made representations to me including Mr. Waters of the A.P.W.U. We acknowledge that something must be done in the circumstances at Mount Isa which are difficult, and we will notify all those concerned of our decisions soon.
The Opposition will be pleased to know that I propose now to refer to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) who spoke of the need for the G.P.O. clock in Sydney. The honorable member said that time was running out. I see that my time is running out also, so I will be brief. When the site for the clock was inspected by the honorable member for West Sydney, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) and others, I gave an undertaking that the foundations would be thoroughly tested. That undertaking is being put into effect. The Department of Works has let a contract to a contractor to carry out exploratory boring to test the foundations at the G.P.O. properly. It will be agreed that if we are to restore a pretty heavy structure like that, we must be sure that the foundations are sound. There were some doubts about the foundations before ever the story was circulated that the clock should be taken down because of the danger of bombing. The exploratory boring of holes will cost a couple of thousand pounds. If it indicates that further exploration is necessary, that will be done. We will then be enabled to determine with some accuracy what the cost of erecting the clock is likely to be.
We are doing what we can to extend a number of rural automatic exchanges but we are not now calling them all by that name. We will put in 48,000 additional country automatic exchange lines this year compared with 44,000 last year. To extend our services to country areas, rural automatic exchanges are, in some cases, being replaced with larger units which we describe as country automatic exchanges.
The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) referred to the need for free telephones for the blind. This is a matter I have not been able to resolve. Other honorable members have mentioned it to me, and it has great appeal; but because of various considerations, I am not able to say that I can do anything about it. However, this is a matter that I will not forget.
The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) referred to the proportion of Australian content in television programmes. He was virtually answered by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) who pointed out that although there had been some percentage increase in total times, the actual hours of showing and the number of Australian artists and writers employed by the commercial television licensees has been steadily increasing and is still increasing. I point out briefly that the major commercial television licensees have gone to considerable expense recently to improve their capacity to produce Australian programmes. Station HSV recently purchased an old theatre to provide it with studios where the management can test and produce local programmes. GTV already has a good record in this respect. ATN is associated with Artransa, and they have informed me of an interesting and farreaching proposal to develop new films with an Australian content. I am not putting in a plug for any particular station but I am giving to the committee information which is conveyed to me from time to time. TCN is doing a great deal, particularly in the educational field. I can tell the honorable member for Batman and others who have expressed a desire to see more Australian programmes that I am satisfied that an honest attempt is being made by licensees to use more and more Australian talent.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) was the only honorable member who attempted to apply himself to the actual essence of Postal Department finance. He was the only one who got down to the figures presented in the accounts, and he voiced some criticism of the position. I was very interested to hear the honorable member because I had in my own mind forecast what he would say. I found that 1 did so absolutely correctly. I knew that he would point out, quite rightly, that the papers show a surplus of revenue over expenditure amounting to £22,000,000. On the face of it, that appears to be the situation. Then I was sure that he would go on to say that this meant that the Postal Department was putting a surplus of £22,000,000 into Consolidated Revenue this year and that therefore the Post Office tariffs were too high. Such a statement from the honorable member is completely misleading.
The honorable member also said that revenue should match expenditure. Let us follow that line of thought. This, briefly, is the actual position: Every year the revenue that the Post Office earns goes immediately into Consolidated Revenue. We have no funds from which we can draw or in which we can stack away socalled profits. All we have goes into Consolidated Revenue and all our requirements for any purpose whatever connected with the running of our services, meeting all capital demands, maintenance and replacement demands come from Consolidated Revenue. We put in and draw out. The true financial relationship between the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Treasury in this financial year as in the previous year is this: There is an excess of drawing by the Post Office from the Treasury. The excess of expenditure over income or revenue paid into the Treasury this year is £20,000,000.
– That is only when you take your capital expenditure into account.
– Do not talk to me about accountancy principles or anything of that sort. This is the hard cash position as between the Treasury and the Post Office in this financial year in which we have these increased tariffs. Instead of having a profit of £20,000,000 to- devote to departmental purposes, we will actually draw from the Treasury in this financial year £20,000.000 more than we pay into it. Do not talk to me about theory, logic or something of that sort. This is the hard cash position, and you cannot get away from it. Our revenue in the current financial year is expected to be £135,600,000, and our expenditure is estimated to be £113,500,000 on ordinary services and £42,100,000 on capital works -a total expenditure of £155,600,000. Those figures all are in the papers, and they show, as I have told the committee, that we are drawing £20,000,000 more from the Treasury than, we are paying in. That is the essence of what the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said in his Budget speech in August of last year, and these figures show, how his expectations are panning out.
I come now to the final matter with which 1 wish to deal. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports referred to the ad hoc committee which is inquiring into the whole of the financial accounts of the Post Office as a white-washing (committee. I was sorry to- hear him describe it in those terms. As I pointed out when replying to the honorable member for Maranoa, this committee was appointed to investigate and report on certain matters which have been outstanding between the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and the Treasury for a considerable time. Honorable members will recall that. What is the real financial relationship between the two departments? What financial benefits has the Post Office received from Consolidated Revenue? How much capital have we really drawn over a period of years? If we can determine the amount, should we pay interest on it? If interest should be paid, what Should the fate be? What should be the proper treatment of things such as furlough and pensions? Those are matters which have never been properly resolved and which I have set out to resolve. They are matters which this committee has been appointed to determine. But the honorable member for Melbourne Ports says, “ It is- just a white-washing committee appointed in the hope that its report will cover you for the additional charges that you have imposed “. He should not have said that. The Joint Committee of Public Accounts inquired into the Postmaster-General’s Department in late 1953 and early 1954.
– The honorable member for Melbourne Ports was a member of the committee then.
– The Minister has almost stolen my thunder. The committee in its summary of conclusions, at page 50 of its twelfth report, dealt with the department’s superannuation liability. That is one of the things which we have referred to the ad hoc committee appointed to inquire into the financial accounts of the Post Office. Under the heading “ Superannuation Liability “, the Public Accounts Committee stated -
At that time, those liabilities were not included, and they still are not. Under the heading “ Capital, Interest and Exchange Charges”, the committee expressed this view -
That is a matter which the ad hoc committee has been appointed to consider. The Public Accounts Committee’s report continued -
That is just what we had in mind when we appointed the ad hoc committee. One of the duties of that committee is to consider that matter. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports was a member of the Public Accounts Committee at the time it made this report.
– It was a very good report.
– Yes; a perfectly sound report. I am not questioning it. The honorable member should not have said that the ad hoc committee which was appointed to do these very things is just a white-washing committee. That sort of statement is not typical of him.
Under the heading “ Basis for Future Charges of Interest and Exchange “, at page 1 6 of its twelfth report, the Public Accounts Committee stated -
There are a number of factors to be considered before deciding upon an equitable charge for interest and exchange in the future.
As far as the Postmaster-General’s Department is concerned -
The issue will then be whether interest should be charged on funds invested from revenue as well as from loans. On this point it is relevant to notice that advances made from revenue to public corporations such as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority and the Joint Coal Board, bear interest at the current long-term bond rate; and
What rate of interest is to be charged?. . .
I repeat that these are quotations from a report made by the Public Accounts Committee at a time when the honorable member for Melbourne Ports was a member of it. In view of this, and in the light of the information that I have given to the committee, how can the honorable member sustain his criticism, the object of which is perfectly obvious.
Thank you very much for bearing with me, Mr. Temporary Chairman. Again I say that I shall attend by correspondence to those matters with which I have been unable to deal even in this somewhat lengthy address.
.- Mr. Temporary Chairman-
Motion (by Mr. Hulme) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. B. M. Wight.)
Majority . . . . 23
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed votes agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Townley) agreed to -
That the following resolution be reported to the House: -
That, including the sum already voted for such services, there be granted to Her Majesty a sum not exceeding £742,389,000 for the services of the year 1960-61. viz.: -
PART 1. - DEPARTMENTS AND SERVICESOTHER THAN BUSINESS UNDERTAKINGS AND TERRITORIES OF THE COMMONWEALTH.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Townley) agreed to -
That, towards making good the Supply granted to Her Majesty for the service of the year 1960-61, there be granted out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund the sum of £475.533.000.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Mr. Townley and Mr. Harold Holt do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Townley, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
That the Estimates - Additions, New Works and Other Services involving Capital Expenditure 1960-61 - be considered as a whole.
Proposed Vote, £139,921.000.
.- I direct the committee’s attention to the appropriation under the War Service Homes Act. Government supporters have been embarrassed and Opposition members have been appalled at the Government’s refusal to increase the appropriation for the War Service Homes Division in this year’s Budget. This is the fourth consecutive annual appropriation of the same size. The Government has refused to increase the appropriation in the face of a constant decline in the number of applicants for whom this appropriation will provide assistance, a constant decline in the percentage of houses in Australia which are being built or financed through the War Service Homes Division, and a constant decline in the proportion of the cost of a house which is met by war service homes loans.
The Government of the Commonwealth has no alibi in regard to war service homes. It cannot say that they are a State function. It cannot evade the issue by blaming the housing commissions for the way in which they spend the money which the Commonwealth grants them. It cannot plead that building societies are at liberty to spend in their own way, or loan in their own way, the funds which they borrow from banks or from the general public, or which the Commonwealth makes available for them under the 1956 housing agreement. In this case, the Government cannot evade its responsibility for the lending policies of the Commonwealth banks, or the private banks, or the insurance companies, lt has the constitutional power to guide the lending and investment policies of all those institutions. Ever since 1918. the control of war service homes has been within the direct jurisdiction of this Parliament, lt was once thought that war service homes were the only tangible and predictable advantage available to men or women who had served overseas with the forces. Pensions and repatriation treatment were variable matters and were made available only according to a medical determination of a war-caused disability. Soldier settlement depended on the luck of the ballot. But war service homes are available to everybody who qualifies under the War Service Homes Act, subject to directions which the Minister mav make from time to time.
The War Service Homes Division has always accorded certain advantages which were not available from any other housing source. It provided loans for a longer period than any other source until the 1955 housing agreement was made with the States. It charged the lowest interest rate of all housing authorities, and, in the face of the two increases in interest on housing loans which the Menzies Government has required the banks to impose, it now charges by far the lowest interest rate of all home-financing authorities. It also charges the lowest insurance rates. This is not because the War Service Homes Division does not make, proportionately, just as large an allocation of moneys to fire brigades as do the private fire insurance companies; it does make as large a contribution, but, of course, it charges only enough to cover its customers. Unlike the private fire insurance companies, it does not charge twice as much as is required to cover its customers. That is the objection which the Government has to the war service homes scheme.
I propose to show how the Government has stalled and rationed the whole scheme. This Government is averse to the war service homes scheme because it is the nearest thing to a socialized housing scheme in this country. It should, of course, be the nucleus of a proper public or socialized housing scheme for everybody who wants to borrow money and is able to pay it back during his working life. Admittedly the Commonwealth has only limited powers to lend money for housing. It can do so for ex-servicemen, it can do so for its own public servants, and it can do so in its own Territories. But it has not yet gone beyond the men who have served in the forces, and this Government is making a decreasing proportionate allocation for that purpose also.
The remaining advantage in addition to the long period of repayment, and the low interest and insurance rates, is the fact that a man knows that if he has a war service loan his widow and dependants will never be evicted during their life time if he predeceases them. It might be thought that the War Service Homes Division made loansto a particularly favoured section of the community and that this section was being pampered, but loans are not available, and’ were not available even before the restrictions imposed by the present Minister and1 his predecessor to all ex-service personnel. For instance, an ex-serviceman can secure a war service home loan only if he is married, or is about to marry, or hasdependants for whom it is necessary toprovide a home. He cannot secure a loan if he already owns a house, nor can hesecure a loan if he has already had one. If a man who served in the first war had’ a loan, and then served in the second war and wanted a further loan, he would not get it. The act provides for loans to exservicemen who need accommodation and’ who do not own any accommodation. It enables ex-servicemen to obtain loans tosecure the first home for themselves and their dependants.
I have stated that this is the fourth successive year in which the appropriationhas remained unchanged. That is the longest: period for which there has been no increase- in the appropriation since the outbreak of the Second World War. During that time, the cost to the Government has in fact declined. The gross expenditure has remained static now for four successive financial years, but the net expenditure has declined over the last ten years. Last year, the Government spent less than in any other year during its term of office. The reason is that repayments to the division have increased from £4.687,000 in 1950-51 to £19,767,000 last financial year.
It may be thought that these repayments were anticipated when the original loans were made, but half the repayments which are made to the National Debt Sinking Fund under this act represent premature repayments. They represent payments which have been made to that fund by people who secured war service homes loans and who had to repay them because they had to sell their houses before the full repayment period had expired. It is a constant source of wonder to honorable members, ex-service organizations and prospective borrowers from the division that a revolving fund cannot be set up from these premature repayments in the same way as the Government has provided for in the home builders’ account under the 1956 housing agreement. If such a revolving fund were set up, the public funds would receive recoupment by the anticipated date. These premature repayments are unexpected windfalls. Under the home builders’ account set up under the 1956 housing agreement, the Commonwealth secures repayment of its loans to the States in the course of 53 years. Under the War Service Homes Act, the Government makes loans which it expects will be repaid within a similar period. That is the actuarial basis of both funds. But under the home builders’ account, if money is repaid in less than the 53 years - and it always is because you cannot borrow money from a building society for longer than 20, 25 or 30 years at most - those prepayments go into a revolving fund.
What is the reason for failing to set up a revolving fund with these windfalls which the Government receives every year, and which now amount to over £5,000,000 a year? If a revolving fund similar to that set up under the home builders’ account were established in connexion with war service homes, this Government - or the Australian people - would be providing £40,000,000 instead of £35,000,000 this year, and the cost to the Government would still be less than it spent in the first year in which it was in office.
I have mentioned the various rationing schemes which the Government has introduced to spin out the funds. In 1951, we had the last increase in the amount which could be received by way of loan. It was then raised to £2,750, and it stays at that figure to this day, despite the increase in housing and land costs in the intervening nine years. Then, about 1954, a waiting period was introduced for all types of loans. And the waiting period is as long now as it ever was in most cases. Thirdly, a system of interim mortgages was introduced in 1951. By those three devices, provision is made by the Government to help the maximum number of applicants, instead of helping applicants with the maximum need.
The act, of course, provides that every eligible applicant should be assisted. If the Government refuses to do that, it should assist the applicants who have the maximum need rather than those who can afford to wait until their turn comes or who can afford to provide the greatest amount to supplement their loans. The maximum loan in 1951-52 was sufficient to cover the average cost of a home and land with several hundred pounds to spare in every State. The latest report shows that the maximum loan fell short of the average cost of a home and land by over £1,000 in every State except Queensland and Tasmania. It fell short by £1,199 in New South Wales, by £1,357 in Victoria, by £703 in Queensland, by £1,440 in South Australia, by £1,042 in Western Australia, by £845 in Tasmania and by £2,888 in the Australian Capital Territory.
I come to the waiting period. No man who now applies for a loan to build under the act will receive the loan till next year. No man who now applies for a loan to pay off a loan which he has secured permission to raise from outside sources will receive the loan till next financial year. No man who now applies for a loan to buy a second-hand house will receive the loan for another year. The War Service Homes Division is the sole public or publicly controlled source which in recent years has lent money to buy old houses. Now an applicant can buy an old house if he is willing to wait long enough. If he cannot wait, he will receive no assistance from the Division.
No man who now applies for a loan to buy a newly constructed house will receive the loan till the year after next. No man who now applies for a loan to buy a group home will secure such a home in New South Wales till November of next year, and in Queensland until April of the following year. He will never secure such a home in Victoria or South Australia, because the group scheme has been discontinued in those States.
Lastly, the interim mortgage scheme has resulted in the Government’s guaranteeing interim mortgages in seven out of eight cases above bank interest and doubling legal costs in all cases. The Minister makes a periodic survey of the interest which is charged with Government approval by private sources to tide the applicants over till the Government is prepared to make the money available to the applicant which the act has promised him ever since 1918. In less than one-eighth of the cases is interest charged at the average bank rate of 5i per cent. The last review showed that in March, 1960, more applicants had to pay above 9 per cent, on their interim mortgages than were able to pay 6 per cent or less.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- Unlike the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), a Minister of this Government, I do not have unlimited time to make a contribution at this stage of the Estimates debate. If I had more time I would be delighted to reply to the unjustified criticism voiced by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) on the subject of war service homes. His criticism of the financial provision and administration of the War Service Homes Division is entirely without foundation. What the Government has done stands, without a shadow of doubt, to its credit. One cannot deny that an appropriation of £35,000,000 annually is a substantial allocation indeed. What has been accomplished by the praiseworthy administration of the War Service Homes
Division is quite widely acknowledged. Because time is short, I do not want to be deterred by the unjustified criticism uttered by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition from speaking on the matter I wish to discuss. It is my intention to speak specifically to Division 935 of the Estimates under the heading of Capital Works and Services. The item to which I direct attention is the amount of £18,500,000 appropriated for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Power Act. Mr. Chairman, like many of my colleagues in this Parliament who have visited the Snowy Mountains scheme, I am fascinated by the conception of the whole plan that we see when we go there as visitors.
– The scheme was introduced by Labour.
– I acknowledge that. But we give adequate praise to this Government which has moved ahead without any deviation to maintain the programme about which I now want to speak specifically. I have been a visitor to the Snowy Mountains on a number of occasions. I hope that I will be able to follow, each year, the progress of this vast undertaking until it fulfils the plan as it is presented to us. I feel that I can rightly take the opportunity to praise the Government for sustaining the programme, as I mentioned in reply to the interjection. Vision has been applied to everything relating to this programme. I believe the praise which I mentioned is fully justified, although admittedly there is a point about which I will speak in a moment or two.
Praise is also due to the whole team of personnel, past and present, who have been associated with the work in the Snowy Mountains. These are people who, not without sacrifice I suggest, have moved on most commendably to the achievement of the stage of this impressive scheme which has now been reached. Sir William Hudson and his chief associates are worthy of the nation’s highest praise. I suggest in all sincerity that they are building for posterity and that they are building very well indeed. I believe that it is good to place a great developmental scheme such as this in correct perspective as we speak of it in this committee. So I direct attention to the fact that, as at 30th June last, the expenditure on the Snowy Mountains scheme was approximately £163,000,000. But this massive figure represents only 40 per cent, of the estimated total cost of the entire undertaking.
The scheme falls into two major stages. The first major stage is the Upper Tumut development and this, we note with a great deal of appreciation, is to be completed late next year. But the projects in this first stage fall into three groups. The first group is complete. Those projects cover the great Eucumbene dam, the EucumbeneTumut tunnel, the Tumut Pond dam and the vast and impressive Tumut I. underground power station. These four projects are complete. The second group in this first plan is to be completed within a period of six to eight months. These projects cover the Tooma dam, the ToomaTumut dam tunnel, the Tantangara dam and the Murrumbidgee-Eucumbene tunnel, bringing us to the final project which will be completed in approximately twelve months’ time. That last project is the Tumut II. underground power station.
Recognizing that the work that I have outlined represents the first stage, I can, in simple terms, point out that the second major stage is known as the Snowy-Murray diversion. In this connexion I want to make it clear that the field investigations and design are well advanced for this part of the scheme and contracts for the construction work which will be involved will be advertised this financial year. I am concerned at all times that adequate finance be made available to the authority to meet the requirements of the programme of this vast undertaking. I hope that when the work that has been scheduled has reached a certain stage money will be provided so that roe contracts required to be let can be let.
When I turn to the authority’s interim report, which was made available to honorable members just recently for the purposes of the Estimates debate, I wonder whether the programme, unfortunately, has been put back by some months. I quote particularly from page 11 of the interim report -
The authority is in a position to advertise a contract for the first of these works, the
Eucumbene-Snowy tunnel, as early as finances permit. It is anticipated that tenders for this project will be advertised during 1960-61.
As the vote of £18,500,000 for the current year is less than the vote for last year, which was £28,250,000, I cannot help but wonder, as I have said, whether, as the finance has been restricted, the time schedule for the work will be interrupted. I am not suggesting that it will be a major delay, but I am saying that I had hoped that as year followed year - because this programme will stretch into the future for quite a considerable time yet - there would be no frustration of the highly-qualified personnel of the authority who, having set a programme and achieved it - for which they deserve great commendation - may find that because of lack of finance they are some months behind schedule.
I believe that it is pertinent at this juncture to direct attention to the achievements of the contractors, the working personnel and the technicians on the job. The contractor for the Murrumbidgee-Eucumbene tunnel made rapid progress and repeatedly established world records for speed of tunnelling on that particular job. The tunnel is one of the longest in the world ever driven from only two headings. The maximum advance achieved was 590 feet in one heading in a six-day week. We must, I feel, make sure that this splendid team, to whose members I am paying this tribute - not only the key men, not only Sir William Hudson, the head of the Snowy Mountains Authority, but all those associated with him - is kept together in the interests of Australia’s national development. As the major part of the field investigations for the last stage of the scheme will be completed during the next few years and it is expected that some trained staff and wages personnel will then be available for this type of work elsewhere, I pose to the committee the question: To what task could they be transferred logically, bearing in mind the type of work upon which they have been engaged? Being a Western Australian my mind, of course, goes quickly to the vast potential of the north-west of that State. This Government, in the field of capital works and services about which we are now speaking, has shown its interest in this area by setting aside £5,000,000 under the Western Australia Grant (Northern
Development) Act. £1,000,000 of that amount is provided in the Estimates we are considering at the moment.
This area in the north of Western Australia is well referred to as Australia’s land of to-morrow. With some appreciation I” direct the committee’s attention to the fact that last evening and this evening in this Parliament House we had the pleasure of seeing a film of that title - “ Australia’s Land of To-morrow “. Part of the film had to do with the Ord River project - the pilot project in the north. In referring to the Snowy Mountains programme, I visualize the possibility, in due time, of transferring the personnel from the Snowy Mountains project to such projects as the Ord River project.
This project on the Ord River promises an irrigation scheme and a major dam project beyond the conception of many people. The major dam project should follow the pilot project when the governments concerned are convinced that the “ vision wonderful “ is within reach. But do not let me be misunderstood. 1 am not talking about a project as large as the Snowy Mountains scheme which, as I have said, will finally involve an expenditure of something like £407,000.000. I am not suggesting that that be the complexion of my suggestion relating to the north. 1 view with concern a note that was sounded in the Estimates debate the other day by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) who, when referring to the north of Australia, said -
First, do not let us imagine - and none of us really does - that the north of Australia is in fact being neglected. Secondly, do not let us talk in an unrealistic and airy fashion about starting projects such as the Snowy Mountains scheme up there, and spending enormous sums of money on them.
I want to make it clear that that statement could be misunderstood if any one were talking about a £407,000,000 project in the north; but with some justification we are looking forward to the day when £20,000,000 or perhaps £25,000,000 will be spent in this area of the Kimberleys for the advancement of national development on a scale appropriate to that area. I hope that the Minister for Health is not alarmed at the figure of £20,000,000 or £25,000,000 that I suggest. I must say he disturbed me considerably when he used the expression I have quoted.
The Kimberleys project on the Ord River will, without doubt, call for Commonwealth assistance, financial and otherwise. Some years ago in this Parliament 1 advocated a partnership between the Commonwealth and the State Government and ! still have the same conviction that this approach will be the most rewarding. Sir William Hudson and the experienced Snowy Mountains team might well be absorbed into the expanding Ord River project. This could be a desirable link with the Commonwealth and also represent good stewardship in retaining highly qualified personnel for one of the most positive developmental schemes - the harnessing of the mighty volume of water which flows down the Ord River and the diverting of it from the sea to be used for irrigation purposes.
– How long would you expect those personnel to be employed up there?
– If we were to spend the amount of money I mention they would be employed up there for a number of years. I am talking now of the personnel who will leave the Snowy Mountains scheme within the next two years, and I suggest that they could well be absorbed in this north-west project in the way I have proposed. I therefore hope we may see this desirable link between the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the challenging new project on the Ord River.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I join in the discussion on these estimates to support the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) in his remarks on the War Service Homes Division, but first I should like to deal with a few remarks that were made by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver). He criticized the Government’s action of reducing the vote for the Snowy Mountains Authority this year from £28,250,000 to £18,500,000. I wish to recall to honorable members that in the debate on the defence estimates I, too, criticized the Government for reducing the vote for the Snowy Mountains project by £10,000,000 this year and increasing the defence vote by that amount. I did that because only a few months ago - in March last - when the Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) gave his defence review, he said that the policy of the Government would be one of priorities insofar as defence is concerned. Such national development schemes as the Snowy Mountains project should be given first priority as far as the defence of the country is concerned. My criticism was valid at that time. But no one on the other side of the chamber was prepared to stand up and say that Opposition members were following the right line of thought. Now we find the honorable member for Swan criticizing the Government tor reducing expenditure on the Snowy Mountains project by £10,000,000. I think he is quite right in criticizing the Government, because this is a great development undertaking.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition criticized the Government for not using trained personnel from the Snowy Mountains project on other development projects. Now the honorable member for Swan is adopting the same line as that adopted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. This Government is lacking in vision. It will lose many of the skilled artisans now employed on the Snowy Mountains project. They will leave this country. We believe that it is necessary to develop the north of Australia. We should give full support to schemes such as those proposed by the honorable member for Swan; but honorable members opposite must be consistent. They cannot have this and not have that; they must be consistent and be prepared to criticize the Government.
The honorable member for Swan said that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was unfair in his criticism of the war service homes provision. This Government certainly has plenty of sins to answer for; it has a very sorry record for the eleven years that it has been in office. The only obligation in national development that it has accepted is in relation to the Snowy Mountains project; but many development schemes await attention. I have in mind such matters as housing, roads, water conservation and flood mitigation. However, I want to deal now with the subject of war service homes. The Government’s record in this field is a very sorry one. When the Government was swept into power in 1949. it said, “ We will look after our friends, the ex-servicemen. We will provide houses for them.” What do we find? In 1950-51, the first financial year it was in power, 23,000 applications for war service homes were outstanding. To-day, eleven years later, 21,000 applications are still outstanding. Now, fifteen years after the cessation of hostilities, 21,000 ex-servicemen are still waiting for homes.
Let us add to that figure. Under the Chifley Government, a returned serviceman could transfer an existing mortgage to the War Service Homes Division, but in 1952, with the horror Budget, this Government removed the provision which allowed an ex-serviceman to transfer a mortgage from a co-operative building society or a bank to the War Service Homes Division. The Government made these people pay interest at 5i or 6 per cent, instead of allowing them to obtain a loan from the War Service Homes Division at the very generous interest rate of 3i per cent. Many ex-servicemen have not been able to enjoy the privilege of this low rate of interest. I venture to say that some 10,000 or 15,000 exservicemen would transfer their mortgages from a co-operative building society or a bank to the War Service Homes Division if they were allowed to do so; and this figure should be added to the 21,000 applications still outstanding. That is the sorry record of this Government. In 1950-51, 23,000 applications were outstanding and in 1959-60 there were still 21,000 outstanding, and there were also some 10,000 to 15,000 ex-servicemen who had been deprived of the benefit of a loan from this division.
I shall deal now with the amounts made available by this Government to the War Service Homes Division. In 1950-51, capital expenditure of the division was £25,000,000. In 1959-60, this had increased to £35,000,000. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, this is the third year that the amount has been £35,000,000. Let us examine it a little more closely. In the middle of 1950, the basic wage was £7 2s. a week; to-day it is well over £14, an increase of more than 100 per cent. So, to match the £25,000,000 allocated in 1950-51, an amount of £50,000.000 is needed to-day instead of the £35,000,000 that is actually provided. This Government has used the War Service Homes Division as a revenue-raising body. In 1950-51, revenue was £4,800,000; in 1959-60, it was £19,800,000, an increase of £15,000,000. But, even in cold, hard cash, without allowing for the inflationary trend, expenditure has increased by only £10,000,000. Therefore, without allowing for inflation, the Government has gained by £5,000,000.
– You are talking a lot of nonsense.
– If the honorable member wants to challenge these figures, he should get up and do so, and stop mumbling in his beard.
This Government has a sorry record. In 1950-51, the first year that it was in office, 15,000 homes were built by the division, but last year only 14,000 homes were built. We find that 21,000 applications are still outstanding, and that figure is even greater when consideration is given to the number of ex-servicemen who have been deprived of the right to transfer an existing mortgage to the War Service Homes Division. Without doubt, this is a money lender’s Government. If an ex-serviceman wants to buy a new home that has already been constructed, he must wait for twelve months after his application is approved before the loan is made available to him. If honorable members refer to the answer given on 1st September last to a question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, they will see that, on the Government’s own figures, ex-servicemen are paying interest rates of 8 per cent., 10 per cent, and even as much as 12 per cent, for temporary finance. This is the Government which is so good to ex-servicemen!
On two occasions when the subject of war service homes has been discussed in this place, nobody on the Government side has stood up to further the cause of exservicemen. If honorable members wish to know what ex-servicemen think of the attitude of this Government to the provision of homes by the War Service Division, I suggest they read the 44th annual report of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia, at pages 27 to 31. There they will find a considerable volume of complaint about the failure to increase the maximum advance for war service homes.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has referred to the fact that the maximum advance made by the division was fixed at £2,750 in, I think, November, 1951. As I have said, since then the basic wage has almost doubled. Yet, to-day, almost ten years later, the amount of the maximum advance is still the same. Ex-servicemen’s associations have asked that it be increased to £3,500, because you know that you cannot buy much in the way of housing to-day with £2,750. Because that is so, many ex-servicemen, in addition to being obliged to wait twelve months, twenty month or even two years for finance, also have to put themselves in pawn to business houses, such as gas companies, for prime cost items for their homes. For such things as gas stoves, they have to pay interest over periods up to four years, because they are obliged to provide so much money above the maximum advance of the War Service Homes Division.
This Government has a very sorry record in regard to war service homes. Exservicemen on the Government side of the chamber should long since have shown a little courage and criticized the Government for its failure to provide a better deal for ex-servicemen. After all, many honorable members opposite are sabre rattlers. They love to rattle the sabre. They like to get out on Anzac Day, with their medals on and their chests thrown out.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I wish to join the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver) in congratulating the Government on the splendid achievements in relation to the Snowy Mountains scheme and also its fine record in regard to war service homes. This Government has built more war service homes than all previous governments put together. It has provided a steady flow of finance for the erection of such homes. It has appropriated the tremendous sum of £35,000,000, the largest sum that has ever been appropriated by any government during each of the last four years, notwithstanding the fact that last year we had quite a substantial cash deficit. If the Australian Labour Party had its way, it would turn the tap on and off. One year, we might get a large amount for war service homes, and the next year there might be nothing. This Government provides a very substantial amount regularly. It is the maximum amount that the country is able to afford.
The point that I wish to stress to the committee concerns the practice that has been observed for many years now of paying for the whole of our capital works and services from revenue. I point out, Sir, that in this year we are spending approximately £140,000,000 of revenue - tax money - on the provision of capital works. A large amount of that expenditure is probably justified because the capital works in question are not incomeproducing. It is very sound business practice, when you are undertaking capital works that will not return any income, to pay for them out of revenue. But in addition to that, we are paying for a large proportion of our capital works which are revenue-producing, and which will continue to be revenue-producing, out df tax revenue or out of the general revenue of the Commonwealth. For example, in relation to war service homes, we are paying out of general revenue this year the sum of £35,000,000. Every penny of that amount will, over a period of years, be repaid to the Commonwealth. It is lent to ex-servicemen on the best possible security, namely, the security of homes. Experience has shown that there is virtually no loss whatsoever when money is lent on the security of homes. In addition to that, we are spending another £18,500,000 on the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, the whole of which is to be repayable according to the terms of the agreement, and I think the indications are that the money so provided will be repaid.
If we look at the Estimates for Capital Works and Services we find that another £37,000,000 is being provided for capital works in relation to the Post Office, for telephone and telegraph services. We know that, because of the increased charges that were imposed recently, the Post Office probably will provide substantially the whole of that expenditure. Therefore, Sir, I think we want to look at the position in the light that last year we paid off more than £100,000,000 of our Commonwealth public debt. If we continue in the way that we have been proceeding in the last few years, within a period of ten or fifteen years the whole of the Commonwealth public debt will be discharged. That is to say, we shall have no public debt from the Commonwealth point of view. That is a very desirable objective and one to which we can look forward. It will be a very fortunate government which in, say, ten years’ time, finds that the whole of the public debt has vanished and that it merely has to meet its revenue commitments. But even more important than that, Sir, is the fact that when our public debt has been paid off we shall still have interest and repayments coming in from the Snowy Mountains scheme, the War Service Homes Division and the Post Office.
Not only will the Government that is in office in about ten years’ time have no interest to pay and no sinking fund payments to make, but in addition it will have revenue coming in from capital works that have been paid for out of revenue during the last ten years. I think the present position is one of which we can be extraordinarily proud, but I am not quite sure that it can be said that it is sound finance to use tax revenue to pay for so much of our capital works. I realize that it will be said that we have had no alternative, that we cannot raise the money by public loans and that if we did not pay for our capital works out of revenue we would have a cash deficit. I will admit the force of that argument, but I think we have to go further and ask why we cannot get the money we require by way of public loans.
That brings me to what I believe is one of the real difficulties of the present situation. We cannot get enough people to subscribe to our public loans. I believe we must give more inducements to save. I think that private individuals are spending too much and saving too little, but I do not think we can simply hold up our hands and say that this is a bad situation but that we can do nothing about it. Wc must encourage and. if necessary, induce people to save. There are many ways in which people can be encouraged to save. One of them is the institution of a national contributory superannuation plan. Another way is to give incentives to save by allowing a certain portion of the savings to he treated as a deduction for income tax purposes. For instance, a suggestion was pui forward by the honorable member for
Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) that in order to help the small saver, the first £200 of savings should be an allowable deduction lor taxation purposes in the year of investment, and taxable in the year when the person spent it. I believe that by that means we would attract a tremendous amount of money into Government bonds, through the medium of small savings. I also believe that we could have a special type of bond available for the payment of estate and succession duty and income tax.
Order! ls the honorable member dealing with these estimates?
– Yes, Mr. Chairman. The estimates deal with the provision of money for capital works out of revenue. I am suggesting that the money should be provided, not out of revenue, but out of loan funds, and I am suggesting means how that can be done.
– That cannot be tied up with these estimates.
– With due respect, Sir, I submit that it can. I am perfectly entitled to move a motion expressing disagreement with the Chairman’s ruling, if I wish to do so.
– I do not mind that. I adhere to my view. Superannuation funds have nothing to do with these estimates.
– Very well. I will not press the matter. Sir, if you feel that way about it. I would have thought that it was perfectly competent for me to deal with the amount that is being paid for capital works out of revenue, but if you rule against me, Sir, I will not proceed on that basis. In my opening remarks I congratulated the Government on its record in relation to war service homes. I believe that in the near future we will rapidly overtake the arrears in relation to war service homes. I believe also that, except in the unfortunate and extraordinarily badly governed State of New South Wales, where there has been a Labour government for so many years, we will eliminate the housing shortage in Australia. I congratulate the Government on the splendid Budget that it has brought for ward and on the Estimates which are now before the House.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has now expired.
– At this late hour of the evening, and at the end of the week, one would perhaps be tempted to allow the debate to lapse at the present stage, but I feel that I must make reference to the criticisms levelled at the Government by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). I have no doubt that the honorable member is a very competent lawyer, but he is a man with a limited knowledge of the practicalities of life and living. He has never mixed with men, in the normal sense of the term, nor, in any shape or form, can he find any affinity with the workers of our country and the people who, for a variety of reasons, have to find employment in what can be described as the heavy industries and in all forms of manual labour. The honorable member invariably devotes a great deal of time to a criticism of the administration of the War Service Homes Division, but he does not understand the administration of the division as it affects working men and women and their children throughout the country.
He opened his speech by saying that the Government has no alibi for its performance with regard to war service homes. The Government, as the honorable member well knows, has no need of any alibi. It has a proud record in all spheres of public administration, tested and approved by the people of our country on a number of occasions during the last decade. But its greatest record of achievement is to be found in the administration of the War Service Homes Division, and no one knows that better than does the honorable member for Werriwa. Indeed there are no less than 147,689 people who stand as witnesses to the proud record of the Government. Those people - some of them are women - have been completely satisfied by the administration of the War Service Homes Division in meeting their accommodation and housing difficulties as they have arisen in the last few years.
The honorable member for Werriwa described the war service homes scheme as a socialistic housing scheme. The war service homes scheme, as we know it to-day, was conceived in 1949 and was designed as an anti-socialistic housing scheme. Every day since then there has been a practical demonstration of the anxiety and willingness of people to escape from the chains of socialism as it affects housing.
The honorable member took the strongest exception to the fact that the Government, for a variety of good and sufficient reasons, cannot give favorable consideration to second, third, fourth and fifth applications for war service home loans. Does the honorable member for Werriwa suggest that the 20,000 applicants - there is a considerable wastage in the number of applicants each year - who are waiting for a first application to be favorably considered should be stood aside so that favorable consideration could be given to second, third, fourth and fifth applications? Does he suggest that young men and women, some with young families, should wait with infinite patience while the favoured few - favoured by the honorable member for Werriwa - receive not one war service home or two service homes but three or four war service homes? This Government would have nothing whatever to do with such a proposal. That was the reason. Mr. Chairman, why the Government decided nol to consider second or subsequent applications, except under exceptional circumstances. I can imagine no more convincing argument than that.
The honorable member for Werriwa also suggested that the receipts of the War Service Homes Division in each financial year should be paid into a revolving fund. That is a most plausible argument to the credulous and1 the uninformed, but no one knows better than the honorable member that under the National Debt Sinking Fund Act repayments of principal must be paid into the National Debt Sinking Fund and are not available for re-allocation by the War Service Homes Division. However, because it is a specious argument he trots it out on every occasion on which this matter is being discussed.
The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren), who is a most amiable fellow but whose powers of comprehension are limited, complained bitterly that not enough was being done to discharge mortgages. What a foolish argument that is, coming from a man who takes great pride in being a socialist and therefore should not have anything to do with mortgages or their discharge. Quite obviously, Mr. Chairman, as the Government interprets the function of the War Service Homes Division, it is not to discharge mortgages, but to provide homes for the homeless, and as long as the division can utilize its Budget appropriations in building or buying homes for the homeless it will give priority to expenditure of that kind to the prejudice, if I may so describe it, of those who want to discharge mortgages,
The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson), when he began to deliver his usual most convincing speech, also referred to the proud record of the Government in the administration of the War Service Homes Division. He mentioned1, just briefly and in passing, the total expenditure of the Government on war service homes. Immediately there were excited interjections of derision from many honorable members opposite, who said that that was not an argument at all. Mr. Chairman, with the permission of the committee, I shall cite three sets of figures in order to set out in precise terms the record of the Government and the history of this splendid organization, the War Service Homes Division. I begin with the years from 1919 to 1945. During that period of 26 years the total number of applicants assisted was 45,366 and the total expenditure on assistance for those applicants was limited to £30,135,536. Admittedly, in that period of 26 years there were nearly six years of war, but that was the total expenditure and the total number of applicants assisted during that long period.
In 1945 the Second World War ended and there was a re-affirmation of faith in the idea of the provision of homes for qualified ex-service men and women. There was also justification for greater enthusiasm than we had ever known before. The socialist government had then been in office for more than four years. During the four years from 1945 to 1949, 17,570 applicants were assisted by the socialist government and the total expenditure was £22,659,986. That was immediately after the war when men and women were gasping for homes of any kind at all and on any terms. There was a magnificent opportunity for a socialist government to demonstrate the practical value of socialism by providing an adequate number of homes for the qualified ex-service personnel who urgently needed them. Yet that was the Labour Government’s record of achievement during that period of four years.
The third set of figures I wish to cite is for the period from 1950 - just after this Government was elected to office - to 1960. During that decade there has been a complete transformation. In that ten-year period no less than 147,689 applicants were assisted by the division and the total expenditure was £312,270,743. In the short space of ten years over £312,000,000 was spent on war service homes. Surely, if the provision of housing is to be measured in practical terms, it can only be measured either in terms of the total expenditure or the number of houses built or bought. Therefore the figures for the last decade have to be compared with the complete record since the war service homes idea was introduced in 1919. Over that period of 41 years the total expenditure has been £365,066,265. So, this Government has done more in any one year than had been done in any decade before, and it has done more in ten years than was done in the complete history of war service homes administration. Those facts give members of the Government cause for pride and satisfaction. 1 also wish to mention that about 20,000 applicants are still waiting for war service homes. A few moments ago I mentioned that there had been a reduction in that number when the applications were considered; but the fact remains that the present terms and conditions relating to the construction, purchase, and insuring of war service homes, are so very good that they attract people to the division in greater numbers than ever before. That is not cause for dissatisfaction; rather is it cause for satisfaction. As long as we can make £35,000,000 available each financial year, as long as we can keep the rates of interest down, and as long as we can give adequate insurance cover to those who build or buy houses, so long will the number of applicants be constantly at a maximum - and I am all in favour of it. Admittedly, the building industry at the moment is overloaded, and no one knows better than the practical men in the Opposition ranks that if anything were done to accelerate unduly the operations of the War Service Homes Division, it could serve only to aggravate an acute situation in the building industry, which would have the effect of increasing the price of homes and making it immeasurably difficult for people in humble circumstances to secure homes under any conditions.
Motion (by Mr. Adermann) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. G. J. Bowden.)
Majority . . . . 19
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Townley) agreed to -
That the following resolution be reported to the House: -
That, including the sum already voted for such services, there be granted to Her Majesty a sum not exceeding £139,921,000 for the services of the year 1960-61 for Additions, New Works, and other Services involving Capital Expenditure, viz: -
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Townley) agreed to -
That, towards making good the Supply granted to Her Majesty for the services of the year 1960- 61, for Additions, New Works and other Services involving Capital Expenditure, there be granted out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund the sum of £83,634,000.
Resolution reported and adopted.
That Mr. Townley and Mr. Adermann do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Townley, and passed through all stages without amendment or debate.
Bill received from the Senate and (on motion by Mr. Townley) read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Townley) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I wish to refer to an attack that was made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) on the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last week and which was, in fact, a follow-on from one of his many week-end broadcasts. The Leader of the Opposition went to lengths that have rarely been exceeded by the most vitriolic adherents of the Australian Labour Party to assert that the
Prime Minister, in his anti-Communist utterances at the recent Liberal Party rally, had deliberately set in motion a new McCarthy-type wave of hysteria which could be kept going until next year’s federal election. Such a statement is most pathetic. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the following portion of the Prime Minister’s speech: - lt will not be any speechifying by antiCommunist speakers which will keep the pot boiling until the general poll. It will be Mr. Khrushchev and his echoes around the world.
In case the zeal of the Leader of the Opposition for his party causes his attitude to be mistaken for that of one of the echoes, it might be wise for him to adopt a more moderate and balanced approach to what is happening around him. Instead of the addresses of the Leader of the Opposition to the public striking a more positive note about what he can offer in Labour Party policy, the ears of the leftists are tickled by the colourful phrases-
– I rise to a point of order. I direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the tact that the honorable member for Ballaarat is reading his speech. That is contrary to the Standing Orders.
– Order! The honorable member is quoting from copious notes.
– We continually hear in this chamber speeches of hatred from honorable members opposite. This policy of hatred which they follow is purely a Communistic line. The Leader of the Opposition has referred to the Prime Minister as being irresponsible.
– I rise to a point of order. You said. Mr. Speaker, that the honorable member for Ballaarat was quoting from copious notes. Are not we, as members of this House, entitled to know who wrote his speech?
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– We have just heard an interjection from a man who in the las! twelve months has been bending over backwards to get on the side of the leftists He was out the other night at the Russian Embassy drinking vodka.
– Order! The honorable member for Ballaarat will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it. From recent speeches made outside and inside this chamber by the Leader of the Opposition, it seems that in this year of 1960 thu Labour Party is endeavouring to pretend that it has a direct claim on the trade unions. But support for the Liberal Party inside the unions is continually growing, lt is utter nonsense for us to be told continually by honorable members opposite that we should keep our noses out of unio.i affairs. We have responsible members inside the unions, and it is on their bena if’ that I feel we should issue a warning. Right now a unity ticket is been organized in South Australia by the Australian Meat. Industry Employees Union. 1 have in my hand a unity ticket that was printed in Victoria recently for that union. When three members of the Australian Labour Party were brought before the Victorian A.L.P. executive, they disclaimed knowledge o. such collaboration. Printed on the ticket are the names of T. W. Tonks and G. Wood of the A.L.P. and J. Timbs of the Communist Party. The personal signatures of those three people appear at the bottom of the document. They disclaimed knowledge of collaboration. The then State secretary of the Australian Labour Party. Mr. J. M. Tripovich, who is now th j Honorable J. M. Tripovich, M.L.C., is reported in this way -
The three men had made signed statements in which they denied any association with members of another political party.
They said they had not given permission for their names to be put on the “ ticket “ and had no knowledge of it before its publication.
What utter nonsense! Here is a unity ticket dated July, 1960, for a ballot to take place on 2nd August, 1960. The ticket reads -
Dear Comrade, As you are no doubt aware the union elections will be held shortly, the closing date is August 2nd, 1960. The organisers are being opposed as are some of the other officials who have held various positions over the years.
– On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I ask that the document from which the honorable member has read be tabled.
– Order! The only document which can be tabled is one from which a Minister has read.
– With the concurrence of honorable members, I shall have this document incorporated in “ Hansard “.
– Order! Is leave granted?
Opposition members. - No.
Leave not granted.
– Members of the Opposition have shown just how insincere they are. We have a direct responsibility to warn trade unionists of the activities of the Communists. In the Melbourne “ Herald “ of Saturday, 28th November. 1959. a staff reporter wrote an article in these terms -
Mr. Sharkey quotes Lenin and Stalin ; Lenin: “ Trade unions are schools of communism . . . without trade unions, a revolution is impossible”; Stalin: “The main task of the Communist Parties of the West at the present time is to develop the campaign for unity in the trade union movement “. Mr. Sharkey says, “These words were spoken by Stalin many years ago, but they might have been said yesterday for they still hold force for us”.
I have risen to-night to utter a warning that the election which is due to take place soon in South Australia is following exactly the same pattern as have elections in other States where unity tickets have been printed and where these fellows, after being questioned by the Labour Party executive about their association with Communists, have disclaimed any knowledge of allowing their names to appear on a unity ticket. All that is utter humbug. We on this side of the House have a responsibility to the people, and it is about time that the Leader of the Opposition issued a warning to trade unionists, who are being detrimentally affected. The welfare of the people of Australia should be our first concern.
– The honorable member for Ballaarat (Mr. Erwin) commenced his address with a reference to a speech which I delivered over the air.
– It was the best thing that he read in the whole ten minutes.
Mr. CALWELL__ Thank you. I thought myself that it was a good speech. Then the honorable member for Ballaarat concluded his address with a reference to unity tickets. I notice in the “ NewsWeekly” edition of Wednesday, 5th October, 1960 - which is not so long ago - that a freedom rally is to be held in the Exhibition Building, Melbourne, on 5th November, 1960, and the principal speakers are to be the Prime Minister (Mr.
Menzies) and Senator McManus. That seems to me to be a pretty good unity ticket.
I read in to-night’s Sydney “Sun” that the Prime Minister has been cavorting with Mr. Khrushchev - we should publish it not in the streets of Askelon lest the children of the Gentiles be scandalized. According to the newspaper report, Mr. Khrushchev and the Prime Minister of Australia met yesterday. At the time that Mr. Khrushchev was entertaining the Australian Prime Minister, the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) was entertaining in this building one of the top Communists in Australia. I do not know where this unity ticket business starts or finishes, but I do know that the people who practice the unity ticket technique best in this country are members of the Liberal Party. Let me read what the Prime Minister is reported to have said -
Nothing very new emerged from our talks.
Whoever expected that anything would emerge? The report continues -
But Mr. Khrushchev was clearly aware of Australia’s decision and went to some trouble to expand his publicly expressed views on current affairs.
What a masterly piece of euphemism! How much more could he expand his views than he has been expanding them in recent times? Then we are told -
Mr. Khrushchev commented: “ We had a fairly extensive conversation on various subjects. . . . It was a sort of study conversation to understand each other.”
Mr. Khrushchev and the Australian Prime Minister were getting together in a study circle to understand each other. This reminds me of the famous Foreign Affairs Committee of the Liberal Party.
The speech which I delivered, and to which passing reference was made, contained these sentiments which I shall read for the benefit of honorable members -
Throughout his long tirade of innuendo, insinuation, and half-truth, there emerged not a single constructive idea, not a positive new thought, and hardly a scintilla of truth. 1 deny that the current Menzies campaign is one directed against “ the menace of communism “. I stigmatise it as a calculated, mean, miserable, electioneering stunt, intended to malign and slander the great Australian Labour Party.
I seem to have been in pretty good form on that occasion. The report of my speech continues in this way -
It was a smoke screen put out to cover the serious failings, bunglings and fumblings of the Government, Mr. Calwell said.
If I needed any further evidence to convince honorable members, I have it in the current publication of the Liberal Party which shows that all this is part of an electioneering stunt - and the Crimes Bill is a part of the same electioneering stunt. We have been told about “ The Face of Communism “. I do not know whose face is depicted on the pamphlet which I have in my hand, but it looks suspiciously like that of the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby). The only difference is that the Communist wears a “ mo “ and the Liberal does not. This publication contains the same miserable material as one would expect to hear in a speech by any member on the Government side on the subject of communism. But members of the Liberal Party always talk with two voices. When addressing the Sydney University students in 1945, the Prime Minister said -
If I had to choose between fascism and communism - I pray I never shall - I would choose communism.
The Prime Minister made that statement in 1945. Fourteen years later during a television interview the Prime Minister, when asked to comment on communism in Australia, said -
I would say there is no danger. They are a minority. They are very active and full of vigorous and evil intentions, but they are not a major factor.
If the Prime Minister was right then, all his henchmen and his policies are wrong now. Night after night his supporters waste the time of this House with their burblings and their drivel about communism. Let me read for the benefit of honorable members opposite - I like trying to educate them - some sentiments that have been uttered by a gentleman who claims fame as a statesman. He said -
There will be no peace in the world, no peace whatever in the world, until we have all got to understand that no country is to be overthrown by propaganda, by subversion: that every country has the right to run its own life in its own way. Whether it is our way or not doesn’t matter so much-some of us think so occasionally, but it doesn’t. Every country must run its life in its own way. It must get up in the morning and go to bed feeling that it is not being pressed and hammered by propaganda of some other nation or some body or government. This is tremendously important.
Does any honorable member on the Government side dispute that?
– I hope you remain Leader of the Opposition for some time. Why do you not face up to the unity tickets issue?
– I have told the House where the unity tickets are. Now I am telling the House something else: the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston) and the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Browne) are making their final appearance in the Parliament. Neither of them will be here in 1961. But let me continue to read the words of this statesman. He said -
The one thing that so many people don’t understand is that if a man wants to loaf, he ought to be allowed to loaf; that if a man wants to think in a funny, silly way, he ought to be allowed to think in a funny, silly way.
Just like the Liberals are thinking and talking. I conclude the quotation -
It is only when we become so virtuous that we want to tell people how they ought to think, how they ought to live, what they ought to do - that we become involved in this deplorable mischief which bedevils the world.
Who do you think said that?
– We can guess.
– Yes, an intelligent gentleman like the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith could guess. It was the Prime Minister of Australia. He said it in a speech to the Australia Club in London on 9th May of this year. I am indebted to the United Kingdom High Commissioner’s Office for the extract.
How many honorable members opposite stand for the nonsense that is talked night after night by the honorable members for Moreton (Mr. Killen), Lilley (Mr. Wight) and Ballaarat (Mr. Erwin), the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) who is now in parts unknown and the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby), who came into the chamber last night talking about a mystic five because it was on his conscience that he was one of the mystic five Liberals who dined with the Communist secretary of the Seamen’s Union of Australia? The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) was the host.
Also present were the honorable member for Griffith, the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury), the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox), who was not mentioned last night-
– The honorable member for Henty was not there.
– Yes he was there, and there was also one other gentleman, whose name escapes me. There were five.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong.
– No, he was shrewder than his friends.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation. My name was mentioned in an interjection. I was not present at the luncheon to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. The Leader of the Opposition claimed that I was one of those who was present at the luncheon. He has his signals mixed, because I was not there. He should withdraw that remark.
.- I think you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that one of the delightful things about this Parliament is that we have our moments of very high drama and also our moments of comedy. One of the most delightful moments of comedy was that provided for us to-night by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). Normally, one would not expect that a member of this Parliament holding such an exalted position as the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition would offer himself as a buffoon to clown in this Parliament and provide moments of comedy. Yet, that is exactly what we saw on the part of the honorable member for Melbourne, who claims to be the Leader of the Opposition in this Parliament. He even went to such lengths as to quote a statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) at a time when we were at war fighting fascism, when the Labour Party itself was the Government in this country, devoting all its efforts to the fight against fascism. The people of Russia at that time were our allies against the common enemy which threatened to engulf the world. When the honorable member, who claims to be the Leader of the Opposition - I say “ claims to be “ advisedly - quotes statements from the past in the present circumstances, he reaches the height of absurdity. 1 said that the honorable member claims to be the Leader of the Opposition. Those who have been in this Parliament for any length of time know full well that only a few years ago the honorable member for Melbourne was the leader of the right wing group in the Australian Labour Party. His lieutenant was the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). But as they saw the rise of Communists to power in the trade union movement and the infiltration of the influence of communism into the Labour Party - and, indeed, into the Federal Parliamentary Labour Party - the honorable member for Melbourne swung his tactics. He was the man who was most critical of his leader at that time, Dr. H. V. Evatt. He took every opportunity to stab Dr. Evatt in the back because, in his opinion, Dr. Evatt was the leader of those who were fellow travellers and friends of the Communist Party of Australia. Subsequently, in the hope that he might become the leader of the Labour Party, the honorable member for Melbourne adopted the policy of skating along the barbed- wire fence with a leg on either side.
However, to-day the honorable member for Melbourne is the leader of the Labour Party in this Parliament. His only chance of staying there depends upon his currying favour with the left wing section. That was clearly indicated in the recent election to the front bench of the Labour Party. As I said the other night, the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) were the contestants for a position on the executive of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Who won? Of course, it was the extreme left wing section of the Labour Party. It is clear that if you want to get to the front bench of the Labour Party you have to back the left wing.
The honorable member for Ballaarat (Mr. Erwin) to-night raised the question of unity tickets. If ever a man dodged behind the eight ball it was the Leader of the Opposition. He tried to suggest that the only unity tickets around were those between the Liberal Party and the Democratic Labour Party. We do not deny that we are united with the D.L.P. on one point - our hostility to communism. We realize, and every really dinkum and redblooded Australian believes that the greatest danger to this country comes from communism. The Leader of the Opposition realizes that too, but he has not the courage to stand in this Parliament and speak the truth of his own convictions because he knows that if he did, it would lead to his political defeat in the Labour Party. He knows that what 1 am saying is the truth, and the laughter that comes from him now is quite false.
The honorable member for Grayndler, who is known by the press of Australia as the leader of the right wing of the Labour Party, supported the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). He tried to curry favour, because he knew he had no chance of winning pre-selection for Grayndler in the next general election election unless he was in favour with the left wing. The fact is that on the question of unity tickets, the Labour Party is turning a blind eye. Here are the signatures of members of the Labour Party on a unity ticket run by the Communist Party in order to win control of the trade unions. The constitution of the Labour Party clearly defines that any man who runs on a unity ticket with the Communist Party is liable to expulsion - but there has never yet been an expulsion for that reason.
In the time left to me, I want to raise another matter relating to social services about which 1 am greatly concerned. This may seem an anti-climax to Opposition members. We in this Parliament have an obligation to do what we can for every section of the community, however, small i: may be. The people whose position I wish to bring before the House to-night comprise a very, very small section of the Australian community. They are being prejudiced to a very great degree by the existing social services and taxation legislation. 1 refer specifically to the case of an elderly gentleman or lady who receives an age pension and who is married to a person below pensionable age. Where both husband and wife are of pensionable age, they may receive a total income of £884 per annum. Where one of them has not reached pensionable age, the other may receive a maximum pension of £260 a year. In order for such a couple to have an income equivalent to that of a married couple who are both of pensionable age, the partner under pensionable age would have to earn £624 per annum.
As a government, we inflict a double penalty where one partner is below pensionable age. First, we tax the income earned by the working spouse - perhaps a wife who out of loyalty to her aged husband works to raise their income to a level at which they can sustain themselves. In order to make a comparison with the position of a couple both of pensionable age and receiving the maximum income of £884 a year. I take as an example a household in which the working spouse earns £624 a year. From that income, we take £42 1 8s. in income tax. These tax figures have been supplied by the Taxation Branch of the Treasury, which has clearly indicated that there is no tax concession for the aged spouse who receives the age pension. Neither is there any age allowance under the terms of the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act for the partner under pensionable age. So the tax paid is equivalent to that paid by a single person who earns £624 a year.
Secondly, the pension of £260 a year paid to the aged spouse is reduced by £130 10s. because of the income earned by the working spouse. The reduction in the pension is assessed on the gross income earned by the working spouse, not on the net income remaining after £42 1 8s. income tax has been deducted. As a result, the pension payable to the aged partner is reduced to £129 10s. a year. The net result is that the couple’s gross earnings are reduced by a total of £172 8s. Instead of them having an income of £884 - £260 in pension plus £624 in earnings - they receive a total income of only £710 12s. 1 suggest that we ought to take cognizance of the injustice done in this way. The position of these unfortunate people could be ameliorated by assessing the reduction in the pension not on the gross income but on the net income remaining after tax has been deducted. In order to clarify the position completely, I have prepared two charts. One shows the total income of husband and wife where both are eligible for the maximum age pension.
– Order! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
– May I ask that these charts bc incorporated in “ Hansard “, Sir?
Mr. SPEAKER__ Since the honorable gentleman’s time has expired, that would not be in order.
– Mr. Speaker, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) has mentioned to me the individual case on which he based the argument which he has just put to the House, and I have given him an undertaking that 1 will investigate this individual case and provide him with a reply to his representations so far as they concern my departmental administration. He will appreciate that every person seals his own income tax fate by the very fact of earning a taxable income. There are no exceptions to that general rule, if a person earns a taxable income, tax is levied in the normal course of events and it must be paid. 1 can understand the honorable member’s perplexity with respect to cases of the kind which he has mentioned and his anxiety to assist constituents who meet with difficulties of this description, but I repeat that a person who earns a taxable income is required to pay his income tax in the normal way.
The honorable member will understand that I am bound by the strict terms of the Social Services Act. 1 must observe them and apply them without fear and without favour. The act provides for an income means test under which a person may have an income of up to £182 per annum without the rate of pension being affected. A married couple may have an income of £364 a year without any effect on their pension. If a single pensioner receives an income of more than £182 a year, or a spouse, in the case of a couple, earns more than £364 a year, the pension payable is subject to deductions in respect of the excess. That is set out in the act in clear and precise terms. If more than the prescribed income is earned and, by that very fact, a liability to income tax is incurred, the Department of Social Services can do nothing about the matter. It is a question exclusively for the Treasury. So 1 suggest to honorable members that in problems of this kind, where tax matters are involved, their representations should be made to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). Where there appears to be some faul. o; frailty in the application of the means test under the terms of the Social Services Act, they should bring these matters to my attention. If they do, 1 shall correct any such fault.
There is no known way for the Department of Social Services to ascertain the tax that will be payable where a pensioner earns a taxable income, and whether tax is paid in the normal way. These are matters exclusively for the Taxation Branch of the Treasury. The Department of Social Services can have no knowledge of them. Nor would it be in a position to get the information if it were withheld by the Taxation Branch or the taxpayer himself, Mr. Speaker. All that I can say to the honorable member for Lilley on that aspect of the matter is that the taxation laws are administered in such a way as to do justice to those who qualify for social service benefits of any kind. Wherever there is any doubt, we try to resolve it in favour of the applicant.
– Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we were discussing the estimates for war service homes, but the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who has been hogging the air all evening, gagged us when we sought from him an answer to certain questions.
– On a point of order: Is the honorable member in order in discussing a debate which took place in committee?
– I think the honorable member for Reid is in order.
– There have been several occasions throughout the debate on the Estimates when honorable members have had opportunities to speak about exservicemen and the need to increase allocations for war service homes, but not one Government supporter has risen to support the ex-servicemen’s claim for a better deal in war service homes. I want to quote a statement made last year by the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) who to-night made an attack on our leader. It was an unwarranted attack. Recently, when he left the chamber after making a similar attack, he said, “ Good stuff for the electorate! “
– What did he say?
– “ Good stuff for the electorate! “ That shows the mentality of some of these individuals. The truth is that they do not realize the vital issues that have to be discussed. We know that after they partake they come into this House and really enjoy themselves. On 14th May. 1959, when the House was debating the Housing Loans Guarantees (Australian Capital Territory) Bill 1959, and there were few people in the chamber, the honorable member for Lilley said, as reported at page 2204 of “ Hansard “-
I say quite categorically that an advance of £2,750 is, in the light of the present cost of housing, ridiculously low. It is an antique limitation. In relation to war service homes, it should have been increased years ago. It is so long ago that £2,750 became the maximum advance available under the War Service Homes Act that I have almost forgotten when ft was. I think the limit was set in 1951.
– Who said that?
– The honorable member for Lilley, the brave hero who rose to-night and attacked our leader. He is the brave man who goes back to his electorate and waves the old anti-Communist flag in front of ex-servicemen. That is the part that he plays. He is the great “ Com.” fighter, but he has no positive policy and nothing for the ex-serviceman. When matters affecting ex-servicemen are discussed here, he says not a thing. We must look at such people carefully, particularly the honorable member for Lilley. He rattles the drum in front of his ex-servicemen colleagues. What does he want to do? He wants to occupy the stage to-night, to play a part, to get a gallery up there and to play up to the press, because our leader raises the issue of McCarthyism. Is there any member on this side who is not firmly behind our leader in his attack on McCarthyism? Of course not. The honorable member for Lilley should have spoken on behalf of Australian exservicemen during the Estimates debate. He had plenty of opportunity to do so. but he was silent. I challenged him to pet up and talk, but no. he shrank away like a cur.
This is a real issue that honorable members opposite have to face. Let them wave their flags. They have a job and they have responsibilities in this House. I believe that these personal attacks will not go over with the Australian people. Such attacks are worn out, ragged and tired. The Australian people want something positive for their money. After 1961 we shall have a new Prime Minister in this country. The man that honorable members opposite attacked to-night will be the Prime Minister of Australia.
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.51 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The shareholders in Northern Australian Estates Limited and the proportion of issued shares held by each are -
The shareholders in each of Northern Territory Holdings Proprietary Limited and Northern Territory Investments Proprietary Limited, and the proportion of issued shares held by each, are -
The Hooker Pastoral Company Proprietary Limited is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the L. J. Hooker Investment Corporation Limited.
Northern Australia Estates Limited holds pastoral leases of a total area of 6,821 square miles. The other companies concerned do not at present hold any pastoral leases in the Northern Territory.
s asked the Acting AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Acting Attorney-
General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
m asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
What requests or suggestions were made at the conference of Commonwealth and State fisheries officers in Canberra last month for legislation by (a) the Commonwealth, (b) the Territories and (c) the States?
– The reply to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The conference of Commonwealth and State fisheries officers held in September, 1960, did ot recommend any new Commonwealth, State or Territories legislation in respect of fisheries matters. However, the conference agenda covered a wide range of subjects relating to fisheries administration, management and research and certain recommendations were made. Particular recommendations that may be of interest to the honorable member are -
Special consideration was given at the conference to crayfish conservation, research and management as well as to grading and packing for export. The conference proposed that a special meeting of representatives of the Commonwealth and the States of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania be convened to discuss in detail measures needed for the effective conservation of crayfish stocks in the south-eastern Australian waters.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 October 1960, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1960/19601013_reps_23_hor28/>.