25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 9.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for Air: Is it correct that of the eight Sabre fighters at Darwin, two are at the ready to intercept an intruder at a few minutes’ notice? Is it true that the radar station, which would give warning of the approach of an intruder, is manned only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on week days? Is it the Minister’s opinion that any intruder would approach our shores only during those hours? If this is not so, will he arrange for the radar station to be manned around the clock?
– The honorable member might know that I answered a question on this subject asked on notice by the honorable member for Grayndler about three or four months ago. In that answer I said I considered that, for security reasons, from then on it would be extremely unwise to announce the hours at which the radar station at Darwin would be manned. I have not since changed my opinion.
– In addressing a question to the Minister for the Army, I should like to congratulate the honorable gentleman on apparently having removed a road block to citations for decorations for soldiers who earn them in Vietnam. However, I am compelled to ask: Why has it taken so long for the awards to be made? Some of the citations date back to April of last year and the most recent, apparently, was in September of last year. As these citations for awards for bravery in action were made prior to the date of the letter written by the Military Secretary informing an officer in Vietnam that foreign decorations cannot be accepted in “ times of peace”, will the Minister take action to correct this silly mistake?
– I am sure the honorable member will be aware that the time taken to make awards from the moment they are initiated is certainly not entirely within my control; nor is it entirely within the control of the Australian Government. I shall be only too glad to give consideration to the last part of the honorable gentleman’s question.
– I address a question to the Minister for Social Services. Could the honorable gentleman outline the purpose behind the grant of £10,000 a year over a three-year period to the National Old People’s Welfare Council? Is it a grant in general terms or is it a special grant for a particular project?
– The initial grant to the National Old People’s Welfare Council was for the amount of £50,000, for the period ending 1st July 1966. Thereafter, consideration will be given to making further grants of £30,000 for each of the two following years. The National Old People’s Welfare Council represents voluntary agencies in each of the States of the Commonwealth. In each State there is a State Council and the National Council is constituted from representatives of each of those Councils. The purpose of the grant is to encourage the work of those voluntary agencies and, in particular, to assist towards the establishment of a central administrative unit to operate the Council in the Australian Capital Territory, and in this way to coordinate the activities of the Council in each of the respective States. The Councils in fact represent every aspect of care for the aged and it is hoped that through this grant to the National Old People’s Welfare Council the work of the voluntary agencies can be further promoted and assisted.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. In view of the fact that this morning two overseas civil aircraft, one from Europe and the other from America, were diverted from the Sydney (KingsfordSmith) Airport to Brisbane, would it be possible to expedite the planning and construction of the Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne? I ask the question as the bulk of the passengers would be heading in that direction.
– I am not aware of the circumstances behind the diversion of these two aircraft, but I shall look into the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Civil Aviation, and get a reply for the honorable member from him.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for National Development. The Minister, no doubt, has noted that the latest report of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission states that nuclear power could be an economic proposition a lot sooner than many people may realise. In view of this statement, and in view of the fact that the full exploitation of the bauxite potential of Gove in the Northern Territory will be dependent on the supply of large amounts of cheap electricity, I ask whether the Commission has investigated the possibility of using atomic power to supply this need and, in addition, the future needs for the working of other mineral deposits in the Gulf of Carpentaria, such as the Groote Eylandt manganese, the MacArthur River deposits and possibly those of Mount Isa itself.
– The honorable member is correct when he says that atomic energy is likely to be competitive with normal energy earlier than was foreseen, but this is still some considerable time off. We anticipate in Australia that it will be well into the 1970’s before atomic energy can compete with conventional energy. There is a problem in the use of atomic energy in the Northern Territory. Two generators would be needed so that one can be closed down for refuelling or overhaul while the other generator continues to supply power. As the honorable member will realise, in the production of aluminium, energy must be available all the time. However, an officer from the Atomic Energy Commission visited Gove and looked into this problem and he is reporting to me, but I think it will be a very long time before one can foresee the use of atomic energy in that area.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. Has an office of the Taxation Branch been opened recently in Geelong, Victoria? Will this branch office and the one at Newcastle in New South Wales be the only offices of the Taxation Branch outside capital cities of the various States? Can it be taken from the opening of the Geelong branch office that the tendency of the Taxation Branch in the future will be to decentralise its activities down to the level of provincial cities at least?
– There are, in point of fact, three centres now outside the State capitals, Canberra being the third to be added to the honorable gentleman’s list. It is a fact that an office will be opened shortly in Geelong, and it is the desire of the Commissioner to extend the establishment of offices outside the major centre!! - the capitals of the States - as circumstances permit There are plans for the opening of an office in Townsville and of another in Wollongong. They are the next two on the list, as I understand the position. The honorable gentleman can take it that the Commissioner recognises the value of the facilities which these offices provide for people living in the areas in which they are situated and, as circumstances permit from time to time, the number of offices will be increased.
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development. Has the Minister received directly or through the Queensland Government, a report compiled for the Carpentaria Shire Council by the consulting engineers Cardno and Davies of Queensland? The report deals with the development of a port on the Norman River which would serve a large cattle area of Queensland for the export of cattle to the East. If the Minister has seen the report, will he give the proposal priority? If he has not seen it, could he obtain it and consider it?
– I am not aware personally of this report. I have not seen it, but I know that discussions have been taking place between officers of the Northern Division of my Department and the Queensland Government. I will ask them to supply me with this report if it has been received by the Division.
– I address my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Minister seen an article in “ Nation “ of 2nd
October which stated that the Commonwealth is subsidising the poultry industry to the extent of £3.5 million and which expresses doubt that this amount will be recovered from the proceeds of the hen levy? Will the Minister assure me that the advance payment of £3.5 million will in fact be fully recovered from the levy? Will the Minister tell me whether the collection of the hen levy is proceeding smoothly and according to plan? In other words, has the Minister been successful in hunting my hens from my header?
– My attention was drawn to this statement, lt is incorrectly based. The Commonwealth Government is not subsidising the poultry industry. Indeed no advances are made as such by my Department beyond the amount already collected as a levy. My Department makes periodical advances to the State boards according to collections already in hand. No advances are made beyond that figure. The State boards are responsible for collection of the levy and they report that the collections are proceeding smoothly. Collections for the first three months totalled about £700,000.
– I desire to ask the Minister for Primary Industry a question following the discussions between Commonwealth and State representatives concerning the formation of an Australian potato marketing board. Can the Minister inform the House whether or not progress is being made in the formation of a marketing board?
– I am not optimistic enough to say that progress has been made in this matter. No concrete proposals have been submitted to me. Nor am I optimistic that a marketing board could very well be set up for a perishable product such as potatoes, for which there is no suitable provision for storage. Also, there is the Queensland experience, for instance. On two occasions Queensland had a potato marketing board but the growers decided to throw it overboard by selling interstate, so killing the board by their own actions. So I am not very optimistic about the prospects of success.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of the threat by the Commonwealth Public Service unions that they will introduce overtime bans and work to regulations campaigns as an answer to his outright rejection of their recent application for four weeks annual leave? As this threat, if carried out, could cause serious disruption of our every day life, especially as we are approaching the Christmas period, will the Prime Minister give further consideration to the granting of four weeks annual leave in order to bring the Commonwealth Public Service into line with the New South Wales Public Service? Will he let sweet reason prevail?
– I am not aware of this threat. I had not heard of it. If I had, it would have left me quite unmoved. This matter was fully considered and decided by the Government, and the decision stands.
– I direct to the Acting Minister for Health a question concerning the salary range of Commonwealth medical officers. Could the honorable gentleman obtain from the Public Service Board the reasons why it declined to accept recommendations to bring the salary range of Commonwealth medical officers into line with that of State medical officers? By way of brief explanation, I simply say that there is a difference of approximately £1,000 between the salary ranges.
– As the honorable member for Moreton will know, the Public Service Board falls within the responsibilities of the Prime Minister. Accordingly, I am not in a position to answer his question.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Now that Catholic authorities in almost every State have indicated crisis conditions in their schools, particularly in respect of accommodation and teachers in both primary and secondary schools, does the Government have in mind a realistic programme of financial assistance to private schools? In default of such aid, is it likely that State schools, particularly State primary schools, are about to be overwhelmed with pupils who cannot be accommodated in private schools? Will the right honorable gentleman agree that a comprehensive inquiry into the needs of primary and secondary schools, both public and private, is now an urgent necessity?
– Our views on this matter have been stated many times. I do not desire to say anything further.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. I refer to an answer that he gave to the honorable member for Gwydir yesterday, in which he said that the Governor of the Reserve Bank had assured him that adequate funds will be available for drought relief for primary producers who are considered to be commercially acceptable. Will he seek from the Governor of the Reserve Bank an assurance that adequate funds will be made available to the many thousands of primary producers who, through no fault of their own, may not be considered to be commercially acceptable, but who hold many thousands of valuable breeding stock, the loss of which would be a national tragedy? Can he define exactly what the Governor of the Reserve Bank means by the term “a commercial risk “ in relation to a primary producer?
– I shall see whether I can secure some amplification of the statement which I made yesterday and which, as we were dealing with the matter at question time, was necessarily in a limited form. I am quite certain, from the generally helpful and co-operative attitude revealed by the trading banks in discussions with the Reserve Bank and the indications that they have given of the amount of lending that they are currently undertaking for drought relief purposes, that the class of case to which the honorable gentleman has referred would also be receiving sympathetic consideration. However, I shall see whether I can secure for him suitable elaboration of my statement.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. I refer him to statements by himself, the Prime Minister and the Decimal Currency Board that there will be little or no profiteering from the change over to decimal currency in the light of what happened as a result of the changeover in South Africa. Is it correct that the half cent piece used in South Africa prevented steep rises in prices? Has the Treasurer or the Decimal Currency Board had any indication of what price the public will be charged for newspapers currently circulating at 4d. and 5d. each? Can an increase from 5d. to 5c, representing an increase of more than 16 per cent., be regarded as excessive profiteering or as merely catching up with shrewder competitors who are already charging 6d. a copy for a newspaper?
– The question falls into a number of parts. I shall secure an answer in detail to the various items.
– I address a question to the Minister for External affairs. Has the honorable gentleman’s Department had an opportunity to assess the observation of President Azikiwee of Nigeria that of the 35 independent countries of Africa only five accept political opposition? If so, does the Department agree with the President? If not, could the honorable gentleman say in what respects the President is in error?
– As the central objective of my Department is to try to remain on friendly terms with as many nations as possible, I think I should refrain from expressing opinions about some of those nations with whom we are trying to improve our relations.
– I desire to ask the Minister for the Army a question. What has been the military advantage gained from the recent operations of the Australian Forces in Vietnam? What advantage is there in carrying out sweeps through jungle country which we cannot hold? What steps does the honorable gentleman propose to take to prevent the jungle in Vietnam from becoming a bottomless pit to soak up young Australian lives?
Government supporters. - Oh!
– Let honorable members opposite try to do some chasing around in the jungles of Vietnam themselves.
– The honorable member ought to be horsewhipped.
– If the honorable member for Wills did not have his attention concentrated so fixedly on the Vietcong cause in South Vietnam he would have observed that the whole pattern of operations undertaken by the South Vietnamese, the United States and ourselves have completely reversed the tide of events in South Vietnam and that whereas, until recently, it was widely expected that there might be a substantial reverse during the monsoon season in South Vietnam, that has not come about. In fact, operations undertaken of the same pattern as the ones to which the honorable gentleman referred have not only reversed that expectation, but have placed the forces with which we are allied in South Vietnam on the offensive. I can only conclude from the honorable gentleman’s question that he does not find this state of affairs particularly desirable.
– I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. An honorable member on the Government side - I understand that it was the honorable member for Mitchell - said that the honorable member for Wills ought to be horsewhipped. I regard that remark as offensive and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– Mr. Speaker–
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat. Did the honorable member for Mitchell make that remark?
– I did, Sir, and I meant it.
– Order! The honorable member will withdraw the remark that he made.
– I withdraw.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Army. I ask: Can it now be taken as definite that, should nothing unforeseen occur, the rifle range at Williamstown, Victoria, will continue to be used as a training ground in the use of the rifle by the Citizen Military Forces and other forces and the venue of the Queen’s Prize and other important shoots?
– The answer is: “Definitely yes”.
– I direct a question to you, Mr. Speaker, and it arises from the position in this House when a Minister answers a question that has been asked by a member on the Government side. The question may be on an important subject but the answer is inaudible on the Opposition side. I assume that sometimes when a Minister answers a question asked by a member of the Opposition, the answer is inaudible on the Government benches. Would it be possible to provide a mobile microphone attached to a cord which could be picked up by the Minister when he knows he has to turn his back on part of the House if he is not standing right at the table? Could such a microphone be used in answering questions at question time?
– The position is quite clear. There would be no problem if Ministers, in replying to questions, used the equipment that is available to them. Some Ministers indicate that they are frightened of the Prime Minister because they stand at the far end of the table when they answer questions instead of moving a little closer to the right honorable gentleman and the microphone that is near him. This problem is not insurmountable if Ministers will cooperate. There is no need to put any more equipment on the table.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House that he does not agree with the statement made by the President of the Returned Servicemen’s League that Australians are unpatriotic, and thus clear a slur from the names of many good Australians?
– I have not the faintest doubt that the patriotic feeling in this country is as high as it is in any country in the world and as high as it ever was.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Army concerning the Citizen Military Forces. Has any survey been made of how many serving members of the C.M.F. would, in the event of a call-up, be prevented from serving by manpower regulations? Has any check been made recently to determine how many of the C.M.F. would be passed as fit for active service? Have any mobilisation orders been prepared in advance for the C.M.F., as apparently most senior officers of the C.M.F. are not aware of their existence?
– First, I shall reply to the last part of the honorable member’s question. It would be obvious to the honorable gentleman that it would not be in the public interest to canvass the details or discuss mobilisation plans affecting any part of the Army. The answer to that part of the honorable gentleman’s question which related to manpower regulations is: “ Yes, we are aware in a general sense of what would be required in this way.” The third part of the honorable gentleman’s question related to a medical check. There are medical standards for enlistment in the C.M.F. and from time to time members do have medical checks. I have not the slightest doubt that the vast majority of members of the C.M.F. would be found to be medically fit if they were required for full time service.
Mr. L. R. JOHNSON__ I ask the
Treasurer a question. I refer to the report of the Parliamentary and Government Publications Committee which came to the Parliament more than 16 months ago. Is it intended to give early effect to any of the Committee’s recommendations, particularly those pertaining to the appointment of a Government publisher and the establishment of Government bookshops? If bookshops are to be established, which of the capital cities will first be accommodated?
– I recall the thoughtful and helpful recommendations made by the Committee. Only as recently as yesterday, I inquired as to the present stage of arrangements in relation to these matters. I would hope to have an answer either later today or by the time the Parliament resumes after the week of recess.
– I address a question to the Postmaster-General. Has he seen a statement, attributed to a vice-president of Philips Industries Pty. Ltd., in which he made predictions about the introduction of colour television into Europe and Australia? If so, did the Minister note that this gentleman called for a set and definite schedule to be laid down for co-operation between industry and government in this matter? Can the Minister assure the House that his Department’s activities in the fields of colour television and television telephones will be limited to research, experiment and closed circuit work for education or scientific purposes until such time as its positive programme of reduction of the backlog of telephone applications is further advanced and many more telephone subscribers, particularly in country areas, have been granted continuous service on private lines?
– I can assure the honorable member that television telephones are not likely to be introduced in Australia for a long time. I remind him that the Estimates provide separate allocations for the provision of telephones through the Post Office and for broadcasting and television services. I know that a good deal of investigation is going on overseas and that colour television has in fact been introduced in one or two countries. However, I believe that there is not reasonable satisfaction amongst these countries as to the best method of providing colour television. Last year discussions were held in Europe and I understand that discussions again will be held this year. The Australian Post Office is closely associated with many of these international bodies and the result of their research is available to us in Australia. However, when I make these comments I would not in any circumstances like to give the impression that early consideration is likely to be given to the introduction of colour television in Australia. Our prime responsibility relates to matters such as those mentioned by the honorable member and even to an extension of the present television system to other areas before we introduce colour television.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Army. Was the training of riflemen for Army purposes the main reason for establishing rifle clubs? Has the . 303 rifle been superseded in the Army? If this is so, will the Minister see that when the subsidy is paid to riflemen using suburban rifle ranges, they use the new weapons, if they are to be trained as riflemen for the Army?
– The honorable gentleman is quite correct in suggesting that the .303 rifle is no longer used in the Australian Army. However, it is used by the Australian Cadet Corps and therefore is to be found on most of the rifle ranges in Australia. The general answer to the honorable member’s question is that a Government subsidy is no longer paid to the rifle clubs and therefore the Government is in no position to dictate what weapons they should use.
– 1 address to the Treasurer a question relating to the possibility that the wool reserve price plan will be implemented and that wool will be stockpiled. I ask the Minister whether, if at any stage stockpiling does take place, it will reduce the current proceeds from Australian exports. Would such a reduction also reduce our foreign funds and the liquidity of the banking system, thus making it more difficult for banks to give overdrafts to primary producers, perhaps at a time when they needed them most?
– I do not think that at this point of time anyone could be dogmatic about a question of this sort. Whilst on the face of things it would seem that wool held back from overseas sales might reduce immediate export returns, even though eventually the selling of the wool increased the export receipts at a subsequent point of time, it could be argued by those who believe that the scheme will have the effect of stabilising values, and indeed of perhaps producing an even more satisfactory level of prices, that any temporary loss of export receipts would be more than offset by export sales at the more satisfactory prices. Only experience could resolve this matter clearly, and I for one do not attempt to express an opinion on it at this point of time. It follows from what I have said that the same sort of consideration applies to the contingency that the honorable gentleman raised in respect of the banking system. On the one hand, some may argue that liquidity would tighten. Others, if the scheme were operating as they expected to see it operate, could argue that greater receipts would improve liquidity.
– I preface my question, which is addressed to the PostmasterGeneral, by explaining that there has been a demand by educationists throughout the world as well as in Australia for more time to be set aside by television stations for programmes for teaching children, particularly in secondary schools. As we have only one network - namely, the national network - that can be used for this purpose, and as the commercial channels are rarely used in the morning and not very much of their time in the afternoon is used profitably, will the Minister consider initiating an examination of the proposal to set aside all television channels in Australia, at any rate in the mornings, for school programmes?
– If the honorable member is suggesting that in some way this becomes a responsibility of the Commonwealth, then at this moment I would reject his suggestion. I have instituted an inquiry in relation to the use of television for educational purposes. The report has been received but as yet it has not been considered. I hope that it will be possible in the not too distant future to indicate where the Government stands in regard to this matter.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Housing. As land prices continue to soar in New South Wales, especially in the metropolitan area and the larger provincial towns, will the Minister confer with the Premier of New South Wales with a view to moving for the abolition of the State Planning Authority, which is the worst of all socialistic totalitarian authorities?
– It is true, of course, that the price of land in the vicinity of capital cities and of main provincial cities has continued to rise. There are certain instrinsic reasons for this; first, its scarcity and, secondly, before subdivisions are permitted the land has to bear an increasing load of charges for road making, kerbing, guttering, sewerage and so forth, and the cost of providing these services is continually rising. The standards required by local authorities are also continually being raised. Since the present New South Wales Government came into power a few months ago it has shown remarkable initiative in making new land available to home seekers at reasonable prices and under proper conditions. This may come ill to some honorable members opposite after 20 years of rule in New South Wales by the Labour Party. In view of the initiative the New South Wales Government has taken already, I have no doubt that all the problems involved in providing land for homes in the vicinity of Sydney and in provincial cities will continue to be eased. I have every confidence that that Government will be able to deal successfully with its own affairs.
– I also ask a question of the Minister for Housing. Is it true that the cost of land in Sydney has inflated since the election of the Askin Liberal-Country Party Government?
– Presumably some blocks may have become more expensive, but in recent times many industrial awards have in fact contributed to the rising costs embodied in the price of land. The cost of providing services inevitably rises and, furthermore, the standards expected by the community, and particularly by public authorities, are continually rising.
– There have been no increases in wages. Why does not the Minister tell the truth?
– Order! The honorable member for Newcastle has asked his question.
– If the honorable member examined trends during the last few years he would find that the statement he made is completely misleading and untrue.
– I address a question to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. I ask: Has any definite programme been set for the recently established Commonwealth Bureau of Roads or will it act on its own initiative? Irrespective of the way in which the Bureau will operate, will the Minister ask the Chairman to regard as urgent the need for close investigation with a view to suggesting practical means of road safety?
– The Bureau of Roads, of course, has a general responsibility to advise the Commonwealth on the road requirements of the Commonwealth. As it is at this stage just beginning its work no specific task has been assigned to it. I imagine that the question of road safety, insofar as that is a necessary element in all road engineering, will be considered, but we have to be careful that research into road safety is not duplicated. This is a problem that naturally comes under the State Governments which carry out road construction. There is also the Australian Road Research Board which consists of representatives of States and is under the chairmanship of the permanent head of the Commonwealth Department of Works. In addition, the Australian Road Safety Council recently agreed to appoint six experts in various fields, including road engineering, to the Council to advise it on research matters related to road safety, so I imagine that this field is fully covered throughout the Commonwealth.
– Has the Minister for Territories been informed of seething discontent among members of the teaching service in Papua and New Guinea as expressed at recent meetings at Madang, Wewak, Port Moresby, Rabaul, Kavieng and Lae? Have those who attended these meetings accused the Public Service Commissioner of a complete lack of appreciation of education needs and conditions in the Territory and of extreme dilatoriness in answering representations from teachers’ organisations? Is it a fact that native teachers receive only 18 working days leave per year and European teachers six weeks leave, compared with from 10 to 12 weeks for teachers in Australia? In view of the widely acknowledged urgent need for very many more teachers in the Territory will the Minister order an immediate and complete inquiry into the various complaints made by the teachers’ organisations, including their request for an autonomous education authority?
– It is true that representations have been made regarding conditions of teachers in the Territory, with particular reference to the leave situation. The claim seeks, of course, to relate conditions in the Territory to those which prevail in Australia. I am at present investigating the situation and I can assure the honorable member that the whole matter will be looked at most sympathetically.
Mir. HULME (Petrie- PostmasterGeneral) [10.18].- I move-
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday, 9th November, at 2.30 p.ro.
At the request of the Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt) I would like to indicate that the House will, after resumption on 9th November, sit on Friday of each week until and including 3rd December.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr. Adermann, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The main purpose of this Bill and the complementary Bills, the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Bill 1965 and the Meat Industry Bill 1965, is to provide for the extension of the current beef research scheme to cover beef, mutton and lamb research. The general principles of the research scheme were an integral part of the joint industry proposals for meat market development which were implemented by the Government last year. However, as some reservations had been expressed by the Australian Agricultural Council on the wisdom of introducing an industry research scheme under a single authority covering all aspects of meat production the Government decided to defer the research aspects of these proposals until the issues with the Council had been resolved. This has now been done and the Council accepts that it is the policy of the meat producer organisations and the Commonwealth Government that meat research shall be a responsibility of the Australian Meat Board. The beef research scheme has now been operating satisfactorily for a number of years and mutton and lamb producers attach great importance to the implementation of similar provisions for intensified research activities in relation to the scientific, technical and economic problems of the sheep meat industry. It is clear that the industry is faced with many problems, particularly in relation to breeding and stock management where research could play an important part in the development of the industry.
Honorable members will recall that the existing beef research scheme is financed by a levy on cattle slaughterings imposed under the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Act and a matching Government contribution on a £1 for £1 basis in respect of expenditure undertaken on research. These moneys are paid into the Cattle and Beef Research Trust Account which is administered by the Australian Cattle and Beef Research Committee. The main functions of the Committee are to make recommendations to the Australian Meat Board on the rate of levy to be prescribed for beef research and to formulate plans with respect to the projects on which the trust funds may be expended. The actual research is undertaken by bodies such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, universities and State Departments of Agriculture. Expenditure from the Trust Account can be incurred only after recommendations by the Research Committee and after approval of such recommendations by the Minister for Primary Industry.
In the associated legislation provision has been made for an amendment to the Livestock Slaughter Levy Act to provide for the existing levy on sheep and lambs to be used for the purposes of research as well as for meat market development. The legislation provides that the prescribed rate for the purposes of mutton and lamb research shall not exceed 4d. per head. The maximum rate of 2s. for beef research is continued. The Government will provide a matching contribution on the basis of £1 for £1 with the industry in respect of expenditure undertaken for research. The research component of the levy will be prescribed on the recommendation of the Australian Meat Board after consultation with the main industry organisations concerned and the Australian Meat
Research Committee referred to in the Bill. The date of commencement of the levy for research purposes will be a matter for decision by the Government and the Australian Meat Board and will necessarily be influenced by the effects of the drought on live sheep prices.
Under the Bill, the Cattle and Beef Research Trust Account is renamed the Meat Research Trust Account into which will be paid the research component of the levy on cattle, sheep and lambs and the matching Government contribution. The body hitherto known as the Australian Cattle and Beef Research Committee is reconstituted as the Australian Meat Research Committee. Like the Beef Research Committee, it will administer the Trust Account and its powers and functions will be the same as in the present Act as widened to include mutton and lamb research.
The Australian Meat Research Committee will be deemed to be a committee of the Australian Meat Board which will make available such administrative and clerical assistance as is required to carry out its functions. The constitution of the Committee will comprise twelve members as at present. The seven producer representatives will be appointed by the Minister on the nomination of the Australian Meat Board. As in the case of the Meat Board appointments, the main qualification for the selection of members is that they should be nominated for their ability and experience rather than their organisational affiliation. The Australian Meat Board will be free to consult with the producer organisations, including the Australian Meat Board Selection Committee, as to the availability and qualifications of persons for nomination, but the decision on nominations will be the final responsibility of the Board. The non-producer representation will be appointed by the Minister on the nomination of the authority or organisation which they represent.
The other provisions of the Bill are for all practical purposes identical with those which now apply. All in all, the Bill provides for the continuance unimpaired of the present beef research scheme within a wider framework which will provide the opportunity for still greater achievement in the field of research for the meat industry. The amendment in the Meat Industry Bill is a machinery amendment which provides for the marketing component of the levy on sheep and lambs to be paid to the Australian Meat Board. This joint cooperative effort between the industry and the Government gives further recognition to the need for the importance of research in the development of an efficient meat industry. I commend the Bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Adermann, and read a first time.
Mr. ADERMANN (Fisher- Minister for Primary Industry [10.25]. - I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill has been explained in my second reading speech in relation to the Meat Research Bill. I commend the Bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Adermann, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill has been explained in my second reading speech in relation to the Meat Research Bill. I commend the Bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Snedden, and read a first time.
– I move-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill proposes a number of amendments to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959, which, honorable members will recall, introduced a uniform divorce law for Australia on 1st February 1961. The experience throughout Australia of the period of nearly five years has shown that the legislation has been well accepted by the community, by social workers, and by the legal profession, which is itself a tribute to my distinguished predecessor as AttorneyGeneral. The amendments now brought forward do not add to or amend the grounds for dissolution of marriage, nor do they otherwise affect the basic principles of the legislation.
The proposals are the result of careful consideration of helpful suggestions that came to us from many sources during this five year period, as experience of the legislation developed. There were suggestions by the judges concerned with hearing cases under the Act, by the Law Council of Australia concerned with collating and distilling the views of the legal profession, by the Registrars of the Supreme Courts concerned with the administration of the Act, and by others having special experience or interest in this branch of the law. In addition, the Government has had regard to judicial interpretation of the Act and to legislative change in the United Kingdom and in New Zealand. Some of the amendments now brought forward relate to matters of machinery or procedure, but each has its own importance, and some raise questions of principle. The latter may not affect many people, but the problems are very important to those concerned, and they will derive much assistance from the legislation. I think I should describe shortly the proposals in the order in which they are presented in the Bill.
The first amendment will operate in a very narrow area, but will be important in that area because it will cure a patent injustice from which some Australians who have married overseas may suffer. Honorable members are well aware that marriage solemnized according to our law must be monogamous marriage. It is unthinkable that we should depart from that standard and no one has ever suggested it. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the plight of an Australian who, having become domiciled in a country that recognises polygamy, marries there according to the local law.
The mere possibility that the husband may take another wife characterises the marriage as polygamous. There are unfortunate legal consequences to the parties if they should subsequently settle in Australia and seek matrimonial relief here. This is strange because they are regarded, generally in Australia as being legally married, and I mention that the model Uniform Maintenance Bill, which has already passed into law in two States, expressly permits parties married in polygamous form to apply for maintenance orders in the magistrates’ courts.
English law, which is followed in Australia, refuses to recognise a polygamous marriage as one that the courts will dissolve. Consequently a monogamous marriage may be dissolved, but a polygamous marriage continues to bind the parties. The harshness of the rule appeared most clearly in a recent case where the husband and wife were living in Victoria. The woman was Australian born, but acquired a domicile in Pakistan and married there in the local polygamous form. She was the only wife. Later she and her husband came to live in Australia, and her husband became an Australian citizen. Although the court found that her husband had committed adultery in Australia, the court had to deny the woman dissolution of her marriage. Yet that marriage is sufficiently recognized by our law to prevent her re-marrying in Australia. Cases like this will not be frequent, but they can occur when persons from Eastern countries become permanent residents in Australia. The amendment, proposed in order to do justice in such cases, is carefully limited to restrict its operation. The only polygamous marriages covered will be polygamous marriages celebrated outside Australia between parties permitted by the law of their domicile to enter such marriage. Relief will be granted only to a party to the first subsisting marriage. The amendment will not in the least alter our insistence that Australian marriage is monogamous, and it will give no encouragement to Australians temporarily overseas to enter polygamous marriages. Indeed, any such marriages would be invalid.
A learned Professor of Law here in Australia recently pointed to the need for legislation such as is proposed, and in England there has been a good deal of criticism of the English law. However, I am not aware that legislative action has previously been taken in any Englishspeaking country. I think we should be prepared to take the step in Australia. 1 briefly draw attention to clause 6 of the Bill. It will ensure that, where children are State wards and their parents are divorced, the divorce will not prevent the State child welfare laws continuing to operate in relation to the children. Some judicial doubt has been expressed whether the Federal law altered this position. Care Of children by the child welfare authorities is a matter that should be left to State law, and the amendment makes this clear.
The next topic is reconciliation of married partners. Reconciliation is a major object of the Matrimonial Causes Act. Under the Act, the Commonwealth subsidises marriage guidance organisations to assist reconciliation. Significant success is achieved by those organisations but usually at a stage before divorce proceedings have been started or are imminent. There is a serious legal difficulty in the way of reconciliation at the stage when divorce proceedings are being contemplated or have indeed commenced. One or both parties may have grounds for divorce, but the right to divorce can be destroyed by resumption of cohabitation, even if it takes place only in an unsuccessful attempt to bring about a true reconciliation. For this reason solicitors tend to advise their clients contemplating divorce to hesitate about attempting reconciliation because of the risk that they may end up without either a reconciliation or a divorce. The Government believes that attempts at reconciliation should not be discouraged in this way, and therefore the Bill proposes provisions along the lines of recent legislation in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Parties will be permitted to resume cohabitation for a trial period, not exceeding three months, without destroying the grounds of a petition for divorce if reconciliation is not effected during the three months period. The court will have to be satisfied that the case is a genuine one, and once there is reconciliation at any stage during the three months period the right to divorce will go. I am confident there will be warm approval of a provision to encourage reconciliation. It would be illogical to extend that encouragement where there has been a matrimonial offence and deny it where the ground does not involve a matrimonial offence, as in the separation ground of section 28(m). Reconciliation is just as much to be encouraged in these cases as in the cases of matrimonial offence. If the section leads to a reduction in the number of divorces, on any ground, then it is well justified.
Coupled with the amendment I have just discussed is proposed section 39A, which is also taken from the recent United Kingdom legislation. I should first explain that resumption of marital intercourse is at present conclusive against a husband that he has condoned - that is, forgiven - any matrimonial offence by his wife of which he is aware. It is not conclusive against a wife, because the law recognises that her position may be more difficult, but it is nevertheless strong evidence. Section 39A will make it clear that a husband, as well as a wife, may give evidence to establish the true facts without being bound by legal presumptions.
Clause 12 of the Bill is necessary to prevent a combination of circumstances making a decree of divorce invalid, and therefore a subsequent marriage invalid also. Under section 71 of the Act, a decree nisi does not become absolute unless and until the court has made a declaration that satisfactory arrangements have been made for those children of the marriage who are under 16 years of age. Cases have occurred where a child has, through inadvertence, not been named in the petition or his age has been mis-stated. A very experienced judge has drawn to attention that if such an error were not discovered in time there would be no valid decree absolute. In such a case any marriage subsequently contracted would be invalid. The amendment overcomes the difficulty while still requiring the Court to satisfy itself that it has in fact considered the position of each of the children of the marriage. A provision is included to validate any decrees that may already have been made and that may be invalid because of the circumstances I have mentioned. I doubt that any c;se: have escaped detection, and the likelihood of future error as to the facts is even further reduced by the stringent requirements of recent amendments of the Matrimonial Causes Rules.
I pass now to clause 14 of the Bill. It is common for the court, when granting a decree nisi, to order the husband to transfer property to the wife. Often this is the matrimonial home, or the husband’s share in it if husband and wife are joint owners. It is most desirable that the court be able to make these orders in proper cases, and be able to enforce them. Section 88 is an aid to this end. It authorises the court to appoint the registrar to execute any necessary transfer that a party “refuses or neglects” to execute. A weakness in the section was disclosed when a case occurred of a husband who could not be found to be served with the order. It could hardly be said that he had refused or neglected to obey the court’s order if it had not come to his knowledge. The matter was about to be argued in the High Court when the husband turned up and executed the transfer. The gap should, however, be closed for the future, lt should not be possible to defeat the court’s order by evading service.
Clause 15 of the Bill proposes an amendment to section 89 of the Act. Where the court dismisses a petition it may nevertheless make an order for maintenance and also for custody of children, if it is satisfied that the proceedings were instituted in good faith. The Full Supreme Court of Victoria very recently held that bad faith on the part of the petitioner prevented the respondent from obtaining an order for maintenance. This was never intended, and the amendment makes it clear that where there is bad faith on the part of a petitioner who is bringing the proceedings, it is only the petitioner who is prevented from obtaining an order for maintenance or custody. There are a number of minor provisions to which I have not referred, and on which I think the House would feel that explanation will be more appropriate at the Committee stage. I conclude by saying that the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1959 has operated with great success as a uniform taw throughout Australia on a matter of great social concern. The amendments that have so far been found to be necessary are really very few when one considers the comprehensive nature of the original Act, the fact that it was the first general exercise of Federal legislative power in this field, and the previous diversity of the State laws. I feel that in presenting the present proposals for amendment I am bound to pay tribute - and I do pay tribute - to those who were responsible for the original Act. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.
Consideration resumed from 28th October (vide page 2398).
Proposed expenditure, £135,730,000.
Proposed expenditure, £20,104,000.
– I take this opportunity to urge the Government not to deny to the people of the Monaro and far south coast areas of New South Wales the opportunity to obtain a commercial television service. They now have this opportunity for the first time. I know that this matter is receiving the attention of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) and that he has already received a deputation representing every municipal and shire council in the area. I believe that this debate provides a further useful opportunity to bring the position to the attention of the Government and the Committee. The people of the Bega-Cooma area are of course, as much entitled to the enjoyment of commercial television as are any other Australians. Commercial television can now be provided for them immediately the Government gives the green light. Until now the large majority of the people of the region have had no opportunity to enjoy any television service, either national or commercial. They will be able to obtain a television service now only if the Government removes a bar in the existing legislation. This can be done by a very simple amendment.
It appears that the only way in which commercial television can be provided in the area to which I refer is by allowing CTC Channel 7 in Canberra to relay its programmes through a transmitter situated on Brown Mountain. There are only 33,000 people in the area that such a relay would serve. It is obvious that there are not nearly enough residents to make a separate television service practicable or profitable. CTC7 Canberra is ready to provide for these people the service which is already provided in the Australian Capital Territory and the surrounding district. By the simple amendment of the law which we seek, the people of this area, instead of being shut out almost entirely from receipt of commercial television programmes, would be able to enjoy commercial programmes of the rather high standard available to the people of the National Capital.
As I have said, such a service is at present prevented by the television ownership and control provisions contained in the amendments to the Broadcasting and Television Act which became effective on 2nd June of this year. These provisions were enacted with the intention of making effective the Government’s policy concerning the restriction of interests in commercial television stations. The establishment of a high powered relay station requires the grant of a licence under the Act and, as CTC7 is controlled, within the meaning of the Act, by the Fairfax interests which already have extensive ownership of commercial television stations elsewhere, as at present constituted CTC7 is not eligible for the grant of an additional licence.
The object of the amendments, as the Minister explained them to the House, was one with which, I imagine, everybody in Australia would be in general agreement. That object was to prevent an extension of monopoly control of commercial television. However, as the Minister knows, ownership of commercial stations was already in the nature of a monopoly, or reaching the nature of a monopoly, at the time the amendments were made.
The new provisions in the Act which bar CTC7 from providing a service for the people of an isolated area of New South Wales do not apply to holdings in commercial television stations which were acquired before 17th December last. The fact is therefore that while the amending legislation enables the control of commercial television programmes seen by millions of viewers to continue to be in the hands of a very few entrepreneurs, it has the effect of shutting out about 33,000 people - or fewer if translators were established - from the opportunity of obtaining any commercial television service whatever.
The commercial station owners have built their networks throughout capital cities largely, as the Minister may agree, by finding loopholes in the law as it existed before it was amended. These monopolists have swallowed up independent companies and added them to their television empires. That is certainly bad; but the position is not corrected by strengthening the law against television monopoly, because that law does not apply to any developments which have already occurred.
It would be greatly in the public interest if the monopoly of television which exists throughout Australia could be corrected. But it cannot be, because the amendments to the law do not apply to the commercial stations as they existed before the amendments were made. It would be immensely to the public interest if monopoly control of television in the capital cities could be ended. Independent companies would be eager to obtain television licences serving millions of viewers, and competition to operate these services would be very keen indeed if the monopoly could be ended. But that is not the position in the BegaCooma area. The position in the BegaCooma area has no relationship whatever to that position. There is no competition whatever to obtain a commercial television licence for the Bega-Cooma area. I think that when the Australian Broadcasting Control Board recently conducted a second inquiry into the possibility of finding ‘a commercial licensee willing and able to operate a service in this area, only one applicant was considered by the Board. I think there is good reason for believing - I am only guessing - that the Board may decide that that applicant does not possess the resources, means or ability to provide a commercial service.
Therefore, we are up against the position that, after four years during which these people have been deprived of any television service because of inability to find a licensee willing to conduct a service, they might, unless the Government acts, face a further indefinite period without television service of a commercial kind. I think it will now be agreed that it was probably a mistake in the original planning ever to set up the Bega-Cooma area as a separate region for a separate licence. The evidence is conclusive that it is simply not workable as a separate or independent television service, and I think that this is what the Board may submit to the Minister. It is because we are afraid that this will be the position disclosed as a result of the Board’s findings that we are now pressing the Government to take action quickly when the Board’s report is received.
Four years is too long a period for a country community to have to suffer continually television reception of an unsatisfactory standard. The prospect of a further four years or ten years without commercial television is just an unbearable one for the people of this area. There is no other prospect, except through Channel CTC7 of the people of this area obtaining a satisfactory commercial service. Unless the law is amended in the way in which we seek, most of these people will get no commercial television reception whatsoever and others will get only the infuriating snow with which they are at present afflicted. To shut out these thousands of people from satisfactory reception of commercial programmes will serve the public interest in no way whatever. The Government’s provisions under the law are intended to serve the public interest. To shut these people out from any commercial service whatever will not serve the public interest; it will be against the public interest. The object of curbing monopolies is to protect the public interest. Where the public interest would not be injured but would indeed be served, the matter certainly ought to be looked at again.
The country districts are fighting hard to retain their populations. It is a particularly difficult battle to keep the younger people in the sparsely populated rural areas. The amenities and excitements of the big cities beckon to them continually and television is one of the most beguiling of attractions. In lonely farm houses, television programmes have a big effect in brightening the day.
– They brighten the night more than the day.
– The day consists of 24 hours in my vocabulary, but I agree that it is the evenings which they do make brighter. There are very many lonely farm houses in this isolated south eastern corner of New South Wales. There are also many men in isolated construction camps in the Snowy Mountains. Again, just as in other communities, there are people who live alone, or who are old, or who are disabled, to whom television is a special boon. When these people can be given good commercial television reception - and they can now - the Government should, I think, enable them to obtain it and not shut them out from having it. The inflexibility of the laws of the Medes and Persians should not apply in these enlightened twentieth century days of the Ming dynasty.
As to preventing the extension of a monopoly, the Government would not even do that by maintaining its present position because, as the Government knows, there will be no objection to the provision of translators. The only difference is that translators, when provided in this area, will give, service to the people of, say, Cooma, and possibly to the people of Bombala - I do not know - and perhaps to the people of Bega. This will simply accentuate the neglect of the people in the isolated areas. If we give 10,000 people in Cooma a service through translators and allow translator services to be provided in other main centres, it will certainly be no argument that we are preventing the extension of monopolies. All we would really be doing would be preventing the isolated people in this area from enjoying rae benefits of television.
The Government has established a station on Brown Mountain. I am assured that the transmitter, and the whole of the equipment has been provided to enable a commercial service to operate there. It is only the law that is preventing a commercial service from doing so. I believe that the position would be rectified if the Government agreed to the amendment that we propose. We ask that when an area is declared by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to be one which it has been shown cannot be served by any licensee, and where there is no one willing to provide a separate and independent service, then the opportunity should be given for a relay service of the kind that we are now proposing.
I appreciate the attention which the Minister has given to this request. I said at the beginning of my remarks that I know he has this matter under consideration, and I have taken this opportunity of drawing to the notice of the Committee, and to the notice of the Minister again, some of the factors which we feel ought to be considered.
– Last year, when discussing the estimates for this Department, I drew the attention of the Committee to many unsatisfactory features of the form in which financial statements are submitted to this Parliament in the reports of both the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Following that, some further investigations were made. As a result of those investigations, the AuditorGeneral made this comment in his report for this year -
Consequent upon enquiries made recently into - the financial information available to the Parliament in regard to broadcasting and television services, Audit suggested to Treasury that consideration be given to preparing, in a more complete form, the annual financial statements prepared by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
The Auditor-General went on to say that some improvement had already been made to the financial documents and that consideration would be given to further amendments. I draw the attention of the Committee to this fact for a variety of reasons. The first, in view of the discussion we had in committee not long ago on the problems confronting the Parliament is to illustrate that it is still possible, even in these days, for individual members to direct attention to a matter which, in the ultimate, receives consideration and some, at least, of the problems are rectified. Last year, time did not permit me to deal with one further matter which to some may seem rather a small one. I refer to the conflict between the figures given by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in its annual report and the figures provided to this Parliament by the Auditor-General who, the Committee will know, reports direct to this Parliament and is the prop on which this Parliament leans, or should lean, in matters of finance and the control of public expenditure.
Here I refer only briefly to the number of licences current at the end of the financial year. This is the normal situation. I have gone back over the figures for many years and for the benefit of the Committee propose to cite the figures given by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and those provided by the Auditor-General. The first point that I make here is that it is impossible to reconcile individual figures, because the Auditor-General shows them in one fashion and the Australian Broadcasting Commission shows them in another fashion, so the figures for licences - viewers’, television combined, lodging house, full time, and short term - differ. This is because of the form of presentation, and it is one of the matters to which I have drawn attention in the past. Either the form in which the Auditor-General reports to the Parliament should be adopted, or some explanation should be made by the authority concerned as to why its form of presentation differs from that of the Auditor-General.
This is, I think, of importance: If we add the figures together, there is still a difference of about 1,500 or 1,600 - in a total, to be sure, of 3.8 million. It is not a large difference, but figures are either right or wrong1 - there is no half way - and we are entitled in this Parliament to receive accurate figures. I understand that as a result of the inquiries that were made following my comments last year, there is some dispute as to the figures; I am informed of this unofficially. Last year I said, at the end of my comment on these matters, that on the information available to the Parliament the best that anyone could do in assessing the losses over the past nine years was to say that they were at the least £3.5 million and at the most about £29 million. This is on the figures presented to the Parliament.
– In between those amounts?
Mir. DAVIS. - Quite. I understand that these figures have been challenged, although I myself have not been informed officially. So, following this line, I want to direct the attention of the Committee to the information provided to us, not in this case by the Australian Broadcasting Commission but by the Treasury in the document entitled “ Estimates of Receipts and Summary of Estimated Expenditure”. If any document is to be reliable, I would regard this as being next in order of reliability to that of the Auditor-General. Honorable members are conversant with these things.
Bach year we find a Table No. 6, entitled “Consolidated Revenue Fund. Estimated Receipts and Expenditure per Head of Population “. This is an interesting table, since it enables the Committee to assess the impact of expenditure and the impact of receipts per head of population. This table shows that in 1962-63, in relation to Broadcasting and Television Services, the expenditure per head of population was 26s. and the receipts were 25s. Id. So the loss per head of population on these -services in that year amounted to Hd. a head. This is not, perhaps, a significant amount.
I will not weary the Committee by needlessly citing all the figures, but in the next year, 1963-64, the loss was 8s. 8d. a head. In 1964-65 it had grown to 9s. lOd. a head. It is estimated that in the current year the loss will be 9s. 4d. a head. It does not require a mathematical genius to say that we have a population of roughly 11 million and that if the loss is between 9s. and 10s. a head the total loss, in very rough figures, is about £5 million a year. That is on the figures provided to the Parliament. There is just no question of that. It is the final authority, the document presented by the authority of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). This is the sort of thing to which I directed the attention of the Committee a year ago. I direct the Committee’s attention to it again this year and I suppose that in all probability I shall have the unfortunate task of directing the Committee’s attention to it next year.
– We shall fix it in the year after.
– My friend from Wills, with his characteristic optimism, thinks that his Party will fix it in the year after. I can assure my friend from Wills that whatever Government might be in office, this is unlikely to be fixed. It is the function, duty and responsibility of this Parliament to direct attention to these things and to keep on directing attention to them, because some improvement is consistently made, as long as we register our opinions in this place.
– The loss is improved upon.
– My friend from Balaclava, who has had some experience of com mercial affairs, points out that the loss is improved on. The point of that is that the actual loss per head in the last financial year was 9s. lOd. and the loss this year is estimated to be 9s. 4d. Further study of these documents would show my friend from Balaclava that the estimated loss is frequently exceeded when it comes to the actual figure. I would not share the optimism of my friend from Wills on these matters. Then there is the general question of the information provided by this organisation in its reports. These are excellent reports in terms of public relations. This report is a very good public relations document. It has very interesting features. lt has a glowing commentary on the various forms of activity. But it has no details of staff; it has no details of the value of fixed assets; it has no details of depreciation; it has no details of total capital expenditure. I contrast this with another of the reports which the Committee knows I follow with some interest. I have taken it haphazardly. There is no uniformity in the presentation of reports to this Parliament - in terms of financial statements, anyhow. I refer to the report of the Atomic Energy Commission. It is one that happened to be handy when I was looking at them this morning. In it the Commission shows the number of staff. It shows too, a statement of capital assets as at 30th June 1965. Some authorities do this, and some do not. I should not think I would be unkind if I were to say that those who do not have a reason for this and, further, that members of this Parliament should have some responsibility to find out what the reason is.
I want to direct the attention of the Committee also to the excellent financial report presented by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, under whose control - nominally, at least - the Australian Broadcasting Commission is. It is true that, somewhat ironically, the Australian Broadcasting Commission is included under the sub-heading, “ Business Undertakings “. But it is equally true that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, the largest commercial activity in Australia, can yet present to this Parliament commercial accounts; it can yet present to the Parliament details of every form of activity. I suppose people would vary in their interpretations and their opinions, and after looking at the explanations and the figures they might arrive at different conclusions, but that is the function of the Parliament. The point I make here is that the Department under the control of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme), who is at the table, does provide the Committee with the information that is necessary for the Committee to make an informed judgment on the control, the administration, the expenditure and the activities of the Department. Of course, it can be done.
It is suggested that because of the particular forms of activities of the Australian Broadcasting Commission it is impossible for the Commission in some areas to present commercial accounts. This may or may not be correct. I remember the same point of view being put forward some years ago in respect of the Postmaster-General’s Department. If it is true, at least we are entitled to have information equivalent to that provided in commercial accounts. If this can be done, it should be done to show, as the Department itself does, the difference between commercial accounts and the Treasury accounts, which are set out in the document provided and finally are transferred into the Appropriation Bill, by which this Parliament is asked to authorise the appropriation of public money to maintain the Commission. I have not devoted much of my time to the activities of the Postmaster-General’s Department, but probably over the years I have annoyed the Department as much as anyone in this Parliament, because I represent a rapidly growing outer metropolitan electorate. I have found that the Department faces enormous difficulties but I have found also that it has great enterprise and a great capacity to overcome its difficulties, which arise mainly as a result of the population explosion and the consequent heavy demand for its services. There are problems which are unsolved, and will remain unsolved as for as I can see, but as the representative of an area faced with difficulties in this field and as a member of this Parliament who takes some interest in financial affairs, I think the Department, although it might well deserve some criticism, is, in the main, deserving of our support.
– .1 wish to spend my time in speaking to that part of the Estimates which deals with television and radio. I had the opportunity to read the Seventeenth Annual Report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. There are some interesting features. I noticed that, notwithstanding the gloomy prophecies made some years ago as to the future of radio following the advent of television, the profits of the commercial radio stations have continued to grow. This is not confined to Australia but is happening throughout the world. Those prophets who wrote or said that broadcasting was doomed as a result of the introduction of television have been proved to be wrong. On the figures contained in this report, the commercial radio stations’ profits are considerably higher than those made by the commercial television stations.
The Australian Broadcasting Control Board operates under the Broadcasting and Television Act and is responsible for implementing the policy enunciated in that Act. This policy has been laid down by the Government. Notwithstanding the various conditions imposed from time to time, it is quite apparent that there is a trend towards a monopoly in commercial television and radio. However, the Government has been at great pains to claim that by limiting ownership in this field it has accomplished something. There is a peculiar system in Australia - one which is not countenanced in any other part of the world. The Government stands forth and presents itself dramatically as the defender of private enterprise, but only the Government would define as private enterprise what is happening here in television and radio. There are national systems in operation. I refer the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme) to the fact that some years ago a royal commission appointed by a conservative government in the United Kingdom to report on the question of the control of media of mass communication of this kind strongly emphasised its opposition to private enterprise entering the field. In Australia, private enterprise has entrenched itself to such an extent that it will be very hard to remove.
The policy of the commercial radio and television stations in Australia is based on commercial considerations. I do not say that lightly. During the war years I was a member of a State advisory committee on broadcasting and on many occasions I listened to the evidence of representatives of commercial radio stations. Their attitudes, statements and opinions do not appear to have changed since that time. In fact, a statement was made some weeks ago by the President of the Federation of Australian Television Stations, I think, to the effect that limitations should be placed on the operations of the Australian Broadcasting Commission - that the Commission should confine itself to certain fields and leave others to the commercial stations. How he justifies this proposition, I do not know. If honorable members study the operations of national and commercial television and radio stations they will find that many fields covered by the national stations, and which ought to be covered in an ordered programme, are completely neglected by the commercial stations. Despite attempts by the commercial companies to denigrate the A.B.C. in radio and television, I say quite definitely that if the A.B.C. were not operating in many fields we in Australia would be without radio or television coverage of many events. I refer particularly to sport. Watching commercial television in Australia, one might think that people overseas did not play soccer, Rugby Union or Rugby League football, for instance. People in Australia get a coverage of those sports overseas only from the A.B.C. Commercial television stations will not touch them. I feel that the commercial stations are greatly lacking in this respect.
I want to refer also to the constant reshowing of films by commercial television stations. I do not know how many times viewers are expected to watch films that have been shown before. Apparently some of these films go back to the very beginning of television in Australia. It is not unusual to see them making a reappearance every two or three months. In itself, that practice is not to be condemned but I think there is some obligation on the stations to make an appropriate announcement. In other countries, when television stations intend to repeat a film they are compelled by the controlling authorities to advertise this before the film is televised. But in Australia there is no such requirement. There is no limit to how often a film can be shown. It is very boring to have repetition of this kind. It is obvious that these films were bought very early in the days of television in Australia and that the stations are taking the easy way out by serving them up to the public again and again.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that something would be done about the question of the Australian content of television productions. However, he did not indicate when this would be done. I think it is time the Government came to grips with this problem. In Australia we do not seem to have the initiative, the incentive and the national pride in this matter that other countries have. Other countries are capable of presenting television programmes with a national content, and their governments insist upon that. This is not so in Australia, and that is a reflection upon the policy of this Government. It is about time that the Government faced up to this problem.
Australia entered the television field very late. In fact, we were well behind countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada. So, we had a great deal of time in which to feel our way. We did not rush precipitately into this field. However, we have been in it for quite a long time - for quite a lot longer than some other countries. Yet at the moment we are no closer to achieving the degree of national content in our programmes which not only is so much a part of television in other countries but also is insisted upon by the governments of those countries as a matter of policy. Those governments are not deterred by the kinds of arguments to which we have had to listen in this chamber for the last five or six years.
I refer now to television advertising. From what we see on our television screens from time to time, it is quite obvious that there is a lack of policy on this matter on the part of the Broadcasting Control Board. The advertising that is shown on our television screens is just rubbish. I believe that it is an accepted fact that 95 per cent, of it is dishonest. The Broadcasting Control Board, in its report last year, stated that on five occasions it had to take action to prevent certain advertising. However, in its report this year I can find no reference to that matter. It is a fact that the advertising that appears on our television screens today is dishonest and misleading. We have no law to cope with it. In the United States the position is entirely different. A few months ago I read a report of a committee that was set up by the Congress to investigate this matter. I was amazed to come across a list of names of firms. I counted no fewer than 12 firms which appeared before this congressional inquiry and which are still operating and advertising in Australia. I do not say that those firms are the only offenders in this respect.
We only have to look at advertising in this country to get some appreciation of the point that I am trying to make. I say, first of all, that the advertising is not of a good standard. It is completely misleading. It is dishonest. In my opinion, the time that advertising occupies on commercial television is completely excessive. An analysis of the figures contained in the report of the Broadcasting Control Board shows that in radio advertising occupies 18 per cent, of the listening time and that in television it occupies 14i per cent, of the viewing time. But to the people who watch television at night it appears that the time occupied by advertising is double that percentage and that the stations crowd their advertising into the night viewing hours. Whilst the report states that advertising occupies only 14i per cent, of viewing time, it would be very hard to convince the people who watch television, particularly at night, that the percentage stated in the report is correct.
– Why does not the honorable member get a stop watch and time it?
-^! have not the time to do that. If that is the Minister’s approach to this matter, I suggest that he do that himself and check the figures that are contained in the report. I cannot sit down and check these figures. I say quite definitely that the percentage stated in the report is spread over the whole viewing time and that the stations show more advertisements at night than during the day. That is because there is a difference between the prices that one has to pay for advertisements at night and during the day. The stations have their peak hours for advertising, and if a person wishes to advertise in those peak hours he has to pay more than he would pay to advertise in the off-peak hours.
– That is because he gets the viewers.
– Yes, but those viewers are entitled to some consideration.
That is the point that I am trying to make. Commercial television does not exist completely and exclusively for the purpose of making profits. That seems to be the attitude of the commercial television stations and of the Government.. The making of profits seems to be the first consideration as far as the Government is concerned, and the reactions of the viewers seem to be secondary.
I submit that it is about time this matter was reviewed. To my mind, the attitude of the Broadcasting Control Board is not convincing. When there were complaints about cigarette advertising and it was suggested to the Board that they might be overcome by reducing the volume of cigarette advertising, the Board said that that was a negative approach and suggested that more talks on public health be given. That shows again the reluctance of the Board to move against the commercial stations.
– I was interested in the contributions made by previous speakers in this debate, particularly that of the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who spent some time - I think with justification in many ways - pointing out the desirability of increasing the scope of monopolies in connection with the establishment of separate television stations. I thought that was rather an unusual approach for him to make. Having perhaps a similar problem in the river district of my electorate, I can see the problem with which he is faced.
I was also interested in the remarks of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor). Although many of his ideas were constructive, I could not agree that the Government has lagged behind in the establishment of national television stations. He seemed to think that it was a bit remarkable that the United Kingdom and the United States of America led Australia into the television field. I do not find that quite as remarkable as he does. Apart from the inventive capacity of those two very great nations, obviously economics comes into this question. The size of the market is a very vital factor in the economics of developing and running television services. Both the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Mortimer) and I, because of our attempts to have national television stations established in our areas, can appreciate the fact that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) and his Department, acting impartially and objectively and with help from the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, defines areas in which the viewing potential is great enough to justify the existence of a national station.
My purpose in speaking today is to try to present a case for an extension of that principle. The electorate that I represent has a section around the river towns which, at the time of the completion of phase 4 of the development of television stations in country areas, had a viewing potential of 28,000 people. Phase 4 was finally limited to areas with a viewing potential of 30,000 people. I believe that this area possibly has more potential viewers than that figure today. It is on that account, and on account of several other factors that I intend to develop in the short time at my disposal, that I am on my feet today, trying to present to the Postmaster-General a case for an extension of that principle in the development of national stations in country areas. In discussing the estimated expenditure on broadcasting and television during 1965-66, it is necessary to commence by pointing out that I have no criticism of the Government’s record in establishing television in Australia. There has been a magnificent process of development, and when stage 4 is completed and the difficulties in relation to Cairns are overcome - I am not speaking politically, I speak of the town of Cairns - 90 per cent, of the people of Australia will have access to a national station. We can have no complaints about the remarkable development that has taken place. If one small criticism could be offered perhaps it would be that licenses for third commercial television stations were granted in cities which are too small to provide sufficient advertising potential for the third station to run at a profit. I do not know what the position is in Brisbane, but I believe that in Adelaide the advertising capacity is probably not sufficient to justify a third commercial station. This has the effect of making it very difficult for commercial stations to take an interest in country areas. That criticism applies particularly to the environment of Adelaide. I reiterate, however, that generally speaking I have no criticism to offer because I think there has been a magnificent achievement in this field.
The problem is: Where do we go next? The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), I think the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Mortimer) and I have submitted that there were five areas in our electorates which were taken out of stage 4. It seems logical to me that these areas must receive top priority in any reassessment of the position when further television stations are being installed, whether it be by a relay system or by any other means. I was encouraged to hear the answer given by the Postmaster-General to a question asked this morning. He pointed out that elaborations such as colour television and further improvements of that type must wait until areas with a worthwhile density of population have received the benefit of a national station, or at least a station of some type. Probably I am paraphrasing what the Minister said, but I hope that I am not too far off the mark. I take some encouragement from the sentiments that I think he expressed in answer to the question. I am also encouraged by the attitude of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board which, now that the Mildara national and commercial stations are about to commence broadcasting, intends to conduct a further inquiry into the coverage that these stations provide. This inquiry will decide very largely where the limits of an area can be defined and will enable the next stage of development to be planned.
I appreciate that even when the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has planned and recommended the establishment of further stations a decision still has to be made on economic grounds whether to proceed with the installation of the national stations recommended by the Board. In some of these areas, although there may not be a large number of business firms which could provide advertising there is still a high population density of the sort to be found in the electorate of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). In his electorate there is a large agricultural population based on intensive irrigation, and this applies to my own electorate as well. I refer particularly to the towns of Beryl, Waikerie, Renmark, Loxton and Barmera. It becomes almost a necessity to have a station when the population of towns reaches the 30,000 mark. I hope that during the finalising of stage 4 there will be an extension of the principle to these areas, particularly if it can be shown that the populations have increased sufficiently.
Finally, I point out that from information I have obtained on a fairly high official level there would seem to be no difficulty about planning and installing national stations in these areas, particularly in relation to high spots on which to site translators. It may be necessary to install two translators in some instances but possibly the Department could get away with one. The terrain is flat apart from the few high spots. It seems that the reception would be excellent. The distance of these areas from Adelaide is about 140 to 150 miles and on odd nights people with television sets can receive signals from Adelaide. Naturally, with the encouragement of an odd good night people will go ahead and buy television sets and put up extremely high antennas in order to recieve a signal, but on three nights out of four reception is not of a worthwhile standard. I repeat that there appears to be no technical difficulty, the only difficulty, of course, being a financial and economic one. I say to the Postmaster-General that I believe there is a real need in these areas for relaying television signals.
The Government is rightly proud of its record in bringing national television stations within the reach of 90 per cent. of the people by the time that stage 4 is completed, but there is still the remaining 10 per cent. to be considered. The Government’s performance is incredibly good, but it is not so impressive if you happen to be one of the 10 per cent, who live in areas that cannot receive a television signal. I think we can understand the feelings of people who live in isolated areas away from the centres of population. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to have a careful look at the problems involved in these areas. Not tomorrow, but perhaps next year we may be able to have some announcement that will give some hope to these people that they will soon be able to receive an efficient signal. With that I complete my remarks. I support the expenditure on broadcasting and television services.
– Speaking on the estimates for the Postmaster-General’s Department, I wish to commend the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme), his officers and workers for their progressive outlook, the work they perform and the way in which they have carried out their duties. Unlike the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) I am not aware of any instance in which allocated money has been spent on other than very necessary projects, when we take into consideration the overall picture of our national and international advancement and our defence and geographical isolation from our allies. All honorable members will have some knowledge of departmental activities in their own areas, and probably of some activities in other areas. No doubt they appreciate as much as I do the reports received from the PostmasterGeneral and his officers on the work done in providing additional circuits, the conversion of exchanges from manual to automatic and other improvements.
We have been provided with information and reports on the Compac and Seacom cable systems which now connect us with Britain, the United States, North America, Europe and South East Asian countries. We have entered into an agreement to be a member country in the first global commercial communications satellite system which aims to give basic global coverage by 1968 and will, when established, together with Compac and Seacom, permit Australia to keep pace with, or perhaps exceed the increasing demand for international communications. Australia is a member of the management council of the Universal Postal Union. It is one of the elected member countries of the International Telecommunication Union. Together these unions cover the extremely broad field of postal, telegraph and telephone communication on a universal basis. In addition, we have representatives at Commonwealth conferences on satellite communications and through the United Nations we realease experts and provide information and technical assistance to developing countries. We give assistance to Papua and New Guinea in much the same way. Under the Colombo Plan, representatives of a dozen different nations are trained in Australia in fields ranging from engineering, telecommunications and postal operations to management and administration.
The unions study and make recommendations on matters ranging from postal charges and standards to worldwide automatic and semi-automatic telephony, international telex and public telegraph services and the future development of space communications. We are now a paying member and have a seat on the important committee which will deal with the technical, financial and commercial aspects of satellite communication. We are in on the ground floor. For a country of great distances, sparse settlement and comparatively small populations our advancement in this field can well be described as swift and great.
In dealing with the estimates of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, we are again reminded that by any standards, it is the biggest business which exists to serve Australia and that every Australian is a shareholder in mis large enterprise. The first official post office was opened in 1809, a little over 20 years after our first settlers arrived in Sydney. Then followed the period of State control which ended with Federation in 1901. Throughout that long period and to this present day, those responsible for the maintenance and expansion of postal services have shown courage, ingenuity and a pioneering spirit coupled with the proof that in Australia we seem able to produce men with the engineering skill necessary to carry out very efficiently a great variety of projects.
Some 40 years before Federation, Port Augusta was already linked by telegraph with all the other populated parts of Australia and so the necessity was seen to link it with Darwin and, through the submarine cable link, to extend communications from Darwin to Java. At that time Java was already linked with the outside world. Thus came about the famed overland telegraph line which more than anything else was responsible for opening up Australia’s centre and the northern areas. The overland telegraph took away complete isolation from the area just as today the further extension of the telephone and television and the provision of good radio reception to isolated pockets will assist very materially in relieving the comparative isolation of many country areas.
My brief research into ‘history did not establish on what terms the post and telecommunications services were taken over from the States, but I rather hope that no part of the original cost of the overland telegraph line amounting to some £480,000 has been included in the sum on which interest is now charged. Compared with our more modern day adventures, the advent of the Post Office was brought about not for purely business or personal reasons but, on the contrary, for reasons that had a truly national flavour. In addition to defence interests and other Government services there was a recognition of Australian achievement.
Each year larger sums of money are set aside in the Estimates for the progress, expansion and maintenance of the various departments under the control of the PostmasterGeneral. The estimates this year for the Department total almost £136 million. This is only about £12 million less than the proposed appropriation for the Department of the Treasury which has long been recognised as the largest drawer on appropriation funds. For a single department - the Post Office - £90 million has been set aside. Of this £7.5 million is to cover the erection of new buildings, the purchase of land, and additions and alterations to existing premises during 1965-66. We find that £4) million has been set aside for an automatic data processing machine together with additional motor vehicles and mail handling facilities. The amount set aside for engineering capital works has been increased by £8.5 million to a total of £76.5 million. This, with £1 million for the Stores and Service Trust Account, broadly provides the picture of the anticipated expenditure of £90 million on the Post Office.
When consideration is given to the great need to extend and expand further our telecommunications system, both nationally and internationally, as quickly as possible, as well as the need for a complete changeover to automatic telephone exchanges in Australia and the desirability of extending the range of national television to cover the whole of our population, the significance of this rather large sum fades a little. In the communications field, we are held in high esteem internationally for playing a part well up to and perhaps a little beyond what is expected of a nation of 11 million people. Nationally, we completely control this field.
At this stage we should make a survey of the needs of the shareholders in this industry to see if we are giving them complete satisfaction. To express it in another way, we have to consider whether our swift advancement towards international achievement has caused us to ignore the somewhat smaller but nonetheless vital needs of some sections of our own people. First, they have a right to know why this great national enterprise has been placed in a position where it is utterly impossible, no matter what stage of maturity it reaches eventually, for it to reduce or make a downward adjustment for the services it renders the ordinary shareholder. We have to discover why no interest was charged for some 60 years while this enterprise had the use of the people’s money and why a system of charging interest on cash advances was instigated some five years ago. lt can be said that in the past, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department prayed a major part in decentralisation and an important part in defence, in government control and prestige and in the growth of our nation. If that can be said about its activities in the past, its part is even more important in the light of modern events.
We find that interest charged to the Department has reached £28,394,561. Not satisfied with the original rate of interest, however, the Treasurer saw fit to raise lt to 4i per cent, in 1964, to 5 per cent, at the beginning of the last financial year and to 5i per cent, in the second half of the same year. When a sum of £136 million is involved, an interest rate of one half per cent, means a further intake to the Treasury of about £180,000. Moreover, we must bear in mind that the Treasurer has power to increase the interest rate again at any time he sees fit. Our State Railways and abattoirs are bogged down under the same principle. They were created in the first place to assist decentralisation and provide a service to hasten expansion in the rural industry. But for our railways, a large area of good farming land would still be virgin. In the earlier days, great difficulties were encountered in getting stock to market.
These two industries were created with public funds to supply a need. In their earlier stages they were not expected to make a profit and in fact they had no hope of doing so. Both these enterprises are now placed in a position where it has become impossible for them to pay back the capital advances, but by upward adjustments of freight charges, they are just able to remain competitive and meet interest commitments. They are placed in a position where they are continually in debt. They have no hope of repaying cash advanced to them since the laying of the first rail or the first brick and are forced to charge rates which price them out of any real advancement in their own fields.
Another matter which concerns particularly regions of my electorate is a regulation of the Postal Department which lays down that assistance is required when constructional costs are high in more sparsely settled areas. I bring this to the Minister’s notice because in these particular areas invariably it is found that those making application are relatively new settlers who are endeavouring to clear and establish a holding. Quite often there is only one vehicle on the holding and no other means of communication. This regulation does nothing to assist the settlers in new establishments who need a great deal of assistance.
The regulation to which I refer makes provision for the Department to erect or make ready for service only so many chains of a new line or cable for each new subscriber from an existing or new exchange. The subscriber has then to erect the line along the surveyed road to his holding. Sometimes the Department supplies the material and the subscriber does the work. At other times the subscriber does both. He does the work and supplies the necessary posts and materials. The subscriber always does the work and supplies all the materials inside his boundary. A number of similar cases have been brought to my notice and mostly they impose a further hardship on a section of the community which by reason of its isolation already has to pay more for everything it uses. I ask the Minister whether he will consider relaxing this regulation so that, when an extension of the service takes place, his Department will make provision to place new lines or cables on surveyed roads up to the nearest corner of the holding free of additional charge.
A further matter I bring to the notice of the Postmaster-General is the housing shortage in many country towns in which his Department has a base or post office. The railways, stock firms, banks and, indeed, any enterprise that wishes to transact business in these areas have to make arrangements to house their employees. Sometimes the firm is able to purchase a home but more often than not it is forced to build one. Very seldom is reasonable accommodation, or accommodation of any type, available for lease or rent. When married specialists of the Department, whether they be engineers or people in some other classification, are transferred to these towns because their skill is needed there, they very often find single accommodation or board and lodgings. But the outlook is hopeless if they wish to live a normal married life with their wife and children. The direct result of this is that the Department cannot keep married specialists or other married employees in certain country areas. This places an added burden on the postmaster and his staff in the town concerned.
Recently I asked the Postmaster-General whether finance was available and what action had been taken to procure additional houses for employees in outlying areas. His answer was -
It is not the policy of the Department to provide houses or to make houses available for all employees who live in distant areas. There are many reasons for that policy. They include the fact that there is a required rental which bears a relationship to the salary or wages paid. Many employees find that they are able to obtain premises at lower rentals than are required for Commonwealth accommodation, and therefore they prefer the other accommodation. We seek to provide, where necessary, up to approximately 50 per cent, of the accommodation requirement in particular areas. But there are other factors in relation to various areas, which cannot all be enumerated at question time.
I trust that the Minister will find time to enumerate some of these factors when he replies during this debate. I have told the Minister of specific towns in which this situation has arisen, and there are others in my area. I have been assured that in these towns the employees of the Department would not object to paying rentals that bear a relationship to the salaries. The point I wish to make is that employees cannot find reasonable rental houses and I ask the Minister to investigate this matter. I understand that phase 4 of our national television scheme will be completed in 1968.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I want to deal particularly with the telephone section of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I think we should realise that this is Australia’s biggest enterprise and, because of its size, its ramifications entail a tremendous amount of management. Considerable ability is needed. I pay a tribute to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) for his administration of the Department. He is always most helpful and co-operative. Perhaps he has to say “ No “ more often than any other Minister, but at least he does give full consideration to our requests. My remarks apply also to the district telephone managers, district telephone engineers, the staff generally and the girls on the switch boards. The service we get from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is excellent.
However, we must face the position that the telephone section of the Department is in a most unsatisfactory state in regard to the number of outstanding applications for services. We are told that there is at least a two years’ lag. I do not lay the blame for this at the feet of the Minister or of the Department altogether. We are told that 85,600 applications for telephones were outstanding at the end of June and we cannot expect the number to be reduced below 73,600 by the end of June of next year. When those who have had applications with the Department for a long time are told that the Department is not able to give them a- service and they read in the Press that the Department has made quite a substantial profit, they become impatient and do not realise what the Department is trying to do to provide sufficient services. We are told from time to time that there is a shortage of equipment, of staff and of money, but as far as I can discover money is probably the limiting factor. When a public utility or private enterprise has more orders for its services than it can supply, it does something about it. If money is the biggest problem facing the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, then it is time the Government made more funds available to enable it to catch up with this backlog.
I am mindful of quite a number of areas in my electorate where cables have been laid and subscribers connected in readiness for the installation of an automatic telephone. 1 refer to the installation of rural automatic exchanges and other types of telephone exchanges. But these people have been waiting for some two years for the instrument itself to be installed. This is frustrating and causes inconvenience. Telephone services mean much more to country people than they do to city people, necessary though they may be to people in the city areas. In many country areas, private lines are seriously deteriorating. Private subscribers are warned not to spend money on building new lines because there is an overall plan - it is a very good plan - to combine, perhaps, several small exchanges or to provide automatic exchanges instead of several small manual exchanges. In the meantime, subscribers find that their lines are out of service for more than half the time, that they are costly to maintain and that it is quite prohibitive to build a new line that will be there for a comparatively short time. We are approaching the period when bush fire problems present themselves. We know only too well that in New South Wales this year, because of the tremendous losses through drought, we cannot afford to lose any fodder or pastures. People in country areas are isolated and have difficulty in obtaining help in the event of sickness. Many of our womenfolk live in remote parts of the country and may be alone with a small family all day or sometimes all week. This would apply more particularly to small subscribers, such as employees. We are unable to provide a service to employees’ cottages in country areas.
Country subscribers have another grievance in that they believe they are paying exceptionally high rentals for comparatively little use of their telephones. I think there is a case for a higher charge for calls and a lower rental charge in many areas. Because some people happen to have access to a larger number of subscribers, they pay a higher rental. I know that the rental ranges from £8 to £12 or £20. In some areas, people connected to small exchanges make very little use of the telephone, but because they have access to a large number of subscribers, are paying the full rental. Businesses in country areas face heavy costs because of the inability of the telephone service to cope adequately with business calls. In many areas, the private individual is unable to transact business by telephone. We have the problem of delay at harvest time when it is vitally important for suppliers to be readily accessible. Farmers must be able to get in touch with the people who supply parts for their equipment, but frequently it is more convenient to drive 20 miles into town than to try to contact the supplier by telephone. The cost of telephones in country areas is militating against development to a very large extent. Recently I instanced a case in which we were able to secure the establishment of an industry in a small town not far from here. That was achieved after a lot of hard groundwork was done. One of the biggest problems we had to overcome was that, because it was situated in Yass, it would cost this small industry approximately £800 a year more for its telephone service than if it were in a Sydney suburb.
With the extension of direct dialling, a very strong case can be made for a standard telephone charge. I have raised this matter before. I have pointed out that a letter can be sent anywhere in Australia at a cost of Sd. Surely that letter has to be handled many more times and entails much more manual work than does a telephone call. We have standardised the cost of telephone calls to a degree already. For example, it costs a maximum sum of 15s. to make a telephone call anywhere in Australia. I believe that we are approaching the time when, with direct dialing extended fairly generally throughout the Commonwealth, we should look at the possibility of introducing a flat rate for trunk calls. Such a step would assist decentralisation tremendously. Once the necessary equipment is installed and a person has merely to dial the number he wants, surely it does not cost a great deal more for the electrical impulse to be sent 1,000 miles than it would to send it SO miles.
Let me illustrate with my own personal experience. If I want to telephone my office in my home town of Harden, which is 80 miles distant from Canberra, I ring the switchboard in this building, the switchboard rings Canberra, Canberra rings the Goulburn exchange, Goulburn rings Cootamundra, Cootamundra rings Harden, and Harden rings my office. If somebody pulls the plug out during the conversation, we have to start all over again. The amount of time wasted is tremendous. On the other hand, I can pick up my telephone in my office here and dial almost any number in Melbourne or Sydney direct. Surely there exists a tremendous possibility for cutting the cost of such calls and for giving a quicker and more efficient service. The time occupied in having a three minute conversation with my secretary at Harden sometimes is 1 5 or 20 minutes.
If the Postmaster-General’s Department is not able to catch up with the backlog, surely a case exists for taking some other drastic action. The possibility of enlisting the services of private contractors to do some of the outside work is well worth looking at. A special allocation of money should be made to allow us to catch up with the backlog. If that cannot be done, we should seek to raise a special loan. A wait of two years for telephones with no prospect of our being able to catch up on the backlog to any great degree in the foreseeable future is most unsatisfactory. This state of affairs Ls retarding development and is creating chaos throughout the Commonwealth. It is not only impeding development but also is raising the costs of primary producers at a time when costs need to be reduced. Delay in the provision of telephone services is frustrating many country businessmen in their attempts to develop their businesses, and it is militating against decentralisation. Moreover, it is driving a number of members of Parliament up the wall, and I am quite sure that it is causing the PostmasterGeneral himself to have ulcers. I do not think any Minister is being more harassed by members of the Federal Parliament - unjustly in many cases - because they are not able to get telephones for people who have been waiting for a long time. As I said earlier, the Minister is doing a tremendous job. But I believe that we must make a concerted effort to get a crash programme under way. We should make a larger allocation of funds to the Postmaster-General’s Department, or raise a special loan, to enable us to overtake the tremendous backlog that exists.
I should now like to touch upon another phase of our telephone services. I refer to the manning of non-official post offices, a number of which exist in my electorate. Many people have bought houses containing a post office or with a post office attached. They bought those houses some years ago when they seemed to be quite a good proposition. But because of the tremendous increase in living costs, many of these people are barely getting the basic wage. I had a case brought to my notice only last week in which a man received an increase of £5 a week. He operates a nonofficial post office which gives a continuous service. He now receives £16 a week. He is on duty during meal times and, indeed, at all hours of the day. Unless he can afford to pay somebody to take his place, he must be on call day and night on Saturdays and Sundays. He is expected to be on call for 24 hours a day. Particularly during the bush fire period it is important that he be there. If this does not very closely approach sweated labour, I do not know what does.
I wish to mention now another group of employees with whom I, as the representative of a country electorate, come in contact quite a lot and who have already been mentioned by the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Mortimer). 1 refer to technicians and linemen who are stationed in outlying places and in country towns. These men are permanent employees of the Department. No direct provision is made by the Department to house these people. Many men have been, forced to forgo promotion when, because they have a wife and family, they themselves have had to decide whether to board and in effect maintain two homes. These men are not asking for something for nothing. All that they are asking the Department or the Government to do is to provide them with homes for which they are prepared to pay rent. That is a very reasonable request. The granting of that request would help considerably in ensuring greater efficiency within the Department. Many of these fellows go out cheerfully in all kinds of weather and at all hours. I know that the availability of money is a problem, but I believe that a case can be made out for providing them with permanent accommodation which they can rent for a reasonable sum. Provision of this accommodation would provide them with adequate living conditions and would provide the Department with a reasonable return upon its investment.
.- I fully endorse the remarks of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Pettitt) in relation to the backlog of applications for telephones and the operation of non-official post offices. Of course, that does not mean that I disagree with his comment about the provision of accommodation for certain other employees of the Post Office. The honorable member said that one of the reasons for the backlog in the supply of telephones and in the provision of postal facilities was the lack of finance. I wish to pursue that theme by raising a matter that has been mentioned on several previous occasions. I refer to the diversion of a substantial part of the revenue of the Post Office to the Department of the Treasury in interest charges.
Doubtless we all recall that this procedure was recommended in 1959 by a committee, the members of which were hand picked by the Government. Even though they were hand picked, the members of that committee decided in favour of the present practice by only three votes to two. In the last financial year the Post Office had to pay a sum of £26.4 million in interest on money that was advanced to it, mainly by the Treasury out of taxation revenue. That sum could and ought to have been used to provide more telephone services and more adequate postal facilities. An ever increasing amount is being paid back to the Treasury each year by way of interest. As I indicated a moment ago, most of the capital requirements of the Post Office are provided by the Treasury out of taxation revenue. We are in the ludicrous position of paying year by year interest on our own taxation contributions. That has always struck me as being stupid. This arrangement is supposed to accord with modern commercial practice. It is suggested that the Post Office should be conducted as a normal commercial undertaking. It is not a normal commercial undertaking. It is a national utility which is supposed to assist in the development of our country. It ought not to be regarded as a commercial undertaking.
The diversion of this sum of £26.4 million from the revenue of the Post Office is denying the community facilities that it ought to have. I note that in the last financial year provision for depreciation amounted to £32.2 million. I suppose we have to make allowances for that, lt represents an increased depreciation allowance of £6.3 million. We can start to see where a lot of this money goes even before anything is paid out for new facilities. The depreciation allowance and the interest allowance take quite an amount. Concerning this matter of depreciation, I refer to the report that has just been issued by the Minister in which he states that the average rate of depreciation, based on historical cost over all depreciable assets, is 4.15 per cent, as against 3.84 per cent, in 1963-64. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Mortimer) a short while ago said that we are being charged a high rate of interest on the amount of our own taxation money that we have to pay back to the Treasury. Into the bargain, it seems that we will also be required to pay a high rate of depreciation on the assets of the Post Office. All of this amounts to another snide form of taxation on the community. This is one of the things that is inhibiting the proper provision of postal facilities.
Let me turn now to the question of telephone applications. The number of applications outstanding at 30th June of this year was 85,631. This, to my mind, is a national disgrace. It is worse than in most overseas countries, according to authoritative reports. I admit that much money is being expended, and telephone charges were increased last year to make more money available, but we still have more than 85,000 outstanding applications. We are not much better off than we were at the end of the war. We are not able to keep up with the rate of progress in the community. It is not much good the Minister telling us what he expects will be the position in the year after next. We know how predictions fall by the wayside when there is an increase in development - unexpected and unsuspected by the Government. The Minister’s report suggests that the unsatisfied demand at 30th June next will be 73,600. We will have caught up a little. We are inching our way along. This estimate is based on the proviso that developmental trends will not be much different from what they have been in the past. It takes little account of the type of development that is occurring in my electorate and in other electorates. In areas where there were two homesteads there are now as many as 24 home units, all demanding telephone services.
A couple of days ago I rang the local telephone authority in my electorate, being mindful that the Ramsgate telephone exchange will, after a long wait, get new numbers next month. There have been no new telephone connections in that area because there have been no numbers available. I thought: “We will be set now. We will be able to fix everything.” I made the telephone call and found that although numbers will be available, in some instances there will be no telephone cable. I was assured that these applicants will get relief in 1966-67, but by then something else will doubtless have arisen. This irritating and frustrating business continues year after year, with some new explanation given each year. Sick people, business people and people with urgent priorities, even though they have been waiting for 12 months or more, will have to wait a further year and a half before getting services.
The Minister has told us that this year’s programme should bring relief to New South Wales, the aim being to reduce the number of deferred applications by 5,800 to about 15,000. I assume that deferred applications relate to those people who have been told that it is no good their making a payment because no service can be offered to them and therefore they had best hang on for another year of two. New South Wales at the end of the next financial year will still have 84 per cent, of the deferred applications in the Commonwealth. I ask the Minister, if he is listening, what this Government has against New South Wales. Why does this progressive State have this long wait and this terrible position? Let me quote a few of the Minister’s own figures. In reply to a question I asked on 26th August the Minister said that of all outstanding applications, which he said at that time were 84,814, the metropolitan area of New South Wales alone had 46.3 per cent. New South Wales in general had 61.2 per cent, of all outstanding applications. On the other hand, the Victorian metropolitan area had 9 per cent, of all outstanding applications. Victoria itself had 17.4 per cent. Queensland, whence came the Minister and his predecessor, had 6 per cent, of the total. I ask honorable members to remember that New South Wales had 61.2 per cent. It is no good trying to flatter us by saying that the rate of progress in New South Wales has been great. We have been told by our political opponents in New South Wales that Victoria has the fastest rate of growth in Australia. Melbourne has a fast rate of growth, but why has Melbourne only 9 per cent, of outstanding applications and the metropolitan area of New South Wales 46.3 per cent.? Why this terrific difference? Why should New South Wales have almost seven times the number of outstanding applications that metropolitan Victoria has? It seems that not only do we get the rough end of the pineapple so far as our airport is concerned, but we aTe copping it by not being able to ring up and complain about it.
The Minister told the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) on 13th. October - a couple of weeks ago - that the number of applications for telephone services in New South Wales last year represented 26.5 per cent, of the Commonwealth total, but the percentage of installations last year in New South Wales was only 25.1 per cent. The Minister is not doing anything proportionately to catch up on the backlog in New South Wales. He told the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that New South Wales had 56 per cent, of the number of deferred applications, yet only 25.1 per cent, of all installations were made in New South Wales. So it goes on. What percentage of the total amount spent in Australia in 1964-65 on the installation of telephones was spent in the metropolitan area of New South Wales? We might have expected it to be proportionate to the number of outstanding applications, which I instanced were 46.3 per cent, of the total throughout the Commonwealth, but only 23.5 per cent, of the revenue was spent in the metropolitan area. Why? Am I not entitled to ask what the Menzies Government has got against New South Wales and why it always gets the dirty end of the stick?
Let us turn to another matter. I should like the Minister to explain why it is that in the report he has just issued, in explaining the expected increased expenditure in 1965-66 for operating and maintenance activities, he has included the item “ Increased payments for the carriage of mail by air We have not been told much about this. I do not remember hearing that the Government has been requested by the airlines to pay an increased rate. Who asked for this? Is this another handout to Ansett? The next thing we will know is that postage rates have gone up to meet the requirement. In the time left to me I want to ask: What is the Government’s intention about frequency modulation broadcasting in this country? The last report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board indicates that the Government still sticks by its policy, announced a few years ago, of having no frequency modulation broadcasting. Why is it that, as we have now learned, two experimental stations have been set up by private groups of people? Has the Government any new intentions in connection with this matter? There is a very real need for frequency modulation broadcasting in Australia. The isolated areas where radio reception is subject to interference would particularly appreciate frequency modulation broadcasting because it does provide interferencefree and static-free reception. Into the bargain, the great mass of people in Australia will shortly as one expert said recently, be turning away from television and looking for some other kind of entertainment facility. Frequency modulation broadcasting does, of course, provide excellent reception of music. I find from discussions with various people that this expected trend to turn to another form of entertainment is a reaction against the shocking television programmes that we are offered. Night after night we get nothing but canned plays on all channels. One looks for some kind of variety on at least one of the four channels, but one finds that they are all turning out the same kind of canned stuff all the time. For this reason people are turning to radio once again and they are looking for good music and good musical reception. This is something that could be provided by frequency modulation broadcasting.
As the Minister well knows, in the United States of America and in Europe frequency modulation broadcasts are very important and very much appreciated. If we want to lift our cultural standards, as we sometimes pretend, we ought to be doing something about this matter. Apparently the Postmaster-General or the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has given the goahead to a private station in Victoria and one in New South Wales, but nobody really knows what the Government has in mind concerning its future policy in the matter. Is the Australian Broadcasting Commission to return to this field? We would like to know. I hope that in giving a charter to experimental stations the Minister will not restrict such a charter to one or two organisations. I have made representations on behalf of a particular group of people, a private body which is well backed and which would require no expenditure by the Government. I hope the Minister will give these people the green light to go ahead.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Lucock).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) has just referred to the shortage of telephones. I want to make some comments about telephone charges and. I hope, constructive comments. 1 know the job being carried out by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme) is a very difficult one and is by no means a sinecure, but I am provoked to say something about these estimates by the present substantia] charges for installing telephones and the high cost of maintaining a telephone service of one’s own. Opening a telephone account today gives one a shock to the nervous system second in severity only to the shock received when opening one’s income tax assessment.
On page 10 of the Financial Report of the Post Office for the year ended 30th June 1965 appears a statement of profit and loss for the telecommunications service. Two items strike my eye immediately. The first is an item for interest of £25,493,530. The second is an item of profit transferred to Consolidated Profit and Loss Account of £3,415,291. I believe a business undertaking should not be allowed to continue to incur losses, irrespective of whether it is a Government instrumentality or a Government department, unless, of course, it is engaged in some special research work which should attract Government subsidy, or it is some agency of the national health service which is engaged in research work. I do not know what the capital cost of the telecommunications is. I presume that telephone capital costs have been reduced each year by means of some amortisation, or perhaps have even been wiped off altogether. However, these figures bring me back to the point I want to make. In essential services like telecommunications I cannot but feel that there is no real relationship between the PostmasterGeneral’s approach to capital planning and his basis of charges. The profit of £3,415,291 is a very handsome return to pull back into Consolidated Profit and Loss Account. Certainly it covers the loss last year which amounted to £774,968 and leaves about £2,500,000 to spare. If this is going to be the size of the profit each year I think the Postmaster-General should be thinking in terms of reducing the cost of what has become a luxury service, to the extent that subscribers in the domestic field will ultimately have to discontinue their telephone services. I believe that every one today would regard a telephone service as being as essential as other services such as electric light, gas and water services.
The next point I want to raise is one I spoke about sometime last year when the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill was introduced into the Parliament. It arose from the statement made by the Postmaster-General, to which I think he still subscribes, that the Post Office has an obligation to the community as a whole, particularly in the outback and developing areas. I think most of us in this Parliament and in the community would agree with that broad principle. Let there be no mistake that I subscribe to that view. But what I object to is the method of averaging out the charges in widely different districts. The method employed at present involves fixing charges in remote areas on a level insufficient to cover the cost of the services provided, and increasing the charges in the not so remote areas above what is necessary to cover costs of services in those areas. There seems to me an imbalance in the operation of this method at the present time. I believe that the cost of installing telephones in the very remote areas should be borne by a special fund established for that purpose.
In Australia there is not only a marked concentration of people in urban areas, there is also a marked concentration of urban areas in particular distant parts of the country. Subscribers in the city areas are paying the cost of having the capacity to make a telephone call to, say, Marble Bar. If we were to arrange for the cost of installing and maintaining telephones in the low density areas to be provided from a special fund, telephone charges in high density areas would be much lower than they are at present.
The Postmaster-General has reminded the Parliament quite often that the Post
Office is a national business. I am quite sure that it would be practicable to discover those areas of Australia in which the normal financial returns for the services provided would not be sufficient to cover the capital cost. I suggest that the cost of installing telephone services in those areas should be met from a special fund. I am sure that the country would be most sympathetic to the provision of money for this purpose so that services could be available for those areas. I am saying that the provision of these remote area and therefore expensive services should not be allowed to distort the balance sheet to which I have just referred and which can be seen at page 10 of the financial report of the Post Office. I have already mentioned that the balance sheet shows that the profit on telecommunications operations for the last year was about £3i million.
I believe that the provision of a telephone service and communications services generally, like roads and highways, cannot be taken into consideration in a common profit and loss account any more than the cost of beef roads in Queensland can be a charge on the constituents of my colleague, the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Gibson), in Tasmania. I am sure that under the arrangements that I have suggested we could provide a national telephone service on a very much lower basis of charge. I do not want to labour the point, but I ask honorable members to cast their minds back to the time when the Minister introduced in the House the question of increased telephone charges. It will be recalled that he referred extensively to the averaging system. I believe that that system is quite wrong. I believe it is important that people in remote areas of Australia should have telephone services and that the cost of installation and calls should be as low as possible, but I believe also that a special fund should be created for this purpose. The added cost of telephone services in remote areas could then be met from the special fund.
Funds of the type that I have suggested are used by other departments. For instance, honorable members will recall, as I do, that a special account has been created for hospital and medical insurance to provide for cases of chronic sickness or people over a certain age who have an incurable complaint. The medical insurance in these cases is provided from a special fund, so that those who are below the age of 65 years, who are not suffering from a chronic sickness or some incurable complaint do not have their accounts loaded in order to pay the costs of cases which are completely uneconomical. I believe that a similar system could be used with regard to telephone charges and that we should create a special account to provide for telephone charges and installations in areas such as Marble Bar, Port Hedland and other extreme areas throughout Australia. The added cost of those services could be paid from this account. If that were done people in more closely settled areas would not have to pay the terrific charges that they are now asked to meet. I hope that the Minister will address himself to this subject of having a special account from which to meet these costs and that we will be able to hear his opinion on the matter at the end of the debate on the estimates for his department.
.- The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) did a service for all New South Wales members a few moments ago when he highlighted the apparent disparity in treatment between New South Wales and the States of Queensland and Victoria. The honorable member has attempted on a few occasions to find out why it is that New South Wales appears to be treated less favourably than the other States. I am wondering whether now that there has been a change of government in New South Wales the backlog of telephone installations in that State will suddenly diminish.
– Does the honorable member think there might have been political prejudice?
– I am inclined to think that there might have been a little political bias in the treatment of New South Wales as to the provision of public telephones and telephones generally. It will be interesting to look at the figures in 12 months time to see whether there has been a sharp increase in the amount of the Postmaster-General’s budget spent in New South Wales.
I rose to talk especially about the divisions in the estimates relating to radio and tele vision, because I feel that these two media of communication are very important to the welfare of the community. First I should like to say a few words about the standard of radio programmes. Information that I have been given reveals that about 8 million radios are in operation throughout Australia and that in Sydney alone each week U million people listen to radios. Generally throughout Australia a similar proportion of the people would listen to the radio. Although it was predicted when television was introduced that radio would gradually fall by the wayside, it can be seen that radio has more than held its own. But in order to hold its own it is apparent that there has been a marked decline in the quality of radio programmes. Those of us who listen to the radio - particularly the commercial stations - appreciate that this has been the case. In the Seventeenth Annual Report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board we find a number of comments on radio programme standards. At page 25 of the report a table shows a breakdown of the radio broadcasting time. What the Board refers to as transient music takes up 28.6 per cent, of total broadcasting time. Paragraph 80 of the Board’s report refers to transient music and states -
The sense in which the Board applies this term to broadcast music is to classify as transient those currently popular forms of music included in top tune or similar programmes. In the majority of cases these items disappear after a brief period of popularity. Those which reappear in general programmes are regarded as having some lasting quality and are categorised as light music.
Although 28.6 per cent, of radio broadcasting time is taken up with transient music, if the tunes happen to remain in the top 40 bracket for a little while they pass into a higher category known as light music. The report shows that 21.7 per cent, of broadcasting time is taken up by light music. In all, about 50.3 per cent, of broadcasting time is taken up with transient music or light music. I feel that all honorable members will agree with me that it is virtually impossible to tune to any commercial radio station without having the ear drums punctured or without hearing loud jazzy music with unintelligible and unintelligent words to the songs. If we see these songs produced on television later we find that the performers usually are long haired, untidy and effeminate looking males. I think that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board should pay far greater attention to the decline in the standard of radio programmes. I believe that the radio programmes now being broadcast are having a detrimental effect on our youth. When young people have this type of music thrown at them constantly it is impossible for them to retain their individuality. They have to become one of the mob. They have to let their hair grow long and, generally, take on the same standards as those of the radio and television performers who are given so much publicity by the disc jockeys and the television stations.
– Can they not switch their sets off?
– I am about to pass on to another point regarding radio programmes and this may, in part, answer the honorable member’s question. If one is lucky enough to escape the jazzy type of modern music, one is subjected to what the Board calls “ talking programmes “. These are gossip sessions which consist of inane cackle from male and female commentators, few of whom have any qualification to comment on the matters under discussion. A lot of their comments are made without a sense of fair play, justice or judgment. There is no need for me to name some of the commentators 1 have in mind. I feel certain that we have all heard them and have been amazed at their lack of knowledge and their biased approach to the subjects on which they comment.
– Like Eric Baume.
– I have deliberately refrained from mentioning any commentator by name. If 1 were to mention only that gentleman’s name I would be doing him an injustice, because there are many commentators far worse than he is. Radio commentators have a large listening audience. As I said, there are 8 million radio sets in operation in Australia and about 1,750,000 people listening to them in Sydney alone. So the commentators can influence public opinion as do some newspaper writers who, unknown, unnamed and unqualified, make comments in editorial columns. People read or hear these comments and take the truth of them for granted simply because they have been published in a newspaper or have been made by some radio or television commentator. 1 have in mind particularly commentators on public affairs, because if is here that the influence is greatest. They comment on some aspect of Government policy or Opposition policy, or they comment on the behaviour of people generally, and, because of the position that has been given to them in the community, their comments are generally taken as being to some degree authoritative.
I believe that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board should take greater note of the standards of these commentators and consider whether their opinions can be regarded as being soundly based and unbiased. I feel that the power that these people can wield can be used to the detriment of Australia generally.
Another matter on which I have received representation is that certain disc jockeys who conduct request programmes often call school children during school hours. In one case that was brought to my attention the announcer said to the children: “ If you turn up your transistor radios you will be able to hear this a lot better “. It is hard enough for parents generally to induce their children to concentrate on their studies, without having disc jockeys on request programmes calling children during school hours.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– I note that all but five minutes of my time has elapsed, so I will be forced to defer some of the remarks that I had intended to make. I had intended to say something about advertising on radio and television because, in my opinion, many advertisements are misleading, childish and poorly conceived, but due to the limitation of time I shall confine my remarks to the employment of Australians in radio and television.
The Broadcasting the Television Act provides for a certain Australian content of radio and television programmes. The Act provides that 5 per cent, of radio time shall be devoted to the works of Australian composers. Since 1958-59 the Australian content of radio programmes broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and by the commercial stations has remained at about the same level. This year, 16 radio stations failed to come up to the level of 5 per cent. lc. three cases not even the level of 4 per cent, was reached. The Australian Broadcasting Control Board has asked stations to increase the Australian content of their programmes to a minimum of 5 per cent. But the A.B.C. and some commercial stations are devoting about 6.4 per cent, of their time to Australian composers. This figure has remained fairly constant for a number of years. I think it is reasonable, therefore, to suggest that the Board should require radio stations to devote more than 5 per cent, of their time to the works of Australian composers and to Australian artists.
Turning to television, until January 1965 television stations were required to have a 45 per cent. Australian content of programmes. Of that 45 per cent., 5 per cent, could be devoted to programmes from British Commonwealth countries. Since 18th January this year, the requirement has been increased to 50 per cent, but only two stations - TVW Perth and TVT Hobarthave exceeded the figure of 50 per cent. Prior to 18 th January 1965 only three stations - the two I have mentioned together with NWS Adelaide - exceeded the 45 per cent, requirement. The Board comments upon this matter in its report for the year ended 30th June 1965, but I think it is much too charitable. It states -
Stations are now meeting the peak time requirement and most of them have attempted to comply with the 50 per cent, requirement. With very few exceptions there has been a substantial response to the increase in the requirement from 45 per cent, to 50 per cent.
All television stations had at least 5 months in which to increase the Australian content of their programmes from 45 per cent, to 50 per cent., but only two were able to do so. This is not a substantial response. Many commercial stations have been operating for a number of years, and it is time they did more to encourage the employment of Australian artists and writers.
Most of my speech has been critical, so I would like to conclude on a happer note. I congratulate the Australian Broadcasting Commission on its presentation of “ My Brother Jack”. This programme, written and produced in Australia, is up to world standards. I would like to see the commercial television stations devote more of their time, money and energy to Australian programmes and the use of Australian actors and producers.
.- I congratulate the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) on having achieved an increase of more than £10 million in the appropriation this year for his Department. Expenditure last year was £80,681,993. This year the amount sought to be appropriated is £91,600,000. Departmental figures show that almost £8 million of this amount will be spent on the installation of telephone services. During the past year I have made strenuous representations to have the lag in telephone installations in New South Wales reduced, particularly in my electorate of Parramatta. I am aware that some of my colleagues have made similar representations to the Postmaster-General. I suspect - I cannot be sure - that those representations strengthened the Postmaster-General’s arm when he sought an allocation for his Department in this year’s Budget.
The position in New South Wales is quite serious. Details supplied by the Department show that there are 85,631 outstanding applications for telephones in Australia. The New South Wales figure is 51,975. In other words, more than 60 per cent, of all outstanding applications for telephones in Australia relate to New South Wales. But these figures relate to all outstanding applications - those which have just been lodged with the Department, those which are being processed and even those relating to telephones that are in the process of being installed. A more significant figure is the figure for deferred applications - that is, applications which have been received and considered and with which, for lack of equipment, materials or manpower, the Department is unable to proceed. In the whole of Australia, deferred applications total 29,853. Deferred applications in New South Wales total 21,102. About 70 per cent, of all deferred applications for telephones in Australia are from New South Wales. Expressed in another way, there are more than twice as many deferred applications in New South Wales as there are for all the other States put together.
May I refer, for a moment, to my electorate of Parramatta? Information supplied by the Department shows that at 31st
December 1964 there were 3,105 deferred applications in that electorate. That is more than the combined number of applications outstanding in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania. Indeed, the figures in my electorate are comparable with the total deferred applications outstanding in Victoria or in South Australia. To indicate the difficulties experienced by private individuals seeking to have a telephone installed, I refer to one or two cases. I am aware of cases where people in my electorate have had to wait more than five years for a telephone. I know of a business in West Ryde which already had a telephone. This is a busy area in my electorate. The business responded to the Government’s call to manufacture for export. As a result the business grew, and required two additional telephones. It was informed that it would have to wait two years for them. Another person in my electorate asked for my assistance in obtaining a telephone, I asked her whether she had submitted an application and she said she had not because obtaining a telephone was such a long term affair she did not think it was worth while doing so. This would seem to indicate that even the official figures we have may not give a true picture of the real demand.
What is the explanation for the lag in New South Wales? The official explanation is that the discrepancy between New South Wales and other States depends upon two factors. The first factor is that in 1960-61 deferred applications in Victoria were greater than those in New South Wales by 4,396. Since 1960-61 an effort has been made by the Department to reduce the imbalance in Victoria. At the same time, the rate of increase in the lodgment of applications in New South Wales has been higher than that in any other State. For example, in 1963-64 the rate of increase in New South Wales was 20 per cent, compared with only 8 per cent, in Victoria. The second factor is that when telephone charges were increased in last year’s Budget the demand for new telephones fell in all States, but it fell to a lesser extent in New South Wales than in other States. For example, it fell by 12.5 per cent, in Victoria and by only 6.8 per cent in New South Wales. It is said that the combination of these factors has led to the great imbalance which is now running against New South Wales.
I can understand this explanation and, of course, I accept the figures. I do not think any good purpose would be served by raking over the past to see whether quicker or more effective action could have been taken in New South Wales to redress the position when these trends became evident. The material question to ask is: What of the future? An additional £7,796,000 is made available in the Budget for telephone installations. Of this amount, £4,200,000 has been allocated to New South Wales - more than one-half the total allocation. Victoria has been allocated £1,633,000 and the other States have received lesser amounts. I feel sure that the people of New South Wales will welcome this substantial allocation of funds by the Government.
However, the problem remains of ensuring that this money is used effectively to reduce the lag. Difficulty in the past has arisen from shortage of cable and exchange equipment and shortage of manpower, particularly skilled manpower such as jointers and tradesmen of that description. In the past the Department has cited these shortages as the reason for its inability to install telephones in New South Wales in certain cases. Behind this was the fact that there was not sufficient money to overcome these shortages. Additional funds have now been made available and I express the hope that energetic steps will be taken to overcome the shortage of cable and exchange equipment and of manpower.
There should not be any insuperable difficulties so far as the shortage of cable and exchange equipment is concerned. These items are manufactured in Australia. In fact, one of the three principal manufacturers of exchange equipment - Telephone and Electrical Industries Pty. Ltd. - is in my electorate. But manpower presents a greater problem. Skilled manpower is difficult to obtain in competition with private industry. It is true that the Department trains its own personnel, but the training of additional skilled staff takes time and it would be a considerable time before an increase in trainees alone would produce the additional staff required. In the circumstances I suggest to the Department that two avenues at least should be explored. One is to borrow men from the Department’s work force in other States. The position in New South Wales is so serious that the Commonwealth, which is an employer of staff all over Australia, should face up to the position and if necessary transfer skilled men from other States, on a temporary secondment basis, to enable the additional funds to be spent effectively in New South Wales.
The second suggestion I offer is that if the Department is not able to cope with the work that is required to be done, it should sublet contracts to private contractors to give additional impetus to the installation of telephones. It appears that stern measures are required. I, and a number of my colleagues from electorates in and around Sydney, have been watching this matter. We certainly will continue to watch it very closely. The present position must be remedied. [Quorum formed.]
.- The outstanding feature of the debate on the estimates for the Postmaster-General’s Department is the great concern which has been expressed by honorable members from New South Wales about the tremendous number of outstanding applications for telephones in that State. This is the highlight of the debate and it is high time the Government was made to realise that the shortage of telephones is causing concern and anxiety not only to members of Parliament but also to many people in the community whose businesses and personal welfare are affected. 1 suppose many honorable members can give first hand accounts of the great difficulties that people encounter in time of sickness and the like because of the very serious situation which prevails.
We are interested to learn that additional funds arc to be made available, but these are nowhere near the amount needed to overcome the problem. Outstanding applications throughout Australia at the end of August 1965 totalled 83,290. It is expected that applications for the year 1965-66 will be not less than 310,000, and it is expected that about 322,000 applications will be satisfied during the year. We know that a big job of work is being done. Nevertheless, we cannot be impressed by the fact that the statistical bulletin provided by the PostmasterGeneral indicates that after taking into account this improved rate of installations the expected unsatisfied demand at June 1966 will be 73,600. This is the vista, the panorama, that we have ahead of us in relation to the installation of telephones.
We have been told that as a result of the proposed additional expenditure we will succeed in reducing the number of deferred applications in New South Wales by 5,800. Let me say at the outset that that is by no means good enough. As has been indicated, New South Wales has more than its share of outstanding applications for telephones. We have been laboring for 10 years under the yoke of Queensland Ministers in charge of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I believe that my colleague, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds), had a perfect right to ask: “What have you against New South Wales?” There is an obvious need for a crash programme to solve this problem, which has reached such overwhelming proportions. The figures show that whereas there are 50,623 outstanding applications for telephones in New South Wales, the total in the other five States is only 17,906. Surely we in New South Wales have good cause for complaint. Most of the Department’s revenue comes from that State. I understand that last financial year the Telephone Branch of the Department made a profit of nearly £3 million.
– Was not the honorable member present this morning?
– I was here when the honorable member for Barton heavily emphasised this. I am pleased to see that he has received support from others of my colleagues on this issue. He certainly has my support. This is a matter of great consequence. There are, of course, many people in New South Wales who can get telephones. I have been astounded, as some of my colleagues have been, to notice that the Roselands shopping centre - a tremendous enterprise - had something like 300 telephones installed. The Totalisator Agency Board seems to have little trouble in having telephones installed in its offices all over the State. The Labour members of this Parliament make no apology for the fact that they represent the small businessmen and the ordinary citizens in this community. Honorable members opposite may be content to see the Roselands centre get 300 telephones at a time when there are so many outstanding applications in the surrounding areas of Punchbowl and Lakemba, in the electorates of my colleagues, the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) and the honorable member for Barton, and in my electorate. We are not prepared to stand idly by and see selfemployed businessmen lose a considerable measure of their business prospects because telephones are not available to them.
We want to make the position clear. We feel strongly about it and we expect firm action. There are no fewer than 2.500 outstanding applications for telephones in my electorate. I see from answers given recently to questions on notice asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) that there are no fewer than 20 telephone exchange districts in the Sydney metropolitan area with 607 or more outstanding applications. This is the prevailing situation throughout Sydney. There are 20 or more exchange districts in the Sydney metropolitan area in which applications are being received at the rate of 1,200 or more every year. We all know that applications would flow in at a much faster rate than that prevalent now if people believed that they had a reasonable chance of getting telephones. So these figures that we are able to give now are not even a realistic measure of telephone needs in Australia. In countless instances, when I have told people who have come to my office at Sutherland to seek my help in getting a telephone that I know of others who have been waiting four or five years for an installation, I have received the reply: “ What is the point in submitting an application? “ So this matter cannot be regarded too seriously. As I have stated, I hope that the Minister will do something about it. The position is seen to be much worse than it at first looks when one takes into account the high rate of cancellations because of the high cost of services. I have been told that there were 52,919 cancellations in the period between 11th August 1964, when heavy increases in telephone rentals were imposed, end 28th February 1965. So how much worse would the position be if telephones were available to the community at reasonable charges?
I have put the position clearly before the Minister. Honorable members on both sides of the chamber have put him on the spot today. We believe that it is just not good enough to say that this financial year New South Wales will get a lot more new telephone services than will be provided in other States. We believe that the Govern ment ought to look at the problem of the interest paid by the Post Office on the funds that it uses. It is not good enough for interest charges of £26 million to be imposed and for all this money to be diverted into the Consolidated Revenue Fund instead of being used to alleviate the great telephone crisis throughout New South Wales. As the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) has just indicated in an interjection, over six years about £130 million has been involved in this business of balancing the Budget. The Minister seems to subordinate everything to the profit motive. If he were running the railways in New South Wales, there would probably be no services in country areas unless they were able to make a profit. He would probably dispose of the Department of Social Services completely if he had his way, because it does not make a profit. According to the Minister, the Postmaster-General’s Department has to be profitable. All the old capitalistic concepts have to prevail. Interest has to be charged on money provided by the Government for the Department’s purposes. From the standpoint of economics and fundamental bookkeeping principles, or any other commercial standpoint, this is impossible to justify and should not be condoned.
I believe that I have now said enough about telephones. I shall turn to postal services generally. Doubtless, most honorable members have been alarmed recently at receiving a communication from the Commonwealth Postmasters Association. This is an organisation that has never been regarded as militant or reckless. It is composed of responsible public servants who serve this community devotedly. But they are now forced to throw up their hands in despair and to bring attention to the deteriorating state of the country’s postal services. The Association criticises in particular the policy of the Public Service Board. Its letter states -
It is soul destroying for one to spend a lifetime in a Public Service and leave it in fi worse state than it was when you entered it. . . .
The policy of the Public Service board in relation to the Post Office staff in general is undoubtedly the main cause of the present unsatisfactory position. The Board’s economic policy in regard to the depressing of the salaries and conditions of Post Office staffs has been overplayed.
The letter goes on to mention the decline in the prestige of the postal services. It states that youth can no longer be encouraged to join the service of the Post Office and it deals with the conditions that prevail in the service at present. Some of these conditions are highly unsatisfactory. A raw deal is meted out to the employees of Australia’s postal services. They work at least 5£ days a week compared to a 5-day week in other industries. Their campaign for four weeks’ annual leave has not been successful despite the fact that this generally prevails under State awards. They work a 40-hour week compared to 36i hours worked by the average Commonwealth public servant.
When one looks into the conditions of postmen, one finds that they are absolutely appalling. From the standpoint of salary alone, it is understandable that the Minister and the Department have trouble in trying to inspire people to join the service. About this time last year, I asked for information about employees of the Department in the 10 lowest paid designations, with particular reference to the wages paid and the number of people involved. The list included cleaners, labourers, process workers, storemen, linemen and postmen. I learned that no fewer than 23,529 of the Department’s employees receive less than £1,031 a year. It is close enough to £1,000 a year, or £20 a week gross before payment of taxation, contributions to hospital and medical benefits funds, and things of that kind. About 23,500 people are receiving that disgraceful wage. It is a reflection on this Government. It is not to be wondered at that the great postal service is deteriorating to such an extent. This morning, with officers of the Amalgamated Workers Postal Union, I examined particulars of the wages paid to postal employees and was appalled to see the extent of the deterioration in wage conditions, and the other problems that have arisen.
In Victoria, despite the need for more postmen, the total number of postmen is falling by about five every week. We are now heading toward the peak Christmas period and a great deal of inconvenience will be caused to the community because of the shortage of postmen. The Department is understaffed in Victoria. There are 91 unfilled positions in the category of junior postal officer; 87 unfilled positions of postman; and 37 vacancies for postal officers. This understaffing applies not only in Victoria, but to every State.
The position is bad enough in Canberra. In certain parts of Canberra, mail is delivered only once a day. It is possible that mail for members of Parliament from constituents and from other parts of the world may be held up. Members of Parliament may well be receiving offhanded treatment because only one mail delivery a day is available in the parts of Canberra at present. Postmen commence on a wage of £18 19s. 6±d. a week gross. For five years ‘annual increments are paid and, as a result of their devotion and service, they then receive a weekly income of £21 2s. 10id.
I ask the Postmaster-General to take drastic action to curtail the tremendous deterioration in the prestige and service of the Postmaster-General’s Department - particularly in the postal services. I ask him to ensure that the conditions of employment of employees of the Postal Department are made comparable to those in other sections of the Public Service and in private enterprise.
.- After many years in close contact with the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) and many of his officers, I congratulate the Minister and his officers. I consider that they have done an excellent job in this country. I represent an electorate which is more than one-fifth the size of Victoria. Compared with the electorate of Kalgoorlie it is only small, but it is an extremely large electorate in Victoria. Although I have one or two trouble spots in my electorate, where telephone services present difficulties, generally speaking my constituents have received excellent treatment. Therefore I pay a tribute to the Postmaster-General, and to the Victorian Director of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr. G. N. Smith, who I often see is in Melbourne. I pay tribute also to Mr. Madden, the District Telephone Manager at Bendigo, and his colleague, Mr. McGregor; and to Mr. Gilshenan and Mr. Thorton at Mildura. These men are easily approached. They do the best they can when I bring something before them on behalf of my constituents.
Recently I went to Woomelang, in the electorate of Mallee. I had advertised that I would be there and some residents from the adjoining town of Watchupga came to meet me and put before me some trouble they were having with the mail services - not a great deal of trouble - and with the telephone exchange. A continuous telephone service is not available at Watchupga. As we were meeting about 200 yards from the post office, I at once rang the District Postal Manager, Mr. Allan, and District Telephone Manager, Mr. Gilshenan, at Mildura. I arranged that on a day in the following week both gentlemen would visit Watchupga and meet the people there to discuss their problems. The arrangement was made within a quarter of an hour of our meeting. Subsequently the two gentlemen from the Postmaster-General’s Department met the residents of Watchupga and although we did not get all we wanted, an improvement has been effected in the service.
I have been impressed by the courtesy extended to me by the Postmaster-General’s Department, from the Postmaster-General down to a boy of one week’s employment in delivering telegrams or mail. It is imbued in them that they have a service to give to the community. If members of the Opposition who are interjecting do not appreciate that courtesy, I do. Whenever I have entered a post office or an office of a high official in the Department, I have received courtesy which I have greatly appreciated. I believe that the Postal Department is outstanding in its service to the community.
I am not telling honorable members that everything has been done perfectly or that there is nothing in the Mallee electorate that needs improvement. Those things which need improvement I am working on now. Sometimes I am amazed at what happens in this chamber. I do not need to go back to the time when Labour was in office. I go back only to yesterday when a question was asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) of the PostmasterGeneral in relation to telephone charges. The Leader of the Opposition asked -
The present E.L.S.A. system extends, on the average, for 20 miles from the centre of each capital city. Could the Minister arrange for this radius to be increased to 40 miles?
That is an outstanding example of the centralisation sought by members of the Opposition and some members of the Government. The Leader of the Opposition represents the electorate of Melbourne and wants to have the E.L.S.A. system extended around Melbourne. I say that he is starting at the wrong end. He should start out in the country towns, using the same area of 20 miles and then extend it. The system could be extended towards the cities and away from them. To have the E.L.S.A. system working out from a city is simply trying to attract more business into the city.
The Country Party in this House has been fighting against that principle ever since it became a political party, so very many years ago, and will continue to fight it. I have heard the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) and the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen) say that telephones should be installed in certain Sydney areas. Why, the residents there who do not have a telephone need only walk about two blocks, at most, to use a public telephone.
– That is an old one.
– It is old, but true. They are the basic facts, and have not changed. A country resident may be any distance from 10 to 50 to 100 miles from a telephone. That is why the Country Party fights centralisation in this House, including centralisation of telephone services.
I have mentioned that the people of Watchupga want a continuous telephone service. After our meeting, an improvement was effected. The residents suggested that if a continuous service could not be supplied straight away, the District Telephone Manager should consider installing a multicoin machine for use at week-ends and at night time to allow contact with a continuous exchange when the local exchange was not operating. There might be an emergency through fire, for example, which would make a telephone call necessary. A multi-coin machine has now been installed and although a continuous service would be the most satisfactory arrangement, the service has been improved.
After that same meeting, we asked for more telephone channels. The provision of services for people waiting for telephones was held up. More telephone channels have already been installed and more will be installed. About once a fortnight or once a month I receive a letter from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department saying that because of certain conditions and improved methods, more channels have been made available - perhaps between two towns in the Mallee electorate, or between a town in the Mallee electorate and a town in an adjoining electorate. Through more channels a better telephone service is provided. These things are progressive. They are being improved with the times, and I believe that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is continually watching them and trying to improve them. I have been a great advocate of more rural automatic exchanges. I have asked many questions about them in this House and have advocated more of them. Recently I asked the Postmaster-General whether he had enough money to install a great many more of them in the country electorates. He replied that about £90 million, I think it was, was available to his Department for capital works, that a great many telephones had to be installed in New South Wales, that all these things could not be done at the one time and that he would do the best he could with the money that was available. I suggest to him that there should be a very close investigation into applications for telephones in New South Wales, that telephones should not be allotted in a haphazard manner, that the fact that a man in the city, has had his application in for 12 months, or even six years should not be accepted as a good reason for granting him a telephone in preference to installing one for the man in the country who is out clearing land and trying to hew a heritage for himself. The man in the country should be given preference over the man in the city who has a public telephone within easy reach.
I do not blame honorable members on either side of the House for advocating that more telephones be installed in their electorates. After all, self-preservation is still perhaps the first law of nature and if, by bis advocacy a member comes to be looked upon as a good representative, he is returned here year after year. But, overriding all these things, is a national principle. The big question is the amount of business done for the country by the use of telephones. In the cities, a great number of the calls are merely person to person calls for the purpose of having conversations. The amount of business of national importance resulting from the use of telephones in the city is not as great as that which can result from a good telephone service in rural areas.
For example a man may be out in the paddock harvesting a crop of wheat. He could break a piece of machinery and it might be necessary for him to ring through to Melbourne to obtain an urgently needed replacement part. If he has not a telephone and there is any great delay, rain could fall or storms come and the whole crop could be ruined. Therefore, it is essential that country people have proper telephone communication.
I have spoken of telephones first because I believe that adequate telephonic communication is much more important than television. Television has become more or less only a provider of entertainment whereas telephones are urgently needed to conduct all kinds of business. I appreciate a letter which I have just received from the Postmaster-General inviting me to open the new television station at Mildura on Monday, 22nd November. It was only about the time when this House met in August that I opened the television station at Swan Hill. Both these television stations are in the Mallee electorate, and they will give service to some of Australia’s greatest primary producing areas. They are not far away from the Murray Valley. Television is not parochial, so people in New South Wales and South Australia will get some benefit from these two new stations in the Mallee electorate.
A television station costs approximately £500,000. Some taxpayers may ask whether it is worth the money. This reminds me that once upon a time a small boy came to me when floor covering was being put down-. He asked: “ What does it cost? “ I was busy at the time and said: “ It is very dear “. He said something which made me sit up and think. He said: “ Do you mean it is very dear, or does it cost a lot and is worth it?” Are these television stations worth what they cost? Good motor cars, good roads and other amenities can never be greater than the people who use them. Nor can television. The standard of television programmes depends on the people who view them. Whether television will lift this nation depends on the standard of the programmes. This is what really matters.
People say that Australia has a very high standard of living. Do they mean that we have plenty of wheat, wool, bread and other foodstuffs, clothing and so on? Or do they mean that we live in a decent way? Anything that can be done to lift the standard of our living in a genuine down to earth way is to be appreciated. I believe that we must cease to regard television as just a medium of amusement and entertainment. It can be of great benefit. Take the wool industry as an example. It has been stated by a number of members of the Country Party recently that there is an acute shortage of shearers. It has also been suggested by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Pettitt) that we should have shearing schools. I suggest that it would be of benefit if country television stations could devote one quarter of an hour perhaps twice a week to demonstrating how shearing should be done. They could televise a shearer shearing a sheep. In one session they could take one part of the operation. For instance, there could be a lecturer showing the right way to open wool when shearing. Young men all round the country, and older ones, too, could view this programme and in this way learn something about shearing, an art which has been lost to so many Australians.
The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) referred to the number of vacancies in post offices throughout the country. This indicates that the employment position is satisfactory and bursts the Labour Party bubble about alleged unemployment. That there are many jobs unfilled, demonstrates the great prosperity of Australia and the benefit that has resulted from the good work this Government has done during its 16 years’ occupancy of the treasury bench.
– I listened with great interest to the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). I also derived a certain amount of joy and satisfaction from what he said, for he certainly praised a great socialised industry in Australia - the Postmaster-General’s Department. This is especially gratifying when we remember that in other debates the honorable member jumps from his seat and cries about other industries: “But the Labour Party would nationalise them, it would socialise them “. We - all know only too well how often the honorable member for Mallee utters that cry in other debates in this place. We all agree that the Postmaster-General’s Department is a socialised industry.
– But it is not under a Socialist government.
– It is not governed by Socialists, but it is a socialised industry. The honorable member cannot extricate himself from the allegation I have just made against him. He cannot have it both ways. He wants two bob each way on this question of socialisation and nationalisation.
During my remarks on the estimates for the Postmaster-General’s Department, I shall offer both congratulations and criticism. First I congratulate the Minister (Mr. Hulme) who is known to many honorable members on this side as an imperturbable Minister, a man who will never suffer from stomach ulcers or heart complaints due to worry. I want to congratulate him on his action in connection with a matter which I raised here some weeks ago, and which was causing some concern not only to members on this side but to many public spirited citizens throughout Australia. I refer to the occasion when I complained of one commercial television station advertising a toy machine gun by claiming: “ It kills in six different ways “. The Minister promised to look into the matter. Undoubtedly he sought the advice of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, for that advertisement has since been withdrawn by the station. As a result of this action, I thought that the Government might have had an influence on the other media of propaganda in this country, but I regret to say that this does not appear to be so. Let me digress for a moment from the estimates for this Department. On the front page of the Albury “Border Morning Mail” of 8th October is a photograph of a little boy with a machine gun. The photograph clearly shows a bandolier type of apparatus with about 50 bullets in it. We know that these war toys are readily available for sale in many stores throughout Australia. Unless the Postmaster-General’s Department keeps a very tight rein on the radio and television stations, as we come closer to the festive season the commercial dealers will be using these media for advertising, in their anxiety to sell war toys and poison the minds of the children of today who will be the parents of tomorrow.
– Are scalp knives all right for cowboys and indians?
– The honorable member for Evans talks about cowboys and indians. He being an educationist and former Master of Basser College, one would expect from him greater co-operation and evidence of idealism in relation to educating children and purifying their minds. One would expect him as a former clergyman and lecturer to have beer, on his feet before I was to raise this issue of war toys in stores for our children. I am sure that he has stood in the pulpit time and again and preached the Seventh Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. But his insincerity when he comes into this Parliament-
– Order! The honorable member for Hunter will not continue in that vein.
– He interjected and I was merely replying.
– The union is very solid.
– Yes. I hope that the Postmaster-General’s Department will keep a very tight rein on television and broadcasting stations to ensure that they are not permitted to advertise war toys between now and Christmas or at any other time, because the people of this land are becoming very concerned about Australia’s involvement in the war in Vietnam, the teaching of our young children to kill, and the use of television and radio stations as media for that purpose. Let me refer to a letter which appeared in the “ Border Morning Mail” of Wednesday, 13th October 1965. It reads -
What did Pope Paul say when be addressed the United Nations - “ If you wish to be brothers, let the weapons fall from your hands.” Are we going to try to carry out this plea? If so, we must start by removing the toys of war from our children’s hands.
How very true is that sentiment expressed by a very public spirited citizen. In a letter in the 20th October issue of the same newspaper, emphasis is placed on the fact that radio and television stations should not be allowed to be used for advertising war toys and for teaching the young children of today to kill. The letter reads -
A lot of our newspaper, radio and TV advertising, which to us may seem childish, is aimed at our small fry, because of the potential consumers they will be in 10 to 15 years. I refuse to believe that the effect of glorifying war and lulling by the use of these realistic methods of human destruction will do anything but educate our children to be potential killers.
We have read in the newspapers that a few days ago a person in Sydney fired three shots into a young police constable after committing an armed holdup. I wonder what was the influence on that man’s mind of the poison that has been allowed to pour out in the way of advertising from radio and television stations, lt could well be that this poisonous propaganda and the cheap American films depicting shooting and violence that are shown on television influenced the mind of the person who tried to take the life of that decent young constable in Sydney. One could not lay too much emphasis on the need for the PostmasterGeneral to keep a very tight and rigid control on this type of poisonous propaganda that goes out to the community. Even the honorable member for Mallee emphasised that the standard of living - I have no doubt that he meant the cultural and educational standard - could be raised to a higher peak than ever before by the use of television. He made a very sensible suggestion that the most modern methods of shearing should be displayed on television to educate potential shearers. It would be of great advantage to the nation if television were used for that purpose instead of displaying so many cheap films which, to my mind, are sickening and should not be permitted. The former member for Parkes, Mr. Haylen, who undoubtedly will be back here after the next general election, told the Parliament one night that he had seen on television a cowboys and indians picture in which a man was shot at 15 times with a five-chambered revolver. One can see this type of thing all the time.
These things are very difficult to correct in a capitalist society, because the people who invest in television stations do so to get the highest dividends. We find that instead of Australian artists in true Australian scenes, cheap American films are saturating television programmes to obtain greater profits for the investors. The Australian Labour Party is dedicated to ensuring that one day television stations will become the property of the people for use in their interests, and to further education and culture instead of contaminating the minds of the community. I may be corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that the television stations in the United Kingdom are owned by the Government and that viewing time is leased to commercial people. I have been told that this is so but I have never read anything to confirm it. If this is the position, the action was apparently taken by a Conservative Government in the United Kingdom. It is a pity that the same sort of system does not exist in sunny Australia.
I should like to make brief reference to a matter which has been emphasised by honorable members on both sides of the chamber - most recently by the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen) and the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) - namely, the alarming lag in telephone installations. Of the 84,000 applicants for telephones in Australia, 53.000 come from New South Wales. This is 60 per cent, of the total number of applicants. New South Wales is regarded as the mother State of the Commonwealth and yet we find that it is getting the rawest deal in regard to telephone applications.
To my surprise, one of my constituents rang me three weeks ago - he had an illness in his family - and he told me that his telephone was out of order. The defect was ultimately found at the exchange. He told me that no technician is available to rectify telephone faults in the Newcastle district at weekends. I intended to write to the PostmasterGeneral on this matter. I hope the Minister will pardon me for mentioning it in this debate. A city of the size of Newcastle should not be in the position where no technicians are available at weekends to rectify faulty mechanisms or something that may go wrong with a person’s telephone.
– That would not be right.
– I hope the Minister is correct. I hope I was misinformed. But my informant told me that is what he was told when he rang an officer of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in Newcastle. I said: “No-one available?” He replied: “No. That is what I was told.” So, I congratulate and criticise the Minister. But I do hope that he and his Department will keep a constant eye on the matter of the advertising of war toys over television and radio between now and the festive season and thereafter.
– Mr. Chairman, first of all I would like to say to honorable members who have participated in the debate that I appreciate the interest that they have shown in my Department and in its side activities, if I can use that term, in relation to television and radio. No mention was made of overseas telecommunications. I appreciate the thought which honorable members have given to the matters under my control. The remarks of some honorable members were, perhaps, in the element of pure politics. I probably will disregard those comments in the main. But as to those which were of a constructive nature, I hope in the few minutes which are available to me that I might make some comments about them. It would be impossible to deal with every particular item that has been brought up during this debate.
The debate was commenced by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) who referred to the problem of providing commercial television, not national television, in the Bega-Cooma area. He suggested to me that the Government should reconsider introducing an amendment to the Broadcasting and Television Act to enable the commercial television station in Canberra, which already has a licence in more than two stations, to obtain this additional licence for the area. This is quite peculiar because it is not long ago that we had before the House an amendment to the Broadcasting and Television Act in which we allowed the existing situation to remain, notwithstanding that some of these companies, by altering their articles of association to limit voting rights to 15 per cent, of shareholders, had been able to hold their position. Opposition members said to me in this chamber: “This amendment is all right, but it does not go far enough. You should have endeavoured to achieve the first stated objective of the Government which was that nobody should have control of more than two television stations; and that if control were exercised over three or four television stations, then those concerned should be made to surrender a couple of licences.” Now, within a few months of the passing of that legislation, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is saying: “Well, that was all right. That was good political stuff at that time. But now we want to change our view because it suits the particular situation.” I just make this comment: If this is to be the attitude of the Australian Labour Party, then it does not mind permitting any number of licences to be in the hands of a few people, because what can be said in relation to Bega and Cooma can probably bc said in relation to 12 or 15 other places in Australia. One major licensee may say: “ We would be prepared to go into those areas.” So, I say for the benefit of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who apologised for not being able to be here this afternoon, that the Government is not prepared to do as he has requested. It is unfortunate. But not only is it unfortunate for people who live in the Bega-Cooma area. There are many other areas in a similar position throughout Australia.
The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) frequently writes to me on behalf of constituents who live at Mount Isa or Longreach, quite distant areas, and asks on their behalf when they can have a television service. It is going to be impossible, in my view, for very many years - if it ever will be possible - to provide television for every person in Australia. It has been mentioned that at the end of stage 4 of television in Australia, 91 per cent, of Australia’s people will be able to view television either from national or from commercial stations. I think that if we have regard to the potential of translator stations associated with the stations installed up to the end of stage 4, we will build this 91 percentage nearer to 94 per cent, or 95 per cent, in the near future. We have to think in terms of translators to help solve the problem rather than in terms of additional high tower transmitters. These transmitters cost in the vicinity of £500,000 and, in some cases, such as Geraldton or Kalgoorlie, at the moment, the cost is in the vicinity of £1 million. These stations cannot be economical. If the Government’s policy is to be accepted as appropriate to the national economy, we cannot provide these stations.
The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Davis) commented last year in relation to the statements which are published by various sections of my Department. He has made reference to this matter again this year, particularly with reference to the accounts. He drew attention to one item in particular. He referred to the difference between the Post Office and the AuditorGeneral’s Report as to the number of licences that were in existence. He mentioned a difference of some 1,500 or 1,600 licences. I think I am entitled to mention to the Committee that at the time the figure was given to the Auditor-General it was only an estimate. The Auditor-General did not say in his report that it was an estimate. He did not say it was subject to adjustment when final figures were available. This accounts for the difference.
The honorable member also made reference to the lack of commercial accounts in the Australian Broadcasting Commission. This is not something which has not been considered. It has been considered and the Treasury believes that it is undesirable. Perhaps I could give some reason why in fact it is not desirable. It is some 40 years since radio commenced In this country. It was never the policy of this Government, nor of the Opposition when, it was in government over that period, that national radio broadcasting should pay for itself. It was accepted in principle that, over and above the revenue received from licence fees, this service would be paid for out of the public purse. If we were to go back over 40 years at this point of time, try to go through the books and ledgers of the costs and assets of this service, work out depreciation and then finally arrive - I take a figure out of the air - at a loss in the vicinity of £30 million, what great advantage would there be in carrying this figure forward, year after year, into the future? Would it be suggested by honorable members that, in fact, we would increase the licence fee so that, in five or ten years, we would overcome the deficit which has been incurred? I do not think this is an acceptable approach to this particular problem.
The Government has said that we should make television pay for itself at the national level, and in fact licence fees, having regard to the broad basis of the assessment of costs of national television, have shown us a profit up to this point of time. But with the development of stage 4, we are moving into the smaller areas of television where the costs to the stations are much greater than the income we receive from the licence fees in the smaller areas. The metropolitan areas help to cover the deficits which are incurred. That is the broad situation at this point of time. So we cannot expect television to pick up some of the deficit which relate to radio. I am prepared and quite happy to have further investigations made in relation to the commercial accounts of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. But I would have to be satisfied that, in fact, there was something really worth while to be gained from this as against the problems introduced in considering them.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) referred to radio and the profits which radio stations make. He made the comment that profits continue to grow. I appreciate that the members of the Australian Labour Party do not believe in profits. They have told us so over and over again. But what the honorable member for Dalley overlooks is the history associated with this matter. Radio stations today are coming out of a difficult situation which developed for them following the introduction of television. Many radio stations have experienced substantial reductions in the profits which they were making when television first was introduced. But they have devised various means, including programme presentation, to overcome this situation. I think that the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) mentioned the fact that the programmes of radio stations consist of 51 per cent, of pop music, or as he called it, transient music. This is one of the ways in which radio stations have been able to overcome the loss of profits which have occurred since the introduction of television.
But another change has occurred since the introduction of television. At night there are very few people within television areas who listen to the radio. I believe that more and more young people are taking transistor radios on to the beaches and, indeed, wherever they go. This is the audience which radio has today compared with the family in the home of a few years ago. The type of programme to which the honorable member for Lang referred is one which attracts these young people. Are we to give a direction showing that we do not care about the interests of the young people and that we will still make programmes available for adults who are not listening because they are watching television?
The next point that the honorable member for Dalley made was that there is too much repetition of films. He suggested that there was repetition every two or three months. I do not think that those figures are accurate. But the point I make for his benefit is that surveys indicate that two out of every three people do not see a film the first time it is presented on television. This becomes the justification for showing a film a second time. If we recognise the high cost of television films, which today cost as much as £3,500 per programme, we can appreciate why television stations want to use a good film a second time.
The honorable member also mentioned the advertising content of programmes. I assure him that the standards which the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has laid down regarding television are 12 minutes’ advertising within each hour, or 1 minute’s advertising within each 5 minutes, or 6 minutes’ advertising where it is a sponsored programme. Those standards have been accepted almost invariably by the stations and have not been exceeded by them. It may be that now and again someone goes a point of 1 percent above, but there are other times when someone goes a point below. Broadly speaking, stations readily accept the control which the Board has applied to them. Referring to advertising, the honorable member fo Dalley used words such as “ rubbish “, “ dishonest “, “ completely misleading “ and “ exaggerated “. I think that last word describes to some degree the comments he made. The Broadcasting Control Board sets standards both for advertising and programming. By and large, I believe that the stations accept responsibility to act in accordance with these standards. It is not an easy matter at all to say: “ This standard must be the standard for all sections of the community “. I believe it is a pretty difficult task to say what is acceptable and what is not, because in this matter we are trying to cater for millions of people.
The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Giles) made reference to the extension of television to the river district of South Australia. I think this matter comes within the economics of additional installations. The honorable member for Deakin, one of the colleagues of the honorable member for Angas, earlier had reminded me of the loss factor and had said that we ought to be making profits. I can appreciate that the honorable member for Angas was not concerned with the profit side but was more interested in providing television for his constituents. I would be quite happy to look at the matter that he raised and to ask the Control Board also to do so.
The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Mortimer) raised several matters - in particular, the cost of the erection of private telephone lines. The Government and the Department have given very serious consideration to the costs associated with the construction by individuals of telephone lines in country areas. I have held this portfolio for only a short time, but I think my Country Party colleagues would agree that in recent years there has been an improvement in relation to the provision of private lines. But this again is a question of economics. Certain costs would be involved in doing all the things that honorable members desire. If they are prepared to face up to additional charges here, there and everywhere else, I will put their proposals forward on that basis. But it is impossible, having regard to our cost factor, to achieve these things out of the existing revenue structure and still come out on the right side of the ledger at the end of the year.
The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Pettitt), and several other members subsequently, raised the question of deferred and outstanding applications for telephones, particularly in New South Wales. I think the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen) put this into perspective when he drew attention to the difference between outstanding applications and deferred applications. If we deducted from the total number of applications those which are not deferred, then I do not think honorable members would be making comments in this House. I think we should be thinking in terms of the deferred applications. This is serious so far as New South Wales is concerned, because that State has a total of 21,102 deferred applications out of the total for Australia of 29,853. As I have said on other occasions, there are real problems associated with New South Wales.
– Under this Government.
– Perhaps so. When I give some figures in a moment the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds), who comes from New South Wales, will say that this has come about because of prosperity created by a Labour Government in that State before it was defeated. He can please himself which way he will have it. I will give the figures so that honorable members might be informed. Somebody mentioned that Victoria is in a healthy situation and New South Wales is in an unhealthy situation. These figures show the percentage changes in demand in these two States in 1960-61 and the four subsequent years.
In 1960-61 there was a 9 per cent, increase in demand in New South Wales and a 5 per cent, reduction in demand in Victoria. In 1961-62 there was a 13 per cent, increase in New South Wales and a 7 per cent, increase in Victoria. In 1962-63 there was a 10 per cent, increase in New South Wales and ian 8 per cent, increase in Victoria. In 1963-64 there was a 20 per cent, increase in New South Wales and a 14 per cent, increase in Victoria. In 1964-65 there was a 7 per cent, reduction in New South Wales and a Hi per cent, reduction in Victoria. When people suggest to me that New South Wales and Victoria can be compared, I say: “You cannot compare them because the basic facts in respect of the two States are quite different “. Therefore, we have to use a different method of approach in order to overcome the problem in New South Wales.
The population of New South Wales is roughly 38 per cent, of the Australian population. In 1962-63 that was the percentage of total funds that was made available to that State for telecommunications. In the next year, because of the increase in demand, the percentage was increased to 40.3. In the following year the level of demand was such that we increased the percentage to 40.9. This year, recognising the particular problem, we will spend 43.8 per cent, of our total expenditure in New South Wales, compared with the 38 per cent, that the population of that State represents of the Australian population, in an attempt to overcome some of the problems in that State. That is not the beginning and the end of the matter.
The people who install telephones are skilled tradesmen with five or six years of training in our own government instrumentality. Tradesmen are just not available to do this work. We cannot get them from anywhere else in industry. If people do not volunteer and do not go through our training schools, tradesmen are just not available. In order to ease the situation in New South Wales, we have to see whether we can obtain some assistance from the other States. So, the provision of money will not solve the problem, unless the other things that go with it are also available.
There is another factor which I believe is worth mentioning to the Committee. Do not let us assume that the moment we spend money we immediately produce revenue. [Quorum formed.] I appreciate the calling of a quorum by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). It gave me a chance to get my breath. It also indicated that he thought that what 1 was saying should be heard by many more honorable members, including the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). So, Sir, I return to what I was discussing, namely the effectiveness of the capital spent in a particular year on telecommunications. This year we will spend £70 to £80 million on telecommunications. Only 40 per cent. of that will produce any revenue at all in this year. Twenty-five per cent. of it will start to produce revenue next year and 35 per cent. two years hence. This is an indication of the tremendous amount of duct work, cable laying, exchange installation and purchase of plant which takes place year by year which cannot become effective the moment the money is spent.
– Does the Minister think that the low wages affect the position at all?
– I am not sure what affects the position. All I know is that we did not include the employment situation in the Post Office when the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or the Public Service Board agreed to increase the pay of technicians. I think the problem in Australia today is one of over-full employment, where there are not sufficient people available in many categories for all the work required to be done. On behalf of the Government I say thank you to the community for that situation, and I think the com munity also thanks the Government. The Department is concentrating as much as possible on overcoming this great difficulty in New South Wales. It was suggested that we ought to have a crash programme. I have given reasons why this is not possible. Let me point out in addition that two years ago only £681/2 million was provided for the Post Office. This year £90 million is provided. That is a very substantial increase.
– It is not enough.
– Maybe it is not, but if the Department cannot spend any more what is the good of its getting any more? I do not think it would be possible to spend any more money this year than the amount that the Department has had voted to it.
I come to the remarks of the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds). Of course, we got some real political waffle from the honorable member. First of all he mentioned interest charges. He said that only three out of five members of the Committee were in favour of charging interest. The whole five members of that Committee were in favour of charging interest. Where they had a disagreement was on the amount to be regarded as the starting point of the capital.
– That is pretty important.
– The honorable member mentioned interest. I point out to him that it was not a three to two majority in favour of this interest charge, it was a five to nil majority in favour of such a charge and the Government accepted that principle. The honorable member said that no explanation had been given for the increased cost of airmail. We are a growing community. There is an increased volume of airmail and if there is an increased volume there must naturally be an increase in the amount that has to be paid. The honorable member also raised the question of frequency modulation broadcasting. He said that we have outback areas to be served. He does not understand anything about P.M. broadcasting, because the area which can be covered by an F.M. transmitter is much more restricted than the area which it is possible to cover under our present system.
We would need more and more transmitters under the F.M. system to reach the public than is required under present circumstances.
I was very impressed by some of the comments made by the honorable member for Isaacs (Mr. Haworth) and 1 will be quite happy to have a look at some of the things he suggested. I think I am right in saying that he thought that if the £3 million profit made on telephone services this year had been reserved within the Post Office we would have had an additional £3 million to spend. However, if he looks at the accounts which were presented he will find that in the postal service there was a loss of a little more than £1 million. Offsetting that loss against the profit in the telephone services the Post Office would be left with a little more than £2 million profit. I think it might be said that when the Treasury was considering what should be made available to us for capital purposes this year it would have had regard to the fact that we had kept the £2 million profit and would have been inclined to say: “We intended to give you £90 million but you have got £2 million so we will give you only £88 million “. I should like to know whether this is a philosophy; it may be Treasury philosophy but I should not like to commit myself on that. It is a matter that really must be studied.
The honorable member spoke of national development in relation to the expansion of our communication facilities into distant areas. I appreciate this point because the Government has given a licence for mining in the Gove Peninsula area and has given export licences for iron ore mined in Western Australia. These areas are far away from the main centres of population and they will require communications. But it is not simply a matter of putting underground cables or overhead wires into all these areas. Many outback areas are serviced by radio telephone and this is understandable because of the vastness of the areas to be serviced.
At Alice Springs we are installing a new radio telephone service which will be in contact with people 200 or 300 miles from Alice Springs - in all directions because this is in the centre of Australia. We could not possibly provide telephone services by overhead wires or underground cables in such areas for anything like the economic figure for which we can provide radio telephone services. So we must be careful when we try to analyse on a broad basis the operation of telecommunications. We must have an understanding of the various systems. A coaxial cable or a microwave system may be appropriate for the main trunk lines. For other areas underground cable or overhead wires - the number of wires depending on the channels required - may be the most economic. Elsewhere a radio telephone system may be the best. All these alternatives must be examined and we must pay regard to them in making an assessment. The honorable member mentioned a special fund. I should like to have a discussion with him on this point to see whether it would be possible to assist with the suggestions he made.
The only other reference I want to make is to the comments of the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson). Here again I believe he was concerned only with the politics of this matter; he was not really concerned with the facts. First, the honorable member indicated that suddenly the Australian Labour Party had become the great supporter and the great advocate of business interests. Until now I always understood members of the Opposition to say that they represented the working man. But having praised the businessman, the honorable member went on to say that the services to the community by such people as postmen, mail sorters and the girls on telephone exchanges, had deteriorated. These people will be delighted to know that the honorable member for Hughes, perhaps supported by other members of the A.L.P., believes there has been a deterioration in services. There has been no deterioration in services. I do not believe that, having regard to the circumstances, the people of Canberra are really disadvantaged by having only one postal delivery daily. In my experience, eight or ten letters may come in the morning and perhaps only one in the afternoon. Far from saying that the services have deteriorated, the members of this chamber should be generous in their praise of the service given by every person employed in the Post Office, from the top to the bottom. There is not a more hard working element in the community.
Of course we have had occasional problems with some of the unions but we have been able to resolve these. We have had almost no strikes for years and years and this is a clear indication that the people in the service of the Postal Department realise that they have a national responsibility and are prepared to serve on this basis. They will not appreciate any criticism by members of the Opposition. Again I thank the honorable members who have taken part in the debate. If there are other matters of particular interest that I have not dealt with and honorable members speak to me or to my secretary, I will have them specially investigated and give a written answer.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Proposed expenditure, £9,935,000.
Proposed expenditure, £132,818,000.
.- I wish to speak to the estimates for the Department of Social Services. The Government has budgeted for a surplus of £19 million. In view of this, it is only reasonable to suggest that the general rate of age and invalid pensions should have been increased by 10s. or £1 a week so as to bring a little extra comfort to the lives of the old pioneers of our great country. When one looks at the remarks made by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his Budget Speech, one realises that the Government has deliberately set out to give the impression that it has embarked on a programme of general increases for pensioners. But when one analyses the benefits that have been given, one finds that the outlay is very small indeed. The Treasurer tried to give the impression that exceptional benefits had been granted. He said -
This year, we have it in view to improve certain benefits and to widen eligibility for others . . . we propose that supplementary assistance, which is now payable to “ single “ pensioners who are deemed to be dependent solely on their pension and who pay rent, will be increased from 10s. to £1 a week.
In this bracket, the important words are “ who pay rent “. It does not seem to me that this increase will be of benefit to the single pensioners. In my electorate, there is already evidence that money-hungry landlords are asking their tenants, especially the single age pensioners, to confer with them to negotiate an increase in rent. The figure of £1 a week is mentioned. This activity has been encouraged by the New South Wales Liberal Government.
The Commonwealth Government has gone to great pains to avoid any mention of the plight of pensioners in other brackets. As a matter of fact, the Treasurer seems to ride roughshod over the plight of pensioners generally. For instance, the married pensioner whose wife receives the wife’s allowance and who is entitled to the added supplementary assistance, receives a total income of £10 a week. This is still £1 a week less than the income of a married pensioner couple. I cannot find the reason for the differentiation between the two couples. Of course, only the Treasurer can give us the reason. I do not know how any government could expect a married couple to exist on £10 a week, with foodstuffs and other every day requirements at such high prices. Is it any wonder that most of the pensioners are on the verge of starvation? If honorable members opposite took the trouble to look around the thickly populated areas, they would be alarmed, if not ashamed, to see> the amount of poverty that really exists in our community.
Many pensioners are dependent from day to day on hand-outs from charitable organisations and are forced to wear clothes that are given to them by various charities. The Government should be ashamed that such a situation exists in this so-called prosperous country of Australia. Does it not realise that pensioners, from their paltry allowance, must pay the same prices for foodstuffs as do the wealthier members of the community? A canvass of the thickly populated areas would show a strong public reaction to the action of the Government in perpetuating the misery that is prevalent in the pensioner section of the community. In his Budget Speech, the Treasurer said -
Soon after assuming office, this government introduced the pensioner medical service under which free general practitioner medical services, pharmaceutical benefits and public ward hospital treatment are currently made available for certain age, invalid, widow or service pensioners, and for persons in receipt of the tuberculosis allowance.
A little further on he said -
This has, without doubt, been of great assistance to the classes of people concerned. We now propose to extend the scope of the pensioner medical service in two important respects.
But the Treasurer failed to add that in 1955 the Government applied a means test which governed eligibility for enrolment in the pensioner medical service and which prevented approximately 120,000 pensioners and their dependants from benefiting under the scheme. Although a pensioner was eligible to receive a full pension and was allowed to earn £3 10s. a week in addition, he was not allowed, prior to the introduction of the last Budget, to enjoy the benefit of the pensioner medical service if his earnings were more than £2 a week. This imposition brought everlasting discredit upon this Government. After 10 years agitation by members of the Australian Labour Party, the Government has at last bowed to the inevitable and has abolished the means test for the pensioner medical service.
There is another angle to this matter. It seems to me that the means test was abolished after many long discussions between the Government and officers of the Australian Medical Association, who used a sinister form of blackmail to force this weak Government to agree to substantial increases in doctors fees. After that the Australian Medical Association agreed to the Government’s terms for the abolition of the means test. I make no bones about saying that. However, approximately 120,000 pensioners and their dependants should benefit from the agreement.
Departmental statistics indicate that there are 40,000 unemployed in the Commonwealth. The number is rising rapidly. In his Budget Speech, the Treasurer seems to have brushed past them as though they never existed. The unemployment and sickness benefit remains the same as it has been for many years - that is, £4 2s. 6d. for a husband, £3 for a wife and 15s. for each child in the family. Single persons between 16 and 18 years of age receive the paltry sum of 35s. a week, and the rate for single persons between 18 and 20 years of age is £2 7s. 6d. a week. There has been no alteration in these rates over a long period. I do not know who is the economic adviser to the Treasurer when he compiles the social service section of the Budget, but it seems to me that his vision is extremely limited when he advises on the current cost of living, which is escalating daily. The sufferings of those unfortunates who depend on government sustenance must be pitiful in the extreme.
How any Government could ask an unemployed young man or woman between 16 and 18 years of age to live on 35s. a week is beyond my comprehension. That would not even pay the board of such young people if they were lucky enough to be living with their parents. How they would manage to live a decent, respectable life and keep up a good appearance u they were not living at home is beyond my understanding. The Treasurer has generously increased to £2 7s. 6d. a week the payment for such people after they turn 18 years and until they reach the age of 20 years. These young people would still find that amount very difficult to live on. One wonders how the Government can reconcile a payment of £2 7s. 6d. a week to a person who is unemployed through no fault of his own with the offer of a payment equivalent to the New South Wales basic wage of £15 8s. to the same person if he is prepared to enlist in one of the Services. He would receive the basic wage when called up for national service. Today an unemployed person receives £2 7s. 6d. a week, but tomorrow if he enlists, he is welcomed with open arms and the Government mysteriously finds money to pay him about £15 a week as well as to keep him. I cannot see where the Minister has any argument against an increase in die unemployment and sickness benefit. It is about time the Government had a change of heart and considerably increased these benefits, thus giving the unemployed boys and girls a chance to keep themselves respectable and of good appearance and to enable them to have a fair degree of comfort.
Let us now consider the increased funeral benefit which, true to the anti-Labour pattern, is studded with provisos. On examination we find that the increase from £10 to £20 is payable only to a pensioner. How the Government expects a pensioner to pay the balance, goodness only knows. If the Government were sincere in its efforts to help the individual pensioner, why did it not assume full responsibility for the whole cost of a pensioner’s funeral? This would be a practical expression of the Government’s sincerity, but the Government goes to some pains to sidestep its responsibility. It expects relatives - sons and daughters in most cases - to pay the cost of the funeral and then it has the audacity to offer the paltry sum of £10 as its share. Pensioners and their relatives should note the miserable approach of the Government to these matters.
There is a feeling of dissatisfaction generally at the continued lack of attention to social services and the Government’s highhanded manner of dealing with the unfortunate people who come within the scope of the social services legislation. I feel, and I am sure I echo the sentiments of all members on this side of the Committee, that a survey should be made of pensioners’ conditions generally. In this respect I am supported by outside organisations. I have before me a recent report bearing out what I have said. In the “ Sydney Morning Herald” of 23rd October 1965 under the heading “ * Urgent Need ‘ for Pensions Survey “ the following appears -
Spokesmen for pensioners’ organisations said in Sydney last night there was an urgent need for a co-ordinated nation-wide survey of pensioners’ conditions.
They were commenting on a survey of pensioners’ conditions just completed by the Human Rights Movement in the University of Tasmania.
About 600 questionnaires were handed to pensioners, and about 140 were returned. “Sufficient data is available from the forms returned to shake the complacency of the powersthatbe and, we hope, to stimulate further investigation of the problem by other organisations.” an official of one organisation said.
According to the survey: a Fifteen old-age pensioners said they needed blankets for warmth, but could not afford them.
Nine said they could not alford to buy any clothing, and three had clothing supplied by relatives.
Thirty had no stove, refrigerator, washing machine or radiator; 39 had no stove; 57 had no refrigerator; 77 had no washing machine; 66 had no radiator; 30 had no radio or television set.
Inquiries at the University of Sydney and the University of N.S.W. yesterday indicated that there has been no wide survey on the matter in this State.
The director of the National Pensioners’ Association, Mrs H. Dougan, said: “There is an urgent need for a full-scale survey of pensioners’ conditions and needs . . .
The general president of the Pensioners’ Association of N.S.W., Mrs M. Diserens, said: “ In 1964 Marrickville Council and an economist from Sydney University made a survey. “ It was very interesting, and a lot of work went into it. “However it was not wide enough in its approach, and I feel a nation-wide survey is needed to show the Government and the people just how serious the situation is.”
In conclusion I strongly urge the Minister to arrange for a nation wide survey of conditions of pensioners generally. This would help to provide us with a firm basis for determining the needs of these unfortunate people and would prove to the Minister that the claims of members of the Australian Labour Party are correct when they say that there is widespread poverty and that resultant misery is being experienced by the average pensioner today.
.- In speaking about the estimates for the Department of Social Services I direct the attention of the Committee to the total provision of £9,935,000 under Division No. 470. Of this amount administrative costs account for £5,294,400, leaving a balance of £4,640,600. This amount is itemised in Division No. 470 - Subdivision 3, Other Services. It covers special types of social service payments including those made under the outstanding piece of legislation titled the Aged Persons Homes Act. Again it may be timely to point out that payments from the National Welfare Fund, which are found in other sections of the schedule to the Bill, amount to about £470 million. This gives a grand total of expenditure through the Department of Social Services of £480.7 million. This again is quite separate from expenditure through the Repatriation Department of £133 million. The expenditure of £480.7 million by the Department of Social Services represents about 1 9 per cent, of the total amount of the Budget brought down by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) earlier this session.
For the purposes of my present exercise
I would like to direct my attention toItem 02 in Division No. 470 - Subdivision 3. This refers to homes for aged persons. We see that the Minister has allocated £3,700,000 for expenditure under the Aged Persons Homes Act in the year 1965-66. This is the same amount as was appropriated in 1964-65, although actual expenditure in that year was just £275 short of £4 million. I assume - and the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) may confirm this - that the amount appropriated is simply an arbitrary amount and that as claims come forward requiring the provision of more money the Government will be prepared to provide the extra amounts necessary to cover the £2 for £1 subsidy.
I understand that the total expenditure on these homes has been about £24 million and that the number of persons assisted as at 30th September was 21,202. Many enterprising organisations, particularly church organisations, have carried the burden of making the benefits of the legislation available to those eligible, but I wonder whether the community and members of this Parliament appreciate fully the possibilities of this legislation. Certain honorable members of this Parliament, particularly the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Cleaver), have not only publicised the virtues of the legislation in their electorates but have also organised and participated in schemes designed to take advantage of the legislation. I understand that the expenditure by organisations on real estate and fittings in buildings has been about £3/4 million in each of their enterprises. The Aged Persons Homes Act opens up a wide field of application. I propose now to direct some comments to that section of the community which may not be conscious of its potential or the possibility that they could apply their talents to providing accommodation.
I am sure that all honorable members will agree that there is a dire need in many sections of the community for either the straight out provision of suitable housing for aged persons or for a reappraisal of their accommodation which will enable them to move to something more suitable, more congenial to their way of life, more acceptable to people of their age. In this regard I know that the best criticism, if it could be termed as such, that has been levelled at this legislation has been that the Government does not provide moneys for local government and for State Governments on the same conditions as it subsidises churches and other charitable organisations. This may well be a reasonable argument, but I doubt it. I think that that method of providing accommodation for aged persons would defeat the very spirit of what was intended by the Government when the Act was introduced. The intention was that the community should be encouraged to recognise the need of aged persons. I think it is fair to say that the Government has no ambitions to be a perfect welfare state government or to create a perfect welfare state; it works on the principle that there should be a measure of self help by sections of the community. This is a fine principle because not only must statutory authorities become aware of the needs within the community; it is just as important that the community at large should become aware of those needs and recognise the shortcomings that exist within the ambit of their own way of life or, if not within the ambit, certainly within its penumbra.
It occurs to me that organisations apart from the churches could add to what is already being done by the churches in this regard and to what is being done by the many other charitable organisations which have come into being principally to implement the intentions of this Act. The organisations to which I refer are the trade organisations which are directly associated with the construction of homes and the provision of accommodation. Among them are the master builders’ associations, master plumbers’ associations, real estate institutions, institutes of valuers, law associations and building societies. If it occurs to people in these organisations that they must have some sort of proprietary interest before engaging in such a scheme then I would not approve of such a motive, but if they did participate in such a scheme I believe there would be a proprietary interest in it for them. To amplify my statement, I am sure that all honorable membershave experienced and would agree that within their electorates there are many homes and many other types of accommodation which are not being put to the use in which they would serve the best purpose. As an example I refer to a home where a pensioner is paying a rental which is perhaps unreasonable from the point of view of the property owner. Perhaps that property is being allowed to deteriorate because the landlord finds that it is not an economic proposition to spend further capital on it. In that case the pensioner finds that he or she is in the undersirable atmosphere of a home which is deteriorating and is paying rent which is the maximum that he or she can afford. How much better it would be to arrange to move these people into a fine housing settlement in the atmosphere and locality to which they have been accustomed over the years and allow the landlord to obtain an economic rental for his property.
There are many large homes in which only one person is living. Because of economic circumstances he or she is not able to dispose of that home and obtain appropriate accommodation. If those people were enabled to move, their properties would come on the market and would do a great deal towards relieving the housing shortage as well as providing increased markets and turn-over for the organisations I have mentioned. We must not forget the very fine spirit and facilities of the various service organisations. If those people could come together as representative bodies and form charitable organisations in their own areas, the potential of the talents would be unlimited and here again much could be done to relieve the shortage of accommodation for aged persons.
When I think of what these people could accomplish I am inclined to go one step further than what is generally accepted as the role of charitable organisations under the Aged Persons Homes Act. This is, of course, to raise sufficient money so that, with the aid of the Commonwealth’s contribution of £2 for each £1 raised, homes can be provided for aged persons. This is the most desirable method of providing accommodation for those in greatest need - that is the pensioner who is paying rent and is relying principally on the pension for sustenance. The second avenue for the provision of housing is the situation where the aged person concerned contributes the re quired one-third of the cost of accommodation. In other words, the person to be accommodated provides the contribution that otherwise would be made by the charitable organisation. This is a very practicable proposition, except for the fact that a pensioner selling his home may acquire a surplus of assets which will affect his eligibility for the pension.
The third proposition concerns aged persons who have substantial assets and are not qualified to receive an age pension. Such a person might find himself in a much more desirable and congenial atmosphere if he were to dispose of his large home and contribute the whole of the cost of constructing a unit. Here again the problem of surplus assets arises and I suggest that the Minister should discuss with the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) the possibility of allowing such a person to disperse his surplus assets, in the form of an estate distribution, when disposing of the family home. While contributing to the charitable organisation in order to obtain accommodation, he would retain sufficient assets to give him confidance in life. I put forward these suggestions in the hope that honorable members will express the virtues of this legislation in their electorates. While the expenditure of £24 million over a period of ten years represents a sizeable contribution, it is not nearly sufficient to meet the accommodation requirements of aged persons. I sincerely believe that we have a moral responsibility to publicise the value of this legislation. I am confident that if we were to pursue such a course the problem of accommodation for aged persons would be greatly relieved.
.- I desire to refer to the plight of pensioners. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) said that the Government had turned a deaf ear to the plight of pensioners. I support the honorable member’s remarks and direct attention to the fact that over the years science and medical knowledge have been responsible for people living for longer than was the case at the turn of the century. This fact is borne out by the statistics, which show that considerably more people live to the age of 80 or 90 years than they did formerly. We should be concerned with how these people are living. If they are living in poverty or dire straits it is, to some extent, a reflection on our society. Every day in the columns of the Press we see these people asking whether it is a crime to grow old. They are entitled to ask that question because they know that the pension today does not buy as many goods as it bought in 1964. This is because the cost of living has increased so substantially in the last 12 months. lt is true that the Budget this year provides for certain fringe benefits to be given to pensioners. They are very acceptable, but they do not make up for the Government’s failure to increase the basic rate of pension this year, despite the fact that the cost of living has increased.
The increase in the supplementary assistance paid to single pensioners solely dependent on their pension and who pay rent was quite justified, but some consideration should be given, also, to the payment of supplementary assistance to married pensioner couples who pay rent. Some pensioners who own their homes are confronted with all sorts of expenses which they must meet out of a combined pension of £11 a week. I am referring to pensioners who depend solely on the pension and who do not have other income. Some consideration should be given by the Government to paying supplementary assistance in these cases.
Another matter is causing considerable concern to invalid and age pensioners who own their homes. If they become sick and are unable to care for themselves and enter a class C hospital, the house which they have been forced to leave through no fault of their own is regarded, after a certain period, as property and, depending on the value of the house and the amount of other income that they may have, their pension could be affected. Take the case, for instance, of a single pensioner, with other income of £3 10s. a week, entering a class C hospital. If the value of his house were assessed at £3.300 he would lose all of his pension. If the value of the house was less than that amount, he would lose portion of his pension. As the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) knows, in those circumstances any other property that the pensioner owns in excess of £209 would affect his pension. Similarly, if a married pensioner couple with additional income of £7 a week had to enter a class C hospital they would lose their pension if the value of theirhouse exceeded £6,000. Any other property they may have, such as money in the bank, is included in this total. Their pension is also reduced in line with the value of all property over £419, and the pension ceases to exist when the value of that property reaches approximately £6,000. This is very distressing to aged people who have to enter class C hospitals because of their age or possibly because they have co-one to look after them in their own home. The Minister, should have a look at the circumstances of these people to see whether some assistance can be given to relieve them of the mental stress which is associated with having to go into these hospitals and at the same time worrying about what will happen to their pension because they are not able to live in their own home.
The Government has also adopted a mean and paltry attitude to a couple where the husband is a pensioner and the wife is under 60 years of age. As honorable members know, the husband has a pension of £6 a week if the wife’s allowance is not payable. If the husband is an invalid or permanently incapacitated, his wife receives an allowance of £3 a week and his pension is then reduced to £5 10s. a week unless there is a child under the age of 16 years. In those circumstances they both have to live on a substandard pension of £8 10s. a week Alternatively, the wife has to go out and find a job.
Since I have been a member of Parliament I have learned of some cases in which the husband has not been well enough to leave alone. After a woman has been out of industry for possibly 10 or 20 years it is difficult for her to get a job, particularly when she is getting on in years and may have reached the age of 58 or 60. Even if there is a child, the most a family can get to live on is £9 15s. a week made up of £6 pension, £3 wife’s allowance and 15s. for the child under 16 years. This matter has been stressed time and time again in the Parliament. By not doing something for people in these circumstances the Government has shown its callous disregard for them. When a man marries a girl younger than himself he takes the risk that as time goes on both of them will be saddled with a financial burden when he reaches the retiring age. I hope the Minister will look closely at these unfortunate cases.
An age pensioner came to my office only a few weeks ago. He was very upset. His wife was too young to get the pension and too sick to go to work. In fact, she was so sick that her own doctor said that she was 85 per cent, incapitated. The Government doctor to whom she was sent by the Department of Social Services said she was not incapacitated to that extent, but obviously she must have been very close to that percentage of incapacity because her own doctor would not have said she was if she was not. In any case, at 58 years of age she would not be able to get a job, even if she had any degree of sickness. The husband could not get a job either, so both of them had to live on his pension of £6 a week and pay off the house in which they were living. Any government which ignores cases like that must take another look at itself to see whether something can be done to help the people concerned.
The Government stands condemned for not taking action in relation to allowable income. The abolition of the means test was planned by the Labour Government of the day and would have been achieved in 1957-58 if it had remained in office. This is an aim to which the present Government only lends lip service and about which it does nothing. Since 1954, the permissible income has remained at £3 10s. a week and during that time the pension for a single pensioner has increased from £3 10s. to £6 a week. The allowable income is now only 24 per cent, of the Federal basic wage, whereas in 1954 it was 30 per cent of the basic wage. If we take another example, we find that in 1954 £3 10s. a week represented 20 per cent, of national average weekly earnings. Today, it represents 14 per cent. On those figures alone, the allowable income should be more than £5 a week. So, although the Government gives lip service to the aim of abolishing the means test, it does not even ease it. In effect, it imposes an even more restrictive means test by refusing to increase the allowable income in accordance with increases in the cost of living.
We hear a lot of talk about the work force being too small for our needs. Here we have an available source of labour, much of it skilled. Many pensioners are willing to work and the benefit to Australia’s economy would offset the cost to the Government of permitting increased earnings without (he sacrifice of any part of the pension. The view on this side of the chamber is that the means test should not merely be eased but that it should be abolished. Such a move would assist those who contribute to superannuation funds. In fact, they now pay twice. They pay contributions to the National Welfare Fund and also to a superannuation fund. The means test is the most frustrating and most annoying factor that retired people face. It makes a mockery of thrift and denies age pensions only to those who save during their lifetime.
Honorable members on the Government side of the chamber throw up their hands in horror when abolition of the means test is proposed and say that this is an economic impossibility. But, as I pointed out previously, it is not impossible. In New Zealand since 1958 age pensions have been paid to all citizens over the age of 65 regardless of income or assets. Much the same is done in many other countries that have progressed beyond Australia’s standards of social services. For instance, in Canada, no means test is imposed on pensions paid to people at age 70 and in Great Britain no means test applies to males at the age of 70 and to females at the age of 65.
It is interesting to consider the bad features of the means test. It is psychologically bad because it does not encourage thrift. As the Minister and every other member of this Parliament know, constituents seek the advice of their Federal member as to how they can arrange the disposition of their assets so that they may be able to draw the pension. Every member of this Parliament has advised constituents what to do so that they may take advantage of any weakness in the Social Services Act. We tell them how to reduce their assets so that they can qualify for a pension. Many constituents are advised to spend their money, perhaps on holidays and the like, so that they may qualify. The existing situation means that many people are spending money within the law, but needlessly, in order to qualify for the age pension. This is forced on them by the means test. Many people say: “What is the use of saving if I shall lose my pension rights?”
Another bad feature of the means test is that people are deprived of the right to earn permissible income. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) recently stated that there is a shortage of skilled workers. He suggested at the same time that retired people should be attracted back into the work force. The fact is that they will not return to the work force if they will lose their pensions. As a consequence, their productivity is lost to the economy. This Government has accepted so many of our social service proposals that it may consider adopting another section of our platform, which reads -
A progressive easing of the means test with a view to its ultimate abolition.
Why does the Government not set up a committee to examine this question and recommend the best method of abolishing the means test? It could not be done overnight, but a period should be decided upon for its early abolition. The cost involved may not be as great as some people think. If pensioners could earn more income they would enter higher income tax groups. The Commonwealth would receive more taxation and there would be a saving in administration costs.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
House adjourned at 4.37 p.m. until Tuesday, 9th November.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 October 1965, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1965/19651029_reps_25_hor48/>.