18th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Eon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– In view of the fact that at stop-work meetings held to-day coal-miners in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria voted overwhelmingly in favour of a general strike as from the 27th June next, will the Minister for Shipping and Fuel inform the Senate of what remedial measures, if any, the Government proposes to take to counteract the heavy repercussion on the Australian economy?
– I do not know what remedial measures the honorable senator refers to, or whether he is requesting that some punitive action shall be taken against . the coal-miners. This question, like every question the honorable senator asks in this chamber, contains characteristic criticisms. His intention is very obscure. I point out that a direction was issued by the Coal Industry Tribunal, upon an application by the mine-owners. The initiation of proceedings for the imposition of any penalty that may be considered necessary because of the action that is being taken by the coal-miners is the responsibility of the coal-owners. At the appropriate time the Australian Government will take whatever action it considers is necessary in regard to the coal position.
RECONSTRUCTION TRAINING Scheme - Land Settlement op ex-Servicemen.
– As considerable criticism has been levelled at the training of ex-servicemen in the building trades under the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme and as the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction has stated that industrial committees are the very core of the scheme, will the Minister representing the Minister for
Post-war Reconstruction indicate how many of these committees are in operation and. how they function ?
– The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction has advised me that 293 industrial committees have been established to assist in the administration of the reconstruction training scheme. Those committees were formed in pursuance of the Government’s policy of seeking the co-operation of the trade union movement and of employers and employees generally in re-establishing exservicemen. The membership of each committee is confined solely to representatives of employers and employees. Briefly, the functions of the committees are: to advise generally on reconstruction training schemes; to tender advice concerning the quotas of exservicemen to be allocated to particular industries for training; to advise periodically on the facilities for training, and to recommend any improvements considered necessary, including the submission of proposals for desirable modifications in the curricula for the trainees; to assess the proficiency of trainees, both during training and after the completion of that period, and to review their proficiency at intervals of, I think, three months. The committees also tender advice concerning the suitability of establishments to accept ex-servicemen for training, because the department has to be satisfied that proper training facilities are available before ex-servicemen are allocated to establishments for training. The committees also assist in the settlement of industrial disputes. In paying tribute to the work that they have done, I express my complete agreement with the statement recently made by the Minister that the reconstruction training; scheme could not have been successfully implemented without the complete co-operation of the industrial committees.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Postwar Reconstruction aware of the shortage of teachers and nurses in most States! That shortage was acute last year and has not yet been overcome. Could anything be done under the Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme to relieve the labour position in those vital professions ?
– It is true that, in recent years particularly, there has been a grave shortage of school teachers and nurse3. The Commonwealth reconstruction training scheme has played a major part in helping to rectify that deficiency. The latest figures available show that in October, 194S, 1.65G nurses were in training, or had already finished training under that scheme. A further AO were waiting to commence training for the nursing profession. It will be recognized, therefore, that the scheme has made a substantial contribution to the nursing profession. In October, 1948, 1,742 students were training to be school teachers or had already completed training. A further 334 were waiting to commence training, and quite a number of those, of course, have since entered the scheme.
– Is the Toonga estate, near Tarcutta, New South “Wales, to be acquired for land settlement of ex- servicemen?
– The property mentioned by the honorable senator has been approved by the Commonwealth, at the request of the Government of New South Wales, for acquisition for the settlement of ex-servicemen. The property, which embraces approximately 6,000 acres, will be sub-divided into nine farms, three of which will be dairy farms, five fat lamb farms, and one for woolgrowing and sheep breeding. The properties acquired for settlement by exservicemen in New South Wales now number 450, with an aggregate area of more than 5,000,000 acres.
– In view of the continuation of the industrial dispute in the port of Hobart, concerning the handling of obnoxious cargo from the vessel Lorinna, which has now entered its sixteenth day, and has delayed all shipping operations in that nort, can thcMinister for Shipping and Fuel indicate what steps are being taken to settle the dispute?
– The vessel Lorinna has been tied up in Hobart for some time because of the dispute which arose concerning the rate of special allow ance which should be paid to wharf labourers for unloading soda ash. After three-fourths of the vessel’s cargo had been discharged, the wharf labourers concerned claimed that they were entitled to the payment of an additional special allowance of ls. 6d. an hour for the discharge of the remainder of the cargo. The allowance paid in Australian portfor handling obnoxious cargoes ranges from 3d. to 6d. an hour, but when cargoes are of a particularly offensive or harmful nature, atoccurs when certain types of good.’ and materials have been badly bagged, or have become damp, an additional special rate of ls. an hour has been paid. It is clear, therefore, that the claim made by the Hobart wharf labourers for the payment of ls. 6d. an hour to handle Lorinna’s cargo, which has since been increased to 2s. an hour, is out of all proportion to the rate of allowance paid in other Australian ports. Although every endeavour has been made by the port committee to settle the dispute, itsefforts have proved futile, and I am noi hopeful of an early settlement of the dispute.
Padstow Park Telephone ExchangePost Office Facilities.
– On the 9th June, 1949, Senator Amour asked me a question about the Padstow Park tele phone exchange. The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
The rehabilitation plans of the department provide for the conversion of all manual exchanges in the Sydney metropolitan area to automatic operation and it is proposed to carry out these projects progressively as the necessary automatic equipment and under ground cable plant can bc obtained in sufficient quantities and buildings can be made available to house the equipment.
To cater for telephone development in the Padstow Park and Revesby districts a newautomatic exchange was established at Revesby on the 26th April, 1949. At present it provides for 100 subscribers’ lines and it will be extended to take GOO lines when deliveries of automatic equipment are received and underground cables are laid.
The subscribers at present connected to Padstow Park exchange will be transferred to the Revesby automatic exchange in due course but. before this can be effected, it will be uecessary to carry out large underground cable projects between Revesby-Padstow Park, Revesby-East Hills and Revesby-Bankstown, aa well as a number of minor cable works in the area. Owing to the shortage of materials and skilled man-power, and the major nature of these projects, it is estimated that they will not be completed until early in 1950 but they are being given close attention with the object of accelerating them as much as possible.
The department has been endeavouring for tome time to have the hours of service at the Padstow Park exchange extended pending the transfer ot the subscribers to the automatic system, but the non-official postmaster at that centre states that he is unable to obtain the services of suitable staff to undertake the night duty. The matter is being followed up by the department to see if something can be done to provide continuous service at an early date.
– Some time ago I directed a question to the PostmasterGeneral relating to the inadequate shelter provided at the Melbourne post office and at post offices in various country towns in Victoria for persons who are obliged to wait about those premises after initiating trunk-line telephone calls. In- many instances such persons are obliged to wait for considerable periods. Does the Postal Department propose at an early date to provide adequate facilities in this respect?
– I assure the honorable senator that it is the policy of the Postal Department to provide adequate facilities of the kind to which he has referred wherever it is possible to do
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether there is any possibility of a national regional broadcasting station being erected in the northern part of Tasmania in the near future ?
– A site has been selected near Queenstown for a national broadcasting station, but as it will be necessary to erect buildings to house the equipment, it is not practicable to indicate when the station is likely to com mence operating. The possibility of providing an interim service with a lowpowered transmitter is being explored.
– Recently when I visited the guided weapons testing range, I received a deputation of about 28 displaced persons employed there. They requested that they be given the opportunity to be taught the English language and pointed out that facilities exist at the range for the purpose. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration give consideration to that request and make available a teacher for that purpose?
– I shall be happy to take up the matter with the Minister for Immigration who, I am sure, will make arrangements along the lines suggested by the honorable senator.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior say whether any plans have been put in hand to improve the accommodation at the Federal Members’ Rooms in Melbourne. The present accommodation at those rooms is the worst provided for federal members in the Commonwealth. The building in which existing conveniences are quite inadequate has aptly been described as the “ black hole of Calcutta “. Several members of the Parliament brought this matter to the notice of the Minister when he visited Melbourne recently. Has any action since been taken in the matter?
– I am not able to say what action has been taken as the result of the representations that were made to the Minister for the Interior. I fully appreciate the fact that the inconveniences that are suffered at present will be intensified when this Parliament is enlarged. I shall bring the matter to the notice of the Minister for the Interior and will supply an answer to the honorable senator as soon as possible.
– I have read reports in the newspapers recently that certain organizations of wheat-growers have accepted the international wheat agreement under protest. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture make available to the Senate the grounds on which growers have based their protests? What do they consider to be wrong with the international agreement?
– I shall refer the question to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and ascertain whether the information can be supplied.
– In view of the fact that payments are being made under the mental hospital benefits scheme for the upkeep of mental patients in only two States, I ask the Minister for Social Services whether there is any means by which this Government can persuade the governments of the remaining States to expedite the passage of the legislation that is necessary to give effect to the scheme? Should the delay in those States be unduly prolonged, is there any method by which the financial burden on patients in mental hospitals and their relatives and estates can be lightened.
– As far as Commonwealth legislation is concerned, there is nothing more that this Government can do. That legislation was passed some months ago and forms of agreement were submitted to the various State governments, which were invited to introduce legislation in their respective parliaments to ratify the agreements. As I said last week, the parliaments of only two States, Tasmania and South Australia, have passed complementary legislation and concluded agreements with the Commonwealth. In both of those States, the mental hospital benefits scheme has been operative since the 1st April last. I do not know what could be done to persuade the parliaments of the other States to expedite their consideration of legislation and the proposed agreements, but I shall ask the Prime Minister to send a reminder to all State governments. I imagine that the people in the various States are anxious to have this matter adjusted as soon as possible.
Attitude to Baltic Migrants
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions: -
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) proposed -
That the bill be now read a first time.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cooper) adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 15th June (vide page 969), on motion by Senator Ashley -
That the bill be now read a first time.
– At the adjournment last night [ was referring to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It is well-known that Mr. Dixon’s position was one of rearrangement. The commission did do as he has said, but the commission made the reply. If the Minister would investigate the matter, he would find that what I said last night was true.
In Victoria next Saturday an election if Legislative Councillors is to be held. I’n that connexion the. action of the Hollway Liberal Government in that State is most disgraceful and ungrateful, ft is denying to the returned men and women of that State a vote. Victoria is the only State in the Commonwealth that denies a vote in the Legislative Council election to ex-service men and women. By so doing, the Liberal Premier of that State places those ex-service men and women in the same category as criminals and lunatics. Whilst allowing the officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force to vote, be denies that right to the men and women in the ranks in those services. The Australian Labour party in Victoria wants this concession extended not only to those people but also to the wives and husbands of the ex-service men and women. I understand that one of the reasons why Victoria’s playboy Premier refuses exservice men and women a vote is that he is jealous of his own service. I understand that he enlisted in the Amenities Section nf the Royal Australian Air Force, and that he subsequently travelled around Australia with a concert party. When he discovered that that service would not entitle him to a returned serviceman’s badge, he went to Port Moresby for a short while. He subsequently returned ro Australia and discovered that he was a national figure and that his services were required to “ save Victoria “. He was discharged from the Royal Australian Air Force and although he now wears his coveted badge, because he thinks that he is entitled to it, he disregards the men and women to whom I have referred. Although I have spoken somewhat facetiously it is a very serious matter that this tory Premier should deny those people a vote. He is supported by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Menzies) and Mr. R. G. Casey and the Liberal party of Australia. I point out that the Liberal party, and particularly Mr. Casey, is asking the ex-service men and women of Australia to vote for that party at the next general election. We do not know, but the time may come when that party will amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act to conform with the desire of Mr. Hollway to deny the ex-service men and women of Australia a vote.
The matter of power black-outs has already been referred to by Senator Grant. The people of Sydney have suffered tremendous inconvenience as a result of black-outs. At first we were told that there was no coal. The Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley), had to threaten to expose Councillor Cramer and other members of the Sydney County Council if they continued with that propaganda. They then discovered that the quality of coal that they were receiving was very poor. When they were told that the coal was of fair average quality, they discovered that the boilers were bad. Although that may have been so, it appears that everybody, apart from the members of the Sydney County Council, was aware of the great industrial development taking place in and around Sydney. The belief is held in the Communist party that the best deed of the day should earn the best reward. As Councillor Cramer has done a good job by causing black-outs, and inconveniencing the people, his reward is that he has been selected as the endorsed candidate of the Liberal party for one of the north shore electorates. Likewise, Mr. Tate, chairman of the Cumberland County Council, has caused considerable inconvenience to the people by shifting them about and telling them that they could not build on certain land because it was in the “ green belt “ or in an industrial suburb. He has also told people living in rural suburbs that they could not build homes but could establish poultry farms. As a reward for his services, Mr. Tate has been selected by the Liberal party as its fourth candidate for the Senate at the next general election. Since Councillor Cramer has received the “election to contest a “ blue ribbon “ Liberal seat. I have no doubt that in due course he will appear in the Parliament, but as Mr. Tate has been placed only fourth in the party’s order of preference for Senate candidates, I very much doubt whether he will “ make the grade “ at the election. In conclusion, I appeal to the Postmaster-General to appoint a competent journalist to inquire into the allegations that I made in this chamber last night concerning the victimization of Mr. Dixon by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and to investigate the operation of .the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s news service.
Debate (on motion ‘by Senator Rankin) adjourned.
POST Aim TELEGRAPH BATES BILL 1949.
Debate resumed from the 15th June (vide page 928), on motion by Senator Cameron -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- The bill proposes to amend the post and .telegraph rates so as to increase the general charges made by the Department from the 1st July next. The speech made by the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) included a number of general statements about the department, the most important of which was that during the current financial year it is estimated that the department’s finances will show a deficit of £3,500,000. The PostmasterGeneral also said that it is estimated that during the next financial year a deficit of approximately £6.000,000 will be incurred. I am sure that I speak for the people of Australia generally when I say that they are alarmed to learn that the finances of the department are in such a state, and it is significant that the only proposal made by the Government to place the department on a sound financial basis is to increase the departmental ‘barges. The proposed increases range from 50 to 100 per cent. The rate for commercial papers, patterns, samples and merchandise is to be increased to l£d. an ounce in respect of packets which weigh more than 2 ounces. The rate for printed matter, including books, circulars and catalogues will be increased from Id. to l£d. an ounce for every 4 ounces in excess of 4 ounces. The postage rates for books and periodicals which are registered for transmission through the department will be increased by 50 per cent, for each additional 6 ounces. Telegraph rates will also be increased. The base rate of 9d. for a telegram of fourteen words to pass between telegraph offices which are noi more than fifteen miles apart is proposed to be increased to ls. 3d., which represents an increase of 66 per cent. Rate* for all other classes of telegrams will be increased by from ls. to ls. 6d., which represents an even bigger increase Lettergram rates will be increased by 20 per cent. Because of the :wide distances which separate towns from the cities and from each other in Australia, the telegraph service is freely availed of, particularly by country residents. Most stock sales are effected by telegram, and rural settlers transact a great deal of business by that means. It is obvious, therefore, that primary producers and country dwellers generally will be most adversely affected by the proposed increases. The highest increase of rates proposed in the bill relates to the charge made for registering letters, which will be increased from 3d. to 6d. The increase amounts to 300 per cent, in that instance. Although the measure does not provide for an increase of telephone rate? and charges, I understood from the Minister’s speech that it had been decided te increase those charges very considerably. The worst feature of the proposed increase of telephone charges is undoubtedly the withdrawal of the privilege of making trunk calls between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. at concessional rates. That concession was substantially availed of, particularly by country people who were able to speak to relatives or friends for the payment of relatively low charges. Also, many country people transacted business with the cities by telephone at times when the concessional rates applied. The abolition of this concession is a retrograde step. When we on this side of the chamber criticize the Government’s socialistic plans, the Postal Department is inevitably cited by Government supporters as the supreme example of a successful governmentcontrolled industry. Admittedly, postal services are in government hands in most countries. No one will deny that certain utilities rightly belong to the public, and can be run successfully by governments. The Postal Department in this country has made substantial contributions to Consolidated Revenue in recent years. Earlier this year the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) announced that buoyant revenues had made possible a further tax cut to take effect on the 1st July next. That was welcome news for the heavily burdened taxpayers of this country, all of whom, I am sure, are eagerly awaiting the reductions. The effect of this bill, however, will be to place an additional impost of approximately £5,500,000 a year on the general public. That, according to the Minister’s secondreading speech, is the estimated increased cost to the public of the new charges. Increased postal and telephonic charges incurred by business organizations will be passed on to the public in higher prices for the goods that they sell, or the services that they provide. So, whilst the Prime Minister on one hand is endeavouring to create a good impression, by reducing taxes, the PostmasterGeneral, on the other hand, is proposing to take back from the people a substantial proportion of their tax reductions. When rising costs are mentioned, Government supporters ‘ inevitably claim that they are due to the defeat of the Government’s rents and prices referendum proposals last year. Does the PostmasterGeneral suggest that the “ No “ vote recorded on that occasion has been responsible for the increased cost of postal services? I submit that he cannot do so because he knows that the defeat of the referendum has no relation at all to rising costs in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. It is fair to ask whether the Postal Department, under Labour administration, has maintained its efficiency: When the Labour Government assumed office in 1941, the Postal Department was a most profitable undertaking. It is fashionable to-day for Labour supporters to boast of the achievements of the Labour Government in the past seven years and to decry everything that was done by previous administrations. We are told that anti-Labour governments did nothing to develop this country, to build up its capital assets, or to provide adequate social services for its people-. Undoubtedly the Postal Department in this country is an organization of which we can be proud. It has done a wonderful job in its comparatively short life. However, the department during the greater portion of the period it was being developed was not under the control of Labour administration, whereas to-day, a few years after a Labour government has been in office the department has commenced to show a heavy loss. I shall examine the department’s figures in respect of the period from 1937 to 1947. During those ten years it paid into Consolidated Revenue approximately £51,000,000, whilst its expenditure oncapital works amounted to £46,300,000. I have no criticism to offer with respect to the transfer of the department’s profits to Consolidated Revenue because such procedure is provided for under the Constitution, and all governments have adhered to that procedure. The department, in the past, has been operated on sound business lines. It has been called upon to meet interest payments in respect of all moneys made available to it from the Treasury. From 1937 to 1947, the department paid in interest to the Treasury the sum of £17,700,000 or, approximately £1,800,000 annually. Thus, during that period the department had a surplus of £4,700,000; and one must presume that it was efficiently administered. It borrowed from the Treasury sums approximately its own profits, and for that privilege it paid interest on such moneys. Any ordinary business that is capable of repaying its total expenditure on capital assets over a period of ten years would be regarded as being very profitable.
The Postmaster-General, in his secondreading speech, said that the department was run on the same lines as an efficient business concern and that every possible means of effecting economies and reorganizing the department on a modern and decentralized basis had been explored. I conclude from that statement that before the Government decided to increase the charges proposed under this measure it made a thorough investigation of every phase of the department’s operations with a view to effecting economies and eliminating inefficiency. However, the Postmaster-General did not say whether such an inquiry had been made. He merely told us that during 1948-49, in spite of the fact that earnings had increased by £1,600,000 during the last eleven months, the department would show a loss of £3,500,000, and that that loss would be increased to £6,000,000 during the next financial year. The latest figures which I have been able to obtain in respect of the various branches of the department are those given in the PostmasterGeneral’s report for the year ended the 30th June, 1947. Those figures show that for that year the department’s overall working expenses, .excluding interest, amounted to £24,084,824, and that after providing for those expenses and interest amounting to £1,500,000 it showed a profit of £5,103,SS6, or 21 per cent. I had hoped that the Postmaster-General would indicate whether the loss incurred on the department’s operations this year were in respect of all branches or merely certain branches. The main branches are the telephone, telegraph, postal and wireless branches. In 1946-47, the earnings of the telephone branch totalled £13,800,000. Working expenses, exclusive of interest, amounted to £10,000,000, leaving a gross profit of approximately 38 per cent. The net profit, after allowing for working expenses and interest charges, was £2,500,000, or 25 per cent. The telegraph branch also showed a profit, though not at such a high rate. Its earnings totalled £3,200,000, and working expenses were £3,000,000. Allowing for interest charges, the net profit was £148,000, or 5 per cent, of the general running expenses. In the postal branch, the earnings totalled £12,800,000, and working expenses amounted to £9,800,000. After allowing for interest charges of £93,850, the surplus was £2,840,000, representing a net profit of 28 per cent. All of those three departments showed a reasonable profit for 1946-47. The only branch that did not show a profit in that year was the wireless branch, which sustained a total deficit, including interest charges, of £418,900. The losses of the wireless branch have increased very considerably in recent years. The deficit for 1945-46 was only £143,900.
I should have thought that the PostmasterGeneral would supply the Senate with detailed explanations of the heavy losses which, according to his statements, the department is now sustaining. During his second-reading speech, the honorable gentleman referred to the services that the department provides for other Commonwealth departments. We all know that the Postal Department has been loaded with all sorts of work, which it carries out on behalf of other departments and instrumentalities. It has handled social services payments for years and it undertakes a great deal of work in connexion with the national broadcasting service. Until recently, it also handled the distribution of petrol ration coupons. It is able to provide those services more cheaply than any other department can provide them, because it has offices and staffs all over the Commonwealth. In fairness to the department and to those who administer it, a reasonable payment for those services should be made. I have endeavoured to ascertain the exact rates of payments made to it by other departments, and I have obtained some figures through the courtesy of an official of the department. The telegraph branch transmits 4,000,000 meteorological telegrams each year, in return for which it is paid £468,000. I am not aware of the nature of the work that the department undertakes for the national broadcasting services, and for which it is paid £308,000 annually. Other departments, including the Department of Social Services and the Repatriation Department, pay £200,000 to it annually. The duties that are carried out on behalf of the Department of Social Services involve a colossal amount of work. I understand that age and invalid pensions and war pensions are paid out on alternating Thursdays. That means that a great volume of work has to be carried by post office officials on one day of each week. The payments for those services merely involve a transfer of entries from one department to another, but they affect the annual profits or losses of post office operations. It seems to me that £200,000 is not adequate remuneration for the pensions services that the department provides. Both the Department of Social Services and the Repatriation Department can well afford to pay at a higher rate for the great volume of work that is done for them. Even if the two departments established a joint organization for the payment of pensions, the cost of doing so would be much greater than the amount of £200,000 a year that they now contribute to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Probably the work would be five times as costly. I do not know whether the department was paid for the distribution of petrol ration tickets. Such payments, if they were made, would affect its budgetary position. The Postmaster-General did not state in his second-reading speech whether any action had been taken to curtail expenditure and obtain more efficient operation of departmental services. The honorable gentleman attributed the sudden financial loss chiefly to the introduction of the 40-hour week. He said that the shorter working week was responsible for 15 per cent, of the department’s extra wages costs. I point out that the overall profit for 1946-47 was approximately 21 per cent. Allowing for the cost of introducing the 40-hour week, the department should still have a reasonable percentage of profit. The 40-hour week certainly does not account for the tremendous deficiency shown for the year 1948-49 or the anticipated loss of £6,000,000 in 1949-50. Before a general increase of prices for these services should be approved a searching inquiry should be made throughout the various departments. It should extend to the administration of the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) himself, because he is in charge -of a department employing approximately 75,000 people. As the head of such a huge organization he is one of the greatest employers of labour in Australia. I think that it will be conceded that the head of such a large concern would have a tremendous influence over its employees. In the Minister’s second-reading speech he admitted that one of the causes of the losses that he mentioned was the short supply of many commodities that the Post Office needs, and the increased cost of materials. I should have thought that the person responsible for such a colossal undertaking would do all in his power to uplift the general morale of his employees. It would seem, however, that the reverse has taken place. At the time that the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) was calling for greater production throughout Australia recently the PostmasterGeneral published an article in the Australian Worker which I understand is the official organ of the Australian Workers Union. Although I do not claim that this article was published by the Postmaster-General in his official capacity, nevertheless it was not designed to develop the morale and secure tinbest co-operation of the large number of employees of the Postal Department. The article reads -
If as the result of workers increasing the productivity of the soil and increasing the production of materials and commodities of all kinds the wealthy continue to be made wealthier, and more powerful economically and politically, and the extent of preparations for war in times of peace continues to be increased, and military conscription or slaver to be extended, workers have nothing to gain and everything to lose by increasing production beyond what would, be necessary to sustain themselves and their families. Fundamentally the ever-increasing surpluses of materials and commodities which have been produced by workers in the past and which have always been so greatly in excess of what they themselves consume or use have constituted a brutal weapon which has always been used more effectively against themselves throughout the aires by the ruling or capitalist class, with disastrous results.
The Minister will probably claim that he has expounded that theory for years past. The position ten years ago, however, was entirely different from what it is to-day. After reading that article the younger members of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department may consider that it means that the Minister does not believe that they should produce more than is necessary to keep themselves and their families. I contend that that article would have very disastrousresults upon the morale of those employees. If the Postmaster-General has run his department on those- lines I can, to a degree, understand the losses that have been incurred. I suggest that the Prime Minister should ask for the Minister’s resignation forthwith, and that this bill should be withdrawn from the Senate until such time as a successor is appointed and has had an opportunity to make a complete overhaul of the department to see what improvements could be made to overcome the heavy deficits that are anticipated.
– In his second-reading speech the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron) said -
The ideal of a completely efficient service cannot be achieved overnight, and it will mean hard work, enthusiasm and clear thinking. These attributes are being displayed, and the great body of Postal Department workers are fully alive to their responsibilities and all will continue to strive to achieve the objective of a prompt and dependable service at reasonable rates.
To that I say “ Hear, hear ! “ I believe that the Postal Department is the most efficient department in the Commonwealth service. I know Mr. Fanning and all the other responsible officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department. As chairman of the Public Works Committee, it has been my privilege to come in contact with them on numerous occasions, and I understand fully the comprehensive nature of the work that they do and the marvellous service that they give to this country. I think that the Minister should be highly commended for the very efficient services that his department provides under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I am proud to be associated with the PostmasterGeneral. I think that he has done all that it is possible for a Minister to do. He has given his utmost attention whenever we have asked for it and has made available to us at all times whatever facilities he could. He has given us reasonable service wherever it was possible for him to do so. I support fully the following remarks that were made by the Minister in his second-reading speech : -
It is unfortunate that the need for increasing the charges has occurred at a time when the services of the Postal Department have not been restored to full efficiency. The controlling officers and myself are the first to agree that there is need for improving the services. The long war years, when the department was forced to suspend its normal programme of maintenance, improvements and expansion have been mainly responsible for the falling off in efficiency and the efforts to regain a high standard have been hampered by the post-war shortages of materials and labour.
They have also been hampered by the stupid inefficiency of past governments in allowing the Postal Department to get into the state that it is in. now.New buildings are required, houses need repairs, and additional line-yards are necessary. Every aspect of neglect that it is possible to conceive occurred under previous Nationalist governments. Why? Because they did not want to do the job and spend money in order to develop the services. So long as the Postal Department could bring in pounds, shillings and pence those governments were prepared to use that money to knock off taxes. That is a wrong and stupid economy. Money earned by that department should have been applied towards the extension of its operations and the provision of more efficient services. I have before me particulars of line-yards and services in Tasmania, buildings that have been erected by this Government, and those that were provided by previous Nationalist administrations. I agree that the Postmaster-General’s Department should be paid for services rendered to other departments. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department should be recompensed for services rendered in connexion with pensions, transport, and other social services and work carried out in accordance with an appropriate scale. The postal employees’ union supports my contention that an increase of 25 per cent. of the charges at present made by the Postal Department for those services would be necessary in order to put the department on a proper economic basis. That can best be illustrated by my placing before the Senate information relative to the work that the Postal Department is at present doing. The Russell telephone exchange in Melbourne is in course of construction, and plans have been approved for the construction of the Barton, City West, and St. Kilda exchanges. For that work between £7,000,000 and £8,000,000 has to be provided by way of a grant or advancement of fund’s from the Treasury. I contend that the Postmaster-General’s Department should be run on lines whereby sufficient profit will be made to pay for any new works and improvement of services necessary, if a correct economy is to be maintained. In order to comprehend fully the nature of the work of the Postal Department it is necessary to have a knowledge of what is involved in the provision of a telephone exchange. In connexion with the Russell exchange I was amazed to learn of the quantity of equipment,, cables and switches required. The Postmaster-General is a highly efficient Minister, who has performed a very excellent job and deserves the full thanks of the Government. Better wages and conditions should be provided for the employees of the Postal Department. The wages now paid are very poor by comparison with those obtaining in outside organizations. Penalty rates should be paid to shiftworkers. I know from my own experience as a railway worker twenty years ago that the principle of paying penalty rates for shift work was accepted generally even then, and there should be no objection to-day to the payment of penalty rates to postal workers engaged on shift work. The rates of pay generally of employees in the fourth division of the Postal Department are far too low, and should be increased substantially. Another matter about which I am concerned is the withholding from junior officers who perform the work of adults payment of the full adult rate. When I commenced work as a boy I was frequently required, because I was a big lad, to carry out the duties of adult officers, but I was not paid the full adult rate foi that work. I objected to that treatment, which I regarded as an injustice, and two other lads and I went on strike, and were dismissed. We approached our trade union, and subsequently we were reinstated, and paid seven weeks’ wages. That happened many years ago, so it is evident that the principle of paying adult rates to juniors in such circumstances has been recognized for quite a long time, and postal employees should certainly not be denied the benefit of that principle. Wherever possible delivery of mail on Saturday mornings should be curtailed. Postal workers in Tasmania feel very keenly the injustice of having to work every Saturday morning while- almost all other employees are free. The Postal Workers Union has prepared a case for the abolition of Saturday morn’ ing deliveries of mail, a portion of which I shall read to the Senate. It is a? follows : -
So far as Tasmania is concerned, the Stat* Government by its legislation some years ago. set a very good example by bringing in Satur day morning closing in certain parts of thi* State. This has proved most beneficial to employer and employee alike, but it is admitted that in the first instance it took some little while for an adjustment to be made, so far ae the public was concerned. Therefore, it is considered that with ample notice given the public, very little inconvenience would be caused if our requests, as outlined above, were acceded to. As it is understood that Post Office workers in New Zealand enjoy the prifor we are now seeking, our requests are considered to bc reasonable and in close keeping with the objects of advancement for the workers in this State.
In the course of his remarks the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) asserted that Labour was not entitled to the credit for the development of the postal services of this country. I emphatically disagree with that assertion. When I was first elected to the Senate I made it my business to visit the post offices of Tasmania in order to ascertain the state of the department’s buildings and the conditions under which the staff had to work. I saw at first hand the result of the lack of concern for the department, and for the public which it serves, that was exhibited by the nonLabour parties that were in office for so many years. Even to-day a great deal remains to be done to modernize the department’s premises in Tasmania. The General Post Office at Hobart is located in a hopelessly antiquated building, and although new premises were built some time ago to house the General Post Office, the department has not been able to obtain possession of those premises, which are occupied by the Commonwealth Bank. To overcome that difficulty it was proposed some time ago that new premises should be constructed for the Commonwealth Bank to permit the Postal Department to occupy its own new premises. Complaints were made that the erection of a new building for the bank would result in labour and building materials being, diverted from the construction of dwellings. There was no foundation for that contention. As a member of the Public Works Committee I know that the erection of large buildings, which are constructed principally of steel and cement, does not interfere greatly with the supply of man-power and materials for house construction. Statistics placed before the committee showed that the erection of steel and cement structures absorbs less than 7 per cent, of the aggregate quantity of materials available. When the proposal to construct new premises for the Commonwealth Bank at Hobart was under consideration a member of the Parliament of Tasmania suggested to me that it should not be proceeded with for the reason that T have already mentioned. I suggested to that gentleman that he should inspect the conditions under which the staff of the General Post Office had to work in their old building, and that if he did not agree with my view that it was imperative that they should be removed to a new building, I would discontinue my agitation for the erection of new premises for the Commonwealth Bank. Later he told me that he was amazed that the staff of the General Post Office should be required to work in such surroundings, and agreed that they should be moved as soon as alternative accommodation could be provided for the Commonwealth Bank. In concluding my remarks on the General Post Office at Hobart, I express the hope that before long considerable improvement will be made in the facilities for the staff, and that in the near future they will move into the new building that was erected for them.
The obsolete and inadequate building provided for the department in Hobart is not an isolated instance, but is characteristic of the accommodation provided throughout the department’s offices in Tasmania. I emphasize that the department has suffered, and .continues to suffer, because of the neglect of the antiLabour administrations that were in office for so many years and failed to provide decent buildings and proper facilities. Indeed, the only ‘new post office erected in Tasmania for many years under an anti-Labour .government is the building at Deloraine. Because that town was in the electorate of the former Prime Minister, the late Mr. Lyons, he wa9 responsible for having a new post office erected there when he was in office. The only other new postal premises constructed in Tasmania are the post office at Devonport, which was built since Labour assumed office in 1941, and the new post office at South Launceston, which was opened by the present PostmasterGeneral. The conditions generally at all other post offices and departmental premises in Tasmania are shocking. A new post office should have been built at Launceston many years ago, but successive anti-Labour administrations refused to do so. The premises at Sandy Bay are hopelessly antiquated, and the post office at Boss, which is located in an old sandstone building, which is damp in the winter, should have been replaced by another building thirty years ago. The department’s premises at Bellerive are old, but I understand that the department proposes to erect new premises there. The facilities provided for the public and the staff at the Invermay office are particularly bad. I understand that one of the reasons why new premises have not bean erected theme is that difficulty has been experienced in acquiring the necessary land. I strongly recommend that the new premises should be constructed on a site which is immediately opposite the State Savings Bank at Lituman’s corner on Invermay-road, Launceston. I am also looking forward to the ejection of a new post office at Gladstone, which is a large mining town and has needed a post office for thirty years. The post office premises in Derby, which is another mining town, are failing to pieces. In Stanley the rear of the postmaster’s residence overlooks a sheer drop of 100 feet, so that it is obviously umm table .as a residence. The post office at Smithton is a mere weatherboard structure aMd requires replacement. The office at Burnie, which is located on a most unsuitable site, is far too small, and should have been replaced long ago. The office at Scottsdale, which is the centre of a thriving agricultural! district, .was obsolete twenty years ago and is a disgrace to the ‘“local community. STew -post -offices aire also badly required at Currie and at King Island, which are the centres of good agricultural districts. The premises erected as residences for postmasters and staff should be equipped with electric stoves, modern facilities such as hot water services and all the other amenities that are incorporated in present-day house designs. I emphasize that it is important that we should be served by a contented staff, and that consideration involves the provision of proper housing accommodation.
Another example of the shocking neglect of non-Labour administrations to provide funds for the department is to be found in the unsatisfactory facilities provided for linemen. Senator O’Byrne and I recently made two inspections of the lineyards in Tasmania, we found that scarcely one of them is suitable for its purpose. At Deloraine the linemen operate from a little shed, which is not even large enough to store timber, eye-bolts and other equipment. At Devonport the linemen have to use an old rented garage, which is completely devoid nf facilities. If an up-to-date workshop was provided at some central depot the linemen could do much of their work before going out into the field. That would save a lot of time and result in a considerable saving to the department. My colleague and I strongly recommend the construction of a general store and lineyard on a site which we examined in Devonport, about which I have made representations to the department. The only modern lineyard in .Tasmania is that which was erected at Ulverstone as the result of representations made by us. The facilities for linemen at Wynyard and Smithton are most unsatisfactory. Although Smithton has a very wet climate, only a disused army hut is provided for the linemen. It was so uncomfortable and inadequate that the linemen themselves erected another hut on the side of a hill. If land were acquired and the necessary materials provided, proper structures would be established in many places by the linemen themselves. I urge the Postmaster-General to consider the formation throughout Australia - beginning of course with Tasmania - of mobile maintenance staffs to carry out much of the repair work that at present is done by the Department of Works and Housing, or by private contract. I am convinced that gangs of men with utility trucks could carry out all the day to day repairs required on post offices and residences. Each gang would soon get to know the area of its operations, and would know exactly what was required when a job had to be done. The result would hh a saving of time and money, and the elimination of much red tape. Not long ago, I visited a little place called St. Marys. Some windows in the post office would not open, and to have them fixed, the postmaster had to apply to the Department of Works and Housing, which in turn let a contract for that work. Jobs of that kind could be done by a post office repair gang as a matter of course, without any additional expense to the Postmaster-General’s Department. Similarly, leaking roofs and broken fences could be repaired, and houses painted, without calling tenders or enlisting the aid of the Department of Works and Housing. Each gang could consist of from six to nine men.
I commend the Postmaster-Genera1 for the decision to erect a new post office in Westbury in Tasmania. A new building is long overdue. I hope that the new premises will be as good as those recently provided at South Launceston. I am acquainted with most of the senior members of the staff of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in Tasmania and I know practically every postmaster in the State. I have had frequent contact with them, and I regard them as a hardworking and loyal body of men. The PostmasterGeneral and the Government should be proud indeed to he served by such efficient officers.
.- The Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron), in his second-reading speech, reminded the Senate that, since the Labour Government assumed office in 1941, the Postal Department had made substantial profits. The honorable senator said that in the six financial years of Labour Administration, Postal Department profits had totalled more than £35.000,000. We must remember, too, that we were at war during . most of that period. In the financial year 1946-47, Postal Department profits amounted to £5,103,000. In the following year, that figure was reduced to £1,849,000. A loss of £3,500,000 is expected in the current financial year, and the estimated deficit for the coming financial year is £6,000,000 if charges are not increased. The decline in profits has been due in the main to increasing costs of materials, and also to higher salaries paid to postal employees. The Postmaster-General’s Department employs more than 75,000 people. Until quite recently Postal Department salaries compared most unfavorably with those of other governmental employees, and with rates ruling in outside industry generally. To secure recruits, the Postal Department has been forced to undertake a big advertising campaign drawing the attention of the public to the valuable training that postal employees receive, and emphasizing the amenities that are provided for them. Low Postal Department salaries were not the product of the war years. They were due primarily to the continuance of a. policy that had been in operation in this country since before federation. Even with recent increases, post office salaries still compare unfavorably with those in private industry. It may well be asked therefore why people have ever sought employment in the Postal Department. I remind the Senate, however, that particularly in the depression years, when opportunities for employment were severely restricted, the Postal Department, despite its low rates of pay, at least offered permanent work. To-day, of course, employees arc not so much influenced by a guarantee of continuity of employment with one organization, because they know that, under the Government’s full employment policy, jobs will be plentiful. Recruitment in the Postal Department reached such a low level some time ago that the Government was forced, without waiting for an award by the Public Service Arbitrator, to increase substantially the salaries of postal employees and improve their working conditions. The post-war problems that confront not only the Postal Department but also all other government departments, are not peculiar to this country. They are common to all countries. News of prospective Postal Department deficits in this country no doubt will lead many people to point to the department as an example of an inefficient government undertaking, but I point out that, even in the United States of America, where postal and telephonic services are probably the most modern in the world, the Po3t Office recorded a deficit of more than 300,000,000 dollars last year. T understand that another deficit of 250,000,000 dollars is in prospect. In America, of course, the Postal Department is free from one of the greatest problems that beset the Postal Department in this country, namely, the shortage of labour. Here, too, there is a shortage of materials which, if it exists at all in America, is probably not nearly so acute. The wor3t shortage facing the Postal Department in this country is that of steel, yet in America nearly half of the available steel-producing plant is inoperative because of overproduction. I suggest, therefore, that it might be possible to obtain steel from the United States of America by offering to accept the output, of some of those plants.
What is the reason for the heavy demand for telephones in this country? Before the war, when anti-Labour governments were in office, the newspapers carried big advertisements saying, “ Be modern. Install a telephone in your home and be prepared for an emergency”. Now. the department is unable to meet the demand for telephones. What is the reason for this increased demand? The reason is that the prosperity of this country under Labour rule is such that people who ten or fifteen years ago were unable to meet the cost of installing and using a telephone, are now earning salaries and wages that permit them to enjoy more of the amenities of modern life. Here is a typical letter sent by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to an applicant for a telephone who apparently has a high priority -
Although a high priority rating has been allotted to the application, it is unlikely that the department will bc in a position to install the service until such time as additional cable is Hinde available between the Preston exchange and the Henty-street area.
Plans are in hand to afford the necessary relief in this respect, but the project is of a major nature. Moreover, as the department is meeting with extreme difficulty in obtaining adequate supplies of essential materials, it is not possible to indicate precisely at this stage when completion may be expected.
That applicant is probably one of the many hundreds who, until the adventof a Labour government, had no hope of being able topay for a telephone. Facts of that kind speak for themselves. While maintaining the efficiency of the Postal Department’s services in the metropolitan areas, the Government is providing equal amenities for residents in country districts at cheaper rates. For instance, under these proposals the rental of telephone subscribers will be increased on a sliding scale, ranging from 5s. annually at small, rural exchanges to £1 5s.a year in Sydney and Melbourne. The Government realizes that people in rural districts are entitled on special grounds to these modern conveniences. The bill also provides that whilst the unit fee, for local, calls will be increased by one farthing in country districts, that fee will be increased by one halfpenny in metropolitan areas. The Government represents all sections of the. community, and in this instance it is clear that it has the interests of country people as much at heart as it has those of people who live in suburban or large industrial centres. One should not lose sight of the fact that while the Postal Department has provided efficient telephonic, telegraphic and postal services, it has also been the medium for the distribution of benefits such as age and invalid pensions, war service pensions and other benefits. I remind those who are inclined to complain of their inability to obtain a telephone that since the war over 300,000 new telephones have been installed. Those newsubscribers have been connected with a nation-wide network, and that work has increased the responsibilities and duties of departmental staffs to a corresponding degree. The efficiency of the services provided by the Postal Department is emphasized when we remember that these services are provided in all parts of a country of vast distances with a comparatively meagre population. For instance, a subscriber in any city has little difficulty in telephoning subscribers in places as far apart as Cairns and Perth. On a population and area basis, Australia’s achievement in this sphere compares more than favorably with that of other countries. Although the United States of America is large in area, it has a population of over 150,000,000, compared with our population of approximately 7,500,000. This demand for telephones is, most significant; on a population basis it is far greater than that existing in any other country. The Postal Department has made profits totalling £35,000,000, which have been paid into Consolidated Revenue. Perhaps we could tell a different story to-day had those sums been retained by the department as a set-off against possible future losses.
I take this opportunity to refer to a matter relating to departmental administration. Residents of Balwyn complained to me that although work on the construction of a post office in that suburb and in Moorabbin and Croydon, two other suburbs of Melbourne, was commenced at the same time, the post offices in Moorabbin and Croydon have been, completed, whilst that in Balwyn is still unfinished. I inquired into that matter, and found that the delay on the building at Balwyn was due to the fact that the contractor for that work had not been as successful as the contractors for the other two works in obtaining building materials. The increases of charges proposed under the measure are entirely justified when we take into account the increases of costs, of all kinds which have occurred during the last few years. The department’s staffs comprise all classes of workers, including postwomen. I congratulate the Minister upon the administrative job which the department has done. I support the bill. I trust that the department will continue its good work in providing these essential services on an efficient basis and thus contribute substantially to the welfare and development of this nation. I believe that in the near future the department will be able to meet the demand for extensions of its services,, and I am satisfied to leave that responsibility in the hands of those who have achieved such a great record in this sphere in the past.
. -I support the bill. Icongratulate the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) upon the way in which he has administered the Postal Department during the last three years. In theface of the greatest difficulties arising from the shortage of labour and materials, the department has done a magnificent job in its endeavours to meet the increasing demand for telephones. In this respect the people of Western Australia have been somewhat fortunate. All of the exchanges in Perth and Fremantle are automatic, manual exchanges remaining only in the remoter suburbs of those cities. I am satisfied that the department will proceed as speedily as possible with its work of replacing manual exchanges with automatic installations. The programme envisaged by the department is estimated to cost many millions of pounds. The Opposition does not seem to realize that during the war years the department was unable to maintain efficient services and, at the same time, provide additional services. The result is that to-day it has a leeway of four, or five, years to catch up. That is a tremendous handicap in a department which employs over 70,000 people. However, I” believe that, as requisite materials become available, that lag will be rectified.
Upon examining the increases of charges now proposed, I was astonished to find that they were not so severe as I had been led to expect, following the howl that was raised by the daily press when it became known that the Government proposed to make these increases. From the press reports one gained the impression that the charges for all services supplied by the postal department were to bo doubled. However, a heavy additional impost will not be placed upon the majority of the people. The postage on ordinary letters and the charges for calls made on public telephones are not to be altered at all. The- postage rates on newspapers and periodicals and charges for telegrams are to be increased. However, the increases proposed are not unreason.able when one remembers the heavy increases of expenditure imposed upon the department as the result of rising costs. During the last few years, the wages of all employees of the department numbering over 70,000 have been considerably increased. In Western Australia, for instance, the basic wage has increased since 1939 from £4 3s. to £6 5s., whilst corresponding increases have occurred in respect of margins for skill. It calls for courage on the part of a government to increase the charges in respect of any public utility. However, the criticism offered by the Opposition in instances of this kind is illogical. Were the Government to operate a shipping line and show a loss of from £300,000 to £500,000, the Opposition would say that it was using the taxpayers’ money to make up the deficiency. Now, when the Postal Department is faced with a loss on its operations and the Government follows the business-like procedure of increasing service charges to meet that loss, the Opposition says that it is not justified in doing so. After all, these increases are being made in order to enable the department to balance its budget. The PostmasterGeneral and the officers of his department do a wonderful job. As the honorable gentleman said during his second-reading speech, the highest surplus ever recorded by the department was £6,674,595 in 1944-45. The Opposition has not given the Labour party any credit for its administration of postal services since 1941, but that figure greatly exceeded the highest pre-war profit, which was only £3,625,371. The Postmaster-General and his administrative officers are endeavouring to cope with the public demand for more comprehensive postal facilities and are doing everything possible to provide the people with the telephones that they want. The honorable gentleman is to be congratulated upon the introduction of the measure and upon the manner in which the proposed increases have been distributed so that the ordinary citizen will be least affected.
– In giving my support to this bill, my mind goes back to the time when I was a lad of fourteen and a half years and earned my first regular income as a Post Office employee delivering the humble telegram. I rode my bicycle very swiftly up hill and down dale, and, being sound of wind and limb and having a sturdy pair of legs, I made sure that people living in the suburb that I served received their telegrams with despatch. I derive a great deal of pleasure from” the fact that I was associated with the greatest commercial undertaking in Australia. The Postmaster-General’s Department employs 75,000 persons. Its activities are more widespread and varied than are those of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, Imperial Chemical Industries Limited, and all of the chain stores put together. An examination of the bill discloses that the increased charges for which it provides have been so planned as to affect most lightly all those who are least able to carry extra financial burdens. Men and women of the rank and file will not feel the impact of most of the new charges, which will fall chiefly upon big organizations with large capital resources. The Government has humanely continued the exemption that has always been granted to Braille and Moon postal articles for the blind. This free service facilitates the great work of institutions which serve those sorely afflicted citizens. I pay a special tribute to officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department who served in the armed forces during the war. During the period of my army service I was associated with members of the Australian Army Corns of Signals. Most of the senior technical men and the officers in that organization received their training in the ranks of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. They rendered magnificent service. The communications system of the Australian Army in war compared more than favorably with those of the United States forces and other allied armies, especially in New Guinea, where linemen laid wires across the Owen Stanley Range, and in Torres Strait, where they laid a submarine cable. “Work of that nature required a great deal of technical skill, and the manner in which it was carried out helped to pave the way to ultimate victory. Without knowledge, a commander cannot plan his campaign and dispose his forces to the best advantage. Communications are to the general what blood is to the heart. When the blood supply ceases, the heart stops beating and the whole body collapses. My tribute also extends to the girls who came to the armed forces from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department to operate teleprinters and switchboards. Many of them received their initial training in the department, and they did a first class job for the army. The department is unique inasmuch as it trains its own men. It has vast technical resources. It trains cadet engineers and sends them to universities for advanced education.
Unfortunately, as the result of a shortsighted policy, the department has not been able to compete with the rates of pay and the conditions offered to technical officers by private enterprise. At the highest level, it has lost the services of men like Sir Harry Brown and Mr. McVey, officers of undoubted skill and great executive and organizing ability. Such men have been enticed away from the service by private enterprise, and the department is considerably worse off as a result. At lower levels, the drift has continued week after week, year after year, and the department is losing large numbers of employees whom it trained for years at great expense in order to develop their skills. The Labour party recognizes the seriousness of this state of affairs, and this Government has systematically set to work to improve rates of pay and conditions of service in the department. This has led to the necessity for the levying of higher charges for the use of its facilities. The Government is determined to give to the technical men employed in the department a “ better spin “ than they have had in the past. Every government undertaking must be conducted with a sense of responsibility towards the people, just as every private enterprise must be conducted by its directors with a sense of responsibility towards its shareholders. The Minister traced the history of the Postal Department during his second-reading speech and demonstrated that for many years it was a very well organized and profitable instrumentality. It is still well organized, but it has been handicapped for some years by shortages of man-power and materials. The total profits of the department for the six financial years that ended on the 30th June, 1947, were £35,940,646. Unfortunately, that money was not “ ploughed back “ into the department so as to provide better and more effective services for the public and to finance improved rates of pay and conditions of employment for its servants. It was paid into Consolidated Revenue. That was a very shortsighted policy.
It is true that the profits of the department have decreased considerably since the Labour party came to power. The estimated deficit for the current financial year is £3,500,000, and the loss next year will probably be greater. Something must be done to rectify that situation, and, in fact something will be done, because this bill provides for the institution of corrective measures. Had the situation been taken in hand many years ago, this Government would not have been forced to make all of the increases for which the bill provides. Profits should have been used to buttress the department against the effect of increased costs. The present difficulties represent a legacy from anti-Labour governments. I am gratified by the manner in which the Government is facing up to the department’s problems. It realizes that the quality of services provided to the public has diminished, and that conditions within the service have become unsatisfactory, with a consequent reduction of the morale of postal workers, and it is making strenuous efforts to rectify those anomalies.
I draw attention to the status of postmasters in country towns and villages. I know something of their conditions because, apart from my humble beginning in life in the service of the Postal Department, I have two brothers in the service who are keenly interested in the welfare and progress of the huge organization to which they are proud to belong. The postmaster in a country town is the guide, philosopher and friend of everybody. He is required to have an intimate knowledge of the geography of the area served by his post office and to be acquainted with minor laws and municipal ordinances. He must know a great deal about the personal affairs of people, and often when a man is in doubt about any matter and cannot ask a policeman, he asks the postmaster, who usually knows the right answer. As the result of years of training, these officers have learned how to deal with the public and handle their problems. They have a comprehensive knowledge of human nature. Considering the extent and variety of their duties, which include the handling of social serv:ces payments, and until recently also included the issue of petrol ration tickets, it must be acknowledged that they do an excellent job. I want the status of these men to be raised considerably. The principal citizens in any country town are usually the bank manager, the clergyman, the publican and perhaps the starting price bookmaker. The poor old postmaster usually has to live in some dilapidated house or part of a house, and discharge his duties as best he can with the aid of an inadequate staff. He renders a greater service to the community than do the other citizens that I have mentioned. There is no doubt that his rightful status in the community is as high as that of any other citizen. Australians have become mechanically minded. In previous years a telephone in the home was considered by many people to be a. luxury. To-day, however, telephones are vital to business people and the service is used extensively for social purposes, including the conveying of news between members of a family. The people of Australia have become telephone-minded. This is evident by the large number of applications that are received by the department from people in all walks of life for the installation of telephones in their homes. In the outback areas, also, telephonic facilities are widely availed of in order to obviate the travelling of great distances. In many ways the telephone is a money-saver and its value as a profit-maker to anyone in business should hot be underestimated. I am very sympathetic towards the Postal Department because of the difficulties that it has had to overcome for many years. To-day the difficulty of obtaining material to carry out installations desired by so many people is perhaps the greatest of them. It has been the object of this Government that the Postal Department should provide the best possible service to the people of this country. Doubtless the costs involved in providing the existing services together with the proposed increases of charges have been considered very carefully by the heads of the various branches of the Postal Department. The relationship of present-day rates to costs is fundamental and basic. There must be maintained a proper relationship between the charges to be paid by the public and the actual costs of installation and maintenance. The improvement of services in country districts is an important aspect of this matter. The people who are living in the cities and towns are apt to overlook the importance of rural industries to Australia. It must be remembered that two-thirds of the population of Australia reside in the cities and towns. The remaining one-third of the population, living in rural areas, is required to provide, not only sufficient food to sustain the city dwellers, but also a large exportable surplus to feed the hungry peoples of other parts of the world. It is pleasing to note that the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) has not overlooked this aspect of the matter and is doing something tangible for the man on the land. Many people in this country do not realize that telephone services are being provided here at a much cheaper rate than by private enterprise in other countries. For instance the Bell Telephone Company in the United States of America does not provide a. telephone service to its subscribers at a. price in any way comparable to that charged to Australian telephone users by a government-controlled instrumentality. I am indeed happy to be associated with the Government in this measure. The remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) contained considerable criticism and were not constructive in any way. With my background, my association with the department, and my knowledge of what is required, I am able to say with confidence that the Minister and his staff of 75,000 employees are doing the best possible in very difficult circumstances. The Government does not want to raise charges for the Postal Department’s services any more than it wants to see higher prices charged for rent, food, milk, beer, or tobacco. However, I am convinced that this bill would not have been brought down unless certain factors and considerations made that course absolutely necessary. I have pleasure in supporting the bill.
Senator CLOTHIER (“Western Australia) 1 5. 36]. - I take this opportunity to congratulate the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) on the splendid job that he has done. As I have said before in this chamber, I believe that if a man does good work he should be praised while he is alive and able to hear what is said; condolences and congratulations after he is dead avail nothing, because he knows nothing about them. I have known the Minister for many years I knew him long before he entered the Parliament. He has his heart and soul in the work that he is doing. It is interesting to note that the rate for telegrams in Australia is the cheapest in the world. In this country a telegram may be sent 3,000 miles at a cost of ls. 3d. There is nothing wrong with that! Many people send telegrams to avoid writing long letters. Then, again, the fact that the telephone service is available at all times, including Sundays, is important. That saves a lot of letter-writing and is a facility that is worth paying for. I consider that as a whole the telephone service in this country is remarkably good. Of course, it was inevitable during the war that at times it should be difficult to secure telephonic connexion to our homes in distant parts of the country. However, since the war ended, additional lines have been installed and the reception by day as well as by night is now very good. It is interesting to note the charges that have been made for ordinary letter mail over the years. In 1912 the rate was Id. for J oz. ; that was increased in 1920 to 2d.; in 1923 the rate was varied to lid. for 1 oz. ; and in 1930 the rate was 2d. for 1 oz. In 1941 an extra -Jd. was added as a war loading. I have had many dealings with the staff of the Postmaster-General’s Department in all parts of Australia and have found them most obliging and attentive. I well remember when I was sitting in opposition in this chamber. In those days I fought strenuously for the building of additional post offices and the provision of more postal receivers in various parts of Western Australia. Thanks to the assistance of Senator Collett, new post offices were constructed at Wembley and Mount Hawthorn. Nowadays, pensioners are able to go to their local post offices to collect their pensions and have not to wait outside a building in the ram. Of course some of them receive their pension cheques through the post. If, in the future, the necessity should arise for me to claim the age pension I would not hesitate to collect it at the local post office. [ consider that I am entitled to it because of the taxes that I have paid over the years. A new post office is at present being built at Inglewood. I hope that the Minister will attend the opening of the building. I assure him that I shall be there to meet him and that other members of the Parliament will be present. I look upon the Postal Department as a business. If a successful private firm increases the prices charged for goods its employees’ wages should be correspondingly raised. Honorable senators will remember that in his second-reading speech the Minister said -
In raising the rates the Postal Department will follow the time-honoured practice of a well-run business concern. It makes a fair charge for the conditions of service supplied.
That is very true. Some time ago I was at Kalgoorlie on official business. Whilst there I visited a man and his wife who were living in the “ Never “ country. They could not get a telephone, despite the fact that they had been promised one for years. That man said that he would be prepared to supply the posts for the full distance of about 90 miles if the Government would supply the wire and install a telephone. On my return, I mentioned the matter to the PostmasterGeneral, who made sure that that man received his telephone as soon as the wire was available. That is indicative of the way that the Postal Department looks after the interests of farmers and others living in rural areas. I have frequently advocated that every home should be equipped with a telephone. One reason is that those who have telephones installed are frequently called upon to run messages for those who have not telephones. Many people, like myself, are only too pleased to convey messages to neighbours in cases of sickness, and on occasions I have personally delivered telephone messages to young ladies whose friends desired that they should meet them in the town. However, by doing that work we are robbing the department. If every home were equipped with a telephone, the Government would derive a good deal more revenue.
I congratulate the Government and the Postmaster-General and his staff on the wonderful work that has been done over the years by the Postal Department. I s»trongly advocate good standards of living for people living in country areas, and in view of the wonderful service rendered to the community by the postal employees I consider that their remuneration should be adequate and that they should enjoy whatever benefits can be provided.
– The measure before the House is intituled “ A Bill for an Act to amend the Post and Telegraph Bates Act 1902-1941.” As was pointed out by Senator Murray, the ramifications and activities generally of the Postal Department exceed those of any other undertaking in this country. With the exception of the small increases that were made in 1941 because of the exigencies of war, postal and telephone charges have not been increased since 1929, notwithstand-ing the very substantial increases of the prices of goods and services generally which have occurred. It is apparent therefore, that the Government is not acting unreasonably in proposing to increase the present rate of charges. The proposed new rates represent an increase of only 16 per cent, on the 1941 rates, and will represent an increase of only 25 per cent, over the rates charged in 1929. The fact that it has been necessary to increase charges since 1941 by only 16 per cent, reflects the greatest credit on the efficiency of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and on the industry and ability of its staff. I remind the Senate that over the years the department has regularly made substantial profits, and that this is the first time for eight years, and only the second occasion in 21 years, that it has been found necessary to increase the general rates.
Another aspect of the very valuable public service rendered by the department to which I draw attention is the number of extraneous services that it provides. Those services include the payment of age and invalid pensions, payment of allotments to dependants of servicemen, payment of child endowment, the sale of excise duty stamps for beer, the sale of State duty stamps and promissory notes, the sale of taxation stamps’ and savings stamps and certificates, the receipt of subscriptions for Commonwealth loans, the receipt of moneys in repayment of advances made by the War Service Homes Division and the Repatriation Department, the transaction of business on behalf of the Commonwealth Savings Bank and a number of other functions. Although it is true, as pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper), that the necessity for the proposed increases of charges cannot be attributed to the transfer to the States of the power formerly exercised by the Australian Government to control rents and prices, it cannot be denied that the costs of the department have increased substantially in recent years. The annual expenditure of the department includes such expensive items as the pay.ment of air mail subsidies, the cost of establishing and maintaining non-official post offices in scantily-populated country areas, and the installing of telephone services for country residents in remote areas. Although the costs of installing many country telephone services are very considerable, the department cannot hope to recoup its expenditure from the use of those services because in many instances they serve only a comparative handful of people. At the same time it must never be forgotten that the provision of such facilities is a big factor in promoting settlement. Nevertheless, the department cannot include in its statement of finances any sum whatever to offset the expenditure entailed in providing those services. Comparisons have been made of the rates charged for teleph:;? services in this country with those charged in the United States of America. Even a cursory examination of the position discloses that telephone charges in this country are very much lower than those charged in the United States of America. The Western Union Telephone Company in the United States of America has increased its charges twice since 1946, and last year the company sought, to increase its charges again because of the losses it had sustained. Of course, postal and telephone authorities in all countries have had to increase their charges in recent years.
Whilst it is a most unpleasant duty for members and supporters of a Labour administration to have to propose an increase of postal’ and telephonic charges, I think that the very sound case that has been presented by the Government to justify the proposed increase should convince the people that the reasons for the proposed increases relate to matters that, are beyond our control. Whilst that knowledge may not prove very consoling to us when we have to pay 3d. more on a registered letter or an additional 2d. on a telephone call, I think that every fair-minded person will realize that the Government cannot allow the finances of the department to remain unsound and that it had no alternative but to increase charges. In order to indicate the reasonableness of the proposed increases, I mention that whereas under the new scale of charges it will cost only ls. 6d. to send a telegram from Brisbane to Perth, it costs the equivalent of 12s. to send a similar telegram from New York to San Francisco. Telegram rates in Australia are cheaper than those of the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand. That is all the more remarkable when we consider the thousands of miles of overhead wire and underground cables that have had to be erected and maintained to provide communication over such a vast area as Australia. It is remarkable that the department is able to supply and operate its services at rates which are lower even than those of the United Kingdom, which has a population of 45,000,000 people, and other countries. I remind honorable senators that the British post office recently increased its rates for registered letters, commercial papers and telephone charges, notwithstanding that it had previously increased them in 1947.
Another interesting feature of our service compared with those overseas is that Australian subscribers, wherever they may reside, pay less than the subscribers in any other country except those who reside within a five-mile radius of the metropolitan areas of New Zealand. I think that that fact alone proves that the administration and the quality of the personnel of the Postmaster-General’s Department is second to none in the world. It is not possible to assess in monetary terms the value of many of the services provided by the department. As an example of the many services provided by the department for the community which cannot pay for themselves, and are, therefore, a charge against the department, I mention that following the occurrence of a fatal snakebite accident in a remote mountain holiday resort in Tasmania some months ago, a. telephone has been installed at that place. The line, which is connected to a chalet on the mountain peak, cost probably from 10,000 to £15,000, and will serve only a single subscriber. I need hardly remind honorable senators that no private commercial undertaking would consider providing such a service. Because the Government is anxious to assist Tasmania to develop its tourist traffic, which last year earned £2,000,000, and could, incidentally, in my opinion, bc expanded to earn £10,000,000 annually, it was prepared to expend a very substantial sum to install a telephone, and to continue to bear the financial loss entailed for many years.
Sitting suspended from 6.58 to S p.m.
– I have made some comparisons of telephone charges in Australia and in other countries. I remind the Senate that in the United States of America the postal administration has budgeted for a deficit of 800,000,000 dollars this year, and is proposing to increase postal charges alone by approximately 250,000,000 dollars a year. That increase is twenty times greater than is proposed under this measure, but, of course, the population of the United States of America is twenty times greater than that of Australia. I submit that in the light of present-day conditions, the proposed increases are not unreasonable compared with charges in other countries. A telephone call from Hobart to Melbourne costs 6s. 6d. A call over a similar distance in Canada costs 12s. 6d. Therefore, in some respects, our charges compare more than favorably with those operating overseas.
In conclusion, I remind the Senate that much of the expenditure that is being incurred by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department will not earn immediate returns. We must regard it as a national investment in a national asset. The opening up of sparsely populated areas of the Commonwealth is a national responsibility which must be shared by every Commonwealth department. The Postal Department has played an important part in the development of this country, and is to be commended for its efficiency, good management and sound organization. I commend the bill to the Senate.
.: - The fact that the many customers of the Postal Department - I suppose they are almost as numerous as the customers of the Commissioner for Taxation - are not surprised at . the increased charged proposed in this measure, is poor consolation. They are not surprised because, as intelligent people, they know that, regardless of the efficiency of the permanent staff of the Postal Department, if socialism is to be applied to that great undertaking, the cost to the taxpayer must be heavy. For years honorable senators opposite have pointed to the Postal Department as a beautiful flower of socialism. They have upheld it as an efficient and prosperous socialized undertaking. But now, with the prolonged application of socialism, the flower has lost its fragrance. Certainly it has lost much of its appeal. This only goes to show that, regardless of the efficiency of the permanent administrators, if the political head who is temporarily in charge is bent on socialization, the state of affairs that we are now contemplating is inevitable. It has been truly said that there are no such people as bad troops; only bad generals. I do not subscribe to that opinion without reservation; but I do say that it is impossible to get efficiency in any organization in which human beings are collected together unless there is efficiency at the top. Honorable senators opposite have probably read, as I have, of a gentleman to whom the following description was applied: - “As gentle a soul as ever slit a throat or robbed a. coach “. I do not suggest that the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) has had anything to do with throat-slitting or coach-robbing. I do not think .that any member of this chamber is more highly regarded for his gentleness, courtesy and geniality than is the Postmaster-General; but, unfortunately, the attributes of human attraction with ( which the honorable senator is so richly endowed do not necessarily make an efficient administrator. . Therefore, I am not discussing those personal attributes; I am discussing the honorable senator’s ability as an administrator. To get a clear picture of his record, we must examine the state of postal finances before the department came under his benign but inefficient administration. In the four years from 1937-38 to 1941-42, the Postal Department made a profit of more than £20,000,000. Thus, in that period, this huge undertaking not only gave a very efficient personal service to its many hundreds of thousands of customers, but also it contributed to Consolidated Revenue an average of £5,000,000 a year - a very creditable performance. As I have indicated, even the most efficient departmental heads can be broken down by a political administrator who is bent upon inflicting on this country something which in his eyes might be most desirable, but which, in the eyes of the people who have to pay for it, can only be regarded as an unnecessary experiment. I refer, of course, to socialism. In the four years from 1942-43 to 1945-46, the profits of the Postal Department totalled £25,000,000, or an average of more than £6,000,000 a year. In 1946-47 a profit of £3,100,000 was made, but - and here we begin to reap the harvest of socialism -in 1947-48, there was a loss of £800,000, and, with socialism still at work, the current financial year is likely to end with a deficit of £2,900,000.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nash).- Order ! The Senate is not discussing socialism.
– We are discussing the Postal Department.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - But not socialism.
– I am dealing with the administration of the Postal Department.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - The honorable senator will be in order so long as he keeps to postal administration.
– I am referring to the administration of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department under a socialist government. I hope that I am making that point clear. We are told that the Government is pursuing a policy of full employment. I recall a rather unpleasant visit that I made to a detention barracks during the war. The unfortunate prisoners were certainly fully employed, but they were hardly gainfully employed, because one of their jobs was to shift a pile of bricks from one corner of the compound to another, and then back again. That went on hour after hour. It was an excellent example of full employment. It may be that the Postmaster-:General’s Department is an example of the Government’s full employment policy, and is absorbing large numbers of people who could be employed more gainfully to themselves and to their country, in private industry. In 1944- 45, the wages bill of the Postal Department was £13,143,228. The estimate for the financial year now concluding is £21,679,900. immediately before the war, the staff of the department numbered approximately 43,000. At the end of the last financial year, it was approximately 70,000, an increase of more than 50 per cent. I am not unmindful of the difficulties that the Postal Department has had to face owing to the shortage of the materials and equipment necessary to provide the services earnestly requested by so many waiting people. I do suggest, however, that the services rendered by the department now are not comparable in efficiency with those given with 50 per cent, fewer employees. The reason for this deterioration can probably be traced to the “generalissimo” of the Postal Department, that benign socialist, the Postmaster-General, who by pen and tongue has told the workers of this country - “ Work for yourselves ; produce no more than is necessary”. Oddly enough, those statements have been made simultaneously with the calls by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to workers engaged in every facet of Australian industry, to produce more goods to combat inflation and to reduce costs. The Postmaster-General’s attitude is, “ If you work more, only the ‘ bosses will profit. Do only what is sufficient for yourself, and for the day; to-morrow will look after itself “. Under such administration, what else can be expected than complete inefficiency regardless of the noble service which, throughout the years, has been rendered by the permanent heads of the postal administration? I believe that the increased costs, although not unexpected, are deplorable, and could have been avoided had the Postmaster-General, by precept, encouraged postal workers to regard themselves not merely as employees, but as workers from whom efficient service is expected at minimum cost to the taxpayer.
– I have listened with some interest to the dissertation given by Senator O’Sullivan It is unfortunate that the proceedings of the Senate are not being broadcast to-night so that the people of Australia could have heard what is in the Liberal mind. Apparently the honorable senator believes that the Postal Department should be back where it was when the Liberal party which, of course, is opposed to full employment, had control of its destinies. One of the honorable senator’s criticisms of the Postal Department was that there are too many employees and another was that the wages bill was too high. The honorable senator made an attack upon the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron). In doing so he demonstrated that he knows nothing whatsoever about the ramifications of the Postal Department. For instance, he talked about the customers of the department. That is the frame of mind in which most people approach this matter. They believe that one usually goes to a post office to purchase money orders or stamps, to send a telegram or to arrange a local, or trunk-line, telephone call. That view is not correct. I believe that the Postmaster-General should publish a brochure in order to inform the public of the complete operations of the department. For instance, during the war all blue-prints of inventions were submitted for testing by the Postal Department. I have in mind improvements in wireless telegraphy. Those inventions’ were tested by the staffs of the Postal Department in order to assist industry generally. Senator O’Sullivan resides in Brisbane. It would be bard to imagine a. less worthy monument in a capital city to past governments than the existing General Post Office in that city. Apparently, the honorable senator is opposed to the department’s programme, which includes the provision of a new general post office in Brisbane.
– I want to see a new general post office erected in Brisbane.
– Well, that will be 6ne of the purposes for which the revenue that will be derived from the increased charges now proposed will be used. When the necessary man-power and material become available that work will be undertaken. It is also patent that Senator O’sullivan is opposed to the employment of persons in the Postal Department under reasonable conditions. He is opposed to their .being paid decent wages. He criticized the introduction of the 40-hour week. He referred to the Postal Department as a socialist undertaking. If he would take the trouble to learn something about socialism he would do himself a good service. He never misses an opportunity to charge the Government with being socialistic, but if he really knew anything about socialism he would scoff at any one who said that the Government is socialistie. Who established the Postal Department?
– In Queensland, the State Government established the post office.
– Who established the Postal Department as we know ‘ it to-day? It was established as the result of the federal conventions Which were composed of delegates who could not by any stretch of the i ma. iri nation be described as socialists or Communists. The honorable senator may be a lawyer, but, obviously, he lacks political knowledge. The Postal Department may not be the “ baby “ of a Labour government, but all Labour governments have endeavoured to extend its services and to improve the lot of those who have to use certain of those services, such as the trunk-line telephone system. under adverse conditions. If adequate manpower and materials had been available, the present Government would have proceeded at a- much! faster rate with its: programme for the’ development of those services. I have no doubt that Senator O’Sullivan, like every other honorable senator, has written to the PostmasterGeneral on behalf of his constituents requesting the provision of telephones. The honorable senator persists with his line of criticism even after he has been told that sufficient equipment has not been available to enable the department to proceed with its developmental programme at a more satisfactory rate. The revenue which will be derived from the increased charges will be used to finance that programme: but the honorable senator condemns these proposals. It is all very well for the honorable senator to indulge in talk of that kind.. He knows, no doubt, that his remarks will be ifcorded in Ilansard and hopes that many people may be led to believe that he is telling the truth. The fact is that he lacks knowledge of the subject. I am not permifeted to do so now, but I shall take the. earliest opportunity to inform him just how far the Labour Government has gone along the road to socialism since it assumed office in 1941. His charge that this Government is socialistic is laughable.
Senator COOKE (Western Australia) j “1.201. - I accept the explanation of the measure which the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) gave in his secondreading speech. No doubt his remarks arc based upon the opinion given to him by the efficient permanent heads of the Postal Department whom ‘Senator O’sullivan criticized when he referred t” that department as a “ glorious example of socialism “. I remind Senator O’Sullivan that the Postal Department was established by a Government, not of the. same name, but one with the same objectives as those of the party of which he is a member. However, anti-Labour governments in the past, invariably adopted the policy of starving the department. Their treatment of it was always niggardly with the result that despite the efficiency and willingness of postal employees to render the best possible service to the community, its operations were not extended to anything like the degree they should have been. Opponents of Labour now boast that from 1937 to 1942 the Postal Department made profits amounti::g to f 20, 000,000. During that period the staffs of the department were just as effective, and just as anxious to serve the public as they are to-day, but at that time when material and labour were available in abundance and could be obtained much more cheaply than to-day no attempt was made to extend the operations of the department.
was not so in 1942.
– Just prior to 1942, when the Labour Government assumed office, the anti-Labour parties were in such a mesa that they did not know what to do in respect of not only the Postal Department, but also every other governmental activity. All of the surpluses made by the Postal Department during the period to which I have referred were paid .into Consolidated Revenue. Those profits should have been placed in a reserve fund with a view to enabling the department to meet a situation of the kind which has now arisen. Indeed, if any charge can be. levelled against the present Government in respect of its administration of the Postal Department it is that it has perpetuated that unbusinesslike method of running a department to make n profit and paying its profits into Consolidated Revenue, completely .disregarding the needs arising in respect of maintenance, replacement of equipment and the extension of services. The present Government, must take some responsibility for perpetuating that unsound system. The increased revenue which will be derived from these increases of service charges should be used to extend the department’s services and thus meet the needs of people living in outback areas. It cannot be said that up to date the Postal Department has failed to maintain its service charges at reasonable levels. Indeed, charges for such services in Australia are lower than those operating in any other country. The surpluses of the department in years gone by were due mainly to the fact that anti-Labour governments deferred undertaking maintenance and replacements; and since the present Government assumed office the necessary equipment and technicians have not. been available, mainly due to war causes. However, the Government is now taking its first practical opportunity since the cessation of hostilities to face up to this problem. When considering the position it may well be said that if up-to-date plant, belated repairs and extension of modern services are necessary, “ They will be paid for whether they are carried out or not “. That is to say, if installed, they will be paid for as physical assets - plant and modern equipment - and their installation will be accompanied by greater efficiency of service; but even if not obtained, they will be paid for in the loss of service to the public and the consequent los9 of revenue to the department resulting from inefficient service due to the use of worn out plant and the people being deprived of a modern and efficient service. Therefore, it is a sound business proposition to carry out that job properly. I trust that when the requisite revenue becomes available the Government will extend the services for which the people are urgently waiting and are willing to pay. However, the cost of equipment which cannot be obtained in this country hae increased by at least 50 per cent, and, in some instances, by 100 per cent, in comparison with costs when non-Labour governments were in office. At that time, the purchase of such equipment would have been a matter of good business.
– The honorable senator is supporting my argument that the purchasing power of money has decreased compared with its purchasing power during the period that he has mentioned.
– The increase of cost of equipment to which I refer is accounted for by the sterling exchange rate of 25 per cent., and also because we shall have to obtain some of it from the United States of America where costs are much higher than in this country. However, let us look at the Australian side of the picture. If the Government’s proposal that the Commonwealth should be given power to continue prices control on a nation-wide basis had not been rejected at the last referendum, our production costs would now be much lower. The Government made that point clear to the people, but the Opposition parties opposed that proposal. However, those parties were insincere. The reason given by the McLarty
Government of Western Australia for its action recently in increasing railway fares in that State was that costs generally had risen as the result of the steep increase in wages. The introduction of the 40-hour week was felt by every industry in Australia but its impact was most severe upon the Postal Department because its staffs are mainly technicians who are obliged to provide a 24-hour a day service, whereas industry generally was able to cushion that impact by replacing manual labour with machines. I shall revert to the insidious attack that Senator O’sullivan has made upon one of the most deserving sections of workers in this country. I remind him that during the war employees of the Postal Department voluntarily disregarded their award and worked overtime without being paid at overtime rates. They did that in order to serve their country in a time of emergency. Yet, Senator O’sullivan now says that, those employees are going slow. In recent years, the number of employees of the department has increased from 43,000 to 70,000. The honorable senator, in fairness to those men, should have acknowledged the tremendous development that has taken place in the operations of the department. The extension of telephonic and other services has imposed heavy additional duties upon them. His criticism was decidedly unfair. I know the honorable senator personally, and I believe that if he said what he really believes he would have been fair in his criticism of those employees. The argument of honorable senators opposite would give the impression that the Government must either abandon its programme for the development of the services of the Postal Department or let them retrogress, as non-Labour governments allowed the railway systems in this country to retrogress, until lack of up-to-date equipment must lead to general inefficiency. Black-outs in Sydney, of which we have heard a great deal in this chamber recently, arise from the same cause. They are duc in the main, to the same old fault of failing to order equipment at the right time and finding, when the need is urgent, that it cannot he obtained. Nobody likes increases, but it is necessary that postal charges be increased. I cannot compliment anybody upon the present situation, which has developed from the fact that Postal Department surpluses were paid into Consolidated Revenue instead of being diverted to reserves to finance deferred maintenance works. The increased charges will enable the department to provide its workers with the industrial conditions and the amenities that they deserve and are entitled to enjoy. They will also enable the department to increase the extent of its services and improve their technical standard. The increases could be justified simply by comparing postal charges in Australia with those overseas. The mere fact that overseas charges are high would not justify the raising of Australian charges to the same levels. Our policy is to give service at the lowest rate compatible with the greatest efficiency. But efficiency must not be allowed to suffer as the result of poor administration. The Postal Department is doing in excellent job. Honorable senators opposite may call it a socialistic enterprise if they wish, but, comparing it over a period with the systems that are operated in other countries by private enterprise, it is apparent that it serves the peOPle very efficiently and cheaply. I support the bill. I consider that the increased charges for which it provides are necessary.
– First, I wish to pass a few remarks about the speech that was made by Senator O’sullivan. I remind him that the Postal Department, this baby of socialism - I agree that it represents 100 per cent, socialism and I make no apology for the fact - was not brought into existence by a Labour government. In fact, it was established many years ago by a tory government of the character of the party to which he belongs. It has been conducted as a socialist enterprise by antiLabour governments for longer periods than it has been administered by Labour governments. I remind the honorable gentleman that anti-Labour parties have held the reins of government for more years since federation than has the Labour party. But, as soon as the Labour party comes into office, the honorable senator and others like him condemn the Postal
Departmeat because it is “ socialistic “. He complains about inefficiency because the department is not paying its way on the old charges. If he accuses it of being inefficient on that ground, he must lay the same charge against every industry in Australia. Industries of which former Liberal senators are directors have increased their charges considerably since the war ended. Yet because the department is now administered by a Labour Government, the honorable senator considers that it should perform some miracle and continue to operate profitably while making the same charges for its services as applied before and during the war, although costs have increased by as much as 50 per cent, since then. The honorable gentleman wanted to know what had happened to the £40,000,000 profit of the department. Surely the honorable gentleman has eyes and does not go about the country wearing black goggles ! He must remember that, before he became a member of this Parliament, scarcely a pot of paint was used on any of our post offices and many of them fell into a state of disrepair and became inefficient because the staffs did not have enough space in which to work. Nothing was ever done by anti-Labour governments to meet the needs of the department. They continually pursued a cheese-paring policy that led to disrepair and inefficiency. Now he objects because this Government has put into operation a progressive policy involving the building of new post offices and the repair and enlargement of existing offices to tide us over the period of shortages of building materials. The money required for that policy has come out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The £40,000,000 profit of which the honorable senator spoke went into that fund. In order to learn what has been done with the profits of the Postal Department, he must balance the amounts that have been paid into Consolidated Revenue by the department against the amounts that have been taken from Consolidated Revenue to be used for repairs and new buildings. If the honorable senator will apply his mathematical brain to that task, he will find that the cost of repairs to post office buildings and of new structures erected for the department greatly exceeds its total profits. No business man would allow his business to go to rack and ruin as the postal services were allowed to deteriorate before this Government came into office. Had it failed to implement its policy, we should have had no post offices and no postal staffs.
Senator O’Sullivan went on to attack the honesty and efficiency of the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron). He indirectly accused the Minister of advising postal staffs to go slow. That was a very grave charge to make against a very able administrator. The honorable gentleman does not need to go far in order to learn whether the PostmasterGeneral is an able administrator of policy or not. The Minister is more concerned about policy than anything else because he has a very efficient staff to carry out his policy directions. When Senator O’sullivan accused postal staffs of being inefficient, he was referring to men who did magnificent jobs in the Postal Department and other departments during the war. I think that the charge was a dirty, cowardly slur upon men who, during the war, often worked not for eight hours a day, but for 24 hours a day with 100 per cent, efficiency. We have had to come into the Senate to hear dirty, insulting reflections cast upon such able men! The Postmaster-General decides policy, and he has an efficient staff to carry out that policy. He is a very active Minister and does not spend all of his time sitting in an office. He moves about a great deal in order to see that his policy 13 carried out.
– Obviously ! Look what has happened.
– If the honorable senator were to wear glasses instead of black: goggles, he would see evidence of the Postmaster-General’s efficiency everywhere. After criticizing the so-called inefficiency of the Minister and his departmental heads, the honorable senator came down to the rank and file of the staff. Surely, if he mixes in varied company, he must know what a tremendous task the lower staffs of the Postal Department are doing under difficult conditions in many parts of Australia. The conditions under which they work are not the fault of this- Government. They are the fault of past governments and their cheeseparing policies. I am sure that if Senator O’Sullivan’s speech had been broadcast to employees of the Postal Department throughout Australia, there would not be much hope of his ever being re-elected to the Senate because they have a big influence ‘ amongst their friends all over the Commonwealth. When the honorable senator asks the PostmasterGeneral to provide more telephones, as every honorable senator does from time to time, does he ever think of the increased duties that will have to be performed by departmental employees? Hundreds of thousands of new telephones are wanted, and their installation will necessitate staff increases, which will mean in turn that telephone operators and technicians will have to be jammed into small offices where there is scarcely breathing space now because of the inefficiency of anti-Labour governments. Not satisfied with what the Government has done, the honorable senator attacks the integrity and honesty of the Postmaster-General.
– I rise to order, Mr. President.
– What is the point of order?
– I should like Senator Aylett to explain in what terms I attacked either the honesty or the integrity of the Postmaster-General.
– There is no point of order.
– Then I ask leave to make a personal explanation.
– The honorable senator will be able to do so when Senator Aylett has finished his speech.
- Senator O’Sullivan accused the Postmaster-General of telling his staffs that they were not required to exert themselves because their “ pay will he there anyhow “. In other words, he accused the Minister of advising Postal Department employees to go slow. By making that accusation and by claiming that the honorable gentleman was inefficient, he accused him in effect of being dishonest. No efficient Minister would allow his department just to drift along with inefficient officers aft the head of it. Senator O’Sullivan definitely accused the Postal Department of being inefficient from its heads down. In doing so, he cast a slur upon the integrity and the honesty of the Minister because he implied that the Minister knew of the so-called inefficiency and was a party to it. If Senator O’sullivan wants to make a comparison of standards of honesty, he should cast his mind back not many years to the time when an anti-Labour PostmasterGeneral resigned his post in the Cabinet because he considered that a dishonest act had been committed when the company of which he was a director sold goods to the department that he administered. The honorable senator had better check on the past of his own political party and its members before he attacks a gentleman who is doing a really good job and whose honesty and integrity are beyond reproach in any way. I shall let the matter rest for the present.
– in a bit more mud if it suits you.
– The honorable senator talks about mud. I do not like throwing mud, but if anybody throws mud at me he always gets it back with interest because I keep it waiting in cool storage. Other honorable senators on this side of the chamber also have some mud in storage. If the honorable senator wants to discuss the honesty and integrity of Ministers, he should refer to the past: before the Labour party came into power. After checking the facts, I am sure that he will not return to this chamber and attack the honesty and integrity of the present Postmaster-General.
I shall now discuss a few facts of which Senator O’Sullivan may be unaware. In the first place, there have been general wage increases throughout the Postal Department. Personally, I do not think that the increases have been adequate. There is still room for further improvement. Secondly, there has been a tremendous all-round increase of costs of everything that has to be purchased by the department. I suggest that Senator O’sullivan approach any manufacturing business and ascertain whether he can buy any of its products at pre-war prices. The greatly increased oasts of te -day affect the building ©f new post offices. A post office that might have cost .-£1,000 before the war or early in the war period would cost at least £3,000 to-day. Other costs increases have been on a comparable scale. If this Government should go to the country with the Postal Department showing a steady loss on its operations because of the lack of initiative of the Postmaster-General, Senator O’Sullivan would be in his glory. If we could carry on a business showing a deficit and call on the taxpayers to meet that deficit from Consolidated Revenue, he would have something to complain about. But, because this Government adopts precis’ly the same policy as private enterprise in running a business, it is wrong! Can the honorable senator state where he could get a telephonist to work to-day for the same rate of wages as was paid ten or twelve years ago? Does he consider that the heads of departments and the staff are not entitled to rises just as are other members of the community? Surely they are entitled to increased remuneration. The resultant increased costs are not due to inefficiency in any shape or form. I contend that the Postal Department is one of the most efficiently run businesses in Australia. During the past few years it has had to overcome many difficulties. Senator O’Sullivan did not cite one private company or private enterprise that is running more efficiently or giving a greater volume of service to the public than is the Postal Department. It is therefore obvious that the honorable senator complained without thought or reason and that his charges are baseless. Neither this nor any other government can obtain efficiency’ in the Postal Department without paying for it. Would the Government be justified in asking somebody to work in an administrative or any other capacity in the Postal Department for £300. £400 or £500 a year less than he could earn in private enterprise? Unless this aspect of the matter is borne in mind it is impossible to arrive at a. decision about whether the department is paying or not. The Postal Department could implement a bit more socialism by establishing subsidiary branches to manufacture more of its own equipment, if sufficient labour were available. In that way it would he possible to cut down />- some items of expenditure. I point out that the Postal Department must pay the prices that private enterprise asks for its commodities. Many items of equipment are being obtained from overseas, where there are inflated standards. That makes the cost considerably higher than if t hose countries were on the same economic level as Australia. Although the honorable senator harped about socialism, I claim that we could do better if we had a little more socialism in the Postal Department thu n there is at present. Socialism is bound mp with that department. I point out that the Postal Department is not the only concern that is run successfully by the. Government under a system of socialism, and that the Austraiian Government is r-nt the only government eli: t is implementing a policy of 100 per cent, socialism in some of its governmental a if airs. If the honorable senator wants to check on socialism, I advise him to check on his own colleagues in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, where anti-Labour governments are carrying out a policy which is just as much 100 per cent, socialism in other concerns such
S3 railways, tramways and waterways.
– And electricity.
– They are doing precisely what -this Government i3 doing in the Postal Department under its socialist policy. Socialism is not falling down in the Postmaster-General’s department. It is, however, falling down in other places. If Senator O’Sullivan refers to yesterday’s press he will see that it, ib falling down in the Sydney County Council. Through inefficiency that body Iran not the means to generate sufficient power to -meet requirements, with the result that there ave frequent power black-outs in Sydney. That is a socialist industry which could not be run by private enterprise. Likewise the Postal Department must be run by the Government. If the honorable senator is not satisfied with the way that the Government is running the department, perhaps he would like to see Communists running if. The. honorable senator claims to know a lot about Communists. If the Postal Department were for sale it is within the hounds of possibility that a Communist organization would purchase it. The Communists would then have the key strings of every concern in Australia, and would have access to Senator O’Sullivan’s private business. He would not then be able to butt in and change the policy because the concern would belong to private enterprise. The Postal Department must be run either by the Government or by private enterprise. Tory governments, whether known as the United Australia party, the Liberal party, or the All for Australia party, ran the Postal Department and never made any attempt to sell it because they realized that the only body that could run it was the Australian Government. This Government is running it very efficiently. I compliment not only the PostmasterGeneral himself but also the heads of his department on the most efficient way that they are facing up to the tremendous jobs of bringing the department up to date, which should have been done .before ihe Australian Labour party was elected to office.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. The honorable senator’s statement that I assailed the personal integrity of the Minister 4s entirely without foundation. My remarks were confined to his record as an administrator.
– I rise to order. The honorable senator cannot make another speech. He must ask leave of the Senate to make a statement, and unless that leave is granted, he cannot, do so.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nash).- Order! Standing Order 410 provides -
A Senator who has spoken to’ a Question- may again be heard, to explain himself in regard to some material part of his speech which has been misquoted or misunderstood, but shall not introduce any new matter, or interrupt any Senator in possession of the Chair, and no debatable matter shall be brought forward or debate arise upon such explanation.
The President: of the Senate told the honorable senator that at the conclusion of Senator Aylett’s remarks he would be allowed to make a personal explanation. The standing order permits that to be done, and I rule accordingly.
– I have been grossly misrepresented by Senator Aylett. The statement that I assailed the personal integrity of the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) is entirely without foundation.. My remarks were confined exclusively to his record as an administrator. I am sure that the Minister and every other honorable senator who heard my remarks, clearly understands that. After my intervention Senator Aylett explained that what he said was his interpretation of what I had said. However, even the idle and irresponsible vaporings of Senator Aylett are recorded in Hansard and it is for that reason that I make this personal explanation.
– I accept the honorable senator’s apology.
– I did not ii apologize
– I regret that the debate has become heated, because I believe in the Chinese philosophy that a person who throws mud loses ground.
– Senator Aylett should take note of that philosophy.
– That may be applied on both sides. I want to correct statements that were made by Senator O’Sullivan. He certainly did charge the Postmaster-General with inefficiency. I do not think he is justified in making that charge. By charging the PostmasterGeneral with inefficiency he also charged the Postal Department with inefficiency. I do not agree with that either. Senator O’Sullivan did not state any facts or figures but merely threw out the challenge or charge.
– I cited the profits and losses.
– I shall furnish the Senate with figures.
– I hope that they will be accurate.
– I always endeavour to cite accurate figures. The honorable senator was disturbed about the proposed increases of rates and charges for postal services. I draw his attention to the fact that this will be the first increase for some considerable time, and represents only a 16 per cent, increase over the last eight years. I challenge Senator Osullivan to cite any private enterprise in this country that has been subjected to the 40-hour week, increased wages, and other costs, which is charging no more than an extra 16 per cent, for its goods than it did eight years ago. When the honorable senator makes charges of inefficiency he should be in a position to prove them.
– I will prove them.
– The people of Australia have a full appreciation of the wonderful job that was done by the Postal Department during the war. I know something about its administration because I was connected with it in the early days of the war. The department played an important part in connexion with communications. No matter how gallant were our troops they would have been helpless without communications, which, to a great degree, were provided by the Postal Department. That department provided the armed services with all types of technicians during the war, and the people of Australia are greatly indebted to the Postal Department for the services that were rendered at that time. Although Senator O’Sullivan criticized the alleged inefficiency of the Postal Department, I point out that for the last 25 years the people of Queensland have been agitating for the erection of a new general post office in Brisbane. Senator Cooper has made representations in this chamber and the representatives of Queensland electorates have raised the matter frequently in the House of Representatives. Before the war, when hundreds of thousands of people were unemployed and desperately seeking work, and building materials were available in abundance, our political opponents, who were then in power, made no attempt to construct premises for the Postal Department. A very good example of the utter indifference of our political opponents to the requirements of that department, and to the needs of the public which the department serves, was the attitude that successive administrations adopted towards the repeated representations for improved postal and telephonic facilities at- Brisbane. I suppose that at some time or other every Queensland member of the Parliament lifts made representation in the matter, but it was not until Labour attained office in 1941, when I became Postmaster-General, that anything was done to improve the facilities and to afford relief to the unfortunate personnel who were employed in that office. I remind honorable senators that at the time, I was confronted by all the difficulties associated with the prosecution of the war.
The Leader of the Opposition complained that the profits which have been made by the department over the years have been paid into Consolidated Revenue, but I point out to him that there is nothing new in that practice, which was always followed by non-Labour administrations. In reply to the honorable senator’s contention that if the department had been allowed to retain the profits that it had earned over the years, it would by now have accumulated a reserve of approximately £30,000,000, I point out that that amount would not be sufficient even to defray the cost of the current three years’ works programme, which is estimated to cost £43,000,000. Senator O’Sullivan alleged that the PostmasterGeneral was incompetent, but I cannot believe that he made the allegation seriously. I have had occasion to communicate with the Postmaster-General on the interstate telephone system on countless occasions during the last few years, and I know of no member of the Government who has attended to his ministerial and departmental duties more conscientiously than has the Minister. I have been able to contact him at his office at all hours because he is invariably at his post. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the officers of the Public Service generally, without whose very able assistance Ministers could not discharge their functions, and I particularly commend the officials of the Postal Department, who are conspicuous for their loyalty and ability. It is sufficient to point out that no business, governmental or private, in this country is run more efficiently than is the Postal Department, and I challenge the Opposition to mention any business in Australia, which has been subjected to similar increases of expenditure, which has not increased its charges by more than 16 per cent., which is the percentage of increase now proposed in that depart ment’s charges. I wholeheartedly support the measure, which I recommend to honorable senators.
– I do not propose to say a great deal on the measure because I believe that the second-reading speech delivered by the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) will convince any reasonable person that the Government has no alternative but to increase the charges for postal and telephone services. I particularly commend to the Senate that portion of the Minister’s speech in which he said -
Although it is a national enterprise, the Postal Department is a business undertaking and, as such, it must pay its way. If this course were not followed, the people who use the various services provided by the department would gain at the expense of the ordinary taxpayer, and this benefit would increase according to the demands made upon the departmental facilities by individual users.
I think that that passage states the position very clearly. Throughout Australia the costs which have to he borne by all business undertakings, including government instrumentalities, have increased considerably, and charges have had to he increased accordingly, te enable those undertakings to’ remain solvent. An example of what occurs if costs are not increased is supplied by the State-owned railways of Western Australia, whose charges have recently been increased, with the result that the undertaking is virtually insolvent. Some time ago, the Government of Western Australia was warned that £15,000,000 would have, to be expended in order to rehabilitate the system. Increased costs arc the cause of the difficuties which now beset not only government instrumentalities, but also private concerns. For some time, State governments have been attempting hy various means to reduce the gap between the earnings and the ever-increasing expenditure of their undertakings, and not very long ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) had occasion to impress upon State Premiers that they must increase the charges made to the public by their undertakings to meet the increased costs of those undertakings.
The method by which it is proposed to increase the revenue of the Postal Department must commend itself to all fairminded members of the community, because it is clear that the burden of the increased charges will be so distributed that it will fall as lightly as possible on the shoulders of the working section of the community. For instance, the postage rate for ordinary mail will not be increased. In my opinion, the proposed increase of charges will not be sufficient to make up all the leeway between expenditure and revenue, and that it will probably be necessary for the treasury to subsidize the department to enable it to balance its budget. A lot of unfair criticism ha= been levelled at the department and at the Postmaster-General by the Opposition, but T do not propose to reply in any detail to the criticisms made of the Postmaster-General, because they are so unfounded that they did not have any effect upon mc than the pouring of water on a duck’s back. The plain fact is that the primary reason for the very substantial expenditure which the department is now compelled to incur is the policy of false economy that was pursued by the anti-Labour parties when they they were in office. One consequence of were in office. One consequence of that policy is that some of the public buildings of the department, and the accommodation available for its staff, are a disgrace to Australia, and no government of whatever political colour, could permit that situation to continue. Furthermore, in consequence of the niggardliness of anti-Labour administrations, the Postal Department does not now have the advantage of occupying exclusively those buildings that have been constructed in recent years. As an example, most of the office space in the fine General Post Office that was constructed in Perth is being utilized to provide accommodation for the staffs of other departments, and the employees of the Postal Department have to work under conditions that are far from ideal. I mention particularly the extreme discomfort suffered by the telegraph operators, whose difficulties have, been aggravated by the recent introduction of electricity rationing in Perth, with the result they have to work in semidarkness for considerable periods. I have some idea of the discomfort which they suffer, because I myself have experienced considerable discomfort in the office which I myself occupy in the building alongside during the lighting restriction periods.
Senator O’Sullivan and I are both members of the Public Works Committee and we have had occasion during the last twelve months to inquire into a number of works proposals for the Postal Department, which is doing its utmost to provide further and better telephone facilities for the community. Because of the advantage which the committee has had of interviewing a. large number of the professional, administrative and technical officers of that department, I think Senator O’Sullivan will agree with me that the community is extremely fortunate in having the services of such able, progressive and loyal servants. I also had the good fortune, whetn I was a of the Parliamentary Broadcasting Committee to come into regular contact with members of the wireless branch of that department, and, in common with every one else who has had dealings with them, I was impressed by the advanced scientific and technical knowledge which they possessed. Instead of complaining that members of the department are not pulling their weight, their critics should be grateful that the country is so well served. I believe it is only fair that I should make these observations. The Postal Department has been described as a socialist enterprise, but it is not different from Statecontrolled railways, timber mills, shipping services or water supply authorities. Such instrumentalities are conducted by governments throughout the Commonwealth. In fact, anti-Labour administrations in this country have, in quite recent times converted certain private enterprises to State ownership. One need not go further than South Australia for an example of that. The PostmasterGeneral’s Department has before it an enormous programme of expansion to meet the requirements of the Australian people. The population of this country is growing. Many Postal Department undertakings are included in the projects that are referred from time to time to the Public Works Committee. When the committee examines the estimated cost of such works, it depends upon the advice of expert departmental officers. Those officers assist the committee to the best of their ability. The practice usually is to allow 15 per cent. on top of estimated cost, to cover contingencies, hoping that thatwill be sufficient, but whether it will be or not, remains to be seen became building costs are increasing constantly. We should endeavour to be fair when analysing the finances of a public instrumentality such as the Postal Department. We must not lose sight of the need to give good service to the people of this country. I am confident that Australian citizens generally are preparedto pay reasonable charges for postal and telephonic services. They wouldobject, of course, to exorbitant fees. If it canbe shown to me that the proposed increases are exorbitant and unjustified, I shall join forces with members of the Opposition in this measure. The argument advanced by the Opposition is that because the Postal Department made profits in the past, there is no need to increase charges now. That argument will not bear analysis. We are passing through difficult times. I shall not, at this stage, dual with the causes of some of these difficulties, although I have my own ideas about the reason for increasing costs in Australia, particularly within the last six or eight months. I commend the bill.
– in reply - In my second-reading speech, I gave full information to the. Senate about the proposed increased charges. At the conclusion of that speech, I submitted three alternative courses that the Government could adopt. They were -
I naturally expected that any criticism of this measure would be constructive, but unfortunately that has not been so. Opposition senators merely voiced complaints about the proposed charges, and most of the complaints were based on mere assumption. In a chamber such as this, in which representatives of the people are gathered, one is entitled to expect something more than mere complaints. What alternative does the Opposition suggest to the course proposed in this measure? None has been suggested. Obviously the Postal Department cannot continue to function economically with charges at their present level. Expenditure cannot be reduced. I submit, therefore, that there can be no valid opposition to the imposition of increased charges to enable the department to function on a sound economic basis. I remind the Senate that the increased costs represent only an additional 16 per cent.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) referred to losses. In the true sense of the word there have been no losses at all. On the contrary, there have been gains by those individuals who have deliberately loaded their charges to the Postal Department. The department has no alternative but to increase its charges in turn. The. Leader of the Opposition complained about the proposal to eliminate the special night-rate telephone charge. The elimination of the nightrate charge and the substitution of the intermediate rate will spread the traffic more evenly, reduce the volume of late night calls, and bring Australian practice into general conformity with that of other countries. Furthermore, a majority of country telephone exchanges throughout the Commonwealth are not open after 8 p.m., and their subscribers are debarred from sharing the benefits of the cheap night-rate trunk-line calls unless they are prepared to pay a fee for the opening of the offices. This has caused considerable complaint in the past, and has stimulated the request for the provision for continuous services. The department intends to provide those services.
Many points of criticism raised by the Opposition have already been dealt with by Government speakers in this debate. However, the Leader of the Opposition claimed that the defeat of the rents and prices referendum had not increased postal costs. I say emphatically that it has. Immediately the Government’s referendum proposals were rejected, prices were increased without the slightest justification, not only to the Postal Department, but also to every one else. Included in those increased prices are increased charges which should never have been incurred, but the people who have increased their prices are a law unto themselves. It is all nonsense to say that the defeat of the referendum did not increase costs to the Postal Department. The “No” vote not only affected the Postal Department as a department, but also it affected every man and woman employed in it.
Senator Cooper referred also to the finances of the Postmaster-General’s Department in bygone years. I remind him that ever since the 1930’s the department has been the victim of depression budgets. Governments have deliberately made it impossible for postal officials to render the service that they are capable of rendering. As the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) has pointed out, in the years before the war, while hundreds of thousands of Australians were unemployed, and millions of pounds of material were awaiting use, the Postal Department was denied increased funds, with the result that it was unable to keep its services up to date. “Anti-Labour governments tried to reduce expenditure by the department to a minimum, rather than to increase it as it could have increased it without inflicting the slightest hardship on the taxpayers.
The Leader of the Opposition made an unsupported and very general allegation of inefficiency in postal services. The Government fully recognizes the fact that the volume of work of the Postal Department is so great that services are not yet entirely satisfactory. But let us be realists. How could such a state of affairs have been avoided in view of the fact that the department diverted so many of its staff and so much of its equipment, including reserves, to war purposes?
Approximately 7,000 of the working personnel of the department and 800 of its key men went into war services. Can any one honestly say that the Government and officers of the Postal Department have not taken every possible step since the war to restore and expand services? The Government has voted millions of pounds for a works programme. Huge orders have been placed for materials, and staff has been recruited and trained as rapidly as possible. There is no short road to overcoming the effects of the war years on the Postal Department any more than on other establishments, private and public, which diverted so much of their organization to war purposes. Hard work and energy are necessary to restore and expand postal services, and the vast amount of work that has been done since the end of the war is adequate testimony to the vigour and enthusiasm with which the department has approached its task. The Postal Department has been criticized for not providing services of a pre-war standard. Critics should examine closely what has been done. It is all on record and can be examined without any difficulty by any one who is sufficiently interested to do something more than adopt a purely negative attitude. The department is not idle. It is doing everything possible to expand its services and to improve their efficiency. Let us see what has been done since 1947: 75,000 miles of trunk-line channels have been laid; 24,990 channel miles of telegraph lines have been provided ; millions of feet of underground cable have been laid ; 170 new buildings have been erected, whilst 129 buildings are under construction ; 360 buildings have been, or are in course of being, renovated; nearly 200 sites have been acquired for post office purposes, and nearly 400 sites are in course of being acquired ; the net annual increase of telephones has doubled since before the war; the number of rural automatic exchanges is now 172 compared “with 93 before the war, and 650 rural automatic exchanges have been ordered and will be installed progressively.
– That information was not made available to us previously. The latest figures we could obtain were those published in the PostmasterGeneral’s report for the year 1946-47.
– The Leader of the Opposition has no necessity to rely on out-of-date reports. All he needs to do, as he usually does in a very gentlemanly manner, is to ask for any information that he ‘requires and it will be supplied to him. If he had had sufficient interest in what the Postal Department is doing it would have been a simple matter for him to draft a question, and it would have been answered at the earliest opportunity.
– The report of the Postmaster-General for 1946-47 was the latest report that I could obtain.
– But the Leader of the Opposition can, at any time, obtain from me information that is right up to date. The department keeps a progressive record of its activities practically from day to day, and I am able almost at a moment’s notice to supply any information which any honorable senator may seek. I recommend the honorable senator in future, if he has any doubt About a matter, or if he requires additional information, to address a question to me, andI am certain that the officers of the department will be pleased to give all the information that he may require. The Leader of the Opposition referred to interest payments by the Postal Depart- ment. The department pays interest only on loans which it has obtained from the Treasury. The honorable senator also made several comparisons. I shall make a few. For instance, the charge for telegrams, after the proposed increase is made, will be1s. 6d. for a telegram of fourteen words compared with1s. 9d. in the United Kingdom,1s.8d. in New Zealand,1s. 6d. in South Africa, 12s. from New York to San Francisco, a distance of approximately 3,000 miles, and 9s. from New York to Texas, a distance of approximately 2,000 miles. In the United States of America, the Western Union Company has increased its rates substantially on two occasions since the beginning of 1946; and it is now seeking approval of a further increase to meet its recent deficits. Following is a comparison of telephone charges after allowing for the proposed increases of the Australian rate: -
A bill is now before the American Congress to raise postal charges to produce an additional revenue of 250,000,000 dollars. On a population basis that is equivalent to an increase of £A. 3,750,000, whereas the department’s proposals for adjusted postal rates will yield an additional revenue of only £510,000. In the United States of America telegraph charges have been substantially increased on two occasions since the beginning of 1946, and a further increase is being sought. The existing charges in that country are far above the Australian rates. Telephone charges have been substantially increased there in recent years. In addition, a government tax of 10 per cent. applies to rentals and local call charges, whilst a 20 per cent. tax applies to all trunk-line calls when the rate exceeds 20 cents. In Canada, as in the United States of America, telephone charges have been substantially increased in recent years. In addition, in that country a government tax of 15 per cent. applies to all trunk-line calls for which the charge exceeds 20 cents. From those figures it will be seen that the proposed increased rates in Australia compare more than favorably with those operating in other countries.
Senator O’Sullivan also said that the staff of the Postal Department is inefficient. On the contrary, the figures prove beyond all doubt that the staff is much more efficient than similar staffs in other countries, even where better equipment is being operated. Certainly, post offices in the United States of America are more up to date than many of those, that I have seen in Australia. When the honorable senator says that the staff of the department is inefficient I have a right to expect him to substantiate that charge. However, he made his charges merely in generalizations unsupported by any evidence whatsoever. If he were to submit a case in that manner in a local court he would soon be ruled out. When he says that the department is lacking in efficiency he has an obligation to produce evidence to support that charge. The mere statement that the department is inefficient is a gratuitous insult to employees who have grown up in the department and given lifelong service in it. It would be no wonder if discontent existed in the service when there is so m uc1! loose thinking and talking about the inefficiency of employees of the department. When he makes a charge of that kind, I am surprised to hear him claim that he represents thousands of the intelligentsia. Hp. also said that a searching inquiry should be made into the operations of the department, and that a similar inquiry should be conducted in respect of my own administration. Personally, I have no objection to an inquiry into my administration because most of r ,11 c people who have made inquiries of me Iia ve generally gone away satisfied. However, I stand by the article which I wrote dealing with increased production. In passing, I express my appreciation of the fact that the honorable senator thought the article worth reading, and I express similar appreciation to certain members of the House of Representatives who have acted in a voluntary capacity as my publicity agents. I believe that my critics, having read that article, should now be better informed about the imperfect structure of our economic society. In that article I said -
If increased production is the means of making the wealthy wealthier it does not help the workers in the slightest. That is beyond all doubt. But if increased production means thu raisin” of the standard of living, improving tile conditions of employment, production is really worth while.
Senator Katz pointed out that steel workers in the United States of America, ae the result of increasing their production, were now unemployed. When f said that increased production in those circumstances could be used as a> weapon against the workers, I was perfectly correct. On the other hand, if theincreased production of steel, or of any other commodity, is used in the direction. I have indicated it will be well worth while. But what has happened in theUnited States of America? At present,, nearly 5,000,000 workers in that country have been reduced to the level of thedole; and the possibilities are that that number will be increased in. the near future. The cause, fundamentally, of such a position is that those men have produced commodities more rapidly and in greaterabundance than they can be sold on. profitable markets. Because they did: that, actuated by the best of motives and by giving the best that was in them, they are now out on the street, unemployed. Increased production in those circumstances is a weapon that can be used! against the workers.
– But production has not been increased in this country.
– Prior to therecent war the workers in this country increased production, and the result wasthat hundreds of thousands of them wereobliged to work in return for the dole. At a time when millions of bushels of wheat were stacked in all parts of thecountry, being eaten by weevils, workersin this country were hungry for bread. Factories were stacked high with boots and clothing that workers and their families could not afford to buy. The Government of the day, lacking the initiative, the knowledge and the capacity to re-organize its internal economy, had to wait until a war occurred before that state of affairs could be rectified. When a man is dispensable under the capitalist system, he is reduced to the dole. When he is indispensable, as in times of war, he can be fed. clothed and housed and his dependants can be oared for. That is what happened. Hundreds of thousands of men in this country, with its practically unlimited resources, overflowing with wheat, leather, clothing and everything else needed for human comfort, starved in the midst of the plenty. But when the war came in 1939, the capitalists soon found the money that they needed. Everything was made available because they were in danger. Where men had once been semi-starved because they were dispensable, it was found possible to provide them with what could not be provided before, because they had become indispensable. Therefore, when honorable senators opposite speak of increased production, I ask them to keep in mind that the workers who increase production are entitled to their share of the increase. One ofthe causes of the troubles in the coal-mines to-day is that miners were almost starving in the days when there were mountains of coal outside the workshops and inthe railway yards. Of course, gentlemen of the legal profession, like Senator O’Sullivan, do not earn a living in the same way as do ordinary working men. As a matter of fact, the members of the legal profession do not do anything in the nature of essential production. All that they do is capitalize the ignorance and credulity of people who do not know any better, and they are overpaid for that.I could say a great deal more about this matter, but I thought that I should say to Senator O’Sullivan in particular that, when he mentions socialism and other “ isms “, he should always keep in mind that many people, possibly a majority of people, including members of the legal profession more than anybody else I should imagine, are either prisoners of phrases or slaves of shibboleths.In other words, they live all their lives in mentalstrait-jackets and they imagine that by repeating this “ ism “ or that “ ism “ they are saying something that is informative or interesting. In fact, they are simply repeating old phrases that are practically meaningless. I suggest in all goodwill that the honorable senator should go into these matters by a process of inductive reasoning rather than wholly deductive reasoning. If he does so, he will do a great deal more good than he is doing now on behalf of the people that he is privileged to represent - I almost said misrepresent. Reference has been made to high costs, and I think that it would be pertinent to direct attention to the fact that costs should be divided into two categories. First, there is the economic cost of production, which is measured in terms of gold as a unit of value for international purposes, in terms of commodities, or in terms of labour time.
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
– I suggest that the Minister be granted an extension of time.
– There can be no extension of time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In committee :
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 (First Schedule).
– The schedule provides only for increased postal and telegraph charges. Will the Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) state whether telephone charge increases will be dealt with by regulation or by some other method?
– Telephone charges will be increased by means of a regulation.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) agreed to-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of the IntenorR. H. Brockman.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Ordinances-
No. 2 - Licensing.
No. 3 - Medical Benefits and Hospitals.
No. 6 - Stamp.
No. 8 - Licensing (No. 2).
No.9 - Licensing (No. 3). 1949 - No. 3 - Matrimonial Causes.
Repatriation Department - Summary of
Recommendations made by Special Advisory Committee on Medical Services, 19th November, 1946.
Senate adjourned at 9.53 pm.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 16 June 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1949/19490616_senate_18_202/>.