23rd Parliament · 1st Session
The Senate met at 3 p.m.
The Acting Clerk. - I have received advice that the President (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) is unable to attend the sittings of the Senate to-day. In accordance with Standing Order No. 29, the Chairman of Committees will take the chair as Deputy President.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid) thereupon took the chair, and read prayers.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation, without notice. Can he inform the Senate what action is being taken to maintain the Nhill aerodrome as an emergency landing ground? Can he give an undertaking that service’s will be maintained in order to permit the landing of aircraft of types up to and including the DC3?
– Within the last few clays, I have seen a file in connexion with this matter. The Nhill aerodrome is one of the landing grounds which will be taken over by local authorities - in this case, I think, by the Lowan Shire. The date of transfer will be quite soon; I am not sure of the exact date, but it will be within the next few weeks. The Department of Civil Aviation will maintain the landing ground up to the date of transfer. I understand that after the transfer is effected, the local authority intends to reduce the size of the overall area and to maintain landing strips only. This will be done by the authority, and the strips will be maintained to DC3 standard.
– Has the attention of the Minister for National Development been directed to a press report of a statement made yesterday by Mr. Keith Funston, president of the New York Stock Exchange? The statement was made at a civic reception in Sydney, and it was to the effect that Australia is growing faster than the United States of America. Mr. Funston is also reported to have stated -
You have resources you haven’t even looked at yet.
Will the Minister comment on both those subjects? Will some effort be made by the Minister to discuss in a comprehensive way the two points that were made at this reception, particularly what Mr. Funston intended to convey by his reference to resources that we have not yet even looked at?
– The question covers a wide field. I did see the press statement, and I read it with some little interest. I did have some brief discussion upon it, because this question of our rate of progress by contrast with America continually arises. I find that there is truth in the statement. I ascertained, for instance, that in the ten-year period ended 1958, the population increase in the United States of America was 15.8 per cent. and, in the same period, the population of Australia increased by 21.7 per cent. Therefore, our rate of growth is substantially greater at the present time than is America’s. At the same time, we should not push that comparison too far because our population is still only approximately 6 per cent. of the American figure. I also saw some rather interesting figures showing the extent of total investment in Australia and in America. Total investment is . always a good indicator of rate of growth and rate of development. Those figures showed that though we were re-investing about 26 per cent. of our gross national product, the comparative figure for America was only about17½ per cent. Opinions on the extent of our untapped resources vary, of course, greatly, but few Australians would dispute the thesis that we have a very long way to go in developing those resources, which range from land use to minerals, and untapped water reserves - let alone the potential of our manufacturing industry.
– Can the Minister for Shipping and Transport say whether the Senate select committee that is inquiring into road safety has indicated whether it intends to visit Tasmania to take evidence? If not, will he approach the chairman of the committee, Senator Anderson, and urge him to arrange a visit of the committee 10 tasmania, as the question of road safety is of particular importance to the State?
– I shall be pleased to direct the attention of the chairman of the committee to the question asked by Senator Marriott.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. In the light of the answer given me by the Minister on Wednesday, 16th September, 19o9, that the Pubi.c service Board had signified on 14th July that it agreed to a penalty of 25 per cent, for Saturday work performed by postal workers other than shift workers and that the matter had been placed in the hands of the Public Service Arbitrator, will the Minister give the reason for the delay of two months on the part of the Arbitrator in making the agreement effective?
– I have some information on this matter and I can answer the question, at least in part. I commence the answer by reminding tha Senate that this arrangement does not apply only to the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union. It applies to a considerable number of other unions in the Public Service - I am told, some 25 unions in all. In the result, the negotiations were conducted through the High Council of Public Service Organizations. Agreement was reached with the High Council in about the third week in August, and it had to go from the High Council for court determination. The delay, if it is delay - it may not be appropriate to call it delay - or the fact that finality has not been reached, is due to the complexity of the variations of awards covering so many unions.
– Will the Minister for Shipping and Transport say who is responsible for the excellent and informative display concerning T.S.M.V. “ Princess of Tasmania “ now on show in King’s Hall? Will he make representations to the appropriate authority to have this display placed in the basement galleries when it is removed from King’s Hall?
– The model on display is the property of the builders, the State Dockyard, Newcastle, who consented to the display of the model in King’s Hall for a period, lt is proposed that it shall remain there for some weeks and that it shall be there during the meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Subsequently, it will be returned to the owners, who require it for their own museum of models.
– I direct to the Leader of the Government in the Senate questions which I preface by stating that I noticed a press statement to the effect that the Government has approved a scheme tor the advancing of money to Northern Territory pastoralists to help them locate and equip water points on their pastoral leases. How much money is to be involved in this scheme? What interest will the pastoral lease-holders pay? Over what period will the loans be made?
– I am sorry to say that, although I recollect very well Mr. Hasluck’s bringing that proposal before the Government and the Government’s approving it, I do not have the details of it in my mind. It is contemplated as a service ancillary to the improvement of stock routes and water supplies that is constantly proceeding in the Northern Territory. As I do not remember the details, I cannot reply specifically to the questions, and I suggest that it would be as well to put them on notice so that I may get Mr. Hasluck to reply.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has received the following information from the Minister for Immigration: -
There was reference in the press recently to the fact that persons over seventeen years of age are not now asked to produce the consent of their parents with applications for passports. It may be mentioned that this fact does not mean that young people over seventeen are for the first time able to leave Australia without the consent of their parents. A passport is not by law a prerequisite to departure from Australia. For example, Australians can proceed to New Zealand without first securing passports.
It is true, however, that passports are in practice required for travel to most overseas countries; and for many years it has been the practice, when a person has applied for passport facilities for a child, to seek evidence that both parents have consented to the child’s departure. This affords protection of the rights of parents to custody of or access to children, particularly when there has been a marital dispute and separation or divorce. Until recently this practice was followed in respect of “ children “ under 21 years of age.
Last year the law relating to the emigration of children was revised. The Emigration Act 1910 had made certain provisions relating to this matter and had defined children as meaning girls under eighteen years and boys under sixteen years. In repealing this act, and substituting more uptodate provisions, the Migration Act defined “ child “ (whether boy or girl) as meaning a person under seventeen years of age. The act provides in effect, that when the custody of a child is the subject of a court order or of pending proceedings, a person taking the child out of Australia without the consent of the person awarded custody or instituting the proceedings is guilty of an offence. This legislation was prepared in consultation with the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council and with the State authorities who are primarily responsible for matters relating to child welfare.
It was considered that passport practice should conform to this legislation enacted by Parliament, and passport officers have accordingly been instructed that when persons seek passport facilities for children under seventeen, evidence of consent of both parents should be sought unless il is clear that one parent has been awarded sole custody of the child and no other party has a right of access.
Passport officers still have instructions, as they have had in the past, to look carefully at applications for passports by young people over seventeen years of age who are apparently to travel overseas without their parents, and whose welfare abroad is not apparently assured. The Minister for Immigration retains, and would where necessary exercise, a discretionary power to refuse passport facilities to minors who might become stranded abroad and require Government assistance to return to Australia.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade has now informed me as follows: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The Minister tor Trade has now informed me as follows: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice -
In view of the fact that Australian tourists can now freely visit - Russia, what arrangements exist for Russian citizens to visit Australia freely?
– The Minister for Immigration has replied as follows: -
The Government has approved of visits to Australia during the past few years by various groups of Russian citizens, such as trade union delegations, ballet dancers, Olympic games athletes and officials, concert artists and so on. There have been no requests by Russian citizens to come to Australia as tourists in the ordinary sense, and it has therefore not been necessary or indeed possible to consider special arrangements for such visits. If requests should be received it may be accepted that the policy to be adopted will at once be considered in the light of all the circumstances.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– I have received the following replies from the Minister for Primary Industry: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has now furnished the following replies: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied the following answers: - 1 and 3. The development of the Australian export trade in chilled beef is receiving full consideration by the Government and the Australian Meat Board, which is a semi-government authority responsible for marketing our meat overseas to the best advantage. Other industry organizations have also been concerning themselves with this matter and altogether the main aspects are being covered in one form or another. For a CO 1siderable time the Department of Primary Industry and the Australian Meat Board have been advocating the production of high quality lightweight cattle which is basic to a sound export trade in chilled beef.
At present a sub-committee of the Australian Agricultural Council is examining transport problems associated with the beef industry which present a major difficulty to the production of quality cattle in the beef export areas in Northern Australia. A standing committee of the Australian Meat Board is currently giving consideration *o ways and means of organizing a co-ordinated move by all sections of the industry to stimulate chilled beef exports. The approach envisaged would involve producer organizations, transport authorities, processor and shipping organizations.
There is also in existence a Chilled Beef Planning Committee on which exporters, shipowners and the Australian Meat Board are represented. The committee meets at regular intervals with the object of doing everything possible to facilitate the development of the chilled beef trade. These interests are also represented on a special committee which has been giving consideration to ways and means of speeding up the turn round of meat ships. Queensland ports, from which the bulk of export beef is shipped, were given special attention by the committee. There are a number of factors which indicate that the Australian beef export industry is reaching the stage where the volume of chilled beef exports can be stepped up considerably. First, the cattle industry has made considerable progress in recent years and is now turning off a big proportion of high quality cattle as required by the United Kingdom market. Secondly, most of the major export meatworks are equipped to handle chilled beef efficiently; and thirdly, the recent introduction of four ships specially designed to provide a chilled beef service is a most important development. The quantity of chilled beef shipped from Australia during the year ended 30th June, 1959, was 5,963 tons compared with 6,507 tons in 1957-58. This was somewhat disappointing but was due largely to the emphasis placed by exporters on the American market for lower quality beef.
A most encouraging feature is the reports that have been received on our recent chilled beef shipments. These have been held by the trade in the United Kingdom as being a credit to the Australian export industry and a demonstration of Australia’s ability to deliver chilled beef on the United Kingdom market second to none. The primary factor which should be recognized is that the long term welfare of the Australian meat export industry will depend on its ability to command satisfactory prices in overseas markets in competition with other supplying countries. This in turn envisages a quality product.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too frequently that improvement in the quality of our export meat should be the keynote of the planning of everyone concerned with meat production and marketing activities.
– I lay on the table the following paper -
Tariff Board Act - Annual Report of the Tariff Board, for year 1958-59, together with summary of recommendations.
This report is accompanied by an annexure which summarizes the recommendations made by the board and shows the action taken in respect of each of them. It is not proposed to print the annexure.
– I move -
That the paper be printed.
I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Spooner) agreed to-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Monday next at 11 a.m.
Debate resumed from 22nd September (vide page 695), on motion by Senator Sir Walter Cooper -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I want to deal a little further with the use of airmail services in country areas. It will be found that the greater majority of the people in Western Australia will not benefit from the abolition of the airmail surcharge, but they will pay an increased amount for first-class mail. On the other hand, the removal of the airmail surcharge will greatly benefit the people in the north-west of Western Australia. In that way, in country areas first-class mail will subsidize the carriage of mail by air. This contradicts the Minister’s statement when introducing this bill to the effect that the basis of the increase of bulk postage charges and postage on books and other publications is that those classes of mail should not be subsidized by first-class mail. The Minister’s statement is contradictory of the Treasurer’s (Mr. Harold Holt) statement on this matter in his Budget speech.
I took particular note of Senator Spooner’s assertion that there was no dissension between the Country Party and the Liberal Party in this matter. I doubt the accuracy of his assertion, in view of the reports that appeared in the press concerning the origin of the pressure which compelled the Government to review on two occasions the proposed increases. Should we believe that on this occasion the Government surrendered to press publicity, or accept as accurate the press reports to the effect that the Country Party put pressure on the Government to modify its proposals? But the upshot of the matter is that members of the Country Party will have some difficulty in explaining to their supporters in country areas why they agreed to a 25 per cent, increase of postage on ordinary mail when those people will gain very little benefit from the abolition of the airmail surcharge. Of course, the abolition of the airmail surcharge on interstate mail will be of benefit to the people of Western Australia, but I remind the Senate that, as a result of the degree of Western Australia’s isolation from the eastern parts of Australia, that State has tended to become selfcontained. As a result, there is less correspondence between the eastern and western States than there is between the eastern capitals. The bulk of the airmail travelling between east and west, and vice versa, is sent by commercial interests with branches in Western Australia. They will be subsidized by the country people, who must pay 25 per cent- more for first-class ordinary mail. That will be another sticky one for Australian Country Party members to answer when they- go around their constituencies.
We have been told that the original cheap bulk postage rate was designed to increase the literacy of the Australian population, which was then considered to be generally illiterate. That is an amazing statement for a government to make. Surely people who were not literate would be unable to read the papers that were subsidized. The excuse that people are now more literate than they were in 1901 when the Commonwealth took over the postal facilities, does not justify the Government’s proposals. Indeed, as literacy increases so too does the demand for information. The Government cannot shelter behind that excuse.
Even more important is the growth of the Australian population. I invite the attention of the Senate to the fact that, since 1945, we have brought 750,000 migrants to Australia from non-English speaking countries. To the extent that they do not understand the Australian way of life and Australian conditions, one can say they are illiterate. Does the Government intend to try to keep them in that state?
During the same period, we have brought into Australia some 677,000 British migrants. In that they have come to a new country, and to unfamiliar conditions, it may be said that they, too, are illiterate. We are constantly being told of the need for decentralization of population. Are we to send our migrants into the back country and, at the same time, deprive them of the opportunity to learn the Australian way of life? Many of them’ are children, who have not completed their studies. They require technical and scientific books to help them further their education, but the proposed charges will have the effect of denying them that type of literature. Therefore, it is not correct to say that the provision for bulk postage rates and the concession on books have outlived their usefulness.
It has also been said that the financial condition of the Postal Department is a further reason for imposing higher charges. We have been told that the wages bill has risen some £22,000,000 as a result of basic wage increases. I do not know whether that figure takes into account the recent rise of 15s., which was a direct result of the Government’s policy of inflation. Those who have received that £22,000,000 have not improved their standard of living at all.
As every honorable senator knows, the basic wage is largely fixed on the cost of living, although since 1934 it has also been based on the ability of industry to pay. 1 repeat that the underlying factor is the cost of living as disclosed by the C series index. Under the system of quarterly adjustments of the basic wage, the workers used to be three months behind cost of living increases. Now they are twelve months behind because the court has decided that it will adjust wages on application every twelve months. The fact that an expenditure of £22,000,000 by the Postal Department has not improved the living standards of its workers is attributable solely to, and is the direct result of, the Government’s policy of inflation. I am not opposed to properlycontrolled inflation, for I believe that it offers many advantages, but when inflation goes haywire, as it has done over the past decade, with no attempt being made to control it, the burden must fall heavily on the people in the lower income brackets. The Budget will do nothing to improve their condition. The extra charges will be loaded into the costs of the various companies or trading concerns and passed on to the public. Whenever this happens inflation gains momentum. As the price of the commodity increases so too does sales tax, not to mention the rate of profit. The extra costs are not absorbed by the companies. The added burden has to be borne by the people, and there is a further agitation for a just share of the national income. We may expect, perhaps early next year, a demand for an increased basic wage to check the deterioration of the workers’ standard of living - and so the inflationary spiral will continue.
We have been told that the proposed postal charges are necessary if the department is to keep up with the 50 per cent, increase which has occurred. This, too, is a direct result of the Government’s inflationary policy. The Government now wants to unload on to the people the burden of its mismanagement during the past decade. We believe that the additional sums that are required by the Government to carry on postal services should be raised by means of direct taxation. Perhaps not the least that can be said about direct taxation is that it is not inflationary. If the additional money were raised in that way, all the people would contribute towards the upkeep of Post Office operations. After all, the Post Office is a public utility that is at the disposal ot everybody who wants to use its services. In to-day’s society there are very few people who do not have some use for the services that the Postal Department provides.
One of the amazing things about the Budget is that the Post Office is to be divided into branches covering the various operations. The Government says that each branch must pay its way, but I think we have to consider postal operations as a whole. We should not divide them into sections and say, “ That one is paying its way, but this one is not. We shall have to increase charges made by the section that is not paying its way, but we shall not reduce the charges made by the section that is paying its way.” According to the Budget speech, the telephone branch of the Post Office has been showing a profit; nevertheless, telephone charges are to be increased. In addition, the carriage of first-class mail matter is to be made to pay its way. There was an attempt to make bulk postage also pay its way, but as I have said earlier, there was a retreat from that position. I often wonder whether these great public utilities which provide services that are used by the whole population of Australia, should be expected to pay their way. Surely the people as a whole should support a utility that operates for their benefit. It should not be left to a particular section of the community to support practically the whole of the operations of such a utility.
I think that the policy of the Government in respect of postal charges covered by the recent Budget proposals, is very illconsidered. That is proved by the fact that the Government has had to change its policy in this respect on two occasions. If press reports are correct, other sections of the Budget proposals also will be altered as they come before this chamber. The Government has shown a lack of responsibility to the people of Australia in introducing a Budget of the kind that we saw recently. I do not wish to intrude on matters that may come before the Senate at a later time, but it seems to me that the proposals to increase postal charges are a glaring example of the bad approach that the Government has made to the finances of the country.
I conclude, Sir, by urging the Government to give further consideration to the proposed increase of charges for the transmission by post of publications that are published by various organizations within the community purely for the purpose of supplying information, and not from a profit motive. The organizations .concerned should be given the opportunity to continue to disseminate information. If they were, there could not be very much growling on our side if the trashy books and magazines that are either imported or published in this country were subject to a heavier postal rate. There should perhaps be some difference between the postage rates that apply to such publications and to those that are designed to convey information, or for educational purposes. It is true, of course, that many technical and scientific publications that are produced overseas are subject to higher charges than those published in Australia. It is natural that books of technical and scientific value should be published close to the places of research, where the material is prepared. If the Government persists in its policy, we may find that Australians will be shut off from many such publications.
– I support this very short bill which seeks to adjust postal charges. The secondreading speech of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) foreshadowed a number of changes of very great consequence to be effected by regulation. One should examine Post Office accounts in general, and I propose to address to the Senate some remarks of an historic nature because I feel that the Post Office balance-sheet is something that we should look at first when we are considering whether the proposed charges are justified. I am greatly indebted to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts for its twelfth report, which was issued five or six years ago. As you know, Sir, we have had on that committee some very able senators. I refer particularly to a former senator, Senator Condon Byrne, to the late Senator Harrie Seward, and to the present Minister for Shipping and Transport (Senator Paltridge).
They gave distinguished service and were, I think, partly instrumental in having this report made. It should be remembered that this was possibly the first report on the administration of the Post Office that had been presented to the Parliament for 40 years.
Epitomizing the report, I should say that the committee was appalled by thebookkeeping system then in existence in the Postmaster-General’s Department. The committee made some very important recommendations. I have followed the effect of these recommendations through the successive reports of the AuditorGeneral, and I should like at this stage torefer to the report of the Auditor-General for the year 1955-56. He referred to the twelfth report of the Public Accounts Committee, and at page 87 he referred to the recommendation that he should undertake an audit of the department’s commercial accounts. He directed attention to the fact that he had not been able to undertake that audit, as the method of procedure wassubject to discussion between his office, the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Treasury. Among the bones of contention were the valuation of assets, provision for depreciation, and interest charges on capital advanced to the department. In the report for the following year, the Auditor-General again referred to the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee, saying that the discussions were still proceeding. In the report for the year 1957-58, he stated -
Reference was made in previous accounts to the audit of the commercial accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department. Although the accounts are subject to audit, several matters of principle and policy have to be resolved before the financial statements can be certified by me.
We can see that, year after year, there seems to be a stalemate in the method of book-keeping and auditing in this tremendously important department of State which is possibly the biggest business in Australia. I now refer to the AuditorGeneral’s report that was received just before the Budget debate commenced. At page 92, the Auditor-General stated -
In my previous report it was mentioned th:tt several matters of principle and policy had to be resolved before the financial statements relating to the commercial accounts of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department could be certified by me. Although the accounts are under audit, finality on outstanding matters has not yet been achieved.
I think that it is my duty to invite the attention of the Minister to the fact that I for one disapprove entirely of this delay, and deplore the inability to get a formula for the presentation and audit of the commercial accounts of this department. I take some encouragement from the fact that the Treasurer referred in the Budget speech to the fact that the Government had recently decided to appoint a committee of competent outside people to study and report upon the basis on which the commercial accounts of the Post Office should be prepared. Although I welcome the invitation to commercial people to assist the Government, I direct attention to the fact that it has taken an inordinately long time for even this conclusion to be reached. We have not yet heard of the constitution of this committee of outside experts. The Treasurer went on to say -
When we have the advice of that committee we shall review the whole question of Post Office finances, and we hope then to be able to determine in precise terms what constitutes the capital of the Post Office, regarded as a business undertaking, and what annual return upon it the Post Office should reasonably be required to seek.
So when one comes to debate the proposed increases, it is like trying to fight with one’s arms behind one’s back, because there are not before Parliament accounts properly presented on a commercial basis to which we, as ordinary people who have occasion from time to time to examine the balance sheets of companies, can apply our minds. One reads, of course, most comprehensive statistics of the Post Office, but the very point upon which the Public Accounts Committee put its finger five years or so ago has not yet been resolved. I offer as a suggestion that the proposed increases could well have been deferred until this commercial committee had looked into the matter. I think that that is a logical suggestion to make.
One of the most interesting things in the last report of the Auditor-General is the reference to concession rates for members of the armed forces. I give this just as an illustration of the hit-and-miss methods that appear to have been adopted by the department in the past. As a member of the forces during the Second World War, I was very grateful for the concessional postal and telegraph rates that were available. There were also concessional tele phone rates. Prior to 1st July, 1958, the loss of revenue due to concessions was borne by the Postal Department. These were concessions given to members of the Army, Navy and Air Force. In accordance with a government decision that, as a general principle, Commonwealth depart, ments should reimburse the Post Office for all work performed by it on their behalf, revenue lost by these concessional charges in 1958-59 amounting to £288,500 was recovered from the service departments for the first time. So the handful of men on service in the three service departments of the Commonwealth were receiving a postal concession of well over a quarter of a million pounds annually, which was not being borne, as it was intended to be borne, by their employers, but was being borne by the Postal Department itself. Possibly that one item would not have been overlooked for so long if proper commercial accounts had been presented.
So I submit to the Senate that it is tremendously important that proper commercial accounts are before Parliament when we are considering increased charges for the services performed by the Post Office. I am sure that there is not one of us on this side who does not expect such a great trading organization as the Post Office to pay its way. I do not think that one employee of the Post Office would want it to be a spoon-fed department, but until we have proper commercial accounts and are satisfied that there are no leakages such as this amount of £288,500, that the AuditorGeneral apparently just picked up by chance, we cannot arrive at a fair and proper basis on which to assess the charges proposed by the bill and foreshadowed for amendment by regulation.
My next point relates to a matter about which I have thought for a long while, namely, whether other government departments that use the services of the Post Office are paying adequately for those services. About three weeks ago, I directed a question on this matter to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. I asked for particulars of the Commonwealth and State departments and instrumentalities that used for their functioning the buildings and employees of the Postal Department. It is well known to us, especially those of us who have lived for many years in the country, that a large part of the time of postal officials working on post office counters is devoted to services for other departments. In the country, age pension day, repatriation pension day, and child endowment day are occasions when a vast concourse of adults, children and perambulators is within the four walls of the post office for the purpose of doing business other than postal business. In areas where no branch of the Commonwealth Bank is established, the post office has a very important function in conducting Commonwealth Savings Bank business. At about the time for preparation of income tax returns, the post office distributes the required forms. As my friend, Senator Branson, reminds me, each day there are requests for electoral papers at post offices in most of the larger provincial towns and cities. One could go on enumerating the services performed by the Postal Department. I can assure the Senate that the volume of those services is such that they are quite extensive. The Financial and Statistical Bulletin issued by the Post Office contains lists showing the volume of work done for government departments. It discloses that during last year £52,000.000 was received by the Post Office as deposits for the Commonwealth Bank. The amount paid out by way of withdrawals on behalf of the Commonwealth Bank was £28.000.000. Customs duty collected amounted to £1,000.000. Beer duty stamps to the value of £2.400,000 were issued by the Post Office. State duty stamps and promissory notes worth £4,000,000 were issued. Again, almost weekly, the Post Office sells tax stamps to employers who hand them to employees, together with their pay. to be affixed to the proper taxation documents. The value of tax stamps sold by the Post Office last year was £21,000.000. Receipts accepted on behalf of the War Service Homes Commission totalled £9,000,000. War pensions paid out amounted to £46.000,000. Age, invalid and widows’ pensions paid out amounted to £48,000,000, and the amount of child endowment paid out by the Post Office was £29,000,000.
It can be seen, therefore, that hundreds of millions of pounds is paid out by the Post Office on behalf of the Commonwealth Government. I was interested to ascertain whether an adequate return was being earned by the Post Office for all this work which it does on behalf of other depart ments. I asked what the position was last year, and what it is to-day. The answer given to me was that from all government departments the Post Office earned £941,000 five years ago, and that last year this amount had increased to only £1,150,000. That encouraged me to examine the extent to which the business done had increased in that time. It would appear that in 1953-54 the general expense of running the Post Office was £77,000.000- whereas to-day it is £100,000,000. In other words, the cost of running the Post Office has increased by just under 50 per cent., whereas the reimbursement received by it from various government departments has increased by well under 20 per cent.
One very large department that avails itself of the services of the Post Office is the Department of Social Services. In 1953-54, the cost of salaries for running this department was £2,600,000, whereas to-day it is £4,200,000. The increase in the cost of running this department has been 61 per cent. Again, there are now about 4,000,000 taxpayers in Australia. It is possible that well over 2,000,000 of them would be serviced by the Post Office in the sale of tax stamps, and perhaps nearly all of them would be serviced by the Post Office in the distribution of income tax return forms. The cost of running the office of the Commissioner of Taxation has increased by 23 per cent., yet the increase in earnings of the Post Office from these various departments has been well under 20 per cent.
Each year, one reads in the annual report of the Commonwealth Bank that savings bank deposits are booming. That is all to the good because we seek to encourage savings; but once again the recoupment to the Post Office for the service it renders is very small. A great deal of time is spent by officers of the Postal Department in carrying out activities on behalf of outside departments. As I see it, the Postal Department employee carries out most of his postal work fairly automatically, especially in the selling of stamps and so on at the counter, but the work he performs for other departments is often quite laborious. I have watched them taking deposits for the Commonwealth Savings Bank. There are a number of entries to be made when accepting and banking a deposit, just as there is a good deal of work to be done in procuring money for the payment of withdrawals. I feel that the earnings of the Post Office from this great volume of work which it does for other departments have not been increased in the way in which they should have been.
Let me remind the Senate of some of the increases that have taken place in postal charges over the years. About ten years ago, the fee for registering a letter was 3d. or 6d. To-day it is ls. 3d. Under the proposal before us, it will be 2s. No doubt the argument supporting the increase will be that the handling of a registered article takes up much of the employee’s time. I say that the work done for other departments must also take up a good deal of time, and just as an increase in the registration fee is justified so also is a similar increase in the fee charged for work done on behalf of other departments justified. I know that it will be argued that a certain rate of commission is payable by other departments to the Post Office, but I point out that the Minister told me in his reply that there had been no variations of these commission rates since 1954. The Government departments have been getting along very nicely under the old rates, whereas the customer has suffered increases in commissions payable. For instance, under the proposal before us, the commission charged on a money order is going to be increased from ls. to ls. 3d. for the first £5 - an increase of 25 per cent - and from 6d. to 9d. for each additional £5. We charge the customers a higher commission but government departments have paid the same rate of commission since 1954.
According to the report of the Public Accounts Committee, some of those departmental rates of commission were fixed as long ago as 1941. Certainly there has been no material change in them for a long time, and I suggest to the Minister that this is one matter that calls for attention. If government departments paid a fair rate +o the Post Office for the services rendered by it, it is possible that there would be less need now to increase postal rates to the public. This matter warrants close investigation.
In the time left to me, I should like to commend to honorable senators certain excellent features of the bill. It is a good, sound and imaginative move to reduce the airmail rate from 7d. to 5d. That will make for much better communication between capital cities and provincial towns and cities, lt will be of great benefit to country people in particular to be able to receive their letters earlier. One very important feature is the fact that people living in country areas as well as those living in close proximity to metropolitan areas are to be allowed to have telephonic conversation between zones for an unlimited time upon payment of the unit fee. As I said earlier, I have lived in the country for nearly 30 years. I know that one of the things that has been holding back communications in the country districts has been the frequent necessity for people living only a few miles apart who want to converse on the telephone to have an exchange opened to put through a trunk line call, with all the recordings (and additional payments that are involved, and with the three-minute limit applying. Now that is to be swept away and there is to be a unit fee for calls of unlimited duration between adjoining zones in the country. The practical effect of this could well be that people living in country areas within 20. 30 or even 40 miles of their main towns will be able to telephone people in the towns for a unit call fee. With the vast increase of rural automatic exchanges in outlying areas and of general automatic exchanges in the larger provincial cities, the country dweller will have a real city and suburban service at his disposal. 1 think the Government is to be highly commended for that.
However, 1 feel that some matters arising from the bill require a little discussion. One of these matters is the effect of having fewer categories of trunk line telephone charges. This could work well in some cases, but it could work ill in others. The principle of having fewer categories of charges is, generally speaking, a good one, and I hope that the additional charges that people in some of the country areas up to 300 or 400 miles from a city will have to bear will be offset by the greater ease and speed with which they will be able to contact people living in the next zone.
I would not be human if I did not complain at the raising from 3id. to 5d. of the fee for sending a second-class article such as a receipt or a Christmas card where the envelope is not sealed. I think it is regrettable that the 3id. rate is not to be retained for many commercial documents such as receipts, and other documents such as notices of cricket club meetings, cards which notify a person of an engagement and so on.
– And Christmas cards.
– And Christmas cards, to which my friend Senator Kendall directs my attention. I feel that a mistake has been made there. I draw attention again to the matter of smaller parcels. For delivery at a place within 30 miles of the point of posting, a parcel weighing 1 lb. could, under the old rate, be sent for ls. Now the charge is to be 2s. For delivery within the State at a place beyond 30 miles from the point of posting, a parcel weighing 1 lb. could be sent for ls. 6d., but now the charge is to be 2s. 6d. To be perfectly fair to the Government, 1 will say that the minimum weight has been raised to two pounds, but, because so many parcels weigh 1 lb. or less, I think it would have been fair and reasonable to retain the lower minimum.
I believe that the Government has gone into this matter with great honesty, but, I think, also with a little hurry. It would have been better if this commercial committee had been called together even two years ago. First of all, of course, it was logical to see whether the Auditor-General, the Treasury and the department could work out an adequate commercial system. When, however, after two or three years it was found that they were not getting anywhere, or that the department and the Treasury could not agree with the AuditorGeneral, I think it would have been appropriate to call together this commercial committee. I believe that some of the increased charges could well result in considerably less revenue for the Government. However, I am glad that this matter was so frankly and fully explained to the. Senate by the Minister. The Government is apparently taking charge of the situation and is about to appoint this committee. T regret that the report of the committee h not available to the Senate at the present time. If it were, we could have spoken with more certainty in our remarks about the proposed increases. However, it has given me great interest to look up a few facts about the Post Office and I indicate that I will support the bill.
.- We are all familiar with the statement that it is the duty of an Opposition to oppose. The task of an Opposition becomes a lot easier when it is faced with a bill such as this, which proposes considerable increases in the charges for services available to the public, without providing us with the necessary information on which we can decide whether those increases are justified. I cannot help contrasting the obvious fact, which Senator Laught has just mentioned, that all this has been done in a hurry, with the leisurely way in which the Government has given consideration over the last couple of years to the requests of postal employees for increases in their inadequate salaries.
It seems to me that an Opposition would be bound to oppose a measure such as this, in respect of which there has been, first of all, a statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that in deciding on the things contained in the measure the Government worked in the dark, and secondly, a confession from the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) that the Government does not really know whether what it is doing is justified, and that, after having taken action, it proposes to appoint a committee to decide whether it is doing the right thing.
I have not seen many Budgets, but it appears to me that there are some most remarkable features of the present Budget. This Government has been in office for ten years. During that time it has not had to fight a major war or to deal with a depression., It has had booming revenues. It has had plenty of time in which to sit down and plan. After ten years, the Government got round to having a look at this great public utility and it said, “We have got to do something about the Post Office, so we will do something in the dark, and, after we have done it, we will appoint a committee to see whether we have done the right thing.” To my way of thinking, that is a most remarkable way in which to present a bill. To my way of thinking the only thing that any opposition could do would be to oppose that most peculiar way of doing business.
Of course, that kind of action by the Government does not apply only to this measure. We were told by the Treasurer that he is going to make certain alterations in the system of pharmaceutical benefits-
Just as in the case of the Post Office, postBudget discussions are to take place to see how those alterations will work out. I am a stranger to the intricacies of preparing Budgets, but it would seem to me that the normal procedure would be to appoint a committee first so as to be sure of the premises on which you are making your decisions. It would seem to me to be a normal thing to find out what will be the effect of the actions that you intend to take. The normal thing with pharmaceutical benefits would be to put the proposition to the chemists and to see how it would work out. But the Government seems to be doing all these things in reverse; it acts first and gets the information afterwards. We have often heard the opinion expressed that this is a business-like government which believes in doing things in the right way and in tackling our problems by the right method. It is, therefore, amazing to find the Government introducing a measure and then telling us that it does not yet know the facts and is not quite sure what the result will be.
I hoped that we would have more information. I hoped that we would have details to show what would be the result of these proposals. The measure obviously will be passed and the public will be forced to accept these imposts, although the public, like the Parliament and the Prime Minister, is still in the dark. I oppose this measure, first, because we have not been given proper information - and the Government admits that that is true. I oppose it, secondly, because it represents a tax on communications and on the exchange of knowledge, and I think a government should always be careful about interfering with the methods by which information and knowledge are transmitted. Thirdly, I oppose the measure because 1 feel that it will be a strong force in producing greater inflation. The businesses which will face many of these imposts will react by passing them on to the customers. They will not pay the increased telephone charges or the increased postal’ charges;, they will pass them all on to the. customers. Therefore, we will have once again a bout of that inflation which has been present in this country over the past ten or twelve years.
I want particularly to complain about the effects of this’ measure om the small newspapers and the small publications - the country press, the religious press and the new Australian press, which has not been mentioned. Complaints have come in recent years from both sides of the Parliament about the tendency for the organs that convey information to the community to get into a few hands. We are told that the trend is more and more towards a press monopoly. The ordinary, simple little country newspaper is at least an influence against monopoly. It is an organ through which sometimes an independent opinion is expressed. The religious press performs a valuable task in our community by putting the Christian point of view on many great public issues. The press established by new Australians is also doing valuable work in helping these people to be assimilated and to feel happier in the unusual conditions that they meet in a new country. I ask honorable senators to appreciate the value of the new Australian press to the migrant. He may be sent to an area where he has few associates who can speak his language or talk to him in his own way. He relies upon obtaining a newspaper printed in his language so that he can read something of what is happening amongst his compatriots and obtain information that would be to his benefit.
When the Government, acting in the dark, decided to place these imposts upon what might be described as the smaller organs of information, it acted very wrongfully. I am pleased that the Government thought better of it once, and then thought better of it twice, but I am still unhappy at the imposts that have been placed on the smaller newspapers, which, in my belief, play a very important part because they express an independent view, different from the view expressed in the monopoly press. To many people, they represent something that isof real value.
I also regret, the effect that these impostswill have upon the printing and publishing: industry and upon employment in this, industry. The Government should realize that the: Australian printing and publishing, industry is passing through a very serious, crisis at this. time. First, there was the impact of television. Most people are: aware of what television has done to thepicture theatres, but television has not onlyhad its effect on those who. patronize the- picture theatres; it has also had a big effect upon what was previously a fairly considerable reading public. Australia had a fairly flourishing trade engaged: in publishing light literature, and that fairly flourishing publishing trade had been assisted by the restrictions that had been imposed on the import of American publications. Almost at the one time, the printing and publishing trade was hit in two ways. The Government first lifted the restrictions on the import of publications from dollar areas, and the result is already being felt in the publishing trade. Because of the prospect of paper-backs coming in from America, one big firm in Sydney has informed the printing industry union there that twenty operators will be out of work in the very near future. [ am also advised that firms that were publishing an Australian style of comic paper have gone out of business because they have learned that such huge quantities of comic papers are coming in from America at very low prices that it is useless for them to attempt to compete. The lifting of import restrictions has dealt a serious blow at our Australian printing and publishing trade, and that blow has been made heavier by the fact that television has caused a big diminution in the number of people who spent an evening reading some form of light literature.
In addition to the impact of television and the lifting of import restrictions, these imposts have been placed on the posting of small newspapers and publications. I invite the Government to think of what that will mean to the printing and publishing industry and to employment in the industry. 1 regret that the Government did not take into consideration what was happening in the industry when it determined to deal the industry this third very serious blow, and I hope that it will do something about it. When import restrictions were lifted in Great Britain, restrictions were left on any American publication that could be landed at a price less than 3s. 6d. Such publications had to be sold for 7s. 6d. or more, and Great Britain safeguarded its printing and publishing industry. I regret that Australia seems to have no interest in the preservation of this industry and of employment in it. I realize that the Government retreated to some extent from its original intentions, which would almost have wiped out many publications, but I regret the action that it took because it hurt the industry at a time when the industry could not deal with the grievous threat that faced it. 1 also want to say, as 1 said before, that any imposts which place a tax or a further burden on the dissemination of information, news or opinions in the community are always undesirable. We in Australia, of course, are a community different in many ways from communities elsewhere. Many of our people live in the outback; they live far from cities, in spite of our. centralized communities in the big centres. But those who live far from the cities and towns rely to a big extent upon the postage of these newspapers and publications, and I think it is regrettable that they should have been harmed in this way by this Government, which contains a considerable section of members who claim at any rate that they represent the interests of the country people.
In regard to the telephone service, I think that in view of the profits that were being made from it the Government would have been very well advised to leave it as it was. I do not see at all why that particular section that is making a profit should be forced to increase its charges. If it is logical that you should do that, then there is a logical argument why the Post Office as a whole should not be treated as a separate body. I regret what has been done in regard to the increase in the amount charged on telephones. In the case of business firms, the increase will be passed on to the people who will pay in the form of increased prices of the things they have to buy. I still cannot understand why it is necessary to increase these charges when already the telephone service is providing us with a profit. I can only say that I regret it. I do not support the suggestion that has been made by some people that one way of dealing with the position would be to limit all calls to three minutes’ duration only through the use of automatic devices. I am strongly opposed to limiting all calls to three minutes. That would take away from Australian women one of their few remaining privileges.
– They could get an extension.
– As Senator Scott interjects, they could get an extension, but at additional cost. That would increase the cost once again. I want to say also that for a government that claims it has held down the lid on inflation, the proposals contained in the bill suggest, on the contrary, that the Government is going to add a good deal to inflation. I will not dwell on that subject, because I have already referred to it-
I cannot understand why the Government feels that it has to run the postal service at a considerable profit and at the same time it should take the action it proposes in regard to airmail. I do not know that there is any great demand in the community that the forms of mail that are now going to be additionally carried by air should be so carried. I do not know of any honorable senator here to whom representations have been made by any business firm or private individuals that this should be done. Senator Scott claims that he was approached. I hope we are not to place the discredit for this particular measure on his shoulders.
– I will take it.
– But I will say this in regard to airmail: There must have been somebody who had considerable influence with the Government to induce it to place this form of mail in future in the hands of the airlines. We can all realize one thing that is going to happen. The States, which already have considerable railway deficits, will lose further when this additional mail is carried by air. We also realize that this proposal will help the airlines. We in this chamber and the Government have done quite a good deal for the airlines over the last two or three years, and I fail to see any reason why, without any public demand at all, we should have the Post Office, which says it is necessary to increase its charges, suddenly turning round and saying, “ We are going to raise another £1,500,000 by carrying mail by air which previously was not so carried, and which nobody seems to want to be carried by air.”
All these things are very nice. It is no doubt very good to be able to say that in the future we are going to carry a lot of the mail by air. But there are many things that the ordinary householder would like to do but does not because he cannot afford to do them. I cannot for the life of me see why the Government, which says that it cannot afford all sorts of things and must increase postal rates, should suddenly turn round and say that it is prepared to fritter money away by putting ordinary forms of mail in the luxury class. Why has the Government decided to remove the surcharge from airmail if the Post Office is in such a bad way? There is a contradiction there. As I say, it appears that somebody from the airlines must have tremendous influence with the Government. Instead of saying that it is going to improve the accounts of the Postal Department, it turns round and gives money away by carrying ordinary mail by air when nobody appears to make a request that it should be so carried.
A good deal has been said about the attitude of the Government to the proposition that the Post Office should pay interest on the capital used by it. I do not know why the Post Office should be singled out in that respect. There are quite a lot of services run by the Commonwealth which are not treated in the same manner. Honorable senators can readily think of other services that are not treated in that way. One could understand that view if the Government proposed to make that a general rule, but apparently it has not so decided. We have not received any explanation why the Post Office should be singled out for something which is not going to be done in respect of similar instrumentalities.
I am sorry that this particular impost is going to have very serious effects on the journals that are published by a number of trade unions. Many of those journals are extremely valuable. In the case of unions that are under sound control, such journals do very good work in combating the propaganda of the Communist Party and in combating the propaganda of those people who believe in industrial destruction. I am sorry that in the case of some particularly powerful and good unions we have been told already that they contemplate the possibility that they cannot produce their journals any longer and send them to their members. I regret to say that journals under Communist control will not be cut out. The Communists will find some way to keep their papers going and get them to their members It is all the more regrettable in the case of journals that do good in the community that this particular action has been taken.
The last thing I want to say in regard to the committee which is going to be appointed by the Government to inquire into the whole question of the finances of the Post Office is this: On behalf of the Government, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said in his Budget speech -
The Government has been cagey as to who is going to be on this committee, and the type of committee that it is going to be. I express the hope that it will not be just a committee of accountants, of people who are experts in finance. I hope that there will be some representation of the public interest on the committee. I hope that we shall not merely have a number of accountants who will look at figures in a book and make demands accordingly. I hope that the public interest will be represented. The employees of the Postal Department have “been paid some outstanding compliments on both sides of this chamber. I have no doubt that they would willingly sacrifice them in return for higher salaries, but I hope .that they will at least be represented on this committee, which will obviously determine the financial organization of the department, and will produce a report that will probably have a great deal of influence upon ‘the determination of salaries in the years to come. The federal secretary of the Postal Workers Union, Mr. McGrane, would make an excellent member. He would offer a point of view which would be very valuable to the committee, and would aid its deliberations.
I regret to say that the Government has not done all that it might have done in the direction of providing all sections of .the communuity with representation on a number of important bodies that it .has appointed in recent years. Perhaps I may illustrate my case for the representation of the postal workers by ex;pressing regret that a trade union representative was not appointed to the recently constituted authorities for the control of the various sections of the Commonwealth Bank. In 1929, Mr. Maurice Duffy did valuable work on the Commonwealth iBank Board, and when an inquiry into banking ‘was conducted, Mr. Chifley was appointed by a non-Labour government and did most valuable work, lt has been said that a union representative was asked to accept an appointment to one of the banking boards but declined it. He may have had good reasons for doing so, but I venture to suggest that a number of other trade unionists would have made excellent members. I understand that the attitude of the Government was expressed by one Minister who said that people were appointed to these bodies because of their general good qualities, not because of the interests that -they represented. I ‘have nothing to say against the people appointed to ‘the bank boards, but they would be less than human if they were not influenced by the circles in which they moved, and by their vocation in life. It is, therefore, all <the more important to have the views of the other side when such committees meet.
Even at this late stage I express the hope that the Government will appoint to the committee which is to inquire into the Postal Department a representative of the employees, whose interests are to be affected by whatever report is made. Similarly, I hope .that the trade -union organizations of this country will be represented on the taxation committee, which will affect .the .future of so many ordinary people in .the community. The trade union point of view ought to be put, and trade union representation would add to the value of all such deliberations.
.- This ‘is a bill to amend the Post and Telegraph -Rates Act 1902-1956 by adjusting certain postal, telephonic and telegraphic charges. What we call the Post Office is an amazing institution. It conducts the largest business in Australia; indeed, there is nothing else like it. Emporiums such as Myers in Melbourne and David Jones in Sydney, and companies such as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and Mount Isa Mines .Limited, are all great institutions. There are many other giant business concerns, but they all seem as midgets when viewed -against this great institution, and its turnover. The Postal Department employs 86,000 people, and provides its services through 10;000 post offices and telephone offices, ‘in every village, town and city throughout the Commonwealth. Moreover, it serves every single household in the land.
Spread over the vast Australian territory, which is 3,000,000 square miles in extent, there are 10,000,000 people, 54 per cent, of whom live in the six capital cities. The,’ remainder are scattered in towns and settlements - often quite remote - across the continent. It is important to remember that mail is delivered to the vast majority of homes, farms and stations in the land, however remote they may be.
The road mail services which the Postal Department conducts are of extreme importance to country folk. There arc 6,000 rural mail services, and they are maintained at an annual cost of £2,750,000. This Government’s provision of road mail services has been liberal, both in scope and frequency. The city resident is, of course, accustomed to the daily visit by the postman - whistling his way along the boulevarde - but in country areas the delivery of mail is not such a simple operation. 1 recall that when I was in partnership with Mr. W. C. Wilkinson at Broadmere Station in the Dawson River country outside Taroom, in the middle west of Queensland, we were served by a weekly mail delivery. The mailman came along on horseback, driving a pack horse before him. The pack horse was - if I may use the expression - laden to the plimsoll line with mail bags. We provided comfortable quarters for the mailman at the homestead, where he spent the night and changed horses before setting out at the break of day to cross the rugged spurs of the Carnarvon Ranges, on his way to properties further out. Many of the pack horse mails have now ceased to function. The old Cobb and Co. coaches have disappeared from the roads, and to-day the distribution of mail in the country districts of Queensland is mostly done by motor trucks and utilities, and in a few instances, by light aircraft. lt has been the policy of successive Australian governments since federation to regard the Postal Department as a utility service providing postal, telephonic and telegraphic facilities for country people at cut rates - at losing rates - so as to help those who live at a distance from the coastal cities and lack the amenities which they offer. These worthy people devote their lives to the improvement and development of the country districts. Generally speaking, past governments, irrespective of party, have been satisfied if the department has paid its way overall. The various State Governments have taken a similar view of railway systems, which have been permitted to run at a loss, the general taxpayer carrying the burden, in order to assist those who go out into the remote areas to make a living, and thereby help to develop the country. Reduced, unprofitable freight rates have been fixed by the railway commissioner in my State to enable stock and produce to be railed hundreds of miles to the markets. If freight rates were fixed so as to give a profitable return on railway investment, many people in the far western and northwestern areas of Queensland would not be able to carry on. They simply could not alford to pay freight rates that were calculated according to the tens of millions of pounds that have been invested in the Queensland railway system.
In my judgment, the Commonwealth Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) erred in launching ‘these new postal charges, by reason of the very steepness of the original increases. The pursuit of excessive profit on postal services placed the Commonwealth Government in a most unfortunate position recently in relation to its Budget. In these matters,- the public dislikes shock treatment. Whatever increases were deemed necessary, Mr. Acting Deputy President, should have been made gradually, in easy stages over a year or .two. I like the old Chinese philosophy, “ Softly, softly, catchee monkey.”
– Do the Chinese observe that now?
– I am afraid it is not being observed. The amended postage rates provide for an increase of Id. on letters, letter cards and postcards, raising the rate to 5d. per letter for the first ounce. The differential surcharge of 3d. per letter on airmail letters will disappear, so that all letters bearing a 5d. stamp will qualify for transport by air. I cannot find any sound reason for such a change.
Probably half the Australian people will derive benefit from this move, but it will have no value for country residents in places where there are very few airstrips. Residents of country districts generally, particularly in my own State, will continue to send their mail by road mail service, to which I referred in my opening remarks, to the rail towns, and the mail bags will go by rail as before. The airmail concession will confer no benefit on the great majority of rural dwellers throughout Australia. Only those who reside in cities and large provincial towns stand to benefit from the rapid transport of their mail by air. The extent of this benefit, even to people who reside in cities, is somewhat doubtful, so far as I can see.
At a time when the Treasurer has called for increased revenue from the Post Office as an urgent need, it is most puzzling that airmail charges should be reduced from 7d. to 5d. per letter. Quick delivery by airmail should, according to normal business principles, attract a premium. If I want to travel by rail I have to pay a premium to travel first-class. There is a cheaper rate for second-class travel. If I want to travel by air, I have to pay a premium for the first-saloon passage; there is a cheaper rate for the tourist class. Airmail, implying rapid delivery, should attract a premium, but the rate is to be reduced from 7d. to 5d., so that it will be the same as that for letters which hitherto have been carried by the slower method of rail transport.
If ordinary letter postage had to rise by Id. a letter, in accordance with the Treasurer’s wish to secure extra revenue to cover losses in the Post Office, then I say that airmail charges, far from being reduced, should have been raised in the same ratio.
– You are penalizing the people in the outback.
– The outback people do not use airmail.
-Of course they do.
– No, not in my Stat?, except for selected places. Most of Queensland - and I think this would also apply to Western Australia, with the exception of the far north-west - lacks airstrips. There is no place for planes to land, so that farmers, graziers and others have to send their mail by motor truck of utility to the railway towns, whence it is sent by fail to the capital cities.
– lt will now go by air.
– I ask the honorable senator: What are the prospects for airmail services of people living, say, 100 miles from St. George or 200 miles from Winton. There are no airstrips in those areas. The mail must come in by motor vehicle to the towns.
I hold that there is no case at all for the reduction of the premium on airmail postage. If the ordinary letter rate is to be increased by Id., the rate for airmail should also- be increased by Id., thus retaining the premium in accordance with the commonly accepted business principle that ohe pays a little extra for the benefit of a better service. The considerable advantage which the airlines will receive; will go to them, as Senator McManus has said, at the expense of State railway system’s and the taxpayers generally.
Throughout the year I personally despatch a gnat number of letters, in answer to correspondence from constituents and for various other purposes. Only a very limited percentage of the letters I send are regarded by me as of sufficient importance to be sent by air. I think that my experience in this respect is similar to that of most people. Proof of that contention lies in the fact that only 7 per cent, of the total letter mail in Australia is despatched by airmail. If the people wanted a fast mail service, 1 think they would be prepared to pay the premium of 3d. a letter which has applied to’ date. The great bulk of letter mail is of a family or business nature and is not really urgent. Therefor?, carriage by a train which travels through the night and arrives at a city the following morning, is quite sufficient for the needs of the people who send that kind of correspondence.
The proposed system of uniform rates for letters, whether sent by air or by rail, without doubt constitutes a gift of revenue to the airline companies which, I say, is unwarranted and wrong, when all other users of postal services are being penalized by increased marges to find the money for the requirements of the Post Office. The Postmaster-General has stated that basic wage increases since 1951 have added £22,000,000 to the yearly costs of operating and maintaining postal services. :He has also stated that if other inescapable costs associated with higher wages and prices of materials are taken into account, another £8,000,000 must be added, making a total rise in yearly costs of approximately £30,000,000. Why, then, should we reduce the airmail postage against i this back-i ground of extra running costs, with charges for all other postal services being increased? That is the position that requires the thoughtful consideration of the Senate. The change-over is to be made at the expense of the Australian taxpayer, who will lose £1,450,000 in a full year. This is an odd method of Post Office financing’. We are to give away nearly £1,500,000 per annum and increase other postal charges to bring in additional revenue totalling £4,600,000 in a full year. Stating the position in other words, the other increases need not be so steep if the system in relation to the transportation of letter mail is left unchanged. Internal mails carried by air now weigh approximately 1,000 tons per annum, which represents pretty tidy money to airline companies on the existing scale of payment. The increased airmail turnover as the result of this radical departure from the present system will most certainly bring a windfall of revenue to airline entrepreneurs. My old and esteemed friend, Jim Hunter, former member for Maranoa, first Australian. Country Party member to be elected to the Commonwealth Parliament in 1921, Whip in the days of the Bruce-Page Government and former Postmaster-General, has written me in these terms -
The Commonwealth Government claims that the postal “ increases “ are an important section of the whole Budget.
So they are. He has underlined the word “ increases “ and enclosed it in inverted commas. The letter continues -
I could not agree more. If more finance is required to cover losses in our postal services, there should be no reductions whatsoever. That is a cardinal principle that nobody can controvert. But airmail charges are to be reduced, while most other postal charges are to be increased to cover expected losses in the current year.
I now want to refer to mail exchanges. As honorable senators are aware, I am a member of the Public Works Commitee. This committee, after taking evidence last year, recommended the erection of a mail exchange at Redfern, on a site which is convenient to the Central Railway Station, at an estimated cost of £4,200,000. The site derives its value from its proximity to Central Railway Station. Mail-bags can be expeditiously dispatched from the proposed, mail exchange to connect with all outgoing mail trains to interstate and country destinations. The Public Works Committee has under present consideration the erection of a mail exchange in Romastreet, Brisbane, on a site specially chosen and acquired by the Postal Department because of its closeness to the Roma-street railway loading depot, which is only 200 yards distant. The estimated cost of the Roma-street mail exchange is £646,500.
The Postmaster-General stated that the policy of the department is the use of the fastest established means of transport for the conveyance of mail. He said, further, that the world trend favours air transport for all mail. If that is the case, where is the sense in our going ahead with the erection of a great mail exchange at Redfern, to cost £4,200,000, and a mail exchange near the Roma-street railway station in Brisbane, to cost £646,500, if not only letter mail but also package and parcel mail are to be channelled by air in the future? Would it not be better, in the light of changed government policy, to consider siting these mail exchanges in closer proximity to the airports at Mascot, Sydney, and Eagle Farm, Brisbane? These are matters of immediate importance, because several million pounds are involved, lt is my intention to bring the circumstances under the notice of the Public Works Committee at its next meeting, and also, I hope, under the notice of the Minister for the Interior and Minister for Public Works (Mr. Freeth), so that we shall know where we are heading in view of what appears to me to be a most radical departure from the policy formerly followed in the transportation of mail. If, by deliberate government policy, we are entering a new era when all mail will be> transported: by air, let us not be foolish enough to spend millions* of pounds in the erection of mail exchanges adjacent to what may be outmoded rail services.
The cost of a call by public telephone is to be increased from 3d. to 4d. I wish that some mechanical contrivance could be attached to public telephones, slotted to take a metal disc purchasable at a post office for 4d., instead of four copper coins having to be used to effect a connexion. The penny is a coin that has very little value in to-day’s economic conditions. The coins are far too large and weighty for eight or twelve to be carried for the purpose of making two or three telephone communications. Therefore, I suggest that the Post Office should devise metal discs of the value of 4d. for the purpose. It is bad enough having to pay Id. more for calls without having to have trouser pockets constantly repaired and losing 3d. and 6d. pieces because of holes worn by weighty copper coins.
I regret the disappearance of the postcard which must follow the imposition of 5d. postage on this type of mail. The postcard has been with us as long as I can remember and has always provided a cheap form of written message that has met the need of poorer members of the community. I regret also that the charge for accounts, invoices and receipts issued by traders in unsealed envelopes is to be advanced from 3id. to 5d. I have no hesitation in declaring that, even in to-day’s currency, to send out a receipt is not worth 5d. unless very big money is involved in the transaction. According to press reports, some large Queensland firms plan to employ their own post boys to deliver accounts and receipts. Big public companies are able to do this, but the smaller trader in country towns and suburban areas is unable to follow suit as he lacks the turnover. That brings into account, of course, the law of diminishing returns. In many of these things, we can price ourselves out of the market. If you build up prices beyond a fair economic value for a particular service, you can price yourself right out of the market. That aspect, of course, has been raised in the debate on this bill, and it is something that we must keep in mind. I do not know whether we are getting more telegrams through our telegraphic machines due to the high prices we fixed a year or two ago than was the case previously. The general rule is that the higher the price the smaller the patronage of the particular service.
There has been spectacular progress in telephone usage and expansion. There are to-day 10,000,000 miles of telephone circuits linking more than 2,000,000 telephones through more than 7,300 exchanges. With 20.5 telephones per 100 of population, Australia ranks fifth in the world in telephone density. During the last three years, 252,000 subscribers’ services have been installed. When this Government took office in 1949, there were only 192 rural automatic exchanges throughout Australia. Now there are 1,200, and they provide a continuous service in country areas. The rural automatic exchange has been a great boon in the rural districts. Trunk-line channels have trebled since 1939. For instance, where there were ten channels between Sydney and Brisbane in 1939. there are now 61, and this rate of progression applies to the links from Sydney to other capital cities. A great network of radio-telephony has been provided for the remote parts of Australia where it is not practicable to use the ordinary telephone and telegraph systems. The radio-telephony installations are a veritable godsend to those who live in the distant parts of the Northern Territory, North Queensland and the northwest of Western Australia in particular.
It can be argued soundly that increase! revenue is needed to keep the Post Office abreast of modern scientific and mechanical advancement. New postal buildings and various forms of expensive equipment are wanted in all parts of Australia. Funds to the order of £36,000,000 were provided by the Post Office in the financial year ended 30th June last for expenditure on such capital works as sites, buildings and equipment. In the current year, something between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000 is provided under this heading. To the great credit of the Commonwealth Government, the Postmaster-General and the Post Office leaders, big things are being achieved to make our postal services equal to any in the world. We might differ as to ways and means, but astonishing results are there for all to see. I dislike certain features of the bill. If it was not a component of the Budget, I would stand against it; but as it is a component of the Budget, I feel bound to support the measure.
.- It is only on rare occasions that the Senate is afforded the opportunity to discuss the finances of the Post Office. This afternoon, I propose to take a stroll though some of those finances. First, I propose to review briefly the assets of the Post Office, some of its expenditure and receipts, some of its earnings and some of its losses and gains. I propose also to look at what has been the financial policy observed by successive governments since 1908. I shall also briefly review the additional charges and then ask the Senate whether the proposed increases can be justified. I shall also ask the Senate whether it expects an all-round improvement in the finances of the Post Office as a result of the proposed increases. lt is interesting to look at the value of the collective assets of the Post Office. As we stroll through the finances of the Post Office, the first stopping place should be the collective assets. I find that their book value is £449,000,000, in round figures. That is a colossal sum for an undertaking such as the Post Office to accrue since the beginning of federation. .Later, I shall refer to some of the assets because we ordinary mortals strolling along the streets see only a building when we go to the Post Office. For instance, if we were in Martinplace, Sydney, we should see the General Post Office there, lt is a most magnificent building. But if we were asked to assess its book value, we might be out some hundreds of thousands of pounds in our assessment.
A very pertinent question to ask at this stage is: How did the Commonwealth Government acquire the assets of the Post Office? We know that they did not just materialize in some mysterious way; they have been established progressively since the beginning of federation.
– Some of them were here before federation.
– Some of them were taken over from the States; but substantially, the assets have accrued since federation, as an examination of the finances will disclose. Very little loan money indeed was utilized in the acquisition of those assets which are valued to-day at £449,000.000. Where did that money come from? These assets were obtained with money paid into Consolidated Revenue by the taxpayers of Australia and reticulated by the Government into various avenues of expenditure. I repeat that since federation we have accumulated in this one public utility assets to the value of £449,000,000.
In his second-reading speech, the Minister indicated that in the last five years no less than £400,000,000 has been spent on capital works. AH this money came from Consolidated Revenue. The traditional way of providing equipment and all the capital goods of the Post Office has been to use Consolidated Revenue. The people of Australia have provided the Post Office with something like £449,000,000. In fact, they have provided far more than that, because £449,000,000 is only the book value of the assets. I emphasize that over the past five years expenditure from Consolidated Revenue has been no less than £400,000.000. That expenditure includes wages and salaries paid to the 84,000 employees of the Post Office. When delivering his Budget speech, the Treasurer indicated quite clearly that he thought that some return must be shown upon capita] expenditure. His words were -
In the meantime, however, it is clear beyond doubt that, since capital expenditure on the Post Office must continue to increase, the earnings of the Post Office should also be increased, not merely to meet the cost of its day-to-day services but to provide something by way of return on the additional capital.
Let us examine that proposition. First of all, from Consolidated Revenue - that is, from the funds provided by the people of the Commonwealth - huge sums have been spent to furnish this public utility as it exists to-day. That money has come from the pockets of the people. At the present time there is a loading in the Post Office charges to give an annual profit to Consolidated Revenue of £11,000,000. The Government’s proposals are that the Post Office shall return a profit of £16,000,000 a year, £11,000,000 of which will be a surplus going into Consolidated Revenue. What does that mean? Suppose by way of illustration, that we were shareholders in a company, having acquired 100 shares at £1 each, and that after we had acquired those shares, the company decided to call up more capital and told us that we would be required to pay further calls on shares to which we had already subscribed fully. That is what the present action of the Government amounts to. Already the people of the Commonwealth have provided the assets of the Post Office- the buildings and the equipment. We know that charges have to be maintained at an economic level. I want to impress that point on my listeners. We on this side of the chamber have no complaint about charges being fixed at an economic level. We would not be so foolish as .to believe that any public undertaking could carry on with any measure of success unless the services it supplied were charged for at an economic level.
In its present proposals, the Government is asking too much of the people. In addition to making provision to meet the vernal charges for a year, it says, in effect, “We want £11,000,000 more to go into Consolidated Revenue each year as a return upon capital invested “. Is that a sound proposition? Would it be tight to say to the 1,000,000 migrants coming into the Commonwealth, “We ate going to have differential charges operating. We have a public utility that has cost us £499,000,000. You are new people coming in to the country, so we will put a surcharge on in your case because of the services that we have provided since 1909. “ Mr. Deputy President, I leave it at that.
– Are you not playing up to yourself?
– I would certainly be playing up to a more intelligent gentleman in that case than if I were playing up to you. Loans have been used in the past for the purpose of providing this great public utility with the equipment that it has required. On page 120 of the Estimates for this year, we find the following information under the heading “Public Debt Charges
Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act 1911-1946, Commonwealth Debt Conversion Act 1931, Treasury Bills Act 1914-1940, Acts Nos. 25 of 1919 and 18 of 1921, £774,000.
That is the sum which we have to provide this year out of Consolidated Revenue by way of interest upon loans that were used in the past for establishing the Post Office facilities. A .little ‘further in the Estimates we find the item “ National Debt Sinking Fund Act 1923-r950, £647,000”. The total o’f the two items I have mentioned is £1,421,000. That is the .amount which the people must provide by paying sales tax, customs duties and other forms of taxation. I shall leave that matter there for a moment. I wanted to establish quite clearly that in the past loan funds have been used in the Post Office organization.
If we examine the civil works programme that is set out for the year 1959-60, we find that for the Postmaster-General’s Department an amount of £2,531,183 has to be provided for works which are in progress. Those are works commenced during the last financial year and still <n progress during this financial year. It is proposed to commence new works which will cost £4,940,100, making a complete programme to the value of £7,471,283. The estimated expenditure in this year is £3,800,000.
I said a while ago, Mr. Deputy President, that I would give you an idea of how money has been spent on the Post- Office over the years and of the value of the various assets of the Post Office. Frequently
We imagine that expenditure on the construction o’f buildings is the main item of expenditure, but that is far from being so. Telephone and telegraph plant has cost £34,308,653, and buildings have cost £4,435,078. Those are items in the assets which total the sum I mentioned a while ago - £499,000,000. That gives you an idea, Mr. Deputy President, of the cost of equipping the Post Office to provide the facilities which are availed of by the people of the Commonwealth.
It is interesting to note that the Post Office keeps what it refers to as commercial accounts, whereas the Department of the Treasury traditionally maintains its accounts in the way required under the Audit Act and .under the Constitution of the Commonwealth. There is a remarkable difference between certain items which are mentioned in the Estimates, on the one hand, and ‘in the commercial accounts of the Post Office, on the other. In 1957-58, the Treasury accounts showed the cash expenditure of the Post Office under Ordinary Services as £176,364 more than its cash receipts, whereas the commercial accounts recorded an excess of earnings over working expenses of £4,010,180. The annual report states -
Treasury expenditure included payments of £979,229 towards .amortisation of ‘Capital .Loan Funds and charges of -£4;042,009 for the replace- ment, renewal and expenses of demolition of assets. In the Commercial Accounts £8,536,170 was credited to the Provision for Equalisation . . .
Treasury expenditure included £342,451 on account of airmail subsidies which was not included in the Commercial Accounts.
Treasury revenue included interest of £76,307 on advances to the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia) which was excluded from the Commercial Accounts.
These are things with which the committee whose appointment has been mooted will have to deal, lt will have to give considerable attention to the accounting methods of the Post Office - not that it is likely to find anything wrong with them. I want to dispel any suggestion of that nature immediately, because in the Post Office the word “ efficiency “ can be applied to every branch. Every request that I have submitted to the Postal Department has received consideration, and I have found in travelling round the country that the personnel at both the official and non-official post offices are anxious to be courteous and to give the utmost service possible.
Let us now have a look at the earnings of the Post Office, which is a matter of interest to everybody. I shall mention the earnings for 1957-58, because the balancesheet for the last financial year has not yet been submitted to us- In 1957-58, the postal branch earned £34,014,462, the telephone branch earned £56,504.819, and the telegraph branch earned £6,248,476. The overall earnings of all branches of the Postal Department amounted to £96,767,757. In various branches, of course, losses were incurred. The postal branch lost £1,953,583, and the telegraph branch lost £330,444. On the other hand, the telephone branch made a profit of £6,294,207. The overall net profit of the Postal Department in 1957-58 was £4,010,180. The Government has focused its attention upon the charges made by the various branches of the departments. Why it has singled out the telephone branch for increased charges, I do not know. I think the Government would be wise to follow a policy of reduction in this branch for a year or two.
In the limited time available to me I am unable to go fully into all the department’s accounts, but I propose to say something about them. Since federation, the total profit earned by the postal branch has amounted to £26,000,000. The loss on bulk postage over the same period amounted to £57,000,000. When considering the matter here in this chamber, one might say, “Why not immediately adjust the bulk postage charges? “ I shall supply the answer to that question in due courseBut let us look further afield in relation to bulk postage. We have been told -
For most packet-form mail, including commercial papers, printed matter, patterns, samples and merchandise, costs will be slightly in excess of revenue.
Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.
– The higher postal charges which the Government proposes introducing next month are unwarranted, unjust and harmful rather than beneficial. Mr. Deputy President, if we look at the history of this matter we find that the suggestion for higher charges originated in the Budget speech. An announcement about the proposed charges followed. We all know how proposals such as this are evolved. We know that there is nothing slothful about their preparation; that the proposals would have gone from the Postal Department to the Treasury and thence to Cabinet; and that that would be done, deliberately and with a full intention to put the new charges into force. I do not think that any one in the Commonwealth can have any doubt on that matter. We know that government business is not conducted in a haphazard fashion; rather is every government act deliberately taken, especially in this matter of imposing increased charges upon the public. Therefore, we must take the view that the charges initially proposed by the Government were announced with the full intention that they should be applied. The Government was certainly nol engaging in kite flying, but immediately the announcement was made objection to the new charges came from every association in the Commonwealth which produces any kind of publication. Objection came from church organizations, trade organizations and the numerous bodies producing publications associated with primary industry. They claimed that if the Government imposed the stated charges publication of their journals would have to cease immediately. Then came the further announcement that the Government would have another look at the proposals.
The Government did have another look, and its amended proposals are embodied in the bill that we are discussing.
We have been told that one of the reasons for the higher charges is that this year there was an increase in the basic wage. It is several years since the charges were last adjusted, and it was known then that there would be increases in the basic wage, just as it is known now that further increases may be expected. Indeed, if a claim for a higher basic wage were before the court at the moment, it would probably result in the granting of another increase. I feel fairly sure that next year there will be a further increase of between 10/- and 15/- a week. I recollect that when we last dealt with postal charges I pointed out that there should be in operation a scheme which would allow charges to be adjusted annually, instead of every three years. I am fairly certain now that in another three or four years whichever government is in power will be introducing a bill to increase the charges yet again, and so it will go on. The Government’s talk about a return upon the capital invested in the Postal Department is just so much moonshine. The Government knows that it cannot control inflation - one of its greatest problems at present. It knows that there will be further increases in the cost of materials, stemming from the higher basic wage recently gazetted, and that the process will be repeated over and over again.
From time to time complaints have been made that the economic security for which people have fought so hard over the years have been corroded by this cursed inflation, but the Government has turned a deaf ear to their cries. It has done nothing effective to control inflation. One of the things that the people will refuse to accept is the assertion that basic wage increases alone are responsible for the higher charges.
One of the saddest things of all is that the Government proposes to inflict higher charges upon the users of money orders and postal notes. The change will not affect Government senators because they operate cheque accounts and have no use for money orders or postal notes, which are availed of chiefly by people in the lower income brackets. It is the means by which they pay their accounts. One of the meanest things that the Government could have done was to increase those particular charges, and one can only wait to see what the effect will be.
I come now to a matter that does, perhaps call for some adjustment. I. refer to the bulk postage concessions granted to the press throughout the Commonwealth. I have heard Government supporters make comparisons between the charges made for bulk postage in this country, and in others. Australia is vastly different from the United Kingdom, the United States or even New Zealand in this connexion. Any one who lived in Manchester would be quite satisfied to read the “ Manchester Guardian “. He would not want the London “Times” as well. Conversely, any one living in London would be content to read the “ Times “ and would not feel that he had to have the “ Manchester Guardian “. Obviously, bulk facilities would not be needed to the same extent there as here. However the Government lacks the courage to face up to a staggering situation, lt costs the Postal Department 6d. to handle each newspaper and, of this expenditure, it recovers only one penny farthing. Therefore, a subsidy of approximately 4id. is paid by the people to support bulk postage for the press. Just how long this kind of thing can continue remains to be seen.
Moving quickly on to the telegraphic branch, we find a position there that is equally bad. Just why the press should be afforded such concessions by the telegraph branch is hard to understand, but the fact remains that those concessions amount to £250,000 per annum. If the Government wanted to do something effective about charges it would have attacked this problem. It would have increased the telegraphic and bulk postage charges that are paid by the press. In this way, charges could have been fixed in relation to the circulation of the newspapers. Those enjoying a circulation exceeding 150,000 daily could have been required to pay the actual charge of their bulk business. My time has almost expired. I say in conclusion that I shall vote against the proposed charges because I believe they are unjust and unwarranted, and will do the community more harm than good.
Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) [8.101. - We are debating a bill to amend the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902- 1956. It is not to be expected that the support of the Opposition would be forthcoming for a bill which proposed to increase charges. That, I agree, would be a departure from Labour’s traditional role. Oddly enough, however, this afternoon we heard several honorable senators opposing the bill not only because it sought to increase charges but also because in certain circumstances it is proposed to decrease charges. If I understood Senator Benn correctly, just before the end of his speech he was reaching the point at which he was prepared to argue for certain increases, although for the rest of his speech he had been opposing increases.
Despite this traditional opposition to increases of postal charges, I think it is quite clear, Mr. Deputy President, that the Government has a responsibility to put the finances of the Post Office on a sound footing. This bill is designed for that very purpose. If I have time, 1 shall of course refer to some of the detailed proposals for increases and reductions of charges which have come under review in the course of the debate so far, but first, I think we should have a look at the broad picture of the finances of the Post Office. This undertaking provides telephone, telegraph and other postal services for this vast continent of 10,000,000 people, with a concentration of population in the cities and a sparsely scattered population over the remainder of the area of about 3,000,000 square miles. The Post Office is a government monopoly. No fewer than 86,000 people are on its pay-roll. We have approximately 10,000 post offices in this country. The Post Office has an annual revenue of about £120,000,000. This year, I think, the revenue will be £119,700,000. In addition to postal, telegraphic and telephone services, the Post Office provides services on an agency basis for the Commonwealth Savings Bank and the Department of Social Services; it pays war pensions and war service homes payments; it distributes tax assessment forms, pays military service allotments, and distributes tax books and stamps; it provides services under the Electoral Act, and it also provides meteorological services, particularly in country areas, in relation to weather readings and reports.
The Post Office, as we all know, is under constant pressure to expand. Its expansion is running along concurrently with the general development of this vast continent, a development that is largely attributable to the efforts of the Government that we are privileged to have in Australia to-day. This year, the Government has provided for capital works for the Post Office the sum of no less than £39,400,000. With the proposed increases of charges brought into account, it is expected that this year the Post Office will make a profit on its revenue account of £10,000,000. So it can be quickly seen, Sir, that the taxpayer, as distinct from the user of postal services, will this year have to find for the Post Office at least £29,400,000 from Consolidated Revenue. If the proposed increases were not to become applicable the taxpayer would have to find from revenue this year £40,000,000 for capital expenditure on the Post Office.
The money that is provided as capital for the Post Office is not subject to interest, and no provision is made for repayment of the principal. That has been the situation. I understand, since 1942. Since the end of the last war, no less than £400,000,000 of the taxpayers’ money has been provided for capital works for the Post Office on the basis of no interest and no repayment. As I have indicated, this has been the constant practice since 1942. In this setting, I am amazed that the Opposition - and, indeed, some people on this side of the Parliament also- should have expressed criticism of the decision of the Government to appoint a committee to examine the finances of the Post Office. I should have thought that the case for making the users of postal services provide some, if not all, of the funds for capital expenditure would be unassailable. Given the background that the Government has provided no less than £400,000,000 of capital funds from revenue since the end of the war, and that but for the proposed increase of charges we should have to provide £40,000,000 this year instead of £30,000,000, the case for users of the services providing at least some of the capital funds is unanswerable. I should think that we could not continue to have, year in and year out, the taxpayer providing these colossal sums of money for services which he might not necessarily use. In such circumstances, I suggest that the case for the appointment of a committee to examine the finances of the Post Office is completely justified, and that pending the findings of the committee, the charges should be increased as proposed.
The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and also the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) have said that these proposed increases will not only cover the cost of operating and maintaining postal services, but in addition will provide something towards the cost of capital funds. That, I think, is the point at issue. It is not suggested at this stage that they should provide interest on capital, but it is suggested, as a reasonable proposition and as a business proposition which I think will appeal to anybody who has had business training, that the service itself should be providing at least some of the capital to be ploughed back into the business. That is something that happens with perhaps every company of any substance throughout Australia. Companies put back into the business funds for the purpose of capital development. If it is good enough for private business to do that, I suggest it is also good enough for this huge undertaking, the Post Office. In this matter we have a responsible decision of the Government. I certainly approve of it, and I think it is worthy of the support of the members of the Senate.
The bill before us contemplates increases of postal charges which will yield additional revenues of £10,000,000 this year and, in a full year, £16,200,000. Since 1951, £22,000,000 has been added to the payroll because of wage increases alone, yet in that period increased charges, which were introduced only in 1955 and 1956, have yielded only about £8,200,000. In other words, the taxpayer, as distinct from the user of the service, has provided the extra money. Some Opposition senators are very confused, but even they will be interested in this: Since 1951, the cost of administering the Postal Department has increased by £30,000,000 per annum, while revenue has increased by only £7,750,000 per annum. When that is considered, together with the fact that since the end of the war the taxpayer has put £400.000,000 into the capital funds of the department, the increases appear to be completely justified.
I turn to a detailed examination of some of the increases. They have been the subject of debate, as they properly should be. The letter rate will rise from 44. to 5d. This is quite a substantial increase, but it should be remembered that as from 1st November letter-form postal articles will be accorded air carriage free of surcharge. Whereas in the past airmail carriage attracted a surcharge, in future there will be no such surcharge. This afternoon I was amazed to hear Senator McManus, and indeed, Senator Maher, propounding an argument that was critical of the carriage of letters by air. I was rather surprised, because I have always regarded both these senators as being forward in their thinking. 1 thought that both had the capability of realizing that in this world one cannot stand still and that the very essence of successful mail handling is speed. Whether or not they like it, as the years go by, of necessity and by public demand more and more mail will go by air. It is to the credit of this Government that the surcharge on airmail letters is to be removed. The service, particularly intercity, will be greatly improved. Hitherto airmail letters comprised about 7 per cent, of all mail. It is estimated that under the new order no less than 23 per cent, or 24 per cent, of the mail will be carried by air. This means that about 200,000,000 extra letters will be carried by air. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, said -
From 1st November, air carriage will be given free of surcharge to letter-form postal articles, in both sealed and unsealed envelopes, which can be conveniently handled in departmental postmarking and sorting machines, and where air conveyance would result in earlier delivery.
As I said, the key to successful mail handling is early delivery. The Minister went on -
The service will be available between capital cities, and between capital cities and provincial centres on commercial air routes for mail addressed to those centres, or normally distributed through them. Maximum dimensions of an enveloped article carried without surcharge are being fixed at 10-in. by 5-in. by 3/16-in.
For any one who wants to know what can be sent by airmail, there it is on the record. The critical point is that whereas hitherto about 7 per cent, of mail has been carried by air, not less than 23 per cent, will now go by air. Implicit in that arrangement is a better service to the people who are using the postal services.
As from 1st October, the surcharge on postal articles, other than letters, sent byair will be halved, that is, from 3d. per i oz. to 3d. per oz. That is in spite of the fact that the increases are expected to produce an extra £10,000,000 in revenue this year. The rates for commercial papers, patterns, samples and merchandise will be altered from 3id. per 2 oz. and 2d. for each additional oz., to 5d. for the first 4 oz. and 3d, for each additional ounce.
– All of this is in the bill.
– Yes, but I wanted to bring it out. Senator Benn becomes conscious of the fact that the good aspects of the measure are being driven home, and that irks him somewhat However, we shall continue to drive them home. There are increased charges under the bill but there are also some reductions. The Opposition has an obligation to point out the extra, charges, and I am in order in indicating the concessions. Under the new rate a 4-oz. packet will cost 5d., whereas under the old rate it cost 5±d. The new rate for an 8-oz packet will be 8d. as against 9id. I do not walk away from the fact that it is from the initial charge of 5d. for the first 4 oz. that the extra revenue will be drawn. The concession will operate on articles of heavier weight.
Bulk postage rates for newspapers and periodicals will rise from 2id. per 8 oz., or part thereof, of aggregate weight, to 5d. per 12 oz., or part thereof, of aggregate weight. Senator McManus and, I think, Senator Benn, as well as some other senators, had quite a. lot to say about these rates. They made the point that this increase would strike a heavy blow at the publishers of papers and periodicals with limited editions, such as newspapers for migrants, and union and sporting club publications. Senator McManus said that it would drive such publications out of circulation and out of existence. He told us a dismal story of the disaster that will be the consequence of this proposal. Let us look at the facts, and consider the charges on an aggregate weight basis.
– Come on, cite them.
– I just want to be certain. I was going to say something unkind, but I shall not. The plain fact is that if a newspaper weighing 1 oz. were published once a month the extra cost of posting it would be 5d. a year. Senator McManus told us that small newspapers would go out of circulation, that printers would become unemployed, and so on. If a newspaper weighing 2 oz. were published once a month, the extra annual cost of postage would be only lid. a year, and for one weighing 3 oz. the extra cost would be only ls. 4d. a year. Of course, it is an increase, but the Government admits that the purpose of the bill is to raise extra revenue. I merely emphasize that the picture is not as bad as some honorable senators opposite would have us believe.
– We are inclined to exaggerate a bit.
– Yes, I think you are inclined to be a bit heavy with the brush. 1 repeat that the extra cost of posting a newspaper weighing 1 oz. and published once a month will be only 5d. a year. Here, I mention in passing that the base rates for telegrams will remain unaltered..
Let us look now at the telephone position. At the outset, I admit that the adjusted charges are intended to raise an extra £7,000,000- a year. But what is the other side of the story? The expansion rate in this field of Post Office operations is a constant drain on available capital funds. The change-over from manual to automatic exchanges, the colossal public demand for commercial and domestic telephones and new inventions and techniques in telephone service, all add up to the need to put this service on a proper financial basis. The amount of capital, necessary in this field is astronomical. As a member of the Public Works Committee, I know that committee is being called upon constantly to examine new projects and* proposals for new exchanges. At the moment a new exchange is being erected in Brisbane. The great problem all the time is to provide an efficient service. Australia, with its limited population and limited capital resources, is being sorely tested to provide the capital funds necessary for this particular phase of Post Office activities. That is one reason why the Government quite properly says that the users of the service should meet som; of the capital expenditure in the charges they are required to pay. I understand it costs approximately £300 to install a telephone. In the big cities, the annual rental will be £14. In the provincial cities and towns, in places like Wollongong, installation will cost £8 5s. lt was previously £7. In country towns, the cost of installation will bi £8 5s. as against £7 previously.
This telephone service provides an important amenity not only to people wishing to make outgoing calls but also to those who are receiving calls. No charge is made tor receiving a call. That is met by the one making the call. Then we have the cases in which persons have incurred the capital investment of having a telephone install d and the reason for wanting it is to receive calls rather than to make them, or perhaps to make them only for domestic reasons, in cases of sickness and so on. In such, cases, the Post Office receives very little return for the capital cost of installing the telephone because very few calls are made. Taking the capital cost of installation at £300, an annual rental of £14 represents a return of less than 5 per cent, on the capital invested. In the provincial towns, the new annual rental will represent a return of less than 2i per cent, on the capital cost of installation. My point is that the Post Office is required to guarantee a service, and in some cases it does not receive a return commensurate with the cost of providing that service because very few outgoing calls are made.
I hope Senator Benn will not feel distressed when I quote from the Minister’s speech in which he said that subscribers who live just outside the metropolitan area will receive tremendous benefit under the bill in that whereas previously they were required to pay trunk line rates in some instances now they will have to pay only the local call rate. The new policy will permit of trunk calls on an untimed basis over longer distances to a greater number of subscribers than is now possible. Subscribers are to be grouped in zones based on community of interest and calls within zones and between zones will be treated as untimed local calls. The distances covered by a local call will be increased to cover most calls up to 25 miles and many up to 35 miles provided the exchanges concerned are in adjacent zones. For instance, one zone which has others adjoining it on three sides, could make calls to all three adjoining zones on an untimed local call basis as compared with trunk line rates previously. For instance, people living in the hills district outside the County of Cumberland, City of Sydney, will have a distinct advantage under the bill. 1 spoke earlier about the formidable list of agencies run by the Post Office. In country areas in particular, the postmaster is the pivotal point of the whole community. Many agencies are operated through the Post Office, and I am not satisfied that it is charging a proper costing for the service it renders. I submit that one of the first tasks the committee will need to undertake is to satisfy itself that the Post Office is charging a fair and equitable fee for the service it renders to the various Government departments. If the Post Office charges an adequate . rate, the benefit will be reflected in revenue, in improved service to the people, in an improvement in the whole economic structure of the Budget and in the contribution the Government will be required to make to the Post Office.
I conclude on the point that the Post Office is a magnificent institution staffed by men and women whose one purpose in life is to give service to the community. It is a reasonable proposition that those who use the services of the Post Office should make a contribution to the capital expenditure involved in the expansion of the Post Office. I am not suggesting that they should be required to capitalize the whole of the £400,000,000 that has been lent since 1945, but I agree with the Government when it says that of the revenue raised by the extra charges proposed, £10,000,000 will be used to relieve the Government - and that means to relieve the taxpayers - of some of the burden of finding the money that has to be sunk into the Post Office to enable it to expand concurrently with the great expansion that is going on over the face of Australia as a result of the good administration of Australian affairs by a Liberal-Country Party Government.
– I was not impressed by the speech of Senator Anderson, but I will give him credit for having had sufficient courage to defend his government’s actions.
– He is the only one who has done so.
– As Senator Courtice says, he is the only one who has done so. All of his colleagues who have spoken so far on this measure spent three-quarters of their time in condemning the bill, and used the remainder to make miserable excuses for their intention to vote for it. I give Senator Anderson credit for having the courage of his convictions. Unlike his colleagues, he is prepared to sink with a very bad case.
With Senator McKenna, I feel that this bill is not something of sudden origin. The time fuse for it was set as far back as ten years ago, in 1949, when the present Government took office and gave the people of Australia a promise that it would control inflation and would restore stability to prices in this country. Because of the Government’s failure to control inflation, we are confronted in this chamber to-night with a measure which has not the support of those on this side of the Senate and certainly has not the support of the Australian people. That may be one of the reasons why honorable senators on the Government side have consistently attacked this measure and then, as I have said, have sought to defend themselves by miserably stating the reasons why they are going to vote for it. In the policy speech made :n 1949 and in subsequent policy speeches made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) repeated statements were made about the intention and the ability of the Liberal Party and the Country Party to control inflation, but no statement was ever made, as a pre-election policy determination, that they intended to deal this devastating blow at the people of Australia. It is easy to understand that the trend of thought of this Government is to make all sorts of fantastic promises, to give the people all sorts of fantastic assurances, and, in fact, to tell them everything except the bad things it intends to do. Then, of course, a thing like this drops on to the Australian community like a bombshell.
– It probably had an influence on the Lismore election result.
– The measure now before the Senate may have had something to do with the result of the Lismore election. While speaking of Senator McKenna’s remarks about inflation, let me say that I was not very happy to see the behaviour of some honorable senators opposite during Senator McKenna’s speech. As everybody in this chamber knows, Senator McKenna approaches all these measures with considerable thought, quietly and without provocation. Yet we saw Senator Scott and Senator Wright indulging in loud conversation while Senator McKenna was attempting to bring out points associated with this measure. It is well known that Senator Wright and Senator Scott constitute what might be termed the larrikin element in the Senate. They acted in that way then, and I take strong exception to their conduct. Normally the Leader of the Government is heard with a certain amount of respect from this side of the chamber. We do not object to interjections, but I think it was a mark of disrespect for those two senators to carry on as they did during the address of Senator McKenna.
Having said that, I want to get back to the measure now before the Senate. I do not think enough publicity has been given to what actually happened in respect of this bill. For instance, I do not know whether the general public of Australia know that this is not the original bill. The original bill caused an upheaval in the ranks of Government supporters - an upheaval which, if given the same degree of prominence by the press as that which is given to any little storm which occurs in our party, would have created tremendous public interest. For instance, it was freely stated in the press that unless some action was taken by members of the Government side, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) intended to resign his post. That was stated and it was not denied. It is perfectly obvious that there was serious disruption in the ranks of the Government parties on this issue, and no member on the Government side in this chamber, or in another place, has ever attempted to deny that such was the case. Government members have sought to give the Senate and people outside the impression that there is a tremendous amount of unanimity of thought about this measure as far as Government members are concerned, but we know that that is not the case.
We know that after the upheaval to which I have referred - which almost brought disaster to the Government parties - the bill was re-drafted in such a way that it was perhaps more acceptable to some of the rebels in the Government ranks. But even now there are members of the Government parties who are not happy about the situation. From the speeches that have been made on this issue in this chamber alone it is obvious that a considerable number of members are not happy about it. For instance, there is no community of thought between Senator Anderson and Senator Maher. Senator Anderson expounded the virtues of a government which permitted ordinary mail to be sent by air mail, whereas Senator Maher said it was a stupid extravagance. What I want to know is: What is the opinion of Government senators on this issue? At least, you know where the Opposition stands. We are opposing the measure unequivocally.
– You have not said much about it yet.
– Give me time and I will come on to it. I have dealt with the unhappy history of the previous bill. I now come to the present bill. Some members of the Government may think I am over-stating the position, but let me say that even now, when the bill has been redrafted, there is dissension amongst Government members. I shall read a brief extract from a speech which was made in another place on 17th September by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), who is, of course, a member of the Govern:;i;r.: parties. He had this to say -
I believe this bill should be delayed, but I fear that on this occasion the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has adapted the motto of his department - “ The mail must go through “ - and the parliamentary battle-cry now is, “ The bill must go through”.
I put it to the honorable and gallant gentleman that there are a number of highly intelligible reasons why this measure should be delayed. I propose to invoke three authorities in support of my case. The first is the authority of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). The second is the authority of the Auditor-General. Thirdly, I invoke the authority of the Postmaster-General himself.
The honorable member for Moreton in another place, after making that statement, went on to indicate beyond any shadow of doubt that the bill, even in its redrafted form, did not have his support. And he was not the only member on the Government’ side who was opposed to the proposals contained in the bill. So I think it has been established that, despite what honorable senators on the Government side have said in this chamber, this sorry measure which we have to vote upon in this Senate is not one that meets with the unqualified approval of the supporters of the Government. It was not only a revolt of the backbenchers, or hostility on the part of the PostmasterGeneral; another voice also intruded into the situation and caused the Government to back-pedal on this issue. That was the voice of organizations which would have been so badly affected by the first measure and will still be affected by this measure that is before us at the moment. Publications by religious and church organizations which deem them to be necessary in expounding their doctrines were also involved. Those organizations considered that distribution of their publications would have been threatened. I shall have more to say about that matter later.
Country newspapers were up in arms because of the lack of thought of those who have been in office - in their high ivory tower - for the last ten years. Their protests apparently penetrated the ivory skulls of those who run the nation’s affairs to-day; and they ran for cover. Those things should not go unnoticed. It is interesting to recall that when the storm was raging in respect of the initial measure, I asked the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Cooper), who represents the Postmaster-General in the Senate, whether he was aware of the impact which the previous measure would have had on the country press and the religious press throughout Australia.
– You were the first to do it.
– Yes; no member of the Government side evinced any particular interest in the organizations concerned. I take no credit for raising the matter, because I was asked to do so by the bodies I have mentioned. It is interesting to recall that when I asked the Minister whether he was aware that out of an annual subscription of 10s. for a country newspaper, the publishers would have to pay 8s. 4d. postage under the Government’s first proposals, he had so little knowledge of the difficulties which would have confronted country newspapers throughout this nation that he said all they would have to do would be to increase their subscription rate by 2s. Id. per annum to cover the additional cost. His attitude implied that the Government could not be worried about the matter, that it was the affair of those newspapers. Of course, it was not their affair; and the bill was redrafted.
– Are you quite sure about that?
– Yes. Now I come to the second-reading speech made by the Minister for Repatriation in this chamber. Frankly, I sympathize with the Minister -n his having to read a second-reading speech of twelve pages in explanation of the proposals contained in the bill. He did not look very happy in performing that task. He gave me the impression of a man wrestling with himself trying to find some virtue where virtue did not exist - something that he could seize upon to justify some of the things in this bill. He could not do so. He waded his melancholy way through his second-reading speech and was then glad to sit down, implying by the expression on his face, “You can tear :’.t apart. I have done my part. I have rea: it all.” It sounded like a funeral dirge, and I think the Minister was very pleased when it was all over.
I turn now to the question of the country press. Senator Anderson said that nothing had happened which would disturb the position of the country newspapers ;n Australia. In this connexion, it is interesting to recall this passage from the Minister’s dreary oration -
About 150,000,000 separately addressed newspapers and periodicals are at present posted annually in bulk; the total subsidy each year is therefore of the order of £3,000,000. With an increase in rates, some decline in postings may occur and about 130,000,000 articles may be posted in the next twelve months. At a subsidy of 4id. each, this would still involve a total concession of about £2,500,000 to this class of mail.
It is obvious, when one reads that passage in its proper context, that the only thing the Government was concerned about was the saving of the amount of £2,500,000. But at the same time, the Government admitted that probably that figure of 130,000,000 periodicals or papers would decline by 20,000,000 in consequence of the charges that are proposed in this bill. That will mean that hundreds of thousands of voices will be stilled, that the interchange of thought about which the Government is so fond of preaching in this chamber and in another place will be hindered. Qf what concern is it to the Government whether some country newspaper goes to the wall, or some man unattached to a party political organization is prevented from presenting independent ideas to the community? What does the Government care whether in consequence of this drastic action, some small newspaper goes out of existence? It does not care one iota. It is to the discredit of supporters of the Government that they did not utter a single word in defence of the independent country press. Certainly tb: great newspapers of Australia are not going to suffer in consequence of any provision in this measure; they are adequately protected. This is just one of those things which inevitably happens when a section of the community is attacked - the Government always leaves the monopolies alone because they are too strong and have too much of a hold on its supporters. But it does not mind attacking the small man and putting him out of business.
– We leave the banks alone.
– But the banks do not leave this Government alone. If the honorable senator wants to pursue that line of thought, I say to him, “ You cannot leave them alone”.
– I cannot; that is the trouble.
– They are not going to leave you alone either, because they have their grip on you and they will never let go.
Another body that will be affected by the proposals contained in this bill is the trade union movement. Like the country press and the religious organizations throughout Australia, they will be affected by the increased charges. It means that the ordinary working people of this country who have views to put forward will find difficulty in doing so simply because this Government, in an orgy of raking in the cash, has now to do everything possible to correct the position it has allowed to arise over the last ten years. It has to drag everything back in one year. Would it not have been far better if some warning had been given to the people who will be so vitally affected by the proposals in this bill? Would it not have been much better if the Government had indicated its intention twelve months in advance of taking action in order that these people could express their opinions before the Government took the final drastic step. But, of course, the Government would not follow that course. All it wanted to do was to get the measure through as quickly as possible in order to prevent the people I have mentioned from offering any effective opposition to it until it was too late for them to do so. That was obviously the trend of thought that dominated the minds of Government members when dealing with this matter.
I have noted with interest the table in statement “ D “, which has been circulated for the information of honorable senators. One significant fact that emerges from a scrutiny of this table is that small country towns and hamlets are more seriously affected by these increased telephone charges than are other areas. People who have sufficient pioneering spirit to go into the outback to develop it, to live in surroundings that are not so good as those in urban areas, and to put up with all sorts of disabilities arising from their isolation will be penalized more harshly and more viciously than any other sector of the community. The base rental for a business telephone will be increased from £4 7s. 6d. to £7, or by £2 12s. 6d. The rental of two-party telephones is increased by £1 2s. 6d. and three-party or more by £1. Clearly, the people who will suffer the greatest disabilities because of distance and other factors are most harshly penalized, and that is an action of utter stupidity by the Government.
In both State and Federal spheres, we have always prated about encouraging effective decentralization. By inserting these terms in the bill, the Government has struck a blow at effective decentralization. It has made life in the outback more expensive and more difficult. A penalty is being imposed upon people who are prepared to go to the very frontiers of the country and to live in areas where development has not yet taken place. That fact is inescapable. The most vicious and unjust charges have been imposed on these people. After all, people in outback regions have a telephone installed not to ring up to find out what is on at the local pictures but to get in touch with fire stations, hospitals and other places that can help to meet the hazards of life on the outer fringes of civilization as we know it. These telephones are not used idly; they are perhaps used for more vital purposes than are those in metropolitan and large country towns. Yet the greatest burden has been imposed upon these people. Surely there must be somebody in this Senate - perhaps one of the members ‘ of the Australian Country Party whose voices are heard ever less these days - who will speak for people in the outback areas. No one has done so yet, but possibly some one will do
SO7- Senator Wade perhaps.
– I hope to do so.
– Senator Wade may have something to say for them. However, there is no escape from the conclusion that the Government has imposed a savage penalty on these people, a penalty that they do not deserve and a penalty that should not be imposed on them. The increased telephone charges impose the most severe strain on those who have not the capacity to bear it. As all honorable senators know, many people have a telephone installed almost exclusively because they have a sick person in the home and it is necessary to be able to contact a medical man without delay, if something goes wrong. But a penalty has been imposed on these people. Honorable senators opposite go through the bill and point to one or two green leaves on a dead tree. They say, “ We did something about trunk line charges and about some ether 1 natters. Consequently, this is not too bad.” The relief afforded by those alterations is merely the sugar coating on one of the most bitter pills that the Australian public has ever been asked to swallow. Let us face the situation. The Government can talk in terms of trunk line concessions and of variations in postal rates which will benefit certain people, but the stark fact remains that the Government is collecting from the community £17,000,000 in one year. We can forget all about the sugar coating on the pill; the people must pay that £17,000,000, and it is a lot of money. As I have said, the Government has sought in this one bill to take from the Australian people the collective result of Liberal and Country Party mismanagement in the pas? ten years.
I was interested in an illustration given by Senator McKenna, and I think it bears repetition. He said that when Henry Ford found that his business was declining, instead of panicking and increasing the price of his product, he decreased the price. As a consequence, more people wanted to buy his motor car and this resulted in increased production. He found that by substantially decreasing the cost of the motor car he had solved his economic problem.
– But Ford was running a private enterprise business.
– That makes the argument more pertinent.
– As Senator Ridley said, Senator Hannan’s interjection makes my argument all the more pertinent. The situation was that Ford solved the position and made his company financially sound by reducing prices. If we reduced the Post Office charges-
– And reduce staff; would you recommend that?
– I shall deal with that interjection in a moment. If we reduced charges, more people would avail themselves of the services, and we would find that the Government, by adopting this method would achieve the same result as did Henry Ford. Unfortunately, we seem to follow the economic genius of Horatio Bottomley rather than of Henry Ford. I come now to the question raised by Senator Hannan, as to whether the staff of the Post Office should be increased.
– No. I asked whether you would recommend that the staff be reduced.
– No, 1 am not recommending that the staff be reduced. I have said nothing about staff. I suggested that the Post Office reduce its charges and thus encourage more people to use its facilities and to pay revenue to it. I did not say anything about the staff, and I do not want to be misunderstood.
In the few moments that I have left for my speech to-night, I want to touch on the proposal which is another part of the sugar coating of this very distasteful measure. I refer to the proposed appointment of a committee to examine and report on the whole ramifications of our postal system.
Nobody seems to know anything about this committee. All we know is that it will be appointed. We do not know how it will be constituted and we have no information about it at all. However, it does seem to me to be rather a stupid proposition that, after all this trouble has occurred as a result of the Government’s stupid action in introducing this bill, we should appoint a committee to examine the system. It is like appointing a committee, after a man has been hanged, to determine whether he was guilty. The damage has been done. 1 do not know what earthly use the report of this committee will be, if it is ever constituted. I would be very surprised indeed if we heard anything more about it in the next twelve months, and I think honorable senators on the Government side would be equally surprised. My only regret is that time does not permit me to deal with some of the other objectionable features that are inherent in this legislation. 1 conclude by saying that the Opposition opposes it, and we believe that, in so doing, we have the unqualified support of the Australian people.
– I do not propose to indulge in a Mandrake exhibition of the kind my friend, Senator Toohey, has been indulging in. The way in which he has been looking into people’s minds in the last ten minutes is truly amazing, but I do hope to refer a little later to some of the statements that he made. It is somewhat difficult at this stage to avoid reference to matters that have already been mentioned by previous speakers. I referred to the postal charges in my speech on the Budget a few days ago. I should like to join with those speakers who have seen fit to congratulate the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) on the wonderful improvement that has taken place in the Postal Department, especially over the last few years. A very worthy example was set him by the previous PostmasterGeneral who, in spite of all the things that have been said about the party that I represent was also an honoured and esteemed member of that party. I refer to the late Larry Anthony.
Senator Toohey’s remarks notwithstanding, I am pleased to say that the Budget contains a reference to the intention of the Government to set up a committee to go into the whole question cf capitalization of the Postal Department. It will, I believe, prove very advantageous. I sincerely hope that it will be only a matter of weeks before a committee of this nature is formed. I also hope and trust sincerely that the Government will regard the appointment of a committee as an urgent measure. It gives me considerable pleasure to see that the original intention to increase postal charges, especially on bulk postage, by 100 per cent, has now been changed in favour of an increase of 33i per cent.
– Senator Toohey was right there.
– He is right sometimes. The Labour Party is not always wrong. In speaking to the Budget I said that I regarded the proposed increases as too high; that it would be wiser and more equitable, if increases were necessary, as has been proved, to have them on a lower scale. The Government has been castigated and criticized for reversing its earlier decision with regard to these charges, but I remind honorable senators of that old saying which 1 think is just as true to-day as it was when we first heard it, that a wise man changes his mind sometimes, but a fool never. Cabinet is to be commended on its courage in reversing its earlier decision to make steep increases that were, perhaps, unjust, and replacing them by increases on a lower level. The Government should be commended rather than criticized for doing that. I know that it is the role of the Opposition to criticize Government measures, but in the criticism that has been directed at this measure I find a tinge of envy - envy as a result of our Labour opponents looking back to the years when they were in office and recalling the slow rate of development that took place in those days, compared with the tremendous growth that has taken place since the Postal Department has been under the control of a Liberal-Australian Country Party Government. I quite realize that the criticism of Opposition members is of a somewhat envious nature, and that if we had been in their position our criticism would also have been tinged with envy.
I was also rather intrigued by the irony of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McKenna) paying generous tribute to Sir Arthur Fadden. T agree that the tribute was well deserved, but 1 found it ironical for the reason that, of all the Treasurers we have had he has, perhaps, suffered the most criticism. 1 have no doubt that some years hence we shall find the Opposition - for they will still be over on that side - referring in similar terms to the present Postmaster-General, Mr. Charles Davidson. Senator McKenna referred to the Australian Country Party as the “ rump “ party. As is fairly well known one can get some good cuts of steak off the rump of a beast but can get none off the horns. He went on to refer - and in this he was supported by Senator Toohey - to the beginning of the disintegration of the Australian Country Party. I have heard similar criticism hundreds of times over the last ten years. Instead of the party dying - on some occations we have even been described as dead - we are still playing our part with our Liberal colleagues in providing this country with sound and beneficial government. In spite of the weekly efforts that are made, per medium of the press and other means of propaganda, to cause dissension between the two parties-
– In spite of the electoral results!
– We all have our setbacks, but my motto is, “ Often beaten, never bluffed “. Not only is the Australian Country Party doing an important work tut, as always, it has brought to its colleagues in Government loyalty and stability. Senator Toohey suggested that the bill had had to be redrawn, and seemed quite definite on that point. My information, which accords with my recollection, is that we have had before us only one bill, and that it has neither been redrawn nor redrafted. There again, his criticism when we examine it, is seen to fall on a dry and stony ground.
I regret that this measure imposing, as it does, increased charges, must inevitably add to our costs. Those costs, of course, are steep and are still rising, and whilst the increases are small in themselves they will, when added to the inescapable costs with which many of us are faced, constitute a serious situation for people, primary producers in particular, who are not in a position to pass on their costs. That is one criticism that I would offer. The same can be said, of course, of any measure which increases the costs of a particular industry. The postal charges are not alone in that respect.
Senator McKenna also mentioned that this Government had let inflation run loose. I refute that statement. It is not correct. This Government has done nothing of the kind. Admittedly, there has been some inflation, perhaps the first cause of which has been our immigration policy, as a result of which we have set out to bring to this country large numbers of immigrants. That has been done for two main reasons, the first being to increase productivity an to further the progress of Australia, and the second, to ensure that we shall be able to hold Australia. The second cause of inflation is that twelve months ago we budgeted for a defict of some £100,000,000. Those two things admittedly have tended to cause some inflation. But in the light of the circumstances, would not the Opposition have done the same if it had had Australia’s welfare at heart, as we have?
I think it is axiomatic that no increase of a charge is ever welcomed by those who are affected by it financially. Consequently, we have had a lot of protests from people interested in these proposed increases of postal charges. That is inevitable, but I think we must ask those critics to have a good look at the position. If they do, they will see that the Government had very little alternative but to increase charges. I propose to give some of the reasons for the decision to do so as I go along. First, let us have a look at the Postal Department accounts. It is plain for any one to see that they show quite a loss on the postal undertaking. Australia i a very large country, and there are many thousands of square miles to be served by the Postal Department. When we compare Australian postal charges with those of other countries we would do well to keep that fact in mind.
When we examine the position and consider the charges that are made for the postal services that are rendered, I think it is only fair to keep in mind that if we are to maintain existing services or to expand them, some increase of postal charges is necessary in view of the increased costs with which the Postmaster-General’s Department has been faced, in common with industries throughout Australia. I re mind Senator Toohey that the people who are living in comparative isolation, so far as communications are concerned, in mam cases are those who will benefit most from the proposals now before us. The fact that in the future letters will be carried by air at no extra charge has been mentioned.
– Yes, but Senator Maher said that that will not help people in the outback areas.
– Never mind what Senator Maher said. We have already heard what he had to say. I am referring to what Senator Toohey said, and I also have a few thoughts of my own.
Those people who are fortunate enough to have air services in the remote areas in which they live will benefit very considerably indeed from the proposals envisaged in this bill. I think some concession is being made to those people, and no doubt it will be appreciated by them. Because they live in remote areas they are obliged to do without many of the amenities that are so readily available to people who live closer to cities and towns, and the provision of cheaper air-mail services will be some recompense to them for the hardship; that they suffer compared with their more fortunate brethren who live closer to the amenities that so many people seek these days.
I turn now to discuss telephone services. One has only to pick up the telephone directory in almost any town or city of Australia to appreciate that, compared with the directory of ten years or so ago, there is very striking and conclusive evidence of the tremendous increase in the number of telephone subscribers that has occurred, with a correspondingly large increase in the number of telephones connected. Such an increase was undreamt of before the present Government parties came to office. In addition, we should not overlook the great increase that has occurred in the efficiency of telephone services. To-day, whether one is 300, 400 or 500 miles away from the nearest city, it is quite common to be connected to the person one is calling with sometimes no delay and, on other occasions, only very slight delay. Only a few years ago, one would have experienced’ delay of as much as eight hours. That improvement has been brought about by the expenditure of a lot of money by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. It has cost a lot to give us these improved services by way of duplication of trunk lines and the extension and improvement of the carrierwave system. As I mentioned earlier, if these improvements are to continue, we must be prepared to find more money for them. We know that it is the long-range plan of the Postmaster-General that, before long, a telephone subscriber will be able to dial another subscriber almost anywhere in Australia, near or far, within a State or interstate. In the light of what lies ahead of us, 1 think we must be prepared to make some worth-while contribution to the benefits that are to come in the very near future.
Another development is taking place with regard to telephone services in country areas. I refer to the installation and exten-: ion of the rural automatic exchange system. The extension of this system is inevitable in the plan for continued improvement of telephone services, but certain difficulties are connected with it. In some cases, these difficulties arise from the fact that people who wish to be connected to a rural automatic exchange are called upon to pay quite considerable sums of money. In some instances the amounts range as high as £300 and £400. Under the present system, the Postmaster-General’s Department constructs the line for perhaps 1 or 2 miles, depending on the number of subscribers on the line going out from the rural automatic exchange; but if a person who wishes to be connected happens to live 8 or 10 miles away from the exchange he is required to construct a private line. As I have stated, in some cases the cost of doing so amounts to £300 or £400. Now that telephone charges are to be increased, I hope that the Postmaster-General’s Department will be able to increase the length of line erected by the department, in that way considerably helping prospective subscribers by leaving them a shorter length of line to pay for. One of the benefits that country people will receive from the introduction of rural automatic exchanges will be the elimination of the present limit of three minutes on calls. That will prove to be of very considerable advantage. So many of us know from experience when ringing business people through exchanges that very often one’s business is not nearly finished when the pips begin.
Senator Toohey carefully avoided mentioning another aspect. The increase ‘in telephone charges will be considerably less for people living in country areas than for people in metropolitan areas - in spite of Senator Toohey’s statement that we have not paid any regard to people living in remote localities. When we examine his arguments, they fall to the ground. To sum up, we must consider these aspects, and it must be conceded that if we are to improve and expand our postal and telephone facilities we must, in fairness, ask the users to accept some additional charges rather than ask the taxpayer to bear the whole burden. It is in that light that I ask our critics to form their opinions of the measure that is before the Senate to-night.
– That section of the Budget in which were announced the increases provided for in the bill now before us was opposed not only by a very wide section of the public and, naturally, by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, but also as we now know by many honorable senators on the other side of the chamber. The proposal to increase postal charges caused dismay because the increases were to be of such a staggering character, and because the way in which they were announced denoted something more than just confusion in the Cabinet. It showed an attitude of contempt towards the Australian public which, I am afraid, has come about as a result of the Government’s having been ten years in office.
To me, watching politics from close range, the soft tones of Mr. Holt, in which the increases were foreshadowed were rather amusing. He has been a long time in this Parliament. He came here as a very young man, and he has held many portfolios. He said, in rather soft tones, merely that there were to be some increases in postal charges. It was left to Mr. Davidson of the Australian Country Party - not the Liberal Party - who, in spite of his years, has not been here as long as has Mr. Holt, to make the shattering announcement of the detailed increases. And shattering indeed it was. The shock went through many sections of the community. When the retreat started, the matter was not left to Mr. Davidson, who administers the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. A third figure entered the arena in the person of Mr. Menzies, who came out with soft, soothing words. He left the aura that somebody had blundered, and that it took the old master to bring the position back from the impossible to the merely difficult. Of course, that is a habit of Mr. Menzies. Other persons than Mr. Davidson have suffered by actions such as that. Frequently, we have seen unpalatable things having to bc done by the Minister in charge of a department, but when the retreat was on, when the wavering was over and action had to be taken, it was not the Minister but Mr. Menzies who made the announcement. That clearly illustrates the procedure followed by the Government. First is the soft announcement, next the harsh announcement, then two retreats and the appointment of a committee. This denotes a confusion of thought in the minds of members of the Cabinet. It shows a lack of controls and liaison, and an absence of co-ordination among the various departments in Canberra, including the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and the Treasury, and the drafting officers.
The history of increased charges in tru Postmaster-General’s Department sine 1 950 is of a gradual process of an inflationary nature. Senator Toohey was right when he said that the genesis of this measure was in the policies of the MenziesFadden Administration when it came into power in 1949. This is only one of the sections that have suffered from the deliberately inflationary policies that have been applied. Let us have a look at telegraph charges, which are not to be increased by this measure. There have been two increases in telegraph charges under this Government since 1950. Telegrams have been transformed from a very popular medium of communication into something that is barely mentioned to-day. Prior to 1950, telegrams were used for all sorts of purposes. They were used for common appointments and business appointments, and congratulatory telegrams were used in all circumstances. Christmas telegram traffic grew to the point where it could not be handled by junior postal officers, but had to be carried by train, motor cycle and other conveyance.
The business community should be grateful to the Post Office for helping to put on the calendar Mother’s Day as we know it to-day. Even within my lifetime Mother’s Day was not observed as it is to-day. Commercial interests have capitalized on it, and it has been changed from an occasion for merely a bunch of flowers into one for the most expensive gifts. But Mother’s Day could never have achieved that wide popularity had it not been for the way in which telegrams were used under the old, cheaper rates. 1 heard an elderly senator say yesterday that at one time his grandchildren from all over Australia sent telegrams on his birthday, but nowadays there are no telegrams, but only cards. Tint illustrates more than does anything else how the telegraph branch has been pushed into the background. I tried to interject when Senator Spooner was speaking. He seemed to have a lot of facts and figures that he did not quite understand. He was saying how the cost of administering a telegraph room had been reduced. Obviously, when there is a reduction :n cost to-day, there must be a vital reason for it. I suggested it was because of the great machinery that has been introduced into the telegraph room under the Tress system. He asked, in that bulldozing manner of his, “ Do you not agree with that? “ He always believes that the best form of defence is attack. That is why he makes so many mistakes in his administrative capacity. The fact is that the cost of telegrams has placed them beyond the means of ordinary persons. From being a popular medium of communication they have become unpopular. Efficient and expensive machinery has been introduced by the department over the years. The machines that have been introduced into the telegraph room are wonderful, indeed. The Tress system has reduced staffing to a fraction of what it was. The Minister sai-.l that £450,000 a year was being saved by Tress alone. But whether it be in the Postmaster-General’s Department, in private industry, in factories or anywhere else, tha only way of getting back the money expended on expensive machinery is to use the machinery. A very close examination should be made of the economics of th: telegraph room, to ensure that these highly efficient instruments by which the Government believes it is saving £450,000 a year, are used to their full capacity. Without really knowing the position, I suspect that in some telegraph rooms of Australia much of this machinery is lying idle for a large part of the day. With automation now in the Postal Department, the day might well come when telegrams can become once more a common medium of communication. lt could well be that costs in the telegram branch could be reduced considerably using the Tress system, this new automamation to the limit. Do not let it be thought that telegrams are not being sent because people are using the telephones more. There is a fringe of people who do not use telephones, who have not got telephones; and it is of no use whatever attempting to use the telephone if the person with whom it is desired to communicate has no telephone. lt must be obvious that we have a gap in the medium of quick communication when telegrams are pushed out of the reach of such people.
The surcharge on airmail has been a great cause of controversy even on the Government side where we see the more forward-thinking members of the rather backward-thinking Country Party suggesting that if the Postmaster-General and the Government had been consistent they would have increased not only the ordinary postage rate, but also the airmail rate. I admit readily that the proposed new air rates will be of great benefit to Western Australia, particularly the north-west of that State, and I should imagine that they will be of great benefit also to Tasmania. But the benefit will be by no means so great for Australia as a whole as honorable senators opposite would have us believe. Western Australia and Tasmania are the two most sparsely populated States, and the concession proposed in the bill will be of benefit to the minimum not the maximum number of people in Australia. Again, there is no need for me to stress the fact that business people have no wish to send receipts, openbacked letters or greeting cards by airmail. I was also interested to hear Senator McManus speaking about the increase from 7 per cent, to 24 per cent, in the amount of mail carried by air. He was supported by Senator Anderson, who occupies another position temporarily at the moment; but surely it will not be argued that this increase will not be of great benefit to the airline companies of Australia of which, as we all know, there are not many.
I do not blame the Post Office for the proposed increases in telephone charges. It cannot do more than available funds will permit, but it is indeed a very poor record for any Australian government to be saying in effect, fourteen years after the war, that there is a war on. One can almost hear members of the Government uttering that parrot-cry. For the last ten or twelve years expenditure in the Postmaster-General’s Department should have been directed towards installing telephones in people’s homes. The Post Office is not now the organization that we knew as children. I ask any one who may be listening to me to-night how many times they use the facilities of the suburban post office and how often they use a telephone. The telephone network of Australia may be likened to a spiderweb holding business together. Not only does it cover the whole of Australia, but it has tenuous threads extending to other countries. It is a comfort to the ordinary person, and the rare occasions on which people use the suburban post offices to-day are as nothing compared to the number of times they use telephones. One honorable senator on the Government side said to-day that the local post office was virtually a social centre. It is not meant to be a social centre; its purpose is to provide business facilities and, by extending its telephone service, make Australia a better place to live in. A telephone in the home at least is some little comfort.
Both Senator Spooner and Senator Anderson seemed to be worried about the fact that it costs £300 to install a telephone. When I asked Senator Spooner how that figure was arrived at, he was not sure. He then went on to say that one of the great difficulties experienced by the Post Office was that after asking for an instrument that cost £300 to install, people did not use it very much. Let us examine the position from the point of view of investment. In the first place, an installation charge of £10 is made. This reduces the cost to £290. It is proposed to charge an annual rental of £14, so the cost of installation will be recouped at the end of 21 years. It takes longer than that to pay off a home, and many people are investing in homes to-day because they know homes are a good investment. In addition to that, the cost of maintenance is not so great. Very little maintenance is involved for telephones, except perhaps in respect of smashed handsets. Again, very little maintenance is required on the cable that connects the phone to the exchange. Some maintenance is required on the switch hooks in a suburban telephone exchange. But, generally speaking, I think it is fair to say that the maintenance rate is not high. As to the complaint that people do not use the telephone very frequently, I can only say that 1 have yet to meet the person who does not do so after having one installed. A person might think that he will not use it, but, brother, he has a shock coming to him, especially if teenage children are in the house. However, even if the return is from the rental alone, the investment is not such a bad one if the capital cost is recouped in 21 years. Of course, if the price of calls continues to increase, the capital cost will be recouped in less than 21 years.
What I do not like about the whole thing is the contemptuous attitude of Cabinet towards the public. Here, I should say, the Labour Party is to blame to some extent in that the Government is not in office by virtue of what it has done but mainly because of the fact that, just prior to the elections, the Labour Party was faced with troubles that it was not able to handle at the time. That position will be remedied in the very near future, so the Government should not become contemptuous of the public because of the Labour Party’s troubles. Another great defect is the fact that instead of adopting the attitude that its duty is to give service to the people, the Post Office is taking up the attitude that the people ought to be grateful for the things it does. All the time we see the services being whittled down. For instance, letter cards and newspaper wrappers, although minor facilities, were of some benefit to the people. However, because they were not being used very much and the Post Office said they were expensive to handle, the policy is to discontinue such services.
In the first place, I cannot understand the argument as to cost. Surely the only costs involved are those of printing and distribution. These aids cost nothing while they lie in the postmaster’s safe or in the postal clerk’s drawer waiting for somebody to buy them. I cannot see where any high cost is involved there, unless there has been an in crease in the cost of printing. Again, the cost of distribution should be infinitesimal because the Postal Department surely is one department that can escape postage. The general policy seems to be that as these aids are not being used very much they should not be provided. To me, the important point is that they were of some service to the little man in the community. It is obvious that the business man would not use letter cards for he has his own letterheads, secretary, typewriter and all the rest. The same may be said of establishments posting large numbers of newspapers. They do not buy the newspaper wrappers.
The aim of the Post Office should be to popularize its services. Letter cards and newspaper wrappers were of benefit to the small people in the community, to the person who might want to buy a card, write on it at the post office and post it immediately. Similarly, newspaper wrappers were of benefit to those who wanted to post newspapers on odd occasions. That facility was of great benefit and preferable to getting mixed up with glue, string and yards of brown paper. But, as I say, the attitude of the Post Office is that as few of these aids are being sold, as the activity does not seem profitable, the people should be deprived of them. Never mind about public demand. That is the attitude that is adopted.
The installation fee for telephones is something that I have growled about in this place many times. I have made personal appeals to people about it. I have said, “ For goodness’ sake, do not introduce it “. The argument in favour of the installation fee is that it costs £300 to install a telephone. In that case, why not be logical and say, “We want a return of that £300”? Why not charge £300 to put a telephone in? Why just pick out a figure? Why say, “We are going to make you stand and deliver £10 before we install a telephone in your home or in your business premises “? Why pick on one-thirtieth of the amount? But then the Government adds insult to injury and says, “ If you shift from a place on one side of the road to a place on the other side, we will make you pay us another £10 to shift your telephone “. That, of course, is going to a ridiculous extreme. The attitude there again is, “We are not going. to try to help you in this; you should be grateful to us for providing the service “.
A grand opportunity in relation to telephones has been missed. I think that the attitude of the Government towards the installation of telephones shows a lack of faith in the future of Australia. It has seemed to me that ever since this back-log of telephone installations built up, some people have been saying, “Yes, but the people who are applying for telephones to-day will not be able to afford them tomorrow, and if we install the telephones now, we shall have dead telephones on our hands later”. The Government wants to see whether these increases in telephone charges will have the effect of reducing the long waiting list. I believe that it is hoping that some people will say, “A telephone is too expensive for me now, so I withdraw my application “. That is the negative approach to the problem.
Since the end of the war we have only had to go to a State Housing Commission to learn how fast buildings are going up. The officers of the commission point to a piece of virgin land in a suburb and tell you that within the next six months, or within the next two, three or four years, whatever the period may be, 700 or 800 homes will be built there. That was not happening before the war. What is happening now gives this Government a chance to be what it claims to be - that is, a business government. The success of a business depends upon anticipating demand. It should have been possible for the telephone branch to be laying its cables and choosing sites for telephone exchanges at the same time as roads were being built and electricity, water and other services were being provided in rapidly developing areas. However, it has been waiting for the demand to build up, and that has made confusion worse confounded. I do not blame the staff of the Postmaster-General’s Department for what has been happening. They are civil servants, and they have to carry out government policy. It is a credit to their loyalty that they have been doing that for the last ten years without complaining.
One of the most interesting arguments that T have heard in this debate - it is the one which. I think, shows very clearly the confusion in the minds of members of the
Government - is that first-class mail subsidizes other forms of mail. The argument seems to be that the carriage of first-class mail is a paying proposition, but that bulk postage is not and that it should be made to pay. 1 do not suppose that there is any business organization in the community that can point to every one of its multifarious activities and say that on each of them it is showing a profit. I believe that every one of us here uses the mails to post and to receive letters, newspapers and parcels. I believe that every one of us in the course of a year sends and receives letters, sends and receives parcels and sends and receives newspapers.
This is not a question of a mythical section of our community subsidizing another section. If we proceed in accordance with the arguments advanced by some Government senators, we had better start to divide Australia up and charge all the people who live north of the 26th parallel higher postage rates than those charged to people who send a letter from, say, one side of Melbourne to the other. That situation has never existed so far.
Then we come to the case developed by Senator Spooner and Senator Anderson. There must have been a great conference between them when they were preparing their speeches. I am referring to the question of the investor in the Post Office versus the user of the Post Office. If any one can tell me the difference between the two, I should like him to do so. To give Senator Anderson his due, he said there was not necessarily a difference. But surely the person who contributes by way of taxation to the cost of providing the buildings and equipment used by the Post Office is also the person who is using the Post Office facilities. I have tried very hard to think of an investor in the Post Office who is not also a user of the Post Office, but I have failed.
If a man is paying high taxes, he is, generally speaking, a big businessman, and, through his business, is using the services provided by the Post Office. It seems to be argued that, for this purpose. Australians should be divided into two classes - the class that is paying taxes to provide the money to build post offices and pay the wages of postal staff, and the class that posts letters, using the postal services and getting all the benefit from them. That is not the way in which we approach taxation in this country. The person who pays the greatest amount in taxation does not necessarily - in fact, very rarely does he - get anything back by way of, say, social services. 1 look round the chamber and I see a lot of wealthy people opposite who are contributing, througn their taxes, to such things as child endowment. Let me assure them that they w.ll never rake in any benefit from that section of our social services.
Then we get the nebulous kind of attitude, “ We want to make the Post Office competitive. Therefore, we must make it pay interest, so that it will be competitive with “ - that is where I stop. Competitive with what? Certainly a business undertaking must be able to compete with others in its field. But who is the Post Office competing with? We are reaching the peculiar position that the Government is saying, having taxed the people and used their money to build up the Post Office, “ Now that we have got your money, we are going to charge you interest on it “. As Senator Benn pointed out, that is the reverse of what happens when people invest in an ordinary enterprise.
One feature of this debate which is very pleasing to me, as an ex-official of the Postmaster-General’s Department, is that so many people have praised the staff of the Post Office. Thank goodness, there has been a change of heart since I was in the department. It has been good indeed to hear those words of praise, and I think that every word was justified. The thought that comes into my mind in this connexion is that it is a pity that the staff have not been given an opportunity to do an even better job. I would say to the presidents and the secretaries of the various postal unions that when next they are preparing a log of claims to present to an arbitration court, they should subpoena the Liberal Party and Country Party members to appear on their behalf and repeat some of the nice things that they have said about the postal staff to-day.
As Senator McManus has pointed out, after all this confusion a committee of some sort is to be set up. For years I have been one who has said that we want a committee to investigate the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. I think that the report of such a committee would silence the critics of the department, and I trunk it would also lead to many improvements, lt would do away with much of the criticism, some of it fair and some of it unfair, that is levelled at the department from time to time. But, for goodness sake, when we appoint this committee do not let us adopt the attitude that this Government has been adopting for ten years - that the users of the Post Office ought to be grateful for what the department is doing for them. After all, every government department exists to serve the public good. Every department, in these enlightened times, owes something to the loyalty of its staff. For goodness’ sake, let us have on the committee representatives of the public - people who know what the public demands from the postal service. Let us also have representatives of the service organizations. I doubt whether industrial relations in the department have improved over the last few years. If you let a deterioration of industrial relations go too far, goodness knows where you will arrest it.
Senator McKellar started his speech bv saying that Labour had been in power for years, and he asked: Why did it not do something progressive like this? Of all the bills he could have selected on which to say that, why did he have to pick this one? Let us have a look at what we have got. As I said at the outset, there has been a decision, two retreats, and Mr. Menzies saying that he had been a little in the dark about the matter. Then the Treasurer said that a committee would be set up, but we have heard nothing more about its composition. When Labour was in office, Mr. Chifley was sometimes accused of being a little stubborn. The opponents of Labour made that assertion because the procedure adopted by Mr Chifley was the reverse of the procedure that is followed by this Government. Mr. Chifley first examined the facts, and then made a decision. I say advisedly and in a spirit of friendliness to our new senator, Senator McKellar: Oh to goodness that we could get back to that kind of progress, with effective government leadership making clear-cut decisions in the first place with the backing of experts.
– In rising to support the bill, I should like first to correct a statement that was made by Senator Toohey to the effect that the Government, after introducing this measure, thought fit to alter it on two occasions. The original measure that was introduced into the other house has not been changed. I will not deny that some feeling was expressed at our party meetings about some of the proposals, but I suppose that is the right of members of every political party. After expressing their feelings on some of the proposals, some members of the Government parties were able to persuade the Cabinet to alter some features of the legislation.
– Don’t give us that.
– That is correct. And the bill having been introduced into another place, it has not been amended. Senator Willesee, in an endeavour to drive a wedge between the Government parties, said that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), who is a member of the Country Party, was overridden by the members of the Liberal Party. .1 assure the honorable senator that the Government parties stand firm on this measure; we stand behind the Minister who introduced the measure in another place. There is no division on it at the present time; we stand united. Senator Toohey’s statement that the bill was amended on two occasions after its introduction into the Parliament is incorrect. I do not know where he got that idea from.
– You will admit, 1 suppose, that there were some slight alterations after the Budget was brought down?
– If Senator Kennelly will refer to the Treasurer’s Budget speech, he will see that the right honorable gentleman stated that other items would be brought in by the Minister.
– But there were some slight alterations, were there not?
– I do not agree with you. All I am saying is that the Treasurer said that when the legislation was introduced it would cover some other items of interest.
I should like now to deal with a statement that was made by one of mv colleagues to the effect that the abolition of the airmail surcharge will be of no benefit at all to people who live in outback areas, particularly in Queensland. He said that very few towns in Queensland would benefit from the abolition of the surcharge, which will, in effect, reduce the cost of airmail postage on ordinary letters by 2d. The following towns in Queensland which are now served by the main airlines will benefit from this reduction: Mount Isa, Cloncurry, Winton, Muttaburra, Longreach, Aramac, Blackall, Isisford, Quilpie and Charleville. Those outback towns are now served by the jet service.
– They are all Queensland towns?
– Yes, and I could mention also many outback towns in Western Australia which will benefit by the reduction of the charge for airmail on ordinary letters from 7d. to 5d. In many instances, people living in the north-west of Western Australia have sometimes had to wait several weeks for their mail because the sender did not realize that those areas were served by air. If only a 4d. stamp were put on a letter addressed to some one in the north-west, the letter would go by surface mail. It may be sent by sea to Darwin or Wyndham and then be forwarded to outback stations. Consequently, some of the addressees might have to wait three or four weeks for their letters. With the abolition of the airmail surcharge, ordinary mail will be automatically forwarded by air, and the addressees will receive it, in many instances, within 24 hours of posting. Therefore, the abolition of the airmail surcharge will be of distinct advantage to the people living in outback areas. People living in the capital cities, also, will benefit when they want to send letters to other capital cities.
I come now to the provisions of the bill. The increased charges contemplated will yield revenue of £16,200,000 in a full year, and about £10,000,000 in this financial year. Looking at the total cost of running the Post Office, we find that this year the cost will be more than £109,000,000, and the estimated revenue will be £119,000,000, so there will be a surplus of about £10,000,000.
I should like to look now at the capital expenditure that is needed if we are to provide the facilities that are so essential. Capital expenditure, apart from running expenses, reaches annually a total figure in the vicinity of £40,000,000. Therefore, even with increased charges, which are expected to produce an operating profit of £10,000,000, an overall deficit in the vicinity of £30,000,000 may be expected. It seems popular for members of the Opposition to condemn these increases, but I ask them this: What would they, do? Would they increase income tax? Labour’s preelection platform promised lower income taxes.
Another honorable senator opposite referred to the existence of an inflationary spiral.
– They are strangely silent now.
– They are saying nothing.
– We are not supposed to be saying anything.
– The same person said, not twelve months ago, “ Look at the unemployment “. We may confidently expect him to say the same in another two years’ time, just before an election. I have taken part in five election campaigns and recall that always, before an election, the Opposition has come out and said that this country is in the midst of a depression. “Kick the Liberals and the Australian Country Party members out; return a Labour government “, they have said. We were returned to office only eight or nine months ago, and we are being told of another inflationary spiral. I wish honorable members opposite would make up their minds which story they wanted to put across. A moment ago I mentioned that the total cost of running the Postal Department was about £40,000,000 annually and that, even with the increased charges, a deficit of £30,000,000 might be expected. How are we to overcome that? Opposition members will not tell us how that sum is to be found. Only two choices are open to us - to put up the charges or meet the loss from general revenue. If we do as the Opposition suggests and meet the loss from general revenue it will really be coming out of the pockets of the people, so eventually either the taxpayer or the person who is using the facility must pay.
– Is it your theory that we should pay off £40,000,000 in one year?
– I will give the honorable senator the benefit of my theories on the Postal Department in a moment or two. What he has said provides food for much thought, but at this stage I am merely point ing out that there will be an overall deficiency of £30,000,000, and I am suggesting that the only logical conclusion which could be reached by any responsible politician - statesman if you like - is that higher charges should be paid by the people who are using the particular facility.
– Who created the trouble?
– If the honorable senator really wants to know, it began when Labour had charge of the Postal Department. It increased bulk charges, by not 33i per cent., but 108 per cent.
– The honorable senator should not bring up the matter of bulk charges.
– 1 like discussing them. Labour imposed that increase in 1949. The proposed increases, if examined, will be seen to be fairly reasonable inasmuch as in a total year they will bring in some £16,200,000, and in the current year some £10,000,000. I do not think that is unreasonable. Some of the charges have not been increased since 1951, and I am not hiding the fact that these increases are necessary. I am sure that they are, and that honorable senators opposite realize that extra money must be found for the Postal Department. It is just a matter of how it can be obtained. The Opposition has not suggested how it can be done. Rather has it criticized the Government hoping that it will get the people behind it. The people generally are reasonable and know that in these times with a basic wage rise of 15s. to be faced, costs must go up, and that they can be ignored by no institution, business or otherwise. Since 1951, the total earnings from increased charges have amounted to only some £7,500,000 a year, while costs have increased by £30,000,000 a year. Something simply has to be done about it. One cannot keep meeting the loss from general revenue. It is beyond the bounds of reason that a government should subsidize such a large institution - efficient as it is - from general revenue to the tune of £40,000,000 a year, as would have happened if charges had not been increased. Ours is a prosperous country and, as might be expected, new telephone connexions are constantly being demanded. The new connexions needed this year are estimated at 114,000 - at a cost of approximately £300 each - a total expenditure of some £3,000,000. That is a lot of money, and it is growing annually. The demand for telephones is growing at the rate of 116,000 to 120,000 a year.
– That means increased business.
– Yes, and prosperity. Some 46,000 applications for telephones have not yet been met, but we are gradually overtaking the lag. With such a strong demand for new connexions each year we may never catch up, but we have reduced the lag from about 100,000 applications to about 40,000, which is a feat in itself. No doubt these connexions, when made, will produce more and more revenue for the Postal Department.
– Do I understand you to say that the lag has been cut to 46,000?
– Just before that you said that new applications totalled 116,000 annually. I think you had better look at the figures.
– I believe the figures I have given to be correct, and I remind the honorable senator that it is rude to interject. The Postal Department is a vast organization. It is reputed to be efficiently run, and I believe that it is, but I also believe that it would be a good thing for Australia if the whole of the Post Office was put under the control of a board of directors, as a corporation. I do not think it is getting a fair go at the present time.
– That is too revolutionary.
– I am only telling the Senate what 1 would do. I think the correct thing to do is to have a separate corporation, with a board of control, to run the Post Office under its own charter, so that it could borrow money for its capital development.
This huge organization is to-day providing services for many other instrumentalities and is not being recouped the full cost of those services. When I look at the annual report of the Postmaster-General’s Department I find that revenue collections in respect of the services that it renders for other instrumentalities total approximately £1,150,000 a year, or about onethird of 1 per cent, of the money that the Post Office handles. Those services cover a wide variety of operations, in connexion, with such matters as the payment of social service benefits and the administration of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. I do not believe for a moment that the Post Office is charging what it should for rendering those services. The instrumentalities that are having the services performed for them should pay adequately. I know that at present only a book entry is involved, so that it does not matter much whether or not a charge is made, but nevertheless that is one aspect of postal activities that the committee that the Government proposes to appoint might examine. It might be able to ascertain the amount that it costs the Post Office to pay social service benefits and payments of that kind, and it could then make a suitable recommendation.
If there were a corporation to administer the Post Office, and the administration were taken away from the field of politics altogether, the board would see to it that the Post Office was recouped in full for the cost of administering services for other departments.
– But you would not want a board for that, surely.
– Let us be serious about this matter. The Post Office is too bie an undertaking for us to play politics with it. Surely the honorable senator realizes that no one gets money for nothing these days. The taxpayers are paying in money to keep the Post Office going. 1 believe that officials of the Post Office would welcome the opportunity to run it under its own steam, provided that the Commonwealth guaranteed it, w;th provision for interest and sinking fund charges over a long period, as with the Snowy Mountains scheme. Honorable senators may say that the Post Office is too bis for that to be done and that it might not be possible to borrow money for its operations I suggest that it might be possible to borrow money overseas for an undertaking such as this and to let posterity look after its development. The taxpayers of to-day certainly have to provide large amounts for it. The provision of £30,000,000 from in- come tax would mean that 7i per cent, of income tax payments would go in that way. I have worked out that percentage on the basis that a 5 per cent, reduction of income tax in a full year at the present time would cost revenue ?20,000,000. If postal charges were not increased, the deficiency in postal revenue would have to be met by the taxpayers. I think we could well look to the possibility of making the Post Office a corporation, with a board of control, thus taking it away from politics.
Senator Willesee stated tonight that he thought that postal charges should be increased from time to time in order to meet commitments. If the Post Office were under the control of a board, charges would be increased when it was necessary to do so, but with a political organization that is not always possible.
– But it is not a political organization, is it?
– It is under one - the government, of whatever political colour it happens to be.
– But you would still get that if the Post Office were controlled by a board.
– I should not think so. We could say to the board, “ You may borrow money and the Commonwealth will guarantee money for capital improvements, but the whole of the running expenses, including interest and sinking fund payments, have to be found by the people who are using postal services.” Is it fair to say that we will do everything out of general revenue? What of the person who lives in a small home in a suburb of one of the capital cities and is not interested in having a telephone? Do honorable senators think that that person should be obliged to pay income tax to help his next-door neighbour to have a telephone? That is what is happening to-day, and I do not think it is fair.
I offer this suggestion to the Senate because other organizations that have been established by the Government, such as the Australian National Airlines Commission and the Australian National Line, now operate at a profit services that previously were operating at a loss. The Post Office could be run just as well. As it became necessary to increase charges, that would be done automatically. Capital improvements would go ahead as they were needed. How does the Government know that the ?40,000,000 that it is said will be required for capital improvements for the Post Office this year will not be curtailed by 50 per’ cent.? lt might be decided to borrow, from a wealthy country overseas, up to ?100,000,000 for capital developments in the Post Office. This country could well stand such a loan, and I believe that the Post Office would be able to meet the commitment. I leave this suggestion with the Senate as food for thought.
Honorable senators opposite have said that the proposal to increase telephone charges is not quite fair, but I point out that many people who are using telephone services will in the future not pay as much for calls as they do to-day. People who now pay 8d. for calls within a zone 10 to 15 miles from the exchange will receive a concession of 4d. a call. People with telephones connected to the exchange in the country area of Western Australia in which I live, who are now obliged to pay 8d. for a telephone call, will in the future be privileged to use the telephone for 4d. Concessions will also be made in respect of calls within a zone 15 to 20 miles from the exchange. Calls that now cost ls. will in the future cost 8d. Similarly, within a zone 20 to 25 miles from an exchange, calls which now cost ls. 4d. will in future cost ls. People who wish to call a subscriber living more than 600 miles away will, I think, be able to do so for 15s. At present, the charge is ?1. Therefore, the proposals confer some benefits. I am not trying to hide the fact, that we intend to increase postal charges, but I suggest that we cannot allow- the Post Office to run at a loss. The increased charges that the Government proposes to make will reduce the loss this year to about ?30,000,000, after taking’ capital improvements into consideration. The deficit will be ?30,000,000 instead of ?40,000,000. If things were allowed to continue as they are for a year or two, the deficit probably would then be ?50,000,000.
I believe that this legislation is a step in the right direction. 1 am proud of our Post Office. I think it is necessary to increase postal charges to meet additional costs. I leave with honorable senators the idea of placing the Post Office under a separate corporation and allowing it, under a board, to look after its own affairs. I support the bill.
Senator COOKE (Western Australia) [10.301. - We have had very many attempts by Government supporters to describe this bill as being in some way beneficial to the user of the services of the Postal Department, and as relieving the taxpayer of the need to provide a considerable amount of money that would otherwise have been raised from him. Upon analysis, there is only one simple, down-to-earth way of explaining the position. The Government is levying high taxation and expending money from Consolidated Revenue, instead of loan money, on capital works. It is lending to the States money from Consolidated Revenue and charging them interest on it. That practice has been very strongly challenged by all students of political economy, who say that it is inequitable to the taxpayer and unjustifiable under any ethical system of Government finance. Now the Government has introduced this legislation to raise money to pay for capital works.
Some confusion of thinking has been displayed by Government senators in their support of this bill. On the one hand, the back-benchers contend that the money raised as a result of these increased charges will amortize capital expenditure. But no specific project is in view. The extra profits that the Government will get from the increased charges proposed, charges which will be passed on to the community, will go directly into Consolidated Revenue, to be appropriated from there from time to time as the Government thinks fit.
– Are you sure that that is in the bill?
– I shall tell the honorable senator what the Minister for Repatriation (Sir Walter Cooper) said in his secondreading speech. The Minister ought to understand, even if the honorable senator, as a back-bencher, does not. The Minister said -
Post Office revenue is likely to be £119,700,000 in 1959-60, compared with estimated ordinary services expenditure of £109,000,000. The cash surplus of £10.700,000 will, of course, be paid into Consolidated Revenue. . . .
– There is no reference to the Postal Department.
– Yes, there is. It deals with the revenue of the Postal Department. I can tell the honorable senator, but I cannot make him understand. The statement is clear enough. The position is that in a full year £17,000,000 more will be taken from the taxpayers who have provided, by way of taxation, £400,000,000 for capital works, on which the Government now wants to recover interest.
– The £10,000,000 will be offset against that.
– It may be. It will go into Consolidated Revenue. Whatever comes out of Consolidated Revenue will be a matter for appropriation by the Parliament at a later stage. That is the theory of it. In practice, the Government is to get from the people by taxation, and by these postal charges in lieu of taxation, a greater amount of money. It comes from the same source - the paying public - and goes into Consolidated Revenue, to be appropriated from time to time in accordance with the Government’s policy. How far away are we now from the very brilliant report made by the Postmaster-General to the GovernorGeneral on the operations of the Post Office not twelve months ago! There was then’ no dismal cry that the organization was not making profits or was not successfully running its business. There was then no indication that the Minister thought that heavier charges should be imposed on the paying public. He said -
The Commercial Accounts show a net surplus of £4,010,180, an increase of £893,134 on the result for 1956-57. The Telephone Branch recorded a profit of £6,294,207 and the Postal and Telegraph Branches losses of £1,953,583 and £330,444 respectively.
A loss of over £1,600,000 was picked up in one year’s operations. There was a profit in the telephone branch on operations for 1958 of over £6,294,000. Now the Government is pleading that it is necessary to increase the charges in the telegraph and telephone branches, as well as postal charges, in order to make the Postal Department a paying proposition. In fact, the Government is using the department as a medium of taxation.
To raise money by taxation for capital works is morally wrong. For very many years political economists have recognized that capital works should be paid for from loan moneys and amortized over a period of years. Certainly interest has to be paid on the loan money borrowed. Money is being taken from the people by heavy and exorbitant taxation, money which they should be able to contribute as a loan and upon which they should earn interest. The money which is raised by excessive postal charges is to be used for capital works. From Consolidated Revenue the Government proposes to make capital expenditure, recovering interest on it from the taxpayers. It is highway robbery..
Government supporters have made much of the fact that the letter rate will be a flat rate. Surface mail and airmail will be charged for at 5d. for the first oz. The rate for surface mail will be increased by Id. but the airmail surcharge will be abolished. To the people who use airmail services, that is a concession. They will be getting a better deal. But the overall net result is that the public will be charged more. The measure cannot benefit the people. The increased charges will result in the receipt of an additional £17,000,000 from the public in a full year and £10,000,000 in the remainder of this financial year. It cannot by any means be shown that the Government is doing other than impose increased postal charges on the public. These will be charged against industry. Very few charges in this community do not go on to the cost structure. The postage charged on papers, commercial articles, and commercial correspondence is to be increased. It will be borne ultimately by the person who purchases . the articles produced. The increase will go on to the cost and on to the price. It is quite right for leading economists to say that the Government’s policy in this regard follows its usual pattern of increasing inflation and pushing up the cost spiral. There is no argument to gainsay that.
– The people returned us five times in succession, and that is the start of a long, long history.
– I think the honorable senator is becoming a little swelled-headed. He says that because the people have returned the Government five times, it is entitled to rob them. The people are satisfied, so why should the Government not be satisfied? The Government will find that the people will become dissatisfied. It has had ten years of prosperity. The Postal
Department, through its administrative and technical services, has done an excellent job. It has expended huge sums.
– At the direction of the Government.
– If it were left to the Government and taken out of the hands of the technicians, the Post Office would stagnate absolutely.
– That is all you know about the Government’s efficiency.
– If the running of the Post Office were left to your efficiency, I hesitate to think what the position would be. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) has put forward some extraordinary reasoning. I point out that the report to which I have referred discloses that the telephone branch showed a profit of £6,294,207 on one year’s operation. Senator Spooner says, in justification of the proposed increased charges, that the required funds must be drawn from some source, either from the taxpayer or the user of postal facilities. Amongst other things, he said -
Let me illustrate the need for additional funds, using as a yardstick the demand for telephone services. Each year, 12,000 new applications for telephones are made. This year the total demand was for 160,000 services. To instal each telephone service involves capital expenditure of approximately £300.
The Minister for National Development expects an increase of 160,000 in the number of telephone subscribers. Already the telephone branch is showing a profit of £6,294,000 on a year’s operations. It is logical to expect that with another 160.000 contributors the profit will be even greater on present charges. That being so, there is no justification for the proposed increases.
Let me .give another example of the weakness of the Government’s policy. Senator Willesee has pointed out that telegrams are now so expensive that the people no longer look upon them as a reasonably inexpensive means of speedy communication. After the last increase in charges for telegrams, the losses shown by this branch of Post Office activities were so high that the department found it necessary to install a system of automation. The Tress system was introduced, and even this has not been used to capacity. The result, of course, was still a loss in this branch of activity. In his report to the Governor-General, Mr. Davidson said -
In my last Annual Report, I reported that the deficit for the Telegraph Branch had been reduced by nearly SO per cent. It is most gratifying to inform Your Excellency that a further substantial reduction in the loss (from £637,580 to £330,444) was made in 1957-58.
Despite the introduction of the new machine, there is still a loss. It is hoped, however, that ultimately this branch will cease to show a loss. If telegrams were cheaper, if they were made more attractive so that the new system would be used to capacity, then certainly the loss would be converted into a profit within a very short time. The Postmaster-General’s report to the GovernorGeneral completely discounts the Government’s argument that it is urgently :necessary that postal rates bc increased. Indeed, his report supports our objection to the bill on the ground that the Government is raising through a government instrumentality money which should be raised by either taxation or loan. We have always objected to the idea of raising money by taxation for capital works and then seeking to amortize the capital expenditure by further taxation over a short period. At one stage, Sir Arthur Fadden, when he was Treasurer, suggested the extraction of compulsory loans from the Australian people. That was opposed most strenuously by both the Government and the Opposition. Now, when it is alleged that times are prosperous, when we should be making huge advances in development and when the people of Australia should be in a position to lend money at interest to the Government, we find the Government filching money from the people by the imposition of excessive taxation. During the war when taxation necessarily had to be high because there was so much unproductive expenditure, it was certainly not as high as it is now. I submit that the Government is taking from the people money which it is not justified in extracting from :them by taxation. This bill is a glaring example of the stealthy methods it adopts.
The Government says that the increased telephone charges will be borne by industry; :but. as has been pointed out already many (people in the community will find the proposed new charges a hardship. To support that view. I mention that only to-day I received a letter relating to a speech I made when dealing with the Repatriation Bill. In that speech I said that the miserable pittance being paid to T.P.I, pensioners should be increased. I mentioned that with an invalid husband, a wife is in effect on nursing duty for almost every hour of the day and, because of that, is unable to leave the house. Because she is unable to leave the house, a telephone is essential. I am pleased to be able to say that the Post Office gives priority to applicants who desire a telephone because they are unable to leave the house; but, ‘f charges are made any higher, those unfortunate people will be unable to enjoy the benefit of the telephone service.
Bulk postage rates have been adjusted from time to time. The Government says that this section of the Postal Department’s activities must be put on a sound business basis and that the proposed charges will apply regularly to certain items. But 1 notice that still there will be some variation. The postal service is essential for the distribution of mail, newspapers and so on. In a democracy such as this even the smallest newspapers should be given the opportunity of reasonable distribution. The proposed new charges will be unbearable for such publications. I think the smaller concerns should get some consideration in relation to the mailing of their newspapers. It is said that they can pass these increased postal charges on to their contributors. The money will come eventually from the same old source - the taxpayer. But many of these newspapers are not strongly subscribed to. They are published by people, who, in our democratic state, think they have a mission. Many of them are published by churches and by societies which are carrying out the humane task of appealing to people to change their minds and attitudes. Many are issued at the expense of the publishers. Union journals and other publications will be very hard hit by the increased charges.
The charge for the carriage of surface mail is to be increased. The letter is a popular medium of communication between people to whom speed in delivery makes very little difference. The proposal to carry most mail by air will, no doubt, be an advantage to people living in remote areas in the north, where an air service is available. The proposal may be commendable in that respect, but this advantage should have been extended to people living in isolated areas years ago, without involving a general increase in charges. The pioneers who have developed the outback areas have had a very hard existence. They have been subjected to heavy medical and schooling expenses, as well as to other disabilities. It has been argued in the Senate many times that they should not have been obliged to pay a surcharge to have their letters delivered by air. Actually, the new proposal of the Government will merely give them the treatment they deserve. It should not be regarded as a concession.
Let me analyse the finances of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. The finances of the department last year were in a very buoyant condition, according to the report presented by the Postmaster-General. At that stage everything was excellent. In branches where losses were being made, those losses were being reduced at the rate of 50 per cent, per annum. Profits were being made by the telephone branch, and those profits were increasing. But now we hear from Senator Cooper, the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, and from other Government members that there is a need for great development in the Post Office, and that that development is being restricted because not enough money is available. They say that capital must be found. What is the actual position? What is disclosed in the Auditor-General’s report on this department? Has the department any excuse at all for not proceeding with developmental work, telephone connexions and capital works? The figures available show that the department has not been starved of finance. The appropriation for the operations of the department last year was £100,028,240. The expenditure of the department was £96.698.109, leaving an unexpended amount of £3,330,131. So it is obvious that there was no cheeseparing in relation to the provision of finance. The department had a surplus over the amount voted by this Parliament of £3,330,131.
– There has been a basic wage increase since then.
– The basic wage increase did not apply to the period I have mentioned. The department could have absorbed a basic wage increase and still have shown a surplus. The point I am trying to make is that at the conclusion of the financial year there was unexpended from the vote of the Post Office more than £3,000,000. The department was not restricted in any sense at all in relation to finance.
When we consider last year’s Budget, we realize how amiss this Government can be. It budgeted for a deficit of £110,000,000. It based its taxation proposals on being able to raise a certain amount of revenue, but at the end of the financial year it found itself with £90,000,000 more than it had budgeted for.
– A classical example of a prudent Government.
– No, it was a classical example of robbing the people and of bad estimating. The Government took an additional £90,000,000 from the taxpayers of Australia. If its budgeting had been correct and if it had been honest - that is a very important point - it would have relieved the taxpayers of the necessity of finding that £90,000,000. I would say that on this occasion the Government’s estimating, particularly as the revenue from the increased postal charges is to be paid directly into Consolidated Revenue, will be vicious in its effect on those who use the Post Office facilities. The Government budgeted for a deficit last year, but its revenue was far higher than it had anticipated.
– The loan raisings were higher.
– The Government did raise substantially more in loans, but its budgeting was frightful. In every department of any size the appropriation exceeded expenditure by a large sum. The position was loaded against the taxpayers both ways. There was an under-estimate of receipts and an over-estimate of expenditure. That was either dishonest budgeting or very inefficient budgeting. While the Government: goes on like that, the public has every reason to believe that it is putting something across them - and it is, in fact, by dishonest methods of budgeting. The discrepancies are too great to be justified on> the grounds of mere inefficiency.
If it is a case of inefficiency, you want a. committee to inquire into the budgetary’ position, not only of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, but also of every department that has under-estimated or over-estimated its receipts and expenditure in the last two years. There is not one department that did not over-estimate its expenditure. In all cases the amounts received from taxes and other sources were higher than the Government anticipated when it set its scale of taxes. That sort of thing has gone on for year after year. We find that now the Government is using the postal service for the purpose of raising money to carry out a policy which it has initiated. It is going to take from the public, either by way of taxation or through increased charges by the Postal Department, sufficient money, not only to meet the recurring unavoidable expenditure of the department, but also to provide a pool of money for capital works.
Australia is offering to overseas investors at the present time the best investment conditions offered by any country in the world. Taxation concessions are offered and every encouragement is given to overseas investors to invest in this country, but Australian industry has to carry on without any concessions at all. The Australian taxpayer will have to bear the burden of this vicious impost put on to him by the Government for the purpose of raising money to carry out capital works. It is gradually becoming apparent that although this Government wants Australia to be developed, it does not want it to be developed with Australian capital. The Government is keeping Australians poor by imposing heavy taxation. It gives them very few taxation concessions, but it does offer such concessions to investors overseas to encourage them to bring their capital here.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. A. D. Reid). - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 23 September 1959, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1959/19590923_senate_23_s15/>.