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Thursday, 26 August 1920


Mr WISE (Gippsland) (PostmasterGeneral) . - When a member intends to attack the administration of a Department, he mighttake the trouble, and have the courtesy, to inform the Minister of his intention, so that thelatter may be furnished with figures and information to reply to his statements. For several weeks I carried in my pocket a number of returns in the anticipation that questions would be asked to which they would furnish a reply. But to-day I was attacked without notice, and had to send bo the office for information, fortunately getting hold of the Secretary of the Department just as he was leaving.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Last Friday the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) said that he would move the adjournment of the House on the following Wednesday.


Mr WISE - This is not " the following Wednesday," and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro did not carry out his intentions. I had no notice of the attack which has been made on the Department this afternoon.

I do not consider that the Department of the Postmaster-General is to be regarded as an ordinary commercial undertaking. Not long after I assumed office Iwas waited upon by a large deputation of members representing country constituencies and of honorable senators, to which I quoted the remarks made by Mr. Deakin, when Prime Minister in 1908, in reply to an attack made on the Post Office. I heard his speech, and it expressed my own views on the subject of Post Office management and the reasons which should govern its administration. Mr. Deakin said in effect that the Post Office was not established to produce a money return for the Government as an ordinary revenueearning Department; that its object was to promote social and commercial intercourse among the people. Prom that it naturally followed that country districts would be given services quite disproportionate to the amount of revenue they contributed. I myself have given credit both here and in reply to deputations, to Ministers and Governments that have made concessions to country districts. I have said that it was the first Fisher Government that made the original concession regarding country trunk telephone lines. Previously the people of a district had to guarantee a certain revenue from such a line, and to make up the whole of any deficiency between the required and the actual receipts. That Government at first undertook to pay 25 per cent. of that deficiency, the people in the country to contribute on the 75 per cent. basis. Just prior to the 1910 election, the Government reduced the country people's contribution to 50 per cent., which remained until this year, when, in order to carry out the promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) at the last general election, that every possible facility would be extended to country districts, special concessions were made. There is no excuse for any honorable member saying that he did not know of them, because every honorable member was furnished with a copy of the concessions that have been granted in regard to both mail and telephone services.


Mr Prowse - They are still inadequate.


Mr WISE - Unless we are prepared to render every service for nothing, I do not think they can be regarded as inadequate. All we ask now is a contri bution of 25 per cent. of the difference between the required revenue and the estimated revenue.


Mr Fenton - Does that apply to branch as well as to trunk lines ?


Mr WISE - To every line constructed by the Department.


Mr Prowse - Is not that a tremendous penalty on the people living in rural parts?


Mr WISE - There is only one other thing to do, and that is to make every telephone line for nothing; that is absolutely impossible.


Mr Stewart - But that is what the Department does in crowded centres.


Mr WISE - No. I tell the House, as I repeately tell my own constituents, that the distances throughout Australia are not as small as those in Victoria. Distance does not trouble us much in this State. If we had to deal with only Victorian distances, we would not have much trouble in making the country lines; but we cannot grant fifty or sixty people in a Victorian district telephone communication, and deny it to 200 or 300 people in remote districts of the larger States like Queensland and Western Australia, where the erection of 200 or 300 miles of line may be involved. We can only have one policy for the whole of Australia, and that is to lay down all lines upon the same conditions. These are the concessions thatwe have made in regard to telephone services-

Erection of Public Telegraph or Telephone Lines, under Guarantee, under the New Policy Outlined by the Postmaster-

General.

1.   In the case of lines which are estimated to yield within eight years an annual minimum revenue covering an amount sufficient to provide for the cost of operating the line, plus 10 per cent. of the cost of constructing the line, and supplying the instruments, or where the estimated cost of a line does not exceed £100, no guarantee or contribution will be required from those concerned.

2.   In the case of lines which are estimated to be unfinancial on erection, but which are estimated to earn the minimum revenue, i.e., an amount which will cover the cost of operating the line, plus 10 per cent. of the cost of construction and supplying the instruments, within a period of seven years, the Department will bear 75 per cent. of the difference between the estimated revenue and the minimum revenue if those concerned pay down an amount equal to 25 per cent. of the deficiency for the first two years and enter into a bond guaranteeing to make good a like proportion of the loss for a further period of five years if necessary.

3.   Lines which are not likely to be financial on erection and which are not estimated to earn the minimum revenue within a period of seven years will be erected by the Department on those interested making a contribution in cash, labour, and/or material to the extent of 25 per cent, of the estimated annual deficiency capitalized at 10 per cent., the Department bearing 75 per cent, of the deficiency.

4.   In cases where these lines prove financial after three years' experience, refunds will be made to those interested, who will - also get credit for surpluses under certain conditions. Where lines prove financial at the end of the agreement period, the amount contributed, 'together with interest accruing thereon, is refunded to the persons concerned.

5.   Steps are being taken to obtain as quickly as possible the necessary material, and when this has been obtained preference will be given to lines which have already been approved, but which the Department has been unable to erect owing to lack of funds. Some time must be allowed in which to obtain the necessary material.

A copy of that notification was supplied to every member of .the deputation, and to every other honorable member who desired it.

In regard to mail services, honorable members will recollect that, at the beginning of this year, we received protests from many districts to which circulars had been sent, stating that the tender for the following three years would be so much, and that unless the people were prepared to contribute a certain amount, the service would be discontinued. That I regarded as a very .great hardship, and we overcame it by introducing the following conditions, as from 1st July last -

New Mail Services.

When the frequency of the service is once a week, or less, and the distance does not exceed 75 miles, and five residences or ten adults permanently benefit, the Department will bear all the cost, if the amount is reasonable. If, however, the lowest offer is unreasonable, the Department will call on the residents, to provide a service at a reasonable cost, 'or pay the difference.

Twice a week. When the cost exceeds the revenue, the Department will bear the whole cost, if the difference between the cost and the revenue does not exceed 50 per cent, of the revenue. If the loss exceeds 50 per cent, of the revenue, the Department to bear 75 per cent, of the deficiency, or that proportion of the deficiency which equals 50 per cent, of the revenue, whichever is the greater; the residents to contribute the balance providing such contribution exceeds £10, but if under £10 the Department to bear the whole of the loss.

Three times a week. When the cost exceeds the revenue, the Department will bear the whole of the cost if the deficiency does not exceed 50 per cent, of the revenue. If it exceeds 50 per cent, of the revenue, the Depart ment to bear 65 per cent, of the deficiency, or that proportion thereof which equals 50 per cent, of the revenue, whichever is the greater; the residents to contribute the balance with a similar provisio as in the case 'of the twiceaweek frequency.

More than three times a week. Same conditions as for a three times a week frequency, with the exception that the Department will bear 55 per cent instead of 65 per cent, of thu deficiency, or that proportion thereof which equals 50 per cent, of the revenue, whichever is the greater.

Cost of receiving-offices not to be debited against the service.

Intermediate receiving-offices not to be established on non-paying services, where the residents to be served can be given reasonable facilities by means of a free bag, delivery into roadside boxes, or by private bag.

Existing Mails.

If a tender reasonable for the service to be performed, taking local conditions into consideration, no contribution to be required. If the tender is unreasonable, a contribution to be asked for.

Those conditions are a great improvement upon those obtaining before 1st July last, and I think it is unfair to say that facili-' ties to the country districts have not been extended by the present Government. Much of the trouble in connexion with telephone services, both trunk lines and private services in the cities, is due to the circumstances arising out of the war. During the last two or three years we have been handicapped, not only by the shortness of money, but also by- the cost of material and the difficulty of getting it at all. Even at the present time, for t ordinary galvanized wire, when we are able to get it, we pay £65 per ton, as against the pre-war price of £12 per ton. Honorable members will see, from that one item alone, that the cost of installing and extending services has increased enormously, and the expenditure of the Department has grown accordingly. My predecessor in the last financial year had the misfortune to experience one of the worst years since the outbreak of war. The Government were unable to spare money for the Postal Department as they wished, just as they were unable to find money for expenditure in other Departments. There was, necessarily, a general cutting-down of the Estimates in all directions. This year I have been more fortunate; at the very earliest opportunity the Treasurer gave me authority to call for tenders involving a very large amount of money. If I had been prepared for this debate, I could have told honorable members the exact amount represented by the tenders which we have already accepted. Of course, it will take some time for the material to be supplied.


Mr West - Two thousand five hundred people in Sydney are waiting for telephones.







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