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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Mr PROWSE (Forrest) .- For a long time, I have held the view that the post office should he a service, and should not be used as a taxing machine. It should not be so heavily bled for the benefit of Consolidated Revenue that the efficiency of the service is impaired. However, this is not the occasion on which to press that view. If honorable members will look at the schedule to the bill they will see that it is loaded against the country districts. As the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) pointed out last night, the services provided by the PostmasterGeneral's Department in country districts are of great value to the cities. Although telephone lines are erected for long distances in order to provide a service to the homes of the settlers who produce the wealth that creates the credit of this country, those facilities are not entirely in the interests of the men on the land. Merchants and others who batten on the farmers benefit from that service as much as, if not more than, the farmers themselves. Therefore the proposed increase of the rates will have an adverse effect upon the farming community. Only this month I addressed to the Postmaster.General (Senator Ashley) a communication relating to the Lower Great Southern Inter-district. Conference, held in Western Australia on the 31st August and the 25th October last. At both those conferences the following motion was carried : -

That this conference requests that the Commonwealth Government be asked to place all trunk line calls on a more equitable and fair basis, and with that object in view, the following scheme is recommended for adoption by the Postmaster -General : -

All telephone subscribers to be able to phone by ordinary or trunk line a distance of 25 miles from his telephone or nearest post office. The rate thereafter to be on the basis of Id. extra for every tcn miles.

The following observations were offered with regard to the decision of the conference : -

Concerning trunk line calls you will realize that the metropolitan area is in a much better position than the country district. For example, one can telephone from the outskirts of Midland Junction to the outskirts of Fremantle, a distance of, say, 25 miles, for lid. or 2d. at a public telephone. If one wishes to ring, for example, from Katanning to Badgebup, a distance of only twenty miles, one pays the trunk line charge, and such instances as this could be multiplied without number. "The proposal is not an unreasonable one, particularly in regard to the first 25 miles, when one bears distances in mind. If the primary producer is to be helped over his present financial difficulties, every saving - no matter how small - is of importance, especially when one takes into consideration the cumulative effect of a number of savings.

The conference carried a further motion in these terms -

That the Commonwealth Postmaster-General be requested to extend the facilities for lettergrams to all full-time post offices instead of this convenience being available only at Perth and Kalgoorlie in this State, and at a few post offices only in other States.

I have always been puzzled to know why such conveniences can only be made available over telegraph lines for the benefit of those sections of the people who reside in areas in which the population is centralized. It seems unreasonable that country people cannot enjoy the right to send lettergrams. If they were given permission to use that service, I have no fear that the revenue of the department would be reduced one whit. The effect would be rather to increase the revenue and improve the service provided for the community. Western Australia comprises one-third, of the continent of Australia, yet there are only two places in the whole of that State where the lettergram service is 'available. The observation of the conference on this matter was as follows : -

The lettergram i.s an inexpensive way of sending a lengthy telegram. In Western Australia it is of no value at all. So far as the Western Australian people are concerned it is only of use to tl,em if they wish to communicate with Kalgoorlie from Perth, or with the eastern State capitals. There surely is no objection to its being extended to ali, or, at least, a substantial number of full-time post offices. where delivery could be effected the same way as that of other telegrams is effected, and the convenience that would be afforded to the public would be considerable.

I hope that the Postmaster-General will not give merely cursory attention to the extension of the lettergram service, but will realize that benefit would be derived from it. Here he has an opportunity, as a. new Minister, to leave his mark on a great institution, the Post Office, which has proved itself to be an efficient organization. I hope that he will give greater consideration than has been given in the past to the claims of country people, whose increasing costs cannot be passed on to the public in the -same way as city merchants pass on additional charges to their customers. I support the amendment, and, notwithstanding the fact that additional revenue is required for war purposes, I hope that much of the revenue of the department; will be used in increasing its efficiency. I agree with those honorable members who contend that officers in charge of non-official post offices should receive more remuneration than they have had in the past. The volume of the work of some of them may be small, but their services are necessary. Although the salary paid to the officers is regarded by some people as sufficient in view of the actual services rendered, it is a mere pittance and should be increased.

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