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Thursday, 11 October 1956

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member cannot discuss that matter. The House determined the time-table long ago.

Mr DALY - I was just making a passing reference to it.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member cannot make a passing reference to a matter which the House has decided.

Mr DALY - Let me say that I wish to discuss a number of these departments. The first is the Postmaster-General's Department. I am vitally concerned, as a lot of other members are concerned, with the delays that are taking place in the installation of telephone services. I do not know what is the Government's policy or when it expects to supply applicants with telephones. I cannot see anything in the Estimates that will allay the suspicion that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) has no plan for overtaking arrears. On 18th September, I asked the Postmaster-General a question concerning outstanding applications for telephone services in my electorate, and also throughout the Commonwealth. In his reply the Postmaster-General said that in New South Wales, 40,725 applicants were waiting for telephones. He said also that in my electorate the longest period for which an applicant had been waiting was ten years. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) said the other night that this was the atomic age; yet people have been waiting ten years for a telephone service. The average period of waiting by applicants in my electorate is up to two years. The Minister went on to say -

It is not practicable to state an average waiting time but the majority of applications were lodged during the past two years. Those which have been deferred for unduly long periods are from persons whose premises are located in areas where cable congestion is most serious and can only be relieved at heavy cost by major engineering works. These works are scheduled to be put in hand during the present financial year and the majority of the long-standing applications will be satisfied when the works are completed.

In my electorate, in the districts of Newtown, Marrickville, Dulwich Hill, Stanmore,

Lewisham, Petersham and Summer Hill people have been waiting up to ten years. I have here a bundle of letters, which I will not read, but which I will bring to the personal attention of the Postmaster-General, containing urgent applications for telephone services on the grounds of industrial needs, sickness and so on. This is a crowded industrial area, but it seems that none of the services asked for will be provided within the next twelve months.

The Minister, in his answer, said that major engineering works were necessary before the connexions could be made. 1 naturally examined the Estimates for the Department of Works relating to the PostmasterGeneral's Department, but no provision has been made for expenditure on telephone services in any one of those districts in my constituancy that I have mentioned. The only work proposed to be undertaken in my electorate is an airconditioning plant at the Newtown post office, and for that I am grateful, but it is obvious that not one of the applicants in my electorate - some of whom have been waiting for ten years for a telephone service - will have his need supplied this year. All have been completely forgotten. The Minister's answer is evasive, and I want to know why he should give such a reply when the Government has no intention of ending the long delays in supplying telephones.

What a tragic commentary on Government policy it is that applicants, who have been waiting for ten years for a telephone service, will be charged £10 for the privilege of having the service connected, immediately the Government is in a position to supply it! These people are located within about 4 miles of the Sydney General Post Office, but they have been waiting for ten years. The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) and other country members may find that their constituents will have to wait for 25 years before they are provided with a telephone service. The Postal Department is continually increasing its charges, but there is something wrong with its method of installing telephone services. There is tremendous dissatisfaction with Government policy on this matter, and I want to know why, in my electorate particularly, when people have been waiting for ten years, and most for an average of two years, no works are to be put in hand to relieve this distress in one of the most highly industrialized areas of the Commonwealth.

I wish to refer to some other matters in the brief time at my disposal, but, as the Temporary Chairman (Mr. Timson) said just now, I cannot deal with them in detail. The Department of National Development is the mystery department of the Commonwealth Government. According to the Estimates, it will spend this year £1,107,000, which is an increase of £228,000 on the figure for last year. That department employs a staff of 269, but 1 have yet to learn of any practical benefit by way of development that it has brought to Australia. What are its functions? What is its policy? We want imports and production to be increased, and we are examining various means of building up our overseas trade, but what contribution is this department making to this aspect of our economy? What is required in Australia is increased production, the development of new markets and the expansion of old ones, great public works projects, a huge housing programme and the extensive building of roads and highways.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The committee has dealt already with the Estimates of the Department of National Development, and the honorable member must confine his remarks to the vote for Miscellaneous Services. I cannot see how he is relating his argument to that vote.

Mr DALY - 1 should be delighted to enlighten you on that point, Mr. Chairman. I am dealing with the Department of National Development under the Miscellaneous Services vote, and although, as you. say, I cannot discuss each item minutely, you ruled a few days ago that Miscellaneous Services could be discussed in broad, general terms.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The ruling I gave the other day, and with which the committee agreed, was that honorable members could deal with departments under their particular headings, and that miscellaneous services attached to those major departments should be discussed in conjunction with them. The honorable member cannot discuss the activities of a major department under the heading of Miscellaneous Services. That was never agreed to by the committee.

Mr DALY - I bow to your ruling, Mr. Chairman, but the committee is now dealing directly with Miscellaneous Services and not, as was the case the other day, with the general departmental Estimates. Although I bow to your ruling, I submit that you are seriously curtailing criticism of the department because the Government wishes to hide from the public-

The CHAIRMAN - Order! That is a reflection on the Chair, and the honorable member must withdraw it.

Mr DALY - You know, Mr. Chairman, that I would not reflect on the Chair in any circumstances, and I withdraw my remark, but I still point out that you are not doing justice either to yourself or to the Parliament in curtailing criticism of this department.

Government supporters interjecting,

The CHAIRMAN - Order!

Mr DALY - I can see that Government members are delighted with your ruling, Mr. Chairman, because they do not want the public to know what this department is doing, and you will not allow criticism of it. There is another point, however. Every wage-earner in the community, and every pensioner and person receiving social services benefits, is feeling the tremendous impact of increased costs, but the subsidies paid by the Government have never been lower in the history of this country. Bounties and subsidies provided in the budget, and in the item under discussion, total about £13,500,000 this year. That is a fraction of the amount that the Chifley Government paid when it was in office in order to keep down prices, and to ensure that the people paid no more than a reasonable price for butter, tea, sugar and the other commodities they needed. Why has not this Government increased the subsidy on tea in order to bring its price down from 7s. or 8s. per lb. to about 2s. 7d. per lb., which was the price paid when the Chifley Government was in office? Why is not the Government paying a subsidy on butter, a commodity that is necessary in every home? Why is not the Government subsidizing the other necessary commodities that every pensioner has to buy out of the meagre sum he receives each week from the Government?

I ask honorable members never to forget that this Government was elected to office in 1949 on the pledge that it would retain subsidies on all necessary commodities in order to keep prices within the reach of wage-earners in the lower income groups, and of people dependent upon social services. Instead of asking the wage-earners to accept pegged wages, why does not the Government do something practical by subsidizing, out of revenue collected from those in the higher income groups, such commodities as butter, sugar and tea, the price of which is forcing down the purchasing power of men and women engaged in industry? This would be a practical solution of a grave problem. The Government might well consider my suggestion with a view to increasing the meagre amount of £13.500,000 set aside for bounties and subsidies this year. In view of the fact that the budget shows a surplus of £108,000,000, the Government must surely realize that it is repudiating its promise that prices of necessary commodities would be maintained at a reasonable level by the payment of subsidies.

Again, I register a protest at the curtailment of debate, because I could speak on this important question for hours. It is a disgraceful and shocking thing that, in this country of ours, when the Parliament has unlimited time in which it could sit, we should be asked to vote £1,000,000 a minute, but not be able to discuss these matters of trade arid commerce. For example, I should like to know from the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen): What will be the policy of the department while he is absent? What is happening in regard to delays and the trafficking in licences? Who will look after the department while he is abroad on this next occasion? What protection is he giving to the thousands of persons in the community who are being thrown out of work because of the drastic import restrictions that the Government has imposed? Why should not the Minister for Trade and other Ministers come into the chamber not for a few minutes, but for a fair period of time, so that they might be enabled to give extensive replies to the important matters that are raised, and thus furnish us with the information we so urgently require in order to understand and lo be able to explain to our constituents just what is being done by the various departments with the money allotted to them?

The CHAIRMAN - Order! That matter was dealt with during the debate on the Estimates for the Department of Trade.

Mr DALY - 1 conclude on that note. I am sorry, Mr. Chairman, that you had to interrupt me so constantly, but 1 could see that Government supporters were not exactly receptive to what I was saying. I register my protest against the administration of the various departments. 1 should like to see more Ministers in the chamber to hear what is being said. Moreover, 1 should like to have a full explanation from the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), the Minister for Trade, and the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) about the various matters we are discussing and about which this country is being kept in the dark.

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