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Wednesday, 9 March 1966

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) . - I appreciate the presence of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) in the chamber. In this chamber and outside of it 1 have striven to persuade him that he should enable a commercial television programme as well as a national television programme to be received throughout Eden-Monaro, and 1 have criticised him strongly for his refusal to act in that direction. So it is a particular pleasure now to take back that criticism and to thank him for a decision which will enable the provision of programmes from CTC Channel 7, Canberra, throughout a substantial area of the Monaro, lt is not all that we sought, but it is much more than the Minister's recent attitude indicated that we would get. So I compliment him on having had another look at this matter and I thank him for the result, lt is a good result for a large part of the electorate. In accepting it, I would like the Minister to be sure that we will not rest until people in every part of Eden-Monaro can enjoy a choice of two television programmes, like the people in the great cities of Australia. From the way things are going, I think that that may not be far off. So I say to the Minister: "Thank you. So far, so good. Now let us press on further with the provision of television services in this area."

I now turn to other matters, upon which the Postmaster-General is entitled not to praise but to the severest condemnation. I have just received from him one more refusal to allow telephone subscribers at Jindabyne South to have local call access to Cooma. I say " once more " because there have been many refusals previously. The only thing I can say to the PostmasterGeneral in praise is that I do appreciate the courteous way in which he has refused all our requests and the lengthy explanations that he has given to the Department's decision. But why does the PostmasterGeneral think that the people of this area go on fighting this issue? Why does he think that the people of Jindabyne South and Ingebyra do not bow to his ukase? I will tell him. It is because their case is based on simple justice and sheer common sense and because the persistent refusal, even though couched in thousands of words of officialese, is just simple, plain, unadulterated, obdurate and obstinate red tape. lt is useless for the Postmaster-General to portray for us the charms and beauties of his darling E.L.S.A. E.L.S.A. is a pain in the neck to the people of this remote area and to the people of many other bush areas. It is a burden on those struggling to maintain a bearable existence in the bush. If the Postmaster-General is so fond of E.L.S.A. as he professes to be, let him clutch her to his own bosom and remove her from us, because we do not want her or any part of her.

Mr Hulme - Would they rather go back to the former system?

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - These people would much rather go back to the former scheme under which they had local call access to Cooma for 4d., instead of being burdened with E.L.S.A. and being required to pay 2s. for each call. The subscribers of Jindabyne South feel so strongly about the rough treatment that they are receiving from the Postal Department that they have authorised me to say to him in this House tonight that unless he will remedy the situation he can take away the exchange, because they do not want it any more. They are prepared to give up all their existing telephone services rather than put up with what they consider to be complete injustice and utterly rough treatment. Previously, as I have told him, the subscribers in this area enjoyed local call access to Cooma, but now, in the sacred name of E.L.S.A. - extended local service area - the same call is charged for at 2s., an increase of 600 per cent. Where is the benefit in that? Where is the progress? This is progress backwards. In the country areas we have to see retrograde instead of progressive action over and over again in the field of postal administration. This is an insult and an injury to these people, and they are not prepared to put up with it.

Cooma has always been the business centre for this area. Adjoining communities still have local call access to Cooma. The people of Jindabyne South had this right for very many years. It is only since the new exchange has been built and the establishment of the E.L.S.A. system that they have been deprived of it. They have been deprived of it because of official adherence to an arbitrary line - a line which has no relation to the business needs, the economic development or the social circumstances of this district.

I know that E.L.S.A. has some virtues in some circumstances. But E.L.S.A. was made for telephone subscribers, not telephone subscribers for E.L.S.A. The Postal Department is supposed to be a business enterprise. No other business that I know of would be crazy enough to impose on its customers a 600 per cent, increase in charges because of some arbitrary decision made within its ranks. I beg the Postmaster-General to look at this matter once again and to apply not red tape but common sense and simple justice to its solution. The mere fact that people live in the bush is no reason to treat them with contempt. The Minister has received our representations with courtesy but he appears to have treated all our arguments with contempt, because he does not seem to have seen the force of them but keeps reiterating to me in very long and courteous letters the red tape attitude of the Department.

I now turn to what I consider is a pretty shocking state of affairs that has just developed at Michelago in my electorate, Mr. Speaker. Michelago is a pleasant village about 35 miles from Canberra. Because it has more than 40 telephone subscribers - either 41 or 42 - it is entitled to a continuous telephone service. The PostmasterGeneral has not been prepared to provide a continuous service and therefore the people of the village have had no service on Saturday afternoons or Sundays except for an hour on Sunday mornings. That has been the position until this week, although we have been pressing for a continuous service. I have now received from the Postal Department a letter informing me that at last Michelago is to have a continuous service. A new postmaster has been appointed and he has agreed to provide continuous service. I suppose you would think, Sir, that I would be praising the Minister and expressing pleasure to him at that decision. But look at what the Department dares to do in this matter.

The present subscriber's rental in Michelago for the existing service is £8 a year. Now that service is to be provided on Saturday afternoons and Sundays subscribers with exclusive services are to be slugged for an additional £12 a year. The rental for an exclusive service in the village of Michelago is to be increased from £8 to £20 a year. For subscribers on party lines the increase will be even greater. Because this benefit of continuous telephone service which most subscribers in Australia normally enjoy is now to be provided, the rental for a party line serving two subscribers is to be increased from £6 or $12 to £18 or $36 a year per subscriber - an increase of 300 per cent. For people who are unfortunate enough to be on party lines serving three or more subscribers, the rental is to be increased from £5 or $10 to £17 or $34 a year - an increase of more than 300 per cent. The only reason given for these increases is that the village of Michelago lies in the shadow of the growing national capital, Canberra. The village is 35 miles from Canberra and its people deal with Cooma. That is their business centre. But because they have the misfortune to be situated in the area that has been chosen as the extended local service area for the national capital, their benefit of continuous service is to be accompanied by these extortionate rentals. No other reason has been given to me. I ask the PostmasterGeneral: Will he please look into this matter?

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