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Wednesday, 28 February 1973
Page: 104


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I want to reply briefly to some of the remarks made by the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett). I am a little disappointed to think that it has taken many years for him to realise that there are needs in the area which he represents, particularly in regard to telephone services. He would appreciate nhat I have inherited a situation of financial disaster after 23 years of Liberal-Country Party influence in the Australian Post Office. I am now facing a loss of $23m in postal operations. and apparently I am obliged to increase telephone charges by some 20 per cent next year. All it means is that existing subscribers in many areas have been fleeced to try to bolster up a very limited capital outlay to satisfy needs.


Mr Gorton - Is that an announcement of policy?


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is not an announcement of policy. That was the policy of the government of which the right honourable member was a supporter. It is very interesting that the right honourable member for Higgins should interject, pretending that he did not know, because his own Cabinet submissions-


Mr Gorton - Will you carry out mat policy?


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I would not dare carry it out. I can do much better than that.


Mr Gorton - You said that you will increase telephone charges by 20 per cent.


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Let us get the position clear. The right honourable member is a little confused. I inherited a policy that would oblige me to increase telephone charges 25 per cent next year to get capital.


Mr Gorton - And you will not do that?


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No. Would you do it?


Mr Gorton - Certainly not.


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Let me make the position clear.


Mr Nixon - Make it clear.


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about a bit of quiet from the honourable member?


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Minister will address the Chair.


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Cabinet submission to which honourable members apposite were party clearly showed that the financial difficulties of what is known as the country line policies would have the severest repercussions in the Post Office structure. When the then Minister sought the capital to implement his proposal he was refused. I am looking at a Cabinet submission made at a time when honourable, members opposite were in office which says--


Mr Gorton - It is not mine.


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes it is. It was made in your time. It says that $200m was to be allocated to implementing the proposed policy and that the proposed programme was to run at an annual loss of $30m. Is it any wonder that needs are so great. No scheme could possibly survive on the basis of being sustained financially by socking the present subscribers. Let us look at some of the figures that relate to the electorate of Maranoa. What do they mean? At Miamba near Miles a small automatic telephone exchange to service 11 new subscribers and 41 existing subscribers cost $216,000 to install- $216,000 for 52 subscribers. Another installation to service 19 subscribers was constructed at a cost of $200,000. The return would be $4,000 or approximately 21/2 per cent without considering operating costs. Is it any wonder that Queensland is in a mess when the previous government tried to operate a policy of obtaining funds for new installations out of the contributions of existing subscribers. It made no contribution of special funds because of the human elementinvolved. It did not go to the Treasury and say: These people are in the back blocks and we want to do something for them'. This scheme has been running since only 1970 - it was a 1970 proposition - so the right honourable member for Higgins cannot deny knowledge of it. At least he held the reins of office for that limited period. He knows that it was a policy that had no appeal except to Country Party voters who believed that they would get a telephone service. However they will not get the service they expected because my Department has advised me that that policy is unrelated to need in the sense of what can be provided quickly. The previous government promised people telephones within two or three years, but they will not have telephones before 1980 or 1984. Why was it not honest with the people? The previous government said to them: 'We will implement a 15-mile policy and which will get you a telephone within 2 years', but that policy will get them nothing of the sort. It is running the Post Office into deep financial debt - a loss of $30m by 1980 should the telephones be connected by then, and many of them would not be connected until 1990. It is my task to go out and tell these people what the previous government really promised them and what the previous government meant when it said that people in outlying areas could get a telephone service. They cannot get a service without automatic exchanges. They have to be provided first. I am sympathetic to the fact that the honourable member for Maranoa is genuine in the sense that people in these areas have a real need, but let us look at the position realistically and consider the financial disaster that was caused by the Cabinet of which he was not a member, so he can be exempted from any blame. But the fact is that the Cabinet of the previous government was so financially irresponsible as to propose a policy which could not work, and so politically dishonest as to suggest that people could get telephones when the installation of telephones is not even envisaged in this decade.

Yet the honourable member comes into this chamber and asks what is to be the programme of this Government. The programme is this: Because the Post Office is in the mess it is as a result of bad administration, a royal commission has been set up. Its terms of reference are very wide indeed; they cover the whole gamut of organisation and administration. The whole concept of them is to give to 3 highpowered personnel - commissioners - powers to assess the needs of the Australian community, to look at the structure of the Post Office and to evaluate what should be done from the point of view of the administration and tariff structures. If I were to give any good advice to the honourable member for Maranoa tonight, it would be that he urge his constituents to make submissions to the royal commission on what would be the right approach to meet their needs. I do not propose to pre-empt the situation by suggesting the answer, although I have one in mind.


Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You were going to-


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honourable member for Cowper was an Assistant Minis ter. Now the former Assistant Minister is interjecting. Look at what he did for the country; yet he is a Country Party man. Let us be a bit constructive and deal not with the former Assistant Minister but with the problems of the honourable member for Maranoa. Let us deal with them on the basis that the Commission ought to be able to make some findings in respect of a number of matters including what might be termed the country lines policy, its financial implications and the disaster it means for many people who have been misled.

Motion (by Mr Daly) agreed to:

That the question be now put

Original question resolved in the affirmative.







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