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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 600

Mr FISHER (MALLEE, VICTORIA) - My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. Where the PostmasterGeneral deems a postal service to be uneconomic in country areas is he contemplating a curtailment of that service and the purchase of property in lieu of providing the service? Are his Department's priorities to be determined by economic or social considerations? Are we to be one nation, one people under this Government with the Postmaster-General's Department providing similar services to all people regardless of their occupation or geographic location, or are the country people to receive departmental postal or telephone services only if they measure up to some economic criterion of the Department?

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honourable member is anxious to continue to exploit the alleged difference between telephone services in metropolitan areas and country areas. In answer to previous questions I have clearly indicated that I do not think it is fair and reasonable for existing subscribers to be mulcted of money just to provide uneconomic services which, if they are deemed to be a social service, ought to be provided from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. For example, in Queensland the present problems in the Brisbane area, where there is a delay of from 15 months to 2 years in providing services, could be directly related to the fact that an unproportionate amount of money has been spent on country line services. Many country areas are declining in population. In the last financial year in Queensland some 60 per cent of the capital expenditure was incurred in rural areas to provide services that would return only 47 per cent of the income. Accordingly the result is that many thousands of people in Brisbane, where there are over 2,000 deferred applications, will now be obliged to wait for 2 years for services. The previous Government dictated these priorities on the basis that it could buy votes for itself in electorates represented by its members. It did not consider the national interest. This new Government will consider the national interest, lt is on that basis that we have set up a royal commission to have a look at the overriding problem of the whole Post Office. The present program, the program instituted by the previous Government, will result in a loss on postal services of $23m this year, which can only be met by the telephone subscribers. That is the problem that I face in endeavouring to administer this Department. It is for that reason that we need to have a complete new look at the whole matter of Post Office administration.

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