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Thursday, 30 August 1973
Page: 650

Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I believe that the honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr McKenzie) and the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) have both exposed themselves completely by the very hollow ring in the case that they have put in this House today. I am sure that the honourable members on this side who have spoken on this very important issue of education have disposed of the arguments adequately and there is no need for me to add anything.

I turn to another subject. The vicious increase in postal and telephone charges and the reduction in petrol equalisation introduced in the Budget disregards completely the fundamental element of decentralisation. Decentralisation has received a severe setback at the hands of the Australian Government. On the one hand the Department of Urban and Regional Development has put a case to the royal commission into the Australian Post Office, and on the other hand the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen), who has just left the chamber, has disregarded the commission. It is significant that the Secretary of the Department of Urban and Regional Development, Mr Lansdown, appeared before the royal commission on 16 August on behalf of his Department. Amongst other things he proposed to the commission that higher telephone charges be instituted in capital cities in order to make possible a reduction in the charges in country areas. This was before the Budget was announced in this House on 21 August. Therefore he was alluding to the charges that existed before the Budget announcement. This is not a matter to be taken lightly. Where is the Government going on this issue? A new Department, established specifically to promote and advance decentralisation, has been disregarded before its recommendations are even considered by the royal commission.

Where does the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) stand on this issue? Is he content, as apparently the Postmaster-General is, to do nothing to relieve the burden on country areas, a burden which 'the present Government has created? Is the Government concerned about decentralisation or not? The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) was very vocal on these issues before the last election. He announced a pro posal for a uniform telephone charging scheme in designated growth areas. Then he reneged after the election and announced that the whole matter of telephone charges, postal charges and the operation and financing of the Post Office would be inquired into by a royal commission. He failed to ensure that his Government maintained the status quo until the royal commission had concluded its inquiry.

Major policychanges in the telephone and postage rates were announced in the Budget. In so doing the Prime Minister breached the long standing practice of affording a royal commission its proper status and jurisdiction. The increases in postal rates and telephone charges, as well as other Budget imposts, are detrimental to people who live, by necessity, in the country. If newspapers continue to use the mail as a means of distribution the projected increase will be so severe that postage on a newspaper delivered by mail to a reader will be much higher than the cost of the newspaper itself. Surely that is a ludicrous situation. The Post Office obviously will lose the regular business that over the year has enabled country readers of newspapers to receive their newspapers at a cost they can afford. This cost has risen quite sharply over the years and newspapers have been required to pre-sort in order to reduce Post Office handling. But these increases in the past have been completely baulked by what we find this Government doing today in what might be described as an operation snide in its concept and completely irresponsible in its approach.

Past increases were fractional compared with that envisaged by the Postmaster-General in his statement to the House on 21 August and which are to take effect within the next 3 years. Coupled with the reduced services one wonders whether the Government has a death wish as it proceeds to price the Post Office right out of the market. More basic than the economics of running the Post Office, however, is the principle of seeing that people are fully informed on matters of importance to them. The local newspaper does this to an extent that no other news media can ever hope to match. It is basic to the democratic processes that people in the country as well as in the cities should be informed. Without communication democracy in its fullest sense is an idle dream.

Mr Mathews - Why should it be subsidised by the Post Office.

Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why should it be subsidised by the Post Office? What has the honourable member for Casey been doing? Every time he has been on his feet in this House since becoming a member he has been espousing the expenditure of funds in the community interest. I recall his advocacy in matters such as improving the standards of the media in this country. We listened to him speak yesterday about a matter of community concern but he did not have a solution to proffer. We listened to him today and again he had a lot of words to say about matters to which apparently he is dedicated in the community interest. Now he wants to deny completely the right of community interest. Does he want it both ways or does he fail to recognise

Mr Mathews - On the contrary. 1 asked why it should be subsidised by the Post Office instead of by the revenue.

Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is a matter for you and your Government to determine. The Government has a very clear remedy if it wishes to apply itself. That remedy is to use Treasury subvention to finance losses in the Post Office.

Debate interrupted.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Itbeing 12.45 p.m., in accordance with standing order 106 1 put the question:

That grievances be noted.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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