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Monday, 17 September 1973
Page: 1094


Mr IAN ROBINSON (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The proposed increase in postal and telephone charges is a direct attack on policies which have endured since Federation. Now an irresponsible government is taking away the basic privileges of communities within this country. The White Paper on the prospects and capital program for the Australian Post Office for 1973-74 disclosed that the profit for 1972-73 was $42m and the profit for 1973-74 is estimated at $50m. However, a savage increase in cost to a section of the community is being proposed in both postage and telephone charges. Capital investment proposed for 1973-74 is no less than $554m, an increase of $74m on the appropriation in the previous year. We do not dispute the need for this increase. But within these broad figures is to be found the new style of management of the Australian Post Office under a Labor Administration. Expenditure is to rise sharply not just in the direct progression of the services provided by the Australian Post Office but in the main in the cost of operation of the services.

Expenses for postal services have risen by $22m while income is to rise by an equivalent sum of $22m. Yet, the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) has told the Parliament that the Government proposes to terminate concessions in the postal field worth $ 10.5m and concessions in the telecommunications field worth $36m. Of course, extra revenue will be raised in the general field by the increase in the provision of services required by the people and the increased volumes that flow in each of the fields. However, the earnings from telecommunications will rise by $91m. The expenditure side of telecommunications is rising by an equivalent sum of $91m. We are conscious that there is a traffic increase and that telecommunications is a very good business for the Post Office if service is provided. In the past service has been provided. In the past the Post Office has done a tremendous job in this field, but what we are really seeing is an escalation of costs which is quite staggering and which spells out an impossible position for the future maintenance of an adequate service to the public by the Australian Post Office. These cost increases will virtually put the business operation of the Post Office in jeopardy. In fact, they will put the Post Office into a real shambles.

The biggest business in the nation is facing a crisis, the magnitude of which is obviously not realised by the Government. The Post Office faces the same calamity as every other section of the business community now faces, but in the case of the Post Office the rot is setting in earlier and the collapse will come more quickly. The kind of surgery being applied by the Government will not work. A year ago serious industrial trouble confronted the Australian Post Office. The previous Government at least protected the business operations of the service. The previous Government did not give way to trade union demands; it did not surrender the future of the postal and telecommunications services to militant pressure. In December last this all changed. Union demands were met, business needs were thrown overboard and now we see great cost rises, reduced services and a grim prospect for the future.

It is little wonder that the Government has glossed over the fundamental issues of service to the public and efficiency, and of course the real issue which is the cost problems which result from this new style of control of the Post Office. In an endeavour to draw a red herring across the trail and to avoid the real issue, the Postmaster-General and the Gov ernment have made unjustified attacks on the country communities and of course, in particular, on the Country Party. This was very adequately dealt with by the Leader of the Australian Country Party, the right honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony), earlier in this debate. Not game to deal with the real problems, of course, the country principally, but to some extent the entire community, is being socked.

The amendment which we propose to move in the Committee stage will give the Parliament the opportunity to correct the injustices of these charges in the field of bulk posting of newspapers. I do not want to traverse ground which has been so adequately covered by previous speakers. I believe that the community is shocked and in fact dismayed by what it finds occurring in the area of charges for bulk postings and the directions in which these drastic changes are being made. There is no doubt at all that it is a sectional approach; that it is an approach directed at the country people of this nation. One is able to see very clearly the attitude of the present Government - an attitude which really cannot be sustained in the face of the pressure which is mounting against it.

I just want to say to the honourable members for Riverina (Mr Grassby), Eden Monaro (Mr Whan), Dawson (Dr Patterson) and Macarthur (Mr Kerin) that they should have a very good look at where they stand in relation to their attitudes on this matter and consider what their constituencies will really think when they know the truth. I understand that the honourable member for Riverina has been making public statements in which he has said that the Government has reduced charges for country people in the field of telephone services and the like.


Mr Grassby - That is right. I said that. What is wrong with that?


Mr IAN ROBINSON (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course, he is not being truthful.


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He is.


Mr IAN ROBINSON (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honourable member for Riverina can get up and give his side of the story if he wants to. But he ought to be very careful how he puts the picture across to the people in his electorate. The Post Office Commission of Inquiry, which was set up by the Government, has been bypassed. Of course, this Commission has been very properly referred to in this debate. I do not want to traverse that ground further. However, the Government has defied the normal practice and for the first time in the history of this Federal Parliament a royal commission has been treated with near contempt. The Government has made policy changes after appointing the Royal Commission, setting its terms of reference and giving it a job to do. This is really an unforgivable act. It is little wonder that the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr Lane, in giving evidence before the Commission under oath said, if my memory serves me correctly, that if he were given a free hand he could save $2m in the operation of the Redfern Mail Exchange. Would he make that statement lightly? Would he give this evidence if he did not feel that he was stating the truth and being honest? But what do we find? The Postmaster-General at the same time said that he believed that the Redfern Mail Exchange in Sydney ought to be dismantled.


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - So it should.


Mr IAN ROBINSON (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The PostmasterGeneral has just said in this House that the Redfern Mail Exchange should be dismantled. Would he replace this complex with a costly, labour intensive operation and shoot up the costs still further rather than take control of that operation and see to it that the union pressure which has prevented it from doing its job is curbed and controlled as it ought to be? The Postmaster-General is not prepared to stand up to this pressure. But what he is prepared to do is to come into this House and attack a section of this community- the country community - and try to put the blame on it. He says that country communities have had concessions which they do not deserve. This, of course, is a complete fabrication and a denial of traditional rights which have been build up in this country for very good reasons. But why do we not hear something about the losses on metropolitan services - losses of the kind to which I have just referred in relation to the Redfern Mail Exchange? Of course we do not hear about them from the present Government or the present Postmaster-General. He does not want to upset his union friends. He does not want to be- honest and tell the country the truth about these matters.

I believe that the public will see through the hollowness of his whole approach towards the alteration of postal and telephone charges. The public is seeking and, of course, will soon be using other means of transportation of its mail. Is it good business, with this kind of inefficiency, to have a big movement away from the Post Office? What will happen then? We will find the Government trying by one means or another - perhaps by altering the law - to prevent private enterprise from moving letters or packages other than through the mail service. The Postmaster-General wants to socialise this country regardless of the cost and sock those onto whom he believes he can throw the burden. This attempt will fail miserably because the public just will not take it. The shabby approach to this matter singling out the country people and of not saying one word about the uneconomic metropolitan services to which I have referred is a great reflection upon a Government which is new to office and a Government which ought to be, as it claims, a new broom doing a decent job. The Government is not being honest in its approach.

What do we find in the field of telecommunications? We find the Parliament having foisted upon it a proposition to introduce a 20c charge on the booking of trunk line calls through a manual exchange where an STD service is available. I want to make one pertinent point in this respect. Think of every motel, hotel and small business around the country to which someone goes to make a telephone call. There is only one effective way in which that can be done. The call has to be booked through a manual operator so that the duration of the call and so on can be recorded and a proper charge imposed upon the person who makes the call. Henceforth every one of those calls will attract an additional 20c charge. What a reflection upon an efficient operation. What will this do to the business through-put of calls of that nature? There will be a falling off straight away. People will not want to be saddled with a 20c charge. What a shock it will be to those people in motels, hotels and the like who provide a switchboard and a person to operate it as a service to the travelling public or to those who are staying overnight. These are the kinds of things we find being foisted upon the public by the Government. It has the hide to come out and make these attacks on what might be described as the ordinary man in the street and to fleece him for its own ends. I could go on and make an assessment of practically every one of the provisions with which the legislation before the

House now deals and find the same hidden extras and the same unfair approaches being made.

There has been reference to the introduction of the metric system and what it will mean in terms of the cost of postage. A very great imposition is unfairly being placed upon the general public without any justification whatsoever for doing so. If the Government had been truthful in this matter that would have been fair enough. We could have then dealt with its proposals in a more direct and effective manner. The Postmaster-General will say, of course, that the previous Government agreed to the metric proposition.


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is right.







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