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Tuesday, 20 October 1964

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Customs and Excise) . - Mr. Acting Deputy President, it is obvious that we are in a climate of election campaigning and that this motion for disallowance of the regulations indicates an attitude of mind in relation to future election campaigning. 1 hope to demonstrate very briefly in a moment that there is not a shadow of doubt that the motion for the disallowance and the speech made by Senator Cant, who moved the motion and spoke to it, reflect the fact that we are to have a Senate election in the near future.

I invite honorable senators to reflect upon the circumstances regarding the increased telephone charges. They were foreshadowed in the Budget Speech. Certain honorable senators made passing reference to the proposals during the Budget debate. Senator Cant was not one of them. Perhaps at that time it was not certain that we were going to have a Senate election in the near future. Then, of course, we come to the traditional circumstances relating to these charges. We find that on 24th September in this place the Minister for Health (Senator Wade), who represents the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme), introduced the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1964 and spoke to it in his second-reading speech. Although the increased charges were being dealt with by regulation, the Minister, by tradition, referred to them in his second-reading speech.

Senator Cant - In what part of the bill were they mentioned?

Senator ANDERSON - The honorable senator should let me make my speech. I listened to him and had to restrain myself from interjecting. I suggest that he do the same. In his second reading speech the Minister quite extensively referred to the proposed increases. That was done for the purpose of enabling discussion and debate at the second reading stage. It is interesting to refer to the contributions, to the debate which were made by honorable senators opposite. We find that on Tuesday, 29th September, Senator Ormonde spoke to the motion that the Bill be read a second time and moved an amendment. He was supported by one honorable senator opposite. It was not Senator Cant but Senator Benn, and he did not once refer specifically to telephone charges. He spoke for eleven minutes. To quote his words as reported in "Hansard", he spoke of "the Government's financial philosophy in respect of the Post Office". Now, almost a month later, the matter becomes of great moment. It suddenly strikes the Opposition and it is decided that Senator Cant should move a motion for the disallowance of the regulations.

We have yet to come to the classical part of this matter. When one looks at " Hansard " one sees that Senator Cant spoke for one minute at the Committee stage of the Bill. His remarks did not relate to this issue at all. Senator Murphy did even better. He spoke 68 words. That is a measure of the sincerity of the Opposition in its criticism of these telephone charges.

Senator O'Byrne - I spoke for 35 minutes on the Bill.

Senator ANDERSON - I did not refer to the honorable senator. I am speaking of the mover of the motion. He did not bother to speak about the charges in the second reading debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill. He did not even bother to refer to them in the Budget debate. I wonder whether he will do a little better during the debate on the estimates. I remind the honorable senator that this matter is still current and that he can speak about it in the debate on the estimates if he desires.

I make the point that the processes of the Parliament are being used for nothing more than purely political purposes. The arguments that are being advanced are, in the main, spurious. I suggest that if this is the best that the Opposition can do in the climate of a forthcoming Senate election, it augurs well for the future of the Government. I want to make the point that this motion for the disallowance of the regulations clearly is an exercise in political campaigning. We are still dealing with the Estimates. All the points that Senator Cant chose to make, with perhaps two exceptions to which I shall refer, are points which could be raised quite properly during the debate on the Estimates. The test of the Opposition's sincerity in this exercise is that Senator Wade, when he introduced the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, deliberately included in his second reading speech all the details of this aspect of the proposed increased charges, to give the Opposition an opportunity to debate them but, with the exception of Senator Ormonde, not one Opposition senator made any real attempt to debate them. During the Committee stage Senator Cant spoke for one minute and Senator Benn gave a very fine dissertation on the financial structure of the Post Office.

Senator Willesee - These regulations still would have had effect even if the bill had been defeated.

Senator ANDERSON - Senator Willesee has only recently come into the chamber and he has not grasped the broad purport of my argument.

Senator Willesee - The argument is that Senator Cant should not move to disallow these regulations.

Senator ANDERSON - I do not deny him that right, but I claim that his proposal has no substance in sincerity in the sense that there were ample opportunities for the charges to be debated previously and now, one month after he had the opportunity to debate them, he has suddenly decided to move for a disallowance of the regulations.

I want to refer now to some of his arguments. I understand that Senator Willesee is a member of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee.

Senator Willesee - That has nothing to do with this.

Senator ANDERSON - It has something to do with the things that Senator Cant said, because almost his first statement in this debate was a criticism of the regulations. If he has a criticism to offer about the form or the drafting of the regulations - I think he said that they had not been looked at since 1956 - the proper approach would be for him to discuss the matter with his party colleagues, Senator Arnold and Senator Willessee, who are members of the Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee, on which all parties are represented. His colleagues could obtain from the Department the information which is necessary to enable them to direct their minds to this problem.

Senator Willesee - You do not have the faintest idea of the Committee's duties.

Senator ANDERSON - I have a very good recollection of what the Committee has done in the past. Senator Cant's first statement was, in effect, a criticism of the activities of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee.

To support his argument he cited certain figures relating to operations in the financial year 1962-63. He would have been far better off, in terms of debating points, if he had referred to the financial report for the year ended 30th June 1964, which has been circulated.

Senator Cant - I have not seen that.

Senator ANDERSON - It is available to the honorable senator. If he looks at it, he will see that the telephone services section lost £1,666,984 and that in all services there was an overall loss of £296,823. I should have thought that that report would have been the one to which the honorable senator would have referred but he did not do so. Therefore, the argument that he based on the previous year's operations lost a good deal of its strength.

Before making a direct contribution to the debate let me refer to Senator Cant's statement about Talgarno. The Senate will recall that he mentioned what he regarded as the prohibitive cost of £570 for the installation of a telephone service and that he asked whether, in calculating this cost, the cost of the installation at Talgarno had been included.

Senator Cant - I used that as an instance.

Senator ANDERSON - It was a very bad instance to use because in fact the responsibility for the cost of the installation was shared by the Governments of Australia and the United Kingdom. Departmentally, Australia's share was provided by the Department of Supply. If the honorable senator reads tomorrow's " Hansard " report of his speech he will find that he built quite an extensive argument upon the cost of that installation. As I have said, it was a singularly unfortunate example to choose because the costs were paid by the partner Governments in the project.

Let me deal now with some of the more specific aspects of this issue, having made the point that the matter was available for debate previously and that the Opposition did not avail itself of that opportunity. It now proposes that the regulations be disallowed. No new matter has been raised today which was not available to the Opposition from the time the Treasurer introduced his Budget in another place. In the final part of his speech Senator Cant criticised the technique of using regulations in this way. Here again he was on perilous ground. This is being done under an act which was passed shortly after Federation. This technique was actually written into the act by the Parliament. Over the years it has been used by successive governments, including governments of the honorable senator's own political persuasion. The argument that he used against the fixing of charges by regulation is an argument against an act of Parliament which has stood the test of time and against a set of procedures within the framework of that act which have been used by successive governments. The Parliament itself - this is adverting to the point that Senator Willesee made - provides a safequard in these matters by the availability of motions for the disallowance of regulations. Surely this is an acknowledgment of the kind of procedure which is envisaged in the legislation.

I want to make some of the points that Senator Wade made when he dealt with the matter in the broad in his second reading speech in September. It is true that there has been a substantial increase in costs. It is true that you can never expect the costs of running an undertaking like the Post Office to remain static when you have an economic situation in which wage increases are granted. In view of the wage increases that have been granted over the years since 1959 and having regard to the increased cost of basic raw materials in that period, surely Senator Cant does not suggest that Post Office costs can remain static. The last basic wage increase alone will add £7 million to the costs of the Post Office. By increased efficiency it has managed to ride out the effects of many of these increased costs, but it is unreal and infantile to suggest that charges by one Department of the Government which is giving service to the community can remain static while charges in other sections of the community move away. In the past five years the business of the Post Office has increased by about 40 per cent, while the staff has increased by only 4 per cent., so a real effort has been made in the Department to try to accommodate increases in costs.

It cannot be argued that the Department has not made any effort to get increased efficiency. It has, and the proof of this is in the record. At the same time, we cannot shut our eyes to increases in the cost of staffing and materials. An argument has been put - I think it is sound - that although there obviously must be some exceptions, broadly speaking users of a service should substantially meet the costs of the operations. I agree with Senator Cant that Australia's progress in terms of development and movement of population has been around the perimeter. This is a vast country. Our costs are very high. We must recognise and live with that fact. An attempt has been made down the years to give a service and we must recognise that in giving a service costs become very important. Of a capital provision of £77 million this year for the Post Office, about £70 million is for telephone services. That figure gives some idea of the effort being made to meet the demand. As Senator Cant knows, I do not wish to bring politics into this debate but the facts of life are that with this Government in power there is much prosperity and tremendous demand for the provision of services. Naturally, the Post Office as a business undertaking of the Government tries to accommodate itself to the demand, but it is not physically able to do all the things that are wanted immediately.

There can be no doubt that expanding telephone services are costly. The figure of £570, as the cost of providing a service, was mentioned by the Postmaster-General in, the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, and it was mentioned again by Senator Cant today. He suggested that that figure was loaded with the cost of services which should not be provided. To this I reply that if any of us tried to find an isolated case to take out of context in relation to this equation, no doubt he could find it. But this figure of £570 has been calculated in broad terms. As it happens, the particular case of Talgarno, which was cited by Senator Cant, is not analogous, because this service was provided by the Australian Government and' the United Kingdom Government under an arrangement.

It must be appreciated that the provision of a. telephone service is not merely the connection of a few wires or a telephone. All sorts of complexities are involved. Our charges and the services we give are comparable with any in the world. During the past three years the telephone service incurred a financial loss of £5 million. Under the old rates the service would incur a further loss during 1964-65. If we just threw up our hands and said, " Oh well, that is another loss that the Government will have to meet ", that would be a hopeless attitude, with which no government that hoped to continue in office could live. In all undertakings where a service is being given, a very real effort must be made to equate charges to costs. One could simply adopt the old Socialist approach of charging it up to the community. If that attitude prevailed in this field it would be sought in every other field, and we would reach a disastrous situation which would have a deleterious effect on the whole of the economic structure.

As Senator Cant indicated, the cost of local calls remains unchanged at 4d. The main proposals are to increase connection fees, rentals for telephones, and charges for other services. Cheaper rentals for services to residences were introduced in 1930 to stimulate demand for telephones. That is an historical truth, but that situation does not apply at present. The average cost of providing a business service and the average cost of providing a residence service are the same. It is not possible to separate them in relation to calls. The £10 connecting fee was introduced in 1956 as a contribution towards the high capital cost of installing services. It is now increased to £15.

I want to make two other points in relation to this matter. The essence of this particular proposition is that some attempt should be made to get the various Departments to stand on their own feet. Telephone services, as the balance sheet reveals, attract tremendous capital outlays. Of £77 million of capital expenditure, telephone services will attract £70 million.

Senator Ormonde - These are heavy charges in the current situation.

Senator ANDERSON - By comparison with other countries, our charges are not unreasonable. Senator Wade, who represents the Postmaster-General in this chamber, tabled a document some weeks ago in answer to a question by Senator Brown. It shows that our installation and other charges are probably better than those of most countries. We run about fourth in the world. Taking a broad national outlook, one comes up with the answer that the Post Office is providing an efficient service to the community. Because of the nature of the economy and the demand for the service, in certain circumstances there is some slight delay in providing it. Taking a wide view, one unquestionably comes up with the conclusion that in Australia we have provided a vast, efficient telephone service at reasonable cost.

I do not want to go into any further detail. I return to the point from which I started. This motion for the disallowance of certain regulations is bora in an atmosphere of politics. The debate has been promoted by Senator Cant who did not take the opportunity to speak on these charges during the Budget debate when he had every opportunity to do so. The honorable senator spoke for one minute in the committee stage of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill which was introduced by the Minister for Health (Senator Wade) representing the Postmaster-General. In that minute, Senator Cant did not have one word to say about telephone charges. Now he has come into the chamber bearing a fiery cross to speak on behalf of the people who are burning over the telephone charges.

Senator Cavanagh - Senator Cant was simply rectifying a wrong.

Senator ANDERSON - That is rather a hazardous comment also. It acknowledges the fact that the Opposition has been wrong. It is amazing how an impending election straightens up the Opposition. They feel they must strike a blow for freedom. I do not believe it. I believe it is humbug. I believe lt is cant.

Senator Cant - Do not pick up what was said by another senator when he was half drunk the other night.

Senator ANDERSON - I did not mean that remark to be personal. It is not in my nature to be personal and if that remark is offensive to you, Senator Cant, I withdraw lt. I would not dream of saying anything offensive to you. But I do say that it is humbug for the Opposition in these circumstances to present a motion for the disallowance of the regulations. The Government has a responsibility to make al! government undertakings financially sound. In this case, the Government has acted towards that end to meet a situation. I am quite certain that honorable senators opposite recognise that in the Post Office we have a government undertaking which is providing an efficient service to the community.

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