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Wednesday, 10 October 1956

Mr COSTA (Banks) . - I desire to comment upon the Estimates for the PostmasterGeneral's Department, and to refer to the proposal to instal what is known as the teleprinter reperforator electric switching system, the abbreviated name of which is Tress. The installation of this equipment would mean a reorganization of the telegraph branches in Australia. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson), in reply to a question that I asked him, stated that installation of the system would improve the grade of service and effect substantial economies in telegraph operating costs. The estimated cost of Tress, which would serve 568 offices in Australia, is £720,000.

Representatives of the telegraphists and the supervisory officers' organization have conferred with the Postmaster-General on this matter and have also placed some of their views before me. The unions concerned are opposed to the installation of this system. They doubt its efficiency and also its ability to effect economies within the service. That opinion is shared by all the operatives in the telegraph branches, including the supervisory officers and the supervising technicians. The department is basing its argument for the installation of Tress on the experience of the Western Union Telegraph Co., in the United States of America. As honorable members know, the postal service in Amenca is conducted by private enterprise and is not run by the government. The reported cost of the installation of this system in the United States was 70,000,000 dollars, or approximately £A30,000,000. Moreover, there have been additional heavy annual appropriations for the maintenance of the original equipment and for extension of the service. The department's estimate of approximately £720,000 is relatively low in comparison with the cost to the Western Union Telegraph Company of America. I feel that the cost of installing co-axial cables has not been taken into account in the department's estimate, and also that the system would not work satisfactorily in Australia without superior circuits such as would be provided by the use of co-axial cable. i

The Postmaster-General, in reply to another question of mine, has stated that the new system would require 400 fewer telegraphists, which means that it would be necessary to effect a retrenchment of telegraphists. On the other hand, because of the vast amount of mechanization that is associated with it, introduction of the system would lead to a greatly increased engineering staff. Because of the fear of the retrenchment of telegraphists, the unions are asking for the exercise of caution in the installation of this system. The argument that Tress is the answer to telegraph service economy difficulties is not strengthened by the fact that, apart from America, where the system has been in operation for years, no other country, large or small, has adopted the Tress system. If it had been proved to be efficient, such coutries as England, Germany and France undoubtedly would have adopted it. Those countries use what is called the magic eye system, and the Australian postal unions regard that system as being more suitable to Australian conditions. They believe it would be more efficient and more economic. The Postal Department owes it to the taxpayers to be careful in its investigations before it spends a lot of money on a newfangled system which is of doubtful quality.

In the past, experimenting engineers have introduced other systems that have proved to be a failure. For example, they installed the Hunter Valley multiplex system. Twentythree towns in the Hunter Valley area of New South Wales, including the Maitland and Cessnock districts, which previously were grouped on a four or five manual circuit, were changed over to the mechanized multiplex system. Many technical breakdowns and a heavy annual maintenance cost of about £6,000 convinced the department that the system was inefficient and was a costly failure. Consequently, it reverted to the old morse system. The introduction of Tress could lead to the same result. Multiplex, Tress and such highly mechanized systems are suitable only for densely populated areas. They are suitable for big cities or towns that are comparatively close together. In those circumstances, the laying of co-axial cable would not be so expensive. Let us take Queensland as an example. During monsoonal and bad weather periods the carrier wave frequency circuits react in a manner that is known as bumping, which is like the static faults that we hear in our wireless sets. This so-called technical bumping fault could last for days, and in that case the present system would have to be resorted to. The same criticism applies to communications in the southern States in summer, especially during stormy weather when there is a contraction of lines due to varying temperatures.

The high speed and intricate system of Tress will be unreliable unless a costly reorganization of circuits is carried out. In respect of efficiency, which is one of the aims of the Postal Department and which its experts claim Tress will achieve, the unions dispute the claim that efficiency will be improved. The essence of a telegram is speed and accuracy. A telegram is usually an urgent message sent from one point to another, that is from the dispatching office to the receiving office. Telegrams are at present transmitted by the teletype or by the hand Morse system, and it takes no more than about a minute to send the average message. The installation of a new and costly system to increase that speed will not be of much value because the transmission of a telegram at present is almost instantaneous. What is necessary, however, is that the message should be speeded up from the office of destination to the addressee, and that is a matter of speeding up delivery. What is the value of transmitting a cable from London to Sydney, or to Canberra, at a fast speed if that cable is going to lie about in an office for one or two hours waiting to be delivered by a messenger? And that sort of thing does happen. My advice to the Postmaster-General is that he should forget about Tress and concentrate on speeding up the delivery of telegrams.

Another matter that is causing some concern to the telegraphists union is whether the new system is to be operated by males or females. The Postmaster-General has stated that the positions have not yet been classified and that the system can be operated by either males or females. I do not dispute the rights of females to get a job anywhere, but the unions object to the employment of females on the grounds that they are not paid the full male rate. In fact, they receive only 75 per cent, of the male wage. The union has no objection to their employment at male rates of pay, but it fear:, that the introduction of this new system may threaten male employment.

The Postal Department is apparently relying on reports of savings made by the Western Union Telegraph Company in the United States of America, lt is understood that that company has saved 17,000,000 dollars a year since it introduced Tress. However, as I said in my opening remarks, these economies are doubted. The " A.C.A. News ", published in the United States, has reported about the system as follows: -

From 1943 to 1953, that is in len years, the Western Union closed 1,012 main and telegraph branch offices, 3,202 agency offices, and 3,666 railroad offices were also closed for telegraph traffic.

The " A.C.A. News " quoted those figures as they were given in evidence before the United States Federal Communications Commission. The figures were used to expose the fantastic scandal in which thousands of communities throughout the United States have been deprived of direct telegraph services in direct violation of firm pledges made to the American Government by the Western Union company. Savings at the expense of the public service should not be tolerated, and that is apparently what occurred under this system in the United States. Perhaps, it will occur here. The morse system has proved itself, and our other systems have proved themselves and are still very useful. Therefore, the Postal Department should concentrate not on the introduction of a new system but on the speeding up of the delivery of telegrams. The department may have the development of television in mind when considering this system and may intend laying co-axial cables to retransmit television programmes beyond the 25-mile radius. If it has that in mind in connexion with Tress there may be some substance in its arguments, but these cables are very expensive and I am sure that the Postmaster-General has not taken the expense into account.

The unions oppose the introduction of this system on several grounds, the grounds being the high cost of installation, unsuitability under Australian conditions, lack of justification from a traffic viewpoint, desirability of further investigation with a view to a more suitable system, lack of convincing argument that any appreciable improvement in service or saving of costs will result, no saving of time in delivery of telegrams, ihe departmental assertion that 400 telegraphists will be retrenched, the lack of departmental assurance that the proposed system will be operated by males and the general departmental tendency towards panic mechanization at any cost. The departmental attitude in this matter is completely wrong and it may involve the department in the installation of a system which will fail to achieve the results expected of it.

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