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Wednesday, 10 October 1956

Mr H V JOHNSON (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) . - In the limited time at my disposal, I shall confine my remarks to one or two matters of great importance to my electorate;. First, I wish to congratulate the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Erwin), because it is refreshing to hear members of the Commonwealth Parliament give credit where it is due by eulogizing the work of the Commonwealth railways, which have done a magnificent job for this country, particularly under the present commissioner, Mr. Hannaberry, whose services to the nation have won him the admiration of people of all political opinions. In the few years in which he has been in charge of the Commonwealth railways he has done such a magnificent job that the deficiencies of the past have vanished, and it is now a thorough pleasure to travel by those railways. I am very happy, therefore, that the honorable member for Ballarat saw fit to praise the great services of Mr. Hannaberry. If I had time I could deal with the Commonwealth railways much more fully, but because there are other matters of great import that I wish to deal with I am unable to give the time that I would like to give to a discussion of those railway services. I refer to the increased postal, telephone and telegraph charges which have operated from 1st October.

These increases impose a great additional burden on the people who form the pioneering section of our great community. They are the people who live far from the cities, and who do not enjoy the advantage of the amenities available to city people. These outback dwellers are greatly victimized by the new impositions. People who live in the far-out parts of Australia have to do the major portion of their business dealings by either telephone or telegram. Consequently, increases of telephone and telegraph charges have a more direct effect on them than they have on other members of the public. I refer particularly to people who live in the north-west of Western Aus-, tralia and in the Murchison and Murchison East gold-fields districts. I appeal to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) on their behalf but, while doing so, I realize quite well that, although the Minister may be sympathetic in the matter, he is just one member of a government which makes decisions such as that to increase postal and other charges and that, as a result, irrespective of what kind of a case I may be able to put to him to-night, he is not in a position to vary the charges as they affect people who live in isolated areas. I feel, therefore, that the whole thing is hardly fair, because when a worthwhile case that merits thorough attention by the Government is put forward, it is the Government's job to give that case the serious attention that it deserves.

As 1 have already said, the greater part of the business transacted by people in outback areas is transacted by means of telephone or telegram. That is a circumstance that is peculiar to the conditions under which those people live and work. The shipping service for people living on the isolated sections of the Western Australian coastline is irregular, and when people in those areas want to make arrangements for the transport of goods such arrangements are made by telephone or telegram. The business in these areas is not conducted in the regular fashion adopted in areas where there is assured and regular transport, but is done irregularly because of the lack of regular transport services. Because so much business is done on the telephone people in those areas sometimes have to wait on the line while decisions are being made. This is an exceedingly costly business normally, but now that the charges for trunk-line telephone calls have been increased it will be even more so. I stress that it is only by the use of telephones and telegram that people in those isolated areas can readily make contact with others. So I regret very much that the Government has found it necessary to place further imposts on these outback people, who already face many difficulties quite unknown to people who live in the cities and larger towns of Australia.

Not only are the people outback victimized in connexion with increased postal and other charges, but they are also victimized in respect of broadcasting recep tion and the rate of listener's licence fee. In some of the outback areas a listener gets very little return for the money he spends on a broadcast listener's licence, because good reception is possible for only two or three hours a day. Yet those people who do not get the advantage of a 24-hour broadcasting service such as is enjoyed by metropolitan listeners are asked to pay exactly the same listener's licence fee as is paid by people who can use their radios at any time of the day or night. That is another injustice suffered by those people. Some time ago, I asked the PostmasterGeneral whether he would reduce the listener's licence fee payable by such people in isolated areas, on the ground of their not receiving the same standard of service as is received by people who live within effective range of numerous broadcasting stations.

Now I turn to a matter that is of great importance - the question of the erection of a new post office at Geraldton, in Western Australia. The proposed votes we are now considering make no provision for that work. I might mention that the building which serves Geraldton as a post office at present was erected in the early 1890's, when the population of Geraldton was about 1,000. To-day, when Geraldton's population is above 10,000, and with the population of surrounding districts increasing rapidly, this same post office which was built in the. early 1890's is still being called on to serve that much larger community. In 1947, after a thorough inspection by officials of the Postmaster-General's Department, the then Postmaster-General told the people of Geraldton that they would get a new post office. The plans were drawn up and submitted to the local authorities in Geraldton. A draft of the proposed building was also submitted. In 1949, preparations were being made for the construction of the new post office but, unfortunately, the Labour Government of that day was defeated in the general election in December, 1949. This Government then took office, and the incoming PostmasterGeneral, the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), voiced his sympathy with the people of Geraldton in respect of their poor post office facilities. But that is as far as we got. Correspondence has flowed backwards and forwards through the years, and numerous representations have been made to the Postmaster-General who preceded the present occupant of that honorable office. But in no way have we been able to get this Government to provide the money necessary for the erection of the new building. The result is that a building that is about 60 years old, erected to serve a community of 1,000 persons, is still attempting to serve a community that has since grown tenfold. The building is congested. lt has not sufficient accommodation for the postal officials who work in it. In fact, some of the officials of that post office have had to be accommodated in State buildings because of the lack of room in the post office. For instance, one of the most important postal officers of the district, the postal inspector, has had to occupy accommodation in a State building. The State is now pressing for that accommodation to be returned to it. So we have this completely inadequate post office in one of the' most important towns in Western Australia - a very important town which is growing in population every day, and whose activities in agriculture and secondary industry are continually expanding. Yet over the years this Government has failed to give the people of Geraldton and the surrounding districts the adequate service that they so rightly deserve. I have discussed this matter with the present Post.masterGeneral, and he too has expressed his sympathy for the people of Geraldton in respect of this matter. He has said that he would like to see Geraldton have a new post office, but has also said that the only thing preventing the provision of that new post office is sufficient money to do the job. The Estimates provide for the expenditure of more than £310,000 on new buildings and works in Western Australia that were not mentioned in the Estimates three or four years ago. The new Geraldton post office was supposed to have priority over other works, but it has been discarded and £310,000 is to be spent mainly in the Perth metropolitan area and the south-west of the State.

Only a few weeks ago I was deputed by the Postmaster-General to open a new post office at Morawa. When I undertook to perform the ceremony of officially opening that very valuable post office, I did not know that it would coincide with a visit to Western Australia by the Postmaster-

General and the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, Sir Giles Chippindall. Had I known that, I should have thought it would be the Postmaster-General's job to open the new Morawa post office, lt would have done him good to get out into the back country and see the conditions in which people in the country work. I think that, had we got the Minister to Morawa, which is fairly close to Geraldton, we should have had every chance of getting him to visit that town. 1 am sure he would have met with a very good reception had he attended a civic function at Morawa, and that the local people would have had something pertinent to say to him. I was very disappointed to find, when I was at Morawa, that the Postmaster-General and the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs were en route to the southern part of the State around Perth, the famed beauty of which attracts many tourists from the eastern Slates, most of whom go to Perth. I do not wish to be parochial, but, having examined the Estimates, I think it is significant that all of this £310,000 will be spent on buildings and works in electorates that that are represented by Government supporters. I do not like that.

The Estimates also provide approximately £1,500,000 more than last year for broadcasting and television services. It is safe to say that most of this amount will be spent on television, which will be of no benefit to people who live outside the metropolitan areas. It will not benefit country people, but they will pay just as heavily for it in taxation as will people who live within a short distance of television broadcasting stations and are able to derive great advantage from it. I am disappointed at this, and I appeal to the Postmaster-General to acknowledge the justice of the case that 1 have put before him this evening. 1 appeal to him to give consideration to people who are deserving of it and who will pay heavily to meet the increased charges to be levied on them. This Government has talked of decentralization.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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