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Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2491

Mr STEWART (Lang) - When the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme) made his original statement on the reorganisation of the Australian Post Office telecommunications activities on 16th September, about 5 weeks ago, he commenced by saying:

I present to the Parliament a statement on a matter of great importance to the Post Office and the community it serves.

He went on to say:

An opportunity to review our organisational structure and working arrangements arose following a recent service-wide study of the employment of engineers by the Public Service Board.

In the statement which he circulated to honourable members, under the heading Conclusion' he said:

The changes are quite radical. They are designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Post Office telecommunication management. They are in harmony with modern business practice of clearly identifying management authority and responsibility.

But nowhere in the Minister's original statement or in the statement that he has made today did he make any mention of consultations with staff associations. It was not until my colleague the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) was speaking, on 16th September, that the Postmaster-General indicated by interjection that consultations had been held with staff associations. My information since then is that if any discussions were had with staff associations they took place belatedly and were very perfunctory in manner. If it had not been foi the. diligence and initiative of the New South Wales branch of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union and in particular Mr Peter Evans, a State organiser of that Union, these radical changes, which are of great importance to the Post Office and to the community it serves - there I paraphrase the words of the Postmaster-General - would almost have escaped the notice of the staff and the community affected and would almost have escaped the notice of this Parliament.

The New South Wales branch of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, through Mr Evans, let the results of the reorganisation of the telecommunication activities of the Post Office be known throughout the areas affected and to the staff of the Post Office. I repeat that there was very little consultation with anyone before the reorganisation decision was announced. In his original statement the Postmaster-General mentioned a survey by the Public Service Board. He went on to say that the changes were in harmony with modern business practice of clearly identifying management authority and responsibility. That is a typical ministerial statement. It is typical Government practice. The Government asked the Public Service

Board to make a survey of the engineering sections of the Postmaster-General's Department. I would say that most of the men conducting the survey would have no experience in the workings of the PostmasterGeneral's Department. Having obtained their opinions, the Government then looked at management practice, and those 2 things have been taken into account. But the human welfare of the staff concerned and the human welfare of the communities affected have not been taken into account at all. The chambers of commerce, the unions, and the staff associations knew little or nothing about the reorganisation of this section of the PostmasterGeneral's Department until it was announced here.

If my memory serves me correctly, the Assistant Minister assisting the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Robinson) let the cat out of the bag in a country area 2 or 3 days before the Postmaster-General had an opportunity to announce the decision in this Parliament. Typically, the statement made today and the statement made on 16th September demonstrate the attitude of doing everything without consultation with the men and women who are working in the Post Office or in a government department and of making a decision without telling or without consultation. Then if industrial unrest is created the employee is immediately blamed for that industrial unrest. In this instance the staff associations have been treated almost with disdain. Over the past few weeks I have received letters and telegrams from various sections of the Post Office unions and from personnel. One letter reads as follows:

We the undersigned members of the ACOA located in the Costing Section of the Administrative Branch of the Engineering Division, PostmasterGeneral's Department, view with considerable concern the complete lack of information available to us on our future career prospects following the proposed introduction of the Telecommunication Area Management and Restructuring of Engineer Organisational Concepts arising from the Engineer Review Team report.

Our Director, Posts and Telegraphs-

This letter comes from Sydney - in a communication dated 9th September 1971 urges that an encouraging and optimistic note be struck regarding the proposed reorganisation. He concedes, at the same time, however, that uncertainty must exist as to how the restructured organisation, may affect individual careers. We are assured in the same letter nevertheless, but only in the most general terms possible, that inconvenience will be minimised and career prospects enhanced for all in the reorganisation.

We feel as a group whose salary classifications and career opportunities have already been depressed for a considerable period past, that a more specific statement of intentions concerning our particular sections is indicated. It is hard, indeed, to imagine that the type of spirit which the Director quite rightly seeks to engender in us could possibly be forthcoming in a climate where the mors pessimistic among us even suspect that a fragmentation of our specialist group could lead to a loss of existing classification and status . . .

I have received a letter from an individual, part of which reads as follows:

The most disturbing aspect of the whole exercise is the complete lack of information given to staff prior to the recent statement by the Postmaster-General in the House. Even now, the Clerical/Administrative group have no indication as to how their career opportunities and in fact their present positions, could be affected.

In his statement today the PostmasterGeneral said: 1 have since received many inquiries and rep resentations from honourable members, town councils and others concerning the economic and social effects of the withdrawal of staff and their families from country towns, some of which are already quite seriously affected by circumstances within the primary, industries.

Those circumstances existed when the Minister made his original statement.I hope that the Minister's reference to 'others' does not mean staff associations. I am reasonably certain that the Minister and his Directors-General in the various States have been approached by staff associations from various Post Office unions.

Sir Alan Hulme - They gave it their blessing from the beginning.

Mr STEWART - And you dismissed the staff association organisations under the words 'and others'. Is it any wonder the Post Office is subject to industrial unrest when you, the Minister, and your senior officers treat the employees' representatives in this way? In your statement today you again mentioned that only 25 to 35 staff members from the districts not designated as area headquarters are likely to have to be transferred but then you go on to make alterations in the proposals that you announced only 5 weeks ago.

Sir Alan Hulme - Is there anything wrong with that?

Mr STEWART - No, there is nothing wrong with that, except that I cannot understand how you as the responsible Minister in the Government can come in on 16th November and make an announcement in this House without giving any facts or figures at all and relying on a Public Service Board survey and on management practices, and within 5 weeks you change that reorganisation.

Sir Alan Hulme - Why do you not read the Act and see where the responsibility lies?

Mr STEWART - You changed the reorganisation and in the 4 points that you set out in your statement today, you have deliberately tried to curtail some of the criticism that has already been made about the proposed alterations. I condemn the Minister because he did not know what was proposed in the reorganisation until such time as the New South Wales Branch of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union let it be known not only to members on this side of the House but also to councils in the country areas, to Country Party supporters and to Liberal Party supporters, and it was then-

Sir Alan Hulme - Nonsense.

Mr STEWART - Mr Deputy Speaker,inhis statement the Postmaster-General says that he made his original statement on 16th September. I have quoted the following extract from it:

I have since received many inquiries and representations.

As a result of those representations the Minister changed his original proposals. I do not think he has given nearly sufficient consideration to the reorganisation. As far as I am concerned, and I think I speak for most Labor Party supporters, I am not against the efficient reorganisation of the Postmaster-General's Department but we do not want these decisions made without due and proper consideration not only for the top echelons of the Post Office but also for the workers. Human beings are affected in this situation and to those of us on this side of the House human beingsare the most important commodity in this country of ours. They have to be considered; otherwise there will be industrial unrest and the Government will continue to blame the workers in the Post Office and in the Public Service generally for the things that are happening in the community at the moment. The Government cannot ride roughshod over the people in these organisations. There are staff associations that are prepared to meet the PostmasterGeneral or any of his administrative officers at any time over these matters.

Sir Alan Hulme - And they did.

Mr STEWART - They met one or two days before you made this announcement.

Sir Alan Hulme - They met the appropriate people.

Mr STEWART - They met one or two days before you made this announcement and 1 believe that it was not until the honourable member for Cowper let the cat out of the bag that you decided to go and see them. This reorganisation is perhaps necessary, but if it is necessary surely greater consideration should have been given to it than has. been given to it. In 5 weeks you can make some drastic alterations to it but you still stick to that figure of 25 to 35 people in the area not designated as area headquarters but there are still to be 25 or so people transferred or otherwise disposed of in those areas.

Sir Alan Hulme - I did not say that at all in today's statement if you read it properly.

Mr STEWART - The minister said:

On this basis the original plan would have involved the eventual movement of about 25 to 35 staff positions from a district centre not selected as Area Headquarters over a period of several years. This was clearly stated by me on 16th September.

He made no other mention of 25 to 35 staff positions there.

Sir Alan Hulme - Read later on where it mentions two-thirds of district staff.

Mr STEWART - The indications are from information that I have - I understand that this information has been given to the Postmaster-General and he has not contradicted it in the statement that he made today - that in New South Wales the country centres which will be affected are: Armidale, Bathurst, Dubbo, Gosford, Goulburn, Kempsey, Lismore, Maitland, Narrandera and Parkes. In Victoria something like 8 centres will be affected, in

Queensland3,in South Australia 3, in Western Australia 2 and in Tasmania one. No consideration has been given to the people who are likely to be affected in those areas.

Sir Alan Hulme - Read No. 1 of the conclusions and see whether you come up with the same answer. You do not.

Mr STEWART - The factual information has been provided from outside this Parliament.

Sir Alan Hulme - Nonsense.

Mr STEWART - The minister has made 2 statements and has not given one fact. He has generalised on everything and if it had not been for the staff associations highlighting to Country Party supporters what was likely to happen to the staff of the Post Office the proposed reorganisation of this section of the Post Office outlined in his original statement would have continued exactly as he set out. The PostmasterGeneral has again indicated that he has very tittle consideration for the employees in his Department. He has very little consideration for the community at large because he started off his statement of 16th September by saying that thu was a statement on a matter of great importance to the Post Office and the community it serves; but nowhere in that statement or in the statement that he made today does he spell out in any way what is likely to happen.

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