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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4391

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - I move:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Dawson moving a motion to establish a select committee to inquire into and report upon the area management prosposals of the PostmasterGeneral's Department, the constant closing of country post offices and similar policies adversely affecting the customers and s'.alT of the Australian Post Office.

All members of Parliament who represent rural and semi-rural electorates, as well as some of those representing city electorates, are well aware of the attitude of the PostmasterGeneral (Sir Alan Hulme) and his Department to the very serious problems caused by the wholesale closing of country post offices throughout Australia. The Opposition believes that the Federal Parliament must act to curb the dictatorial powers exercised by the PostmasterGeneral and his Department in their decisions to close down these country post offices. There is an urgent need to establish a select committee of the Parliament to inquire into these matters which are, of course, of great concern to all members of the Australian Labor Party representing rural electorates, as they are to all members of the Country Party and the Liberal Party, although I would assume that the last 2 mentioned parties will do very little about it. Because of the . PostmasterGeneral's dictatorial attitude, the Federal Government now is being depicted in country areas as a government which has little sympathy for the needs of country people.

Country post offices are an integral part of the welfare of all rural areas; they have provided essential services to rural communities for almost as long as those communities have existed. In the last 3 years the Government, through the PostmasterGenera], has closed down 700 .post offices throughout Australia and. the great majority of these were in rural electorates. And while this happens the Government seems to turn a blind eye to the powers of the Postmaster-General's Department. The disturbing feature of these closures is that in all cases there are no real reasons for them and no warnings are given to the people concerned. They have little chance of appealing to the Postmaster-General and their Federal member to take this matter

Up wilh the Department. Usually notification is given and protests are made, but by then it is too late.

In addition, another decision has caused serious problems with respect to the compulsory transfer of staff from country areas to the provincial cities, a move which is contrary to the principles of decentralisation. This re-organisation is, in effect, in pursuance of a policy of centralisation in capital and provincial cities. And this is another reason why there is a need for a committee of inquiry. No committee of inquiry has been established to investigate the operations of the Post Office for more than 50 years and a competent independent investigation by the Parliament of the entire .structure of the Post Office is badly needed.

The Opposition has another reason for moving this motion. There are mounting delays in rural areas in the provision of telephone services. There was an announcement made in this Parliament some time ago concerning an acceleration in the provision of telephone facilities to country people within a certain radius of the exchanges. But all we have had are mounting delays. Divisional engineers throughout Australia will tell us that the provisionof these facilities is at the bottom ofthepriority list becauseapparentlythere are not sufficient funds available. In my electorate, a typical country electorate, the delay in the provision of multi-coin facilities which are essential for people in rural areas wishing to make trunk-line calls is at least 12 months. And if the PostmasterGeneral does not believe me, I can give him details of the applications which have been made by people in my electorate and who have been told that there is at least a 7-month delay in the provision of even multi-coin facilities. This is proof of a deterioration in the operational conditions in the Post Office. There is a need for an investigation. The Postmaster-General has informed the Government and the public that he will retire shortly and I believe in all sincerity that he should intervene in this matter before then. If he does not it will seem that he has lost interest in the welfare of the Australian people. I believe he should resign.

Mr Jeff Bate - I rise to order. Mr Speaker, may I draw your attention to General Business, notice No. 9. I think the honourable member for Dawson is speaking about a number of matters that would be dealt with in notice No. 9.

Dr PATTERSON - I am speaking to the suspension of standing Orders.

Mr Jeff Bate - I think he is speaking on the question of urgency. There is a notice on the notice paper covering most of the matters he has raised. The only new material that the honourable member has introduced relates to the area management scheme.I submit, Mr Speaker, that you should rule that the only matter with which he can deal under the Standing Orders is area management.

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