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Tuesday, 25 November 1941

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - I remind the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens), who spoke about previous Postmasters-General, that I was Postmaster-General for five months, and that in that time more reforms were started in the post office and in institutions associated with it than, in the previous fifteen years or since. As the result of what I did, the telegraphic rate is uniform, although previously uniformity had been held to be impossible. I had no opportunity in the short period in which' I held the portfolio of Postmaster-General to introduce the legislation required to bring about that reform, but, as the result of what I had done, my then colleague, the former honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby), was able to bring down legislation for that purpose. T also remind the honorable member and those who sit with him that when I was Postmaster-General, I caused to be restored free of cost to subscribers the private lines which had been burnt out in bushfires in many places in Australia. The honorable member will remember that, while I was PostmasterGeneral, I started some arguments about wireless broadcasting. Those arguments have not been settled, but the honorable member would not say that I was wrong in starting them. The appointment of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Broadcasting is largely the outcome of what I did about certain wireless broadcasting stations three years ago.

Mr Martens - With regard to telephones, the same condition operated after the honorable member had left the post office as before he went into it.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That is so. The honorable member and I had one argument over the Proserpine Post Office. The honorable gentleman spoke to-night and mentioned the necessity to keep down expenditure, and the Government's statement that certain things do not pay. If former Postmasters-General had acceded to all of the requests of the honorable gentleman, the Post Office would be insolvent. The honorable member wanted concrete construction instead of wooden at the Proserpine Post Office. The difference between the two estimates of costs were so great as to put concrete construction absolutely beyond the pocket of any self-respecting Postmaster-General.

Mr SPEAKER - Order 1 The issue before the Chair is between the bill and the amendment, and not between, successive Postmaters-General.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I am entitled to reply to what was said by the honorable member, but, if necessary, .1 can defer my reply until the bill is in committee.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is entitled to reply.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Any honorable member who studies rates and regulations can answer the question why the postal charges are to be increased by legislation and the telephonic rates by regulation. In respect of the postal charges, there is only one objective, but, in respect of the telephone rates, which we would not have been able to discuss but for the amendment of the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald), there are discrepancies and variations. In its telephone rates regulations the Government is doing things in the interests of the city as against those of the country districts which no government should bring to this chamber at this stage when the Government is asking even more loudly than we are that every penny of revenue should be got into the Treasury coffers. By means of regulations the Ministry intends actually to reduce telephone charges in the great cities of Australia. I have been a telephone subscriber in the city as well as in the country, and I can compare the treatment of subscribers in both areas. I have been a subscriber in Adelaide, where tens of thousands of subscribers are connected to the one exchange. In Melbourne and Sydney still greater numbers of subscribers are connected. I forget the actual figures - I had them when I was PostmasterGeneral - but I think that in Sydney there are about 250,000 individual telephone subscribers, each of whom, had the right under the old rates to ring any other subscriber in the network for Id. a call and will have the right under the proposed rates to ring for 1-id. a call. In the country districts calls over distances no greater than from one city suburb to another have to be made on trunk lines and are, as I am reminded by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick), limited to three minutes, whereas the city subscriber can speak for any length of time. I know many exchanges in my electorate which have ten subscribers or less. Mount Gambier exchange would be the biggest exchange in my electorate, and I doubt whether more than 1,000 subscribers are connected to it. Lots of small exchanges are located at points a few miles distant from Mount Gambier and the result is that, if people desire to «peak to comparatively near neighbours, they have to make trunk line calls at the higher trunk line charges, whereas, if (hey were in Sydney all would be on the one network.

I welcome some of the things that the Postmaster-General is doing under the regulations, for instance, the increase of the number of telephones on the exchange from 600 to 1,000 is very good. But that does not get away from the fact that other increases, which are wrong, are to be made. For instance, what is the necessity to increase the fee for making a. personal call to ls. if the distance is more than 500 miles? The cost of making a personal call does not vary according to distance. Taken one by one, the proposals would be hard for any Government to defend. Another instance of discrimination against country telephone subscribers is the fact that the annual telephone rental where the exchange has 300 subscribers is £3 5s. for both business and private users. On an exchange of 10,000 subscribers the rental is £6 5s. for a business user and £5 for a private user. In addition to that the cost, of certain classes of calls in Sydney and Melbourne is to be reduced.

Mr Pollard - The revenue from the metropolitan telephonic business makes it possible for the post office to grant concessions to rural telephone subscribers.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I am amazed that an honorable member representing a country constituency should say that. I expected that the honorable member for Ballarat would speak the truth and say-

Mr Pollard - I object to the honorable member for Barker implying that I do not speak the truth and I ask him to withdraw that remark.

Mr SPEAKER - Does the honorable member for Barker wish to imply that?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I had not finished what I was about to say, which was that I was amazed that he was not one who would speak the truth that but for the country areas the cities would not be in existence. The constituents of the honorable member should be plainly told what he said, and I think that it is time I did so. We must get down to the fundamental fact that, if it were not for country production and the squatters, the farmers, the fruitgrowers and the dairymen and the miners, who conduct their operations in the country, Melbourne and Sydney would not be in existence to need telephone services. When I was a member of the South Australian House of Assembly tha vexed question raised in the honorable member's interjection was often discussed in respect of railway freights and fares, the principle involved then being the same as that I arn now emphasizing in regard to telephone charges. So long as it is made easier and more attractive for people to go to the metropolitan areas, so long shall we have towns like some in my electorate and the electorates of the honorable member for Ballarat and the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) beset by difficulties brought about by the trend towards centralization. Examined as a matter of principle and fact these telephone regulations contain certain bad elements. I strongly and sincerely advise the Minister assisting the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Lawson) to agree to the amendment and allow the increased telephone charges to be considered in conjunction with the increased postal charges. So far as I know no increase of telegraphic rates is proposed, but the Government cannot get away from the fact that an explanation is necessary when it docs one thing by legislation and the other by regulation. The less "we do by regulations the better. Regulations are not a good way of dealing with the country or of imposing burdens on the people. There are too many hurdles in the Acts Interpretation Act to allow of proper government in that way. If the Attorney-General went into this question, he would be one of the first to admit that the proper, correct, parliamentary and democratic way would be to produce a bill to increase the telephone charges instead of doing it by the sticky process of regulations.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Mulcahy) adjourned.

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