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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr DAVIDSON (Dawson) (PostmasterGeneral and Minister for the Navy) . - The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) has referred to conditions in the Sydney Mail Branch. During his remarks he stated that the conditions there were going from bad to worse, and he submitted the matter, I contend, in somewhat extravagant language. I am quite prepared to admit that 1 do not consider conditions in the Mail Branch as ideal. However, conditions have not fallen to the degree to which the honorable member suggested. He referred, for instance, to the fact that there is a tremendous labour turnover, and he said that indicates the situation which prevails in the Mail Branch and has developed as a result of these unfortunate conditions. He quoted a statement by the Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Sydney recently to the effect that the wastage among the trained mail staff is not high, that 90 per cent, of the present staff have been employed for more than a year, 80 per cent, for more than two years, and 50 per cent, for more than five years. That, he said, indicates a tremendous labour turnover. I do not agree with that. I say that in a job like this, in which there is normally a fairly high turnover as a result of men going to other avenues of employment, if 50 per cent, have been employed for more than five years it cannot be contended that there is a very high labour turnover. That is a position which would compare favorably with many businesses throughout Australia.

The honorable member went on to say that it is to be deduced from these figures that if there were 1,000 men employed in the branch at the beginning of this year there will be only 500 employed there at the end of the year. I point out that if 90 per cent, of the present staff have been employed for more than a year, obviously there would be at least 900 of the 1,000 employed at the end of the year. So, the terms in which he has put this matter to the House are fallacious. He also referred to the training that is carried on in the branch. There is, and has been, right throughout the history of the department, a big turnover of those who have been trained for various positions in the Postal Department. That has arisen from the fact that if a man has been trained for a while and has developed a certain degree of com petency in a particular task he frequently goes to some other industry and is lost to the department.

The honorable member also stated that this turnover was due to the present wage scales arising from the fact that the basic wage has been frozen by the Commonwealth Government. May I point out, as I have done previously in this House, that the matter of the determination of wage scales in the Postal Department, as indeed in the whole of the Public Service, is one for determination under the arbitration system. At present there is an application by the Australian Council of Trades Unions to the Arbitration and Conciliation Commission for an increase in the basic wage. If wage conditions in this particular industry are as claimed by the honorable member for Banks, then the arbitration system will take account of that fact and will make an adjustment; but the making of that adjustment is not in the hands of the department or of the Public Service.

Mr Ward - The Minister could help them.

Mr DAVIDSON - I have helped them to get before the Arbitrator on two occasions, and the Arbitrator admitted that. The honorable member also referred to delays in the handling of mail. He said that he has evidence that mail, particularly second class matter, has been held up for a fortnight. I consider that the Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Sydney is a far better authority on such matters than is either the honorable member for Banks or those who submitted these facts to him. The director' states that second class mail matter has not been put aside for periods up to a fortnight and that any statement to the contrary is without foundation. The only occasion when mail matter is held up for about 48 hours is when there are simultaneous arrivals of heavy overseas mails at the mail branch. I stated at the commencement of these remarks that I did not consider the conditions ideal. In actual fact, since I have been in this office, consideration of the development of the proposed new mail building at Redfern has been going ahead. As the honorable member for Banks probably knows, I have invited the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) to accompany me on Monday next when I go out to have a look at the position, because 1 am preparing a submission to Cabinet. The determination as to when a start will be made with the newbuilding, and how it will progress, is a matter for Cabinet and as I have not yet made my submission I am not in a position to say when the building will start. When completed it is planned to handle the anticipated mail traffic of Sydney for at least the next twenty years. On the site which was acquired in 1951, there will be provision also, if it is approved, for a transport building of about 1,400 square feet, and at the same time there is room for further expansion on the area to deal with any further developments after twenty years.

This proposal has to be further considered. After it has been approved by Cabinet it will have to go to the Public Works Committee. Consequently, it will be some considerable time before a building of this size will be in operation. However, it is not intended to make no other provision for dealing with the present situation. A building has been acquired in Hiles-street Alexandria, and it is the intention to transfer the interstate and overseas mail sections of the present mail building to that building, and also to use the present training school accommodation for the treatment of live traffic during periods of heavy rush traffic. So it will be seen that efforts are being made to get on with the task of providing further accommodation for the mail branch. I can assure the honorable mem ber that the matter has been receiving my attention and will continue to do so.

I have one further comment to make: I was rather sorry that the honorable member for Banks brought up the subject of the unfortunate deaths which occurred at Christmas time. From the way he introduced it - by reading from a letter - I think possibly he would rather not have introduced this unnecessary matter into the debate at all, because there is nothing to be gained by harrowing the feelings of relatives. There has been a coroner's report on this matter, which states that the deaths were not caused or aggravated in any way by any of the conditions prevailing in the work in the department. Therefore I suggest that the matter should not have been introduced into this debate in an attempt to build up a case which already has considerable merit and which has been given attention.

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