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Thursday, 27 April 1961

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- T did not intend to participate in the discussion on decentralization and I shall make a passing reference to that subject only because of the intrusion of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Forbes) into the debate and his defence of the honorable member for Ballaarat (Mr. Erwin). I remind both honorable members that it was during the period of the Curtin and Chifley Administrations that there were established at Ballarat a plant for the extraction of nitrogenous products from air for the manufacture of explosives, an enormous gun cotton factory, a flax industry, and a great training base for the Royal Australian Air Force. I remind them also that engineering industries in Ballarat were encouraged and substantially helped. With the coming of an anti-Labour Administration however, the nitrogenous products factory, which had been subsequently converted by the Chifley Government into a plant for producing sulphate of ammonia for primary producers, was closed down and sold to private enterprise. The great gun cotton factory, in regard to which the Labour Government had negotiated a contract with a large British paper firm, is still being utilized by private industry, although the paper firm transferred its interests to other people. The flax mill has been closed down and the Air Force base has disappeared altogether.

Those few references indicate that as far as that district is concerned decentralization was not only preached by the Labour Government, but also practised. The Labour Administration also established at Portland, Victoria, large wool stores which, although never used for the purpose of storing wool, have proved to be invaluable to this Government for storing all sorts of material. They have now been made available, to wool-growers of the district as a selling centre. The Labour Administration also established wool stores at Geraldton, Albany. Moree and Dubbo. Although some of them were never used to store wool they all proved valuable for other purposes. 1 could go on ad infinitum giving illustrations of that kind.

An important matter on which I wish to sneak now is one which has concerned me greatly over the past few years. I am a tolerant person. I realize that during the post-war period, because of the vast expansion of Australia's population, great difficulties have been experienced by governments of all political complexions in both the State and the Commonwealth spheres. Over the last few years, I have listened to supporters of the Government in various debates make slighting references to shortages during the immediate post-war period and during the time of the Chifley Administration. Some of them have been very mean references indeed.

Let me give an illustration of the situation now, sixteen years after the cessation of hostilities. The shortage of telephone ser-vices in the shire pf Whittlesea, the city of Broadmeadows, the municipality of Keilor and the shire of Altona is a disgrace to any political administration. I make no slighting reference to any of the departmental officers. They do their best in an impossible situation. The population of the area I have mentioned has increased by nearly 20,000 people since the last election, and that increase has followed the expansion, transfer and establishment of very great industrial enterprises. But, lo and behold, here is the Postmaster-General's Department sixteen years after the cessation of hostilities unable to supply telephone services. Surely it should have been aware of the requirements of industry and been prepared to meet the demand.

I shall mention two cases brought to my notice only last week. A very large, oldestablished Australian industry, which produces goods of a utilitarian nature for household use, has been established in an inner metropolitan industrial area. I think it has effected a merger with an American enterprise and is now establishing a great industrial concern in Maffra-street, Broadmeadows. It proposes to manufacture good? for local use and for export. It made application to the PostmasterGeneral's Department for the installation of a telephone.. on the spot to-day is a very prominent Melbourne contractor with his head-quarters in Richmond, Victoria, and a number of sub-contractors employing 200 men. Between now and October next, they will spend no less than £1,000,000. But they are informed by the PostmasterGeneral's Department that they cannot get a telephone for twelve months. That is the first illustration.

In the shire of Whittlesea, a firm producing asphalt for road construction applied to the Postmaster-General's Department for the installation of a telephone, but it will be unable to get the installation in less than eighteen months. In another instance, a firm in Thomastown has purchased 5 acres of land on which to establish itself.

It is moving its stores, administrative offices and so on to this site and already has applied for a telephone and been told that it cannot get one for twelve months.

These are illustrations of the effect of telephone shortages on industrial undertakings. But these shortages also affect the citizens. When a woman living alone - she may be an invalid - applies for a telephone, she is told that there is no cable and she cannot have a telephone for twelve months, eighteen months or perhaps ten years. A vast administrative staff in the PostmasterGeneral's Department in Melbourne does nothing but receive letters from members of Parliament in these areas complaining about telephone shortages and seeking information as to when their electors will be supplied with telephones. A very courteous reply, couched in most fascinating language, is sent, but there is always a shortage of cables and no assurance can be given as to when a telephone will be installed.

These replies have become so hackneyed that a ridiculous situation exists. 1 have an illustration which concerns two people living side by side. They are not in my electorate but in an electorate in the eastern suburbs, where the same situation obtains. These people live in houses numbered 44 and 46 in the same street. They applied on the same day for a telephone and one was informed that because of a shortage of cables a telephone could not be installed under twelve months. But the neighbour was informed that a telephone could not bc installed in less than two years. The officers of the department have probably reached such a state that all they can do is to pull down a number - twelve months or two years - and hope for the best.

What is the position;? I have asked officers of the department: " What is wrong? Are you short of material or of labour, or is your show badly mismanaged? " They are evasive. They do not want to pool the Government. I personally saw the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) last Tuesday about the industries I have mentioned to-night, but I have not yet received a reply. I gave him copies of the correspondence and no doubt he has referred the matter to the department. No doubt he has asked the same officers what they can do, and all I can expect is the same answer. I know what is wrong. 1 have asked the Postmaster-General what is wrong, but he will not commit himself. The plain fact is that there is no shortage of material or of labour and the management and technical skill of the officers of the Postmaster-General's Department is top-notch. But this Government is so incompetent and so out of touch with the intimate needs of the people and of industry that it does not provide the PostmasterGeneral's Department with sufficient funds to enable telephones to be installed promptly in essential industries, lt is a disgrace and a reflection on the Government.

I told the Postmaster-General to-night that I would be raising this matter. He is not present, and is it any wonder that he is not? If he were here he would have to say in this Parliament that there is no shortage of anything except money. Hang it all, Mr. Speaker, the telephone section of the Postmaster-General's Department is a paying proposition. It pays handsomely. Yet members of Parliament receive dozens of letters every day concerning the shortage of telephones.

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

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