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Monday, 13 September 1971
Page: 1177


Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) - The PostmasterGeneral's Department is the largest enterprise in Australia, public or private. It has an annual turnover of $ l,O0(m and at present a staff of 109,962 which will rise to 112,000 by 30th June next year. Several of our big private enterprises in Australia could be put together and they would not equal the turnover of this enormous Department. We believe that it should operate in the form of a corporation detached altogether from the Public Service and autonomous in its operations. That is how it will operate when the Australian Labor Party comes to office at the end of next year. With the proposed increases in charges for postal services and telecommunications encompassed in the 2 Bills before us today postal services are now coming within the luxury class. For instance, just have a look at the increases on this occasion.

After 1st October before a person can even make his first telephone call it will cost him $50 for the instrument to be installed in his home or office. That is an increase of 20 per cent. The telephone rental is to be increased by 14 per cent and the cost of posting a letter by 14 per cent. These are the 3 main charges. Interestingly enough, over the last 2 years, these rates have gone up as follows: 40 per cent for postage services; 67 per cent for telecommunication services; 38 per cent for telephone rentals and 33 per cent for television and radio licences. How can the people stand increases at these levels? I feel that a lot of them will re-think their whole attitude towards postal and telecommunication services when they realise the full impact of this legislation before us today which the Opposition has to oppose.

The financial position of the Postmaster-General's Department is very interesting. The details are recorded in the very well prepared document 'Post Office Prospects and Capital Programme 1971-72' under the heading 'Trading Results'. Last year there was a loss of $25m on the postal side of operations and it is estimated that this year there will be a loss of $17m. On the telecommunications side, there was a profit last year of $23m and it is estimated that the profit this, year will be $53m. Taking these 2 services of the Post Office together there was a loss of $2m last year and it is estimated that this year there will be a profit of $3 6m. On these figures no one can say, even taking into account the small loss last year on these 2 services, that the Department is in such a sick condition that it has to lift its charges by such an outrageous percentage at this time. This is why we cannot possibly understand the thinking of the Government on the proposed increases.

The Postmaster-General's Department has a tremendous range of activities to carry out. It is an enormous department to administer. There are some wonderful officers within it. Over all the years I have had something to do with the Post Office its servants generally speaking - and in less than a fortnight I will have spent 25 years in this Parliament - have been a wonderful bunch of fellows. There is a wonderful lot of womenfolk, in this Department too. As this Department gets bigger the more impersonal if is inclined to become just as the new international airport at Tullamarine is so impersonal compared to the Essendon Airport which we have known for many years. The bigger a company becomes the less interested it is inclined to become in people as people. The people become units, they become statistics and so on. I only hope that as this great Department grows with an expansion in population it will retain personal contact with its own staff. This is terribly important.

The advance from the Government Treasury in the next 12 months will amount to S255m but the PostmasterGeneral's Department will have to pay back tb the Government $142m in interest rates on loans for capital development. I think this is the Achilles heel of the Post Office today. This was not the case when the Chifley Government was in office. It has been outrageous that successive Prime Ministers from Liberal Governments - not successive Postmaster-Generals because our friend, the present Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme), has held that position through many prime ministerships - have placed on the Post Office as a whole this outrageous impost of paying interest rates on money borrowed from the Commonwealth itself. It is a case of taxpayers being charged twice - paying taxes to the Government which lends the money to the Post Office at high interest rates and then paying higher postal charges. It is no wonder that charges will streak into orbit for the next decade because of the increased interest charges this Department will have to meet. I have only just found out from officers of this Department that the interest rate charged is the current long term bond rate at the time the loan is made to the Postmaster-General's Department. The current interest rate is 7 per cent.

It is completely outrageous for a Government to charge one of its own departments 7 per cent interest on its money. As I have already said, it is the Achilles heel of this Department. If this Department had not been charged this excessive interest rate in years past, postal charges today would be within the reach of every person in the Commonwealth who wanted a telephone, who wanted to send a telegram, who wanted to make a long distance telephone call or who wanted to post a letter. But because of this interest rate which is being charged the Department these rates go up and up and less and less people will use the services of the Department in the future. I cannot stress over much the attitude of a government that will charge one of its own departments this excessive and outrageous interest rate of 7 per cent.

I would just like to mention some of the effects that will accrue as the result of these increased charges. I am not blaming officers within this Department who have had to instruct their Minister and who have put these suggestions to the Government and to the Cabinet because with the heavy loans which the Department will have to get from the Commonwealth its officers have to cover themselves and make sure that they keep within a reasonable profit level. I am criticising this Government, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) for allowing such a state of affairs to exist. The effects of these higher rates will, as I see them, be: Firstly, there will be fewer applications for the installation of telephones in the next 12 months.

One company in Victoria intended to decentralise and build a substantial factory in a town in north-western Victoria but when it worked out the expense that would accrue as a result of the new postal and telephonic charges it cancelled the project. It is a terrible situation when a company decides not to decentralise because of the excessive Postal Department charges that will accrue. What is this country coming to when people will not move their industries from our cities because of this one factor? This has never happened before in our history. This is a new element indeed in the race to the cities. Secondly, there will be cancellations of telephone services in private homes. People will have their telephones ripped out, not because they want to, but because they will be forced toThirdly, less use will be made of telephones which are retained. Fourthly, sick people will hesitate to get a telephone installed because of the great cost involved. It is the sick people who have to have a telephone. Federal members of Parliament have many invaild pensioners in their electorates and the doctors of some of these people insist that they keep in touch with them by telephone. I feel that in the future because of these excessive increased charges many sick people will be without telephonic communication with their doctor directly from their own home.

Fifthly, there will be a great reduction this year in the purchase of Christmas cards. We in Australia use very considerably the Christmas card system to communicate with our friends. Millions of cards are sent each year. This will not be so this Christmas. Already I know many people who have said to me that their friends will not be hearing from them this Christmas and I can well understand their reason because over 100 cards are sent from my home each year. These increased postal charges will reduce considerably the number of cards sent this Christmas. Sixthly, there will be less correspondence by letter and the total revenue will be accordingly reduced.

Seventhly, as my friend the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) who has just finished his speech said, country people will be hit the hardest by these rising costs. They are already hit by rising costs, but they will now have the rising cost of communications superimposed on all the other rising costs of production. Consequently, their financial position will be worsened.

These are some of the effects that I see arising from the higher rates. Overall revenue could go backwards instead of forwards, in spite of the increase in the population. I believe that had there been a reduction in some of these charges the revenue would have bounced upwards quite considerably. One comes to a time when there is consumer resistance to increased prices. That is a time which is coming for the Postal Department. 1 suggest that, in view of these increased costs to the private telephone user, the Government should fix an annual cost levy and make any amount paid in excess of that levy tax deductible. This privilege is enjoyed by business firms in the form of trading expenses. I believe that the Government should now consider applying that principle to the private telephone user.

I want to criticise the mania for the closure of non-official post offices throughout Australia. In my electorate alone 35 non-official post offices have been closed in the last 3 years. This has left the country denuded, in many ways, of its old facilities. The letters are now being left at the letter boxes along the road. This method is not always satisfactory. The Department also has pulled out the public telephones at those post offices and has not replaced them. In many country districts in my State the public telephone was a great boon; but it is not there any more. The distances between country telephone booths are becoming longer instead of shorter. When the departmental officers are asked the reason for not retaining public telephones they say: 'We do not think it would pay'. Fancy making that the criterion for having a telephone out in the country districts where there are tourist highways and the like and where there could be an accident and no telephone for people to use. By contrast, in the Kings Meadows suburb of Launceston, along Hobart Road there are 4 public telephone boxes in one mile.

In regard to the section of the Bills now before us which deals with television, although advertising is the life blood of television or what keeps it alive, 1 believe that much of the advertising of cigarettes, detergents and beer is not only glamourised but completely untrue. There should be some kind of standard for truthfulness on television. Whoever heard that beer was good for people? Why do not the television advertisers give us the other side of the story - not the glamour story that we see on television but the other side of the story at the back door of beer drinking? We never see that side of the story. I believe, as the experts tell us, that cigarettes and alcohol are just as dangerous narcotics as the real narcotics, which we do not have advertised on television at this stage and which 1 hope we never will. This is a very serious problem. At a service in the East Bentleigh Methodist Church yesterday one of my colleagues, Rev. Crookes Hull, made a very strong statement about drinking being as bad as drug taking. His statement was reported in the Melbourne 'Sun' this morning in these terms:

Alcohol was as harmful as any narcotic drug, the Rev. A. Crookes Hull said yesterday . . . Mr Hull said that by scientific definition alcohol was a drug and was no less harmful than any narcotic.

On the authority of Dr A. A. Bartholomew, psychiatric superintendent at Pentridge Gaol, alcohol is the biggest factor in crime,' Mr Hull said.

In modern society alcohol has assumed frightening proportions' . . .

Misleading advertisements associating luxurious living with drinking alcohol should be banned, Federal and State authorities had a duty to tell people the truth about alcohol. . . .

There are 300,000 problem drinkers - including alcoholics - in Australia and not enough is being done to counter this. if there were 300,000 known to be hooked on any other drug, there would be a public uproar'.

But there is no public uproar in relation to alcoholics. I agree with every word he said there.

Now let me say a few words about a way of cutting costs within the Postal

Department. I suggest that the Department have a look at plastic piping which is now being manufactured in Australia. It could be used as well as copper or asbestos piping for at least one-third of the cost of copper. Plastic piping is guaranteed for at least 40 years; and £-inch plastic piping is sold at approximately 9c a foot, but f-inch copper piping is sold at approximately 32c a foot- Plastic piping is now manufactured by the Gaydor company in Sydney, Perth and Launceston, where its factory was opened last Friday by the Tasmanian Minister for Industrial Development. I urge the Department to look at the use of plastic piping - a new manufactured article - in an effort to cut its costs.

Finally I wish to warn the Department about an electronic device which is now on the market. It can be set up in a car, the car can stop outside a meeting hall or a home and the device can be directed at a window. By this means a conversation inside that hall or home can be heard outside in the car. This opens up very grave consequences for the society in which we live. It could develop into an outrageous invasion of privacy. T believe that the Department should have a quick look at this new device because one thing that we value in our democracy is the privacy of our own homes and if spies can get at us by using this device we have no more privacy and a very important feature of our democratic life has been destroyed. I just sound this note of warning to the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme) and ask him to see whether his officers can make sure that the use of this device is forbidden or controlled within this country.







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