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Monday, 13 September 1971
Page: 1201

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - In speaking tonight I wish first to pass some words of praise to the PostmasterGeneral (Sir Alan Hulme) for the job he has done for Australia since being elected to this Parliament in 1949. He has been Postmaster-General since the federal election in 1963 and over those 8 years has directed his Department through a period of massive growth. It is interesting to compare the number of Post Office staff, which is about 110,000, with the number of people who reside in my electorate on the south side of Brisbane. My electorate has only slightly more constituents than people the Post Office employs. It is amazing when one considers that all of those people - men, women and children - who live in my constituency could be employed in some manner by the Australian Post Office. I do not believe that any department which has a staff of 1 10,000 people or a projected staff of 115,000 people can be totally efficient administratively. I suggest this, bearing in mind that there are thousands upon thousands of dedicated men and women employed in the Australian Post Office.

Another comparison can be made in this direction. The combined numbers of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force do not equal the number of people who work within the Post Office. It does not matter how courteous, careful or praiseworthy the staff may be or how much they try to be efficient, the time has surely come for us to take a closer look at the present structure of this huge organisation to see whether we are getting value for our money. At the beginning of the financial year 1970-71 the overall Post Office trading profit was estimated at $3 Om. By the end of this financial year this had changed to a trading loss of $2m, with a loss on postal operations of S25m and a profit on telecommunications operations of $23m. The deterioration in the financial position is due principally to new wage awards. During 1970-71 some 50 new awards affecting Post Office staff were granted and the direct costs of these will add $77m to Post Office expenditure during the year 1971-72 compared with a 5-year average increase of $40m.

I would trust that not one honourable member of the Opposition would try to make cheap political capital and suggest that this was an indication that I, the honourable member for Griffith, was against the cause of the worker. But this is a statement of fact: $77m has been added to the total costs. Whenever something such as this happens, particularly in the case of a public instrumentality, the people of Australia must pay. Basically, the abnormal increases in labour and other costs, the serious deterioration in financial prospects, the level of demand for services and the excessive pressures this places on available resources have led to the increases. I would like to mention to the House and to remind the people of Australia of the actual increases in charges proposed. Adjustments to the telecommunications operations will bring about an increase in the 3 basic telephone rentals from $47, increased by $8; $31, increased by $6; and $23, increased by $4. The service connection fee will rise by another $10. Local telephone calls will increase from 4c to 4.75c.

There will be increased charges for the installation or renewals of miscellaneous items of telecommunications equipment. Telex call charges will be increased from 5c to 6c for each meter registration. For the average person and his involvement in the postage of letters, the basic letter rate will be increased from 6c to 7c for the first ounce. Parcel rates will be increased by 10 per cent for domestic services and 20 per cent for overseas services. Overseas airmail letter rates will rise by 5c a half ounce and 2c in the case of New Zealand. Aerogrammes will increase by 2c. Increased charges are proposed for registered post, etc. I know that the PostmasterGeneral is retiring at the next election. This will probably be the last real shot in the arm for the Post Office revenue. No doubt, he is pleased not to have again to be part of such increases, although he no doubt feels satisfied, as his departmental officers do, that there is no other way out.

But when one looks back over the last 20 years one sees that in 1949 the cost to post an ordinary letter was 2.1c. The cost to operate from 1st October is 7c. This will be a rise of 333 per cent. Since 1956 the average wage has increased by 100 per cent. Yet the cost of posting a letter has risen from 3.3c in that year to the proposed cost in a couple of weeks of 7c. This is an increase of much more than 100 per cent. These increased charges have occurred despite the technological improvements of the modern day. I would suggest, with respect, that this makes the situation a lot worse. In recent times we have also seen delivery services of mail cut by 50 per cent. The old twice a day delivery is now down to once a day. The postal boxes in which people post their letters in the various suburbs are not being cleared as regularly as they were. This, too, makes the situation even worse. I cannot remember back too far into the old days, but I can go back sufficiently far to remember when one used to be able to send at a cheaper rate an envelope with the flap tucked in. This service has also disappeared. The other concessions that the Post Office has chosen to apply in the past are fast disappearing. I just wonder where it will all eventually end.

We have seen the introduction of subscriber trunk dialling and the cut down in switchboard operators that are necessary. I think I saw figures the other week which indicate that 50 per cent of trunk line calls were now made using the STD method. Here is another saving for the Post Office. There is no need for an increased staff to handle the increased number of trunk line calls in the modern day. With the combination of all these factors, we should hope to see at some stage some stabilisation of postal charges rather than a continuation of increases. A Press statement was recently released by the Postmaster-General showing comparable rates of postage in Australia and overseas countries. It was interesting to note that the United States postage rate is 7.1c and that the Canadian postage rate from the beginning of next year will be 6.6c. But the facts of life are that the average person in North America receives twice as many dollars in his pay packet as the average person in Australia does. So if we are to relate this to the actual burden and costs imposed on persons in Australia, we have to halve the figures that have been suggested because of the opportunity to earn much more money in the United States of America and Canada than in Australia. In 5 short years we have reached a stage where a 4c postage stamp has become a rare collector's item. This is enough to make us stop and think where we are going and where the situation is going to end. lt is not my intention to support the amendment moved by the Opposition, i consider the first section of the amendment is only duplicating and more or less continuing the present problems. I consider the second part of the amendment which relates to the application of special telephone charges in country areas is purely political and is designed to enhance the position of the Opposition party with those people who live in the country areas. I dismiss the amendment as shallow and unworthy. But I say with great sincerity that over the years I have made many complaints and written to the PostmasterGeneral seeking explanations as to why certain things have occurred. For 5 years 1 have held my peace. But I do not believe that I can continue any longer and not acknowledge the feeling which is emanating from the electorate and from the people.

I am not suggesting that the PostmasterGeneral's Department is a huge, inefficient machine. But I am suggesting that perhaps it is time that there was some independent inquiry, just as one has been set up to inquire into the Repatriation Department, quietly to look at the methods it uses. It does not matter how good an organisation is. It does not matter how good the men at the top may be. There is always room for improvement. I feel that with the rapid escalation of postal rates over the years the time has come when the Government and the people of Australia must take a good look at what is happening. I am only echoing here the sentiments of the people. Naturally. I hope that I will be in this chamber for many years to come. But I hope that I see a cessation of this rate of increase and that I will not be called upon again in the future to pass remarks of condemnation of this Department. I make it clear once again that I am not directing my remarks at individuals. But I am not going to the other extreme that we have seen tonight with some hypocricy being demonstrated by some honourable members. I will not say that they were honour able members from the other side of the House, but one could feel that I am implying that. Some honourable members have risen in their places and said that everyone who works for the Post Office is good. I suggest that any organisation which has 110,000 people working for it must have some dead wood. The way to prune that dead wood and to make the Department even more efficient is a challenge which lies in the future for the Government and for the Department. As 1 said earlier, I for one am no longer prepared to come into this House and blindly support increases in postal and telecommunications charges year in year out.

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