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Thursday, 16 September 1971
Page: 1492

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - I should like to say a few words on this matter. I have had representations from very disturbed technicians in Mackay which will be one of the district centres affected. What surprises me is the great complacency of members of the Australian Country Party in this matter.

Sir Alan Hulme - Technicians will not be affected.

Dr PATTERSON - Perhaps I do not use the word 'technician' in the same way as the Postmaster-General does. I refer to the technical people - the engineers and the telecommunications people. I do not mean linesmen.

Sir Alan Hulme - Engineers - they are about one-quarter of the division.

Dr PATTERSON - According to what the Postmaster-General said in his statement between 25 and 35 areas will be affected. The 3 main centres affected are Cairns, in the electorate of the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton), Mackay, in my own electorate, and Roma, in the electorate of the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett). These 3 centres are important in the communications field. I support what the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) said, that this is quite a strange proposal coming from a Government which is supposed to follow the principle of decentralisation. Here we find deliberate centralisation, which is quite contrary to the accepted principle of decentralising in order to keep people in the country. I find it quite strange that the Country Party accepts this proposition without any protest whatsoever, lt is not difficult to understand the principal reason for this. Probably most of the people who will be transferred compulsorily from these areas will be Labor voters, and the Country Party could not care less about them. If the people being transferred were farmers, it would be different. The people in these areas are entitled to some consideration.

The Postmaster-General indicated that these people have been consulted. I do not know who has been consulting whom, but not much consultation has gone on in Mackay and I doubt very much whether much consultation has gone on in Cairns, which is in the electorate of the honourable member for Leichhardt. I have looked at the map which is attached to the statement. I suppose that one must bow to the expertise of the Postmaster-General's Department. But for the life of me I find lt most difficult to understand why an area like the Mackay district and the Pioneer Valley has been cut right out in terms of a centralised headquarters.

As the Postmaster-General knows, this district is the most important timber growing area in Australia. In addition, it is now developing into one of the most important areas in Australia for the production of coal for export. Already parts of the hinterland are recognised as some of the greatest coal districts in the world. One railway line has been constructed in the last 12 months and another railway line is mooted to go from Hale Creek through the Pioneer Valley into Mackay. Yet, competent and efficient men ia this district are to be compulsorily removed to Rockhampton on the departmental pretext of achieving greater efficiency and economy. The principal reason given is centralisation. I suppose if the Postmaster-General wants to take it further he might as well abandon more boundaries and have fewer than 25 in the whole of Australia. The figure of 25 contained in the Postmaster-General's statement must have been worked out by a computer. But why was the figure 25 instead of 24, or 23 or another?

I am concerned, as I hope the PostmasterGeneral is concerned, about the people who will be moved. I would have thought that the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) in particular would speak on this matter because he represents an area in which land values are somewhat depressed at present. The people in his electorate who are affected by this change will probably have to sell on a depressed market houses which they purchased and developed over the years. They will possibly move into areas where land values are much higher. 1 am hoping that the Postmaster-General will give us some indication that a man who is compulsorily transferred and must sell his assets and thereby suffers a loss will be compensated. I believe that is only fair because most of the men, perhaps, have mortgaged their lives and future. Many of them would have put their wives' savings into the purchase of houses and the development of the blocks. However, under the scheme before the House they may find that they have to moye out of the area in which they now live. Maybe only a relatively few people will be affected in each of the existing country districts. The Minister in his statement said:

In each case between 23 and 35 positions only will eventually be transferred to Area headquarters.

But it does not matter if there is only one transfer. The principle is still the same whether 1, 25 or 100 families are affected. If there is any distress or loss of equity because families have been compulsorily transferred the Government should take this into account.

A loss of purchasing power also is involved. If 35 men are transferred from one of the local headquarters this in itself might mean that, taking into account wives and children, 100 people move out of the area, with resultant loss to that district. As I have said before, it is amazing to me that this Government which stands - or is supposed to stand - for decentralisation is deliberately bringing in a policy which will lead to centralisation; it is deliberately moving people out of country areas to the cities. Yet members of the Country Party sit quietly in their places and do not even object to this proposal. This is against Country Party policy. As the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) said this afternoon, the Party is a sham and this is another example of it.

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