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Monday, 17 September 1973
Page: 1097

Mr BONNETT (Herbert) - Tonight I do not wish to speak at any length in this debate. But I hope that what I do have to say will register with the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) and with honourable members on the Government side of the chamber. In the speeches I have made in the House since the commencement of this session, I have condemned the Government's Budget as a disastrous one. I have listened to the interjections from Government members more or less intimating that I did not know what I was talking about, and was foolish to say that the first Budget introduced by this Labor Government was a disastrous one. Unfortunately for the Government, in this debate I inform it that the first casualty of its shocking increase in postal charges will take effect as from 1 October.

There has been lots of sniping from this side of the chamber at the Postmaster-General regarding the charges he has imposed, or that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) has imposed on his behalf, and he has shrugged them off as perhaps being of no account. But I wonder whether the Postmaster-General actually realises the damage he has done to country areas by the proposed increases in charges. When I say: 'Increase in charges', I mean the overall increase in charges. I am not dealing with one particular charge. I know this matter has been pursued by my colleagues in the Australian Country Party and I have heard a reaction by members of the Government more or less intimating that what we were saying was not correct. But I would like to tell the Postmaster-General of his first casualty, and I hope he and the Government and honourable members who sit on the Government benches are proud of themselves over this.

In the city of Innisfail in North Queensland a daily paper named the 'Evening Advocate' is produced and has a steady circulation of 16,000 subscribers. The 'Evening Advocate' has been in business for many years and is consistent in its presentation of news value and advertising - so much so that, as I have said, it has had a steady subscription over the years of 16,000, because the population is static and there is very little development in the area. In making the statement that the Postmaster-General made after the introduction of the Federal Budget, I wonder whether he knew what he was doing to newspapers that faithfully serve a district as the 'Evening Advocate' has done in the Innisfail district of North Queensland. This newspaper is printed 5 afternoons a week. Because of the increase in charges that the PostmasterGeneral has indicated this small daily newspaper, which does such a wonderful job, faces the prospect of suspending publication. It will be forced to do so on the 28th of this month if this legislation goes through. This decision was forced upon the paper by the increase in postal and telecommunication charges that will operate from 1 October next and which makes the operation of this daily newspaper financially impracticable^ The PostmasterGeneral said that concession charges to Press, broadcasting and television organisations in respect of telegrams, telephones and telex calls and the lease of private telephone lines would be discontinued from 1 October, but I wonder whether he really knew what he was doing to districts such as the Innisfail district.

This small daily newspaper which serves a useful purpose will be out of business because, if it continued to present its daily publication of existing overseas cables and interstate and intrastate news services, it would mean an increase of 1200 per cent in its annual charges for news telegrams. The editor investigated the possibility of limiting its expenditure upon telegrams, to present its daily intake of telegraphic news, to 100 words daily in order to keep in production, but this could mean about 16 lines of type, which is completely ridiculous. The proposed rise in newspaper postages established another increase cost for a newspaper whose income is more or less static in a community in which no marked new development is proceeding, but in which this paper is still very welcome.

The 'Evening Advocate' operates in circumstances which are rather unique in the Australian newspaper world. There is no other town in the Commonwealth of similar size to Innisfail which has a daily newspaper. The city of Innisfail is situated geographically, to put the House in the picture, between Townsville, which prints the Townsville 'Daily Bulletin' which is one of Australia's best equipped and outstanding provincial newspapers, as honourable members know, and Cairns, where the 'Cairns Post', which is a subsidiary of Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd is published. All daily newspapers in Queensland are published in the morning, with the exception of the Innisfail paper, which provides an evening service to its district population over many areas. One of the reasons why it has been able to survive is that it meets the intensive competition of the big morning newspapers with an afternoon publication and has maintained supremacy as a local advertising medium. Furthermore, the 'Evening Advocate' enjoys a popularity in the district which is proved by the fact that 3 successive rises in the price per copy to its readers have not reduced sales in any way. Apart from this advertising patronage, sales have been maintained despite the necessity to impose higher charges in this regard.

Papers such as the 'Evening Advocate' are of great importance to a district, regardless of the feelings of the Postmaster-General, his departmental advisers or members of the Government. Because of the present Government's actions in regard to increased postal charges, this important little daily is to be buried. I would say that the Government would shed no tears about this, shrug its shoulders and more or less say that that is too bad that this is part and parcel of the deal. Apart from the fact that this paper has been operating and serving the needs of the community for so long, the staff will have to find other jobs and the district will be left without a medium voice. This newspaper, which the people of Innisfail have been proud of and which the owners and editor have been proud to use as a medium to serve the local community, will be buried on 28 September because of this Government's ruthless actions. I hope that the Postmaster-General and members of the Government are proud of themselves and I hope that they sleep on 28 September knowing that when this daily paper, which has fulfilled such a need for a district over a long period, is buried 16,000 subscribers in a district will hate the Government's guts for it.

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