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Wednesday, 13 November 1974
Page: 2341

Senator BISHOP (South AustraliaPostmasterGeneral) - As Senator Milliner pointed out, on many occasions Senator Lawrie has put up a case for improved telephone services in rural areas. He has done that consistently. As he well knows, when his party was in Government the then Postmaster-General made the same observations that I have made with respect to some of these things that we are trying to achieve. The question is one of funds. As everybody knows, at the present time the Australian Post Office is run as one authority. Generally speaking, the postal side always loses a great amount of money. In this year the Post Office will lose about $50m and that will be made up for by the profits on the telecommunications side. The question is what resources should be applied to improvements, whether they be in areas of Queensland, South Australia or anywhere else, and to what extent certain country services can be subsidised.

I will quote these figures off the top of my head. The installation of a telephone in the city will cost something like $2,000. In a settled country area it will cost something like $4,000. But in an outer country area it will cost nearly $10,000. This Government is no different from any other government. It has to decide how its resources can best be allocated, how the Post Office can best perform its functions and how we can avoid the situation where the metropolitan taxpayers are subsidising people in country areas. Senator Lawrie has the answers. They are in the document to which he has referred.

I turn now to the statutory corporations. When they are set up they will be answerable to this Parliament. They will be subject to the same scrutiny in the Senate as are the departments we are discussing today. When these corporations are completely operative I expect that they will say to the Government: 'We think that the tariffs for postal services or for telephone services should be X amount.' The Minister in charge of the operations of the corporations may well be the Special Minister of State. If he says that in his opinion, for community or political reasons, that tariff is too high, the Government or the Treasurer will make up the difference between that amount and the amount which will be nominated by the Government for that particular service. There will be no decline in the Government's power with respect to the services.

As I mentioned before, the Post Office has put forward the suggestion of establishing courier services. I have supported the suggestion. I think it is very necessary to make sure that the sort of business which is going out to private enterprise today and which might well be carried out by the Post Office ought to be carried out by the Post Office. Accordingly, I have given approval for the Post Office to purchase a number of vehicles for that purpose. A proper service will be organised. It will compete with the private operators. They will not be forced out of business. From memory I think that service will come into operation in about the middle of or some time during 1975.

The question which Senator Jessop raised has been raised by him before. It is still under examination. But may I say to the honourable senator that it is not purely a matter for the PostmasterGeneral or for the Post Office. The Post Office is responsible for the technical performance of any television or commercial radio services which the Minister for the Media decides to operate. I am mindful of Senator Jessop 's other question. I can see the time- I do not think it will be during the term of my responsibilities but it will certainly be during the term of the 2 corporations- when the telecommunications commission, which will be chaired by Mr Bill Gibbs, will undertake the sort of venture to which Senator Jessop has referred. As he knows, the Government has decided already that the Overseas Telecommunications Commission operations should be incorporated in some form in the new telecommunications corporation and we will be able to supplement the special activities which are now being engaged in by the OTC in the international field. I cannot give the honourable senator any more information than that, except to say that I am aware of the matters which concern him. I will discuss them with my colleagues at the earliest opportunity and when I am able to make a statement I will do so.

Proposed expenditure passed.

Department of Defence

Proposed expenditure, $1,205, 158,000.

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