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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1911


Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(10.01) —Madam Acting Speaker, I move:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Minister for Communications making a statement to the House forthwith to explain whether he will issue a direction under section 8 of the Postal Services Act 1975 to require the Australian Postal Commission to deliver mail to and from Queensland without interruption to services in accordance with the duties of the Commission laid down under that Act.

Under the Postal Services Act 1975 the functions of the Australian Postal Commission are laid down. Clause 7 (1) of the Act, on page 4, states:

The Commission shall perform its functions in such a manner as will best meet the social, industrial and commercial needs of the Australian people for postal services and shall, so far as it is, in its opinion, reasonably practicable to do so, make its postal services available throughout Australia for all people who reasonably require those services.

All people in Australia have been advised that mail services to and from Queensland will be interrupted until the close of business on 13 May. That is not a decision which is outside the responsibility of the Postal Commission. There are ways and means by which mail can be delivered. Indeed my office, in inquiring of the Postal Commission this morning, was told: 'If you wish to get mail to and from Queensland you can use the private services'. There are a number of private companies operating in the field and the time has come for the Government either to remove the monopoly that is now available to Australia Post and ensure that there are alternative ways by which mail can be delivered around Australia or to require Australia Post to fulfil its proper responsibilities. There is no basis by which the people of Australia can be held to ransom simply because the Australian Council of Trade Unions and this Government are not prepared to take actions to provide those public services which a statutory authority, in this instance Australia Post, is called on to provide. Section 8 (1) of the Postal Services Act states:

The Minister may, after consultation with the Commission, give to the Commission, in writing, such directions, with respect to the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers, as appear to the Minister to be necessary in the public interest.

We contend that this interruption to a public service to the community has gone on long enough. We know that the Government has given lip service to its concern about the blockade of Queensland. However, we know that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) is, in private, as the Premier of Queensland said this morning, putty in the hands of the power brokers of the ACTU. We know that the Transport Workers Union, the TWU, and unions affiliated with the State rail authority of Queensland have placed bans on all deliveries until midnight on Friday. We know that that is outside the proper exercise of the responsibilities of Australia Post in meeting its obligations under the Postal Services Act. Indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) will recall that, as Postmaster-General in 1975, he was a party to litigation which was determined by the High Court of Australia. He will recall that in the case of Bradley v. the Commonwealth the High Court-in the judgment of the former Chief Justice and the present Chief Justice-decided that no authority exists for the giving of directions in relation to the refusal to deliver mail, in that instance to one particular client.

There are a number of obiter dicta within that judgment which I think are worth canvassing before the House. Page 566 of the High Court judgment by Chief Justice Barwick and the then Mr Justice Gibbs states:

. . . it is right to start from the assumption that if the Parliament intended to confer on the Postmaster-General an arbitrary power, subject to no condition and to no review, to deprive any person of the liberty to use the postal and telephone services, with all the grave consequences that might ensue, it would use clear words for that purpose.

Although the Act has been replaced, that purpose has not been written into the new Act. The judgment continues:

The Act abounds with indications that it is intended that a letter which is properly addressed and stamped and which is received at a post office for transmission and delivery shall be transmitted and delivered to the address indicated or, if letter carriers are not provided, to the nearest post office, except in cases for which express provision is made.

The delivery of mail has been regarded as sacrosanct. This Government is now running away from its prime responsibility to provide services to the Australian public. It is saying to the people of Queensland that it does not matter that the mail services can be disrupted. It is saying: 'We are going to walk away from exercising our responsibility in this instance to give directions to a prime statutory authority to execute its responsibilities'.

We all know the genesis of the dispute in Queensland. There was a power dispute. The reason the people of Australia are so strongly behind the actions of the Queensland Government is that the Queensland Government has said that where there is a public service-in Queensland's instance, the electricity supply-it is prepared to ensure that those services are provided. We have a marked contrast between the Federal Government and the State Government. The Federal Government is saying: 'We do not mind if people do not get the services for which we are responsible'. The Federal Government is responsible for providing all the mail services through the Australian Postal Commission. The Federal Government should take a leaf from the book of the Queensland Premier and be prepared to take the same stance in relation to the provision of services to the people of Australia as the Queensland Government has shown that it is prepared to take with power supply.

It is not good enough for a government that has responsibility for public services to say that it is not prepared to take action to ensure that those services are provided. That is what this motion is all about. The Special Minister of State (Mr Young), who is at the table, has power under the Act to require the Australian Postal Commission to ensure that mail is delivered. The Postal Commission has an obligation to deliver the mail. The High Court has decided in the case to which I referred, as recently as 1975, that that obligation should be met. A government which has a clear obligation cannot now come into the House and say: 'We will wipe our hands of the whole affair'. This is a prime area where the Federal Government can show where its responsibilities lie.

Of course we know that the Prime Minister is a slave to the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the unions. We know that the left wing calls the shots. We know that the Government is not really concerned about interruptions to trade and commerce. We know that it is not worried about the rights of the average citizen. We know that the pensioners do not matter to the Government. We heard the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) yesterday tell us about how the introduction of a new assets test is really in the best interests of the poor. What absolute rubbish! Indeed, in this instance the Government cannot absolve itself from its responsibilities.

There is a clear provision within the Postal Services Act for the Minister to issue directions. The Australian Postal Commission has a responsibility to provide services. We believe that the Minister at the commencement of today's proceedings, in the light of the notice that has been given to the public of Australia, has a responsibility to make a statement in this House to tell the people of Australia that the Australian mail will get through. In the days of the penny post it used to be regarded as sacrosanct.

Section 94 of the Act provides a penalty of 12 months gaol to anyone who obstructs delivery of the mail. Coincidentally, that is the period of imprisonment that precludes a person from entitlement to sit in this Parliament. Under section 94 there is a penalty for people who obstruct the delivery of mail. The Minister has a responsibility. He should tell this House that a direction will be issued to Australia Post so that the mail will get through.


Madam ACTING SPEAKER —Order! The right honourable gentleman's time has expired. Is the motion seconded?