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Monday, 2 December 1985
Page: 2652


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.35) —The Senate is noting the annual report of the Australian Postal Commission. We have had one highly political and, I think, selective contribution from an honourable senator from South Australia and another rather less highly political and selective contribution. For the suggestion to be made by a South Australian Labor senator that there is no cause for concern about the Australian Postal Commission I think leaves most consumers in a rather puzzled position. Obviously, the honourable senator concerned has not been listening to the speeches made by his Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy), who has made some very critical comments about the state of the postal service and the need for a totally different attitude to be adopted if, in fact, the Commission is to survive in its role. I find myself very puzzled by the first contribution to this debate, which seemed to ignore the very substantial and obvious difficulties that have emerged in the operations of the Australian Postal Commission during both the period of the annual report for 1984-85 and since.

It was also a matter of regret that Senator Maguire, for the short term electoral interests he represents in this place, tried to suggest that there was an ignoring of the national obligation that we on this side of the chamber have to maintain a postal and communications service for remote Australia. Of course, it was the previous Government which entered into the commitment to take Australia into the satellite age. That decision was very heavily influenced by our desire to ensure that Australians in very remote parts of Australia, including remote parts of South Australia and certainly in my State of Western Australia, have a service which is comparable to that which can be received by the great bulk of Australians who live in the metropolitan capitals.

I think this debate ought to focus on the acknowledgment that there is a need for an efficient, national postal service and that, largely because of trade union action, over recent times and particularly in the State of New South Wales, the standards of performance have fallen below what is properly expected by consumers and by the responsibile Minister, Mr Duffy. I think Mr Duffy has made his position very clear, and I acknowledge that. I wish him well in his efforts to root out some of the sillier practices which have so reduced the performance of the Postal Commission, particularly in New South Wales.

No proposition is being put forward at either the Federal or State level by the Liberal Party of Australia or the National Party of Australia which would admit to there being a reduction in the services provided to remote Australia. I think remote Australia has generally shown by its voting pattern what it thinks of the various sides of politics. People in remote Australia know that the Liberal and National Parties have a very keen concern to ensure that services to those areas are maintained. I acknowledge in this debate that in the operations of the Australian Postal Commission-including the periods when we have been in government-there are significant practical difficulties in providing an adequate postal service to remote Australia. I do not know whether Senator Maguire has any real knowledge of the remoter parts of Australia, but certainly what he had to say showed no signs that he has. In fact, under the system whereby the Postal Commission has had to arrange for the contract delivery of services, it is a continual difficulty to ensure regular services in areas which are often very difficult to reach. If one travels by road through the pastoral areas of Western Australia, for example, and indeed through the Pilbara in Western Australia, one soon begins to understand the sorts of road conditions which make the delivery of this essential service difficult. We on this side of the chamber are very much aware of that matter.

I welcome the fact that attempts have been made to break down some of the very significant difficulties the Postal Commission has faced. The very substantial revision of the postal sorting arrangements, for example, in New South Wales I think would have unanimous support in this place because of the very bad working environment which was developed in the highly centralised postal sorting arrangements which applied. I think most Australians would say that there is a clear obligation on the Parliament and the government of the day to maintain a national postal service. I think most Australians would also say that the admitting of some of those services to a greater degree of competition from the outside has been a positive step in the right direction. The massive use of couriers and delivery services by Australians is a very good indication of the value of providing some competitive element in this area. I suggest that Senator Maguire might address his attention to that matter instead of making silly and short term contributions which are aimed at the short term election situation in South Australia.

Debate (on motion by Senator Kilgariff) adjourned.