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Wednesday, 29 June 1949

Mr DALY (Martin) .- It is regrettable that the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) saw fit to criticize certain publications that are issued under the authority of the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell). He directed his attack particularly at the booklets issued under the title Tomorrow's Australians, and said that such documents should not be printed in preference to reports such as those of the Postmaster-General's Department. I deplore criticism of that kind directed against such widely read publications which contain a considerable amount of valuable information and which have been freely and favorably commented upon by many people. Far from giving unnecessary or unjustified publicity to the Minister, they present a clear picture of Australia's immigration policy and relevant subjects to people in Australia and overseas. T also bring the right honorable member to task on account of the unreal way in which, according to his time-honoured custom in this House, he deals with important problems. He has moved, as an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the bill -

That all words after "That" be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - "the bill be referred to a. select committee of this House appointed to inquire into and report upon the deterioration in the finances of the PostmasterGeneral's Department which has resulted in the imposition of these heavy increases in charges at a time when revenue from other sources is at a record high level ".

The right honorable gentleman has never suggested that select committees should be appointed to inquire into the staggering increases that have been made in the charges of shipping combines an-d other private enterprises in this country. He has never objected to the numerous requests that have been made by industries for permission to add high percentages to their charges on account of increased operating costs. In fact, he has freely supported such requests. In spite of that, it seems that he is prepared to vote against essential increases for a great national undertaking. In the light of his contradictory attitude, I consider that we may dismiss the arguments that he has advanced in support of the appointment of a select committee. His views were unrealistic and acceptance of the amendment would only delay thi* important measure. Such an inquiry could not lead to any other result than the adoption of the proposed new charges, because they are fully justified.

The Minister for Information clearly stated the reasons for the proposed increases in his second-reading speech Every honorable member knows thai the Postal Department has been obliged to bear heavy extra costs in recent years. Those costs bear just as heavily upon government enterprises as they do upon private enterprises. Not one businessorganization in Australia has failed in recent years to increase the charges foi the goods or services that it supplies to the public. The increases have been made necessary by the rising- level of costs. The Postal Department has given excellent service to the people, and, -if it is to continue to do so, it must augment itr income in order to meet the financial commitments that are now involved in providing such a service. Wages have been considerably increased by awards of arbitration authorities, and we all agree that those increases are justified. As the result of the growing burden of wages and other costs, every enterprise, whether it be government controlled or privately controlled, must increase the charges that it makes to its customers unless it is supported by means of direct subsidies from the Government. For instance, tram fares in Sydney and other places have been increased in order to offset rising costs. The Minister clearly explained why profits accrued from the activities of the Postal Department until relatively recently. During the war, about 8,000 skilled men were released from the department for wartime service, and its activities had to be considerably restricted in many ways. Therefore, operating costs were reduced and costly developmental works could not be undertaken. As a result, funds that normally would have been used to maintain and improve postal and telegraph services accumulated in the form of unreal profits. For that reason, the department must now endeavour to make up a huge leeway of work that had to be abandoned temporarily while its staffs were below strength and while it was unable to provide all of the services that would ordinarily have been demanded in peace time. Costs of materials that are needed to overtake delayed maintenance work and to meet the need of expansion have also increased considerably. In some instances, they range from 100 per cent, to 200 per cent, above pre-war costs. Therefore, although the department has' effected economies and endeavoured to obtain the highest possible degree of efficiency for the lowest expenditure by maintaining an organization to overhaul its activities from time to time and to prevent waste, it has been obliged to prepare a plan for increased charges to the public. Those increases must be made if the department is to continue to. operate on a businesslike basis. The department, although it has a monopoly, has always endeavoured to give good service at reasonable cost to the public. For years it has operated at the absolute minimum of cost. In considering the problems that confront it, we must not confine our attention only to the Australian scene. The charges for postal and telephone services in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America have been greatly increased. En Australia, the Postal Department is experiencing the same difficulties that the postal departments of other countries have encountered in meeting steeply rising costs. Tie Minister has indicated that in the United States of America, which is the home of free enterprise and to which honorable members opposite cannot tie the tag of socialism, the Postal Department has incurred a loss of 300.000,000 dollars annually. Recently a bill was presented to the United States Congress which provided for increased postal and telegraphic charges totalling 250,000,000 dollars. The postal authorities in the United States of America cannot meet the present day costs on the basis of current charges, and, accordingly, they have had to seek assistance from Consolidated Revenue.

Mr Haylen - In the United States of America there has been an over-all increase of the rates in respect of every item.

Mr DALY - That is so. That statement of the position in other countries shows the necessity for the introduction of a measure of this kind in the Australian

Parliament in order to enable the Postal Department to meet its maintenance costs and its programme of expansion. As the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) has pointed out, there are approximately 125,000 outstanding applications for telephone connexion. Honorable members on this side of the House who took part in the debate earlier have shown that additional technical staff have been engaged and new equipment Ls being purchased. I do noi know the kind of financial wizardy that the Opposition would employ to finance those additional facilities, the purchase of expensive equipment and the employment of additional technical staff but the Government has decided that it should be done by increasing the existing charges. Honorable members opposite have nol given us a clear indication of bow they would provide the additional money which the Postal Department needs to maintain its services for the people. Knowing their method of financing the war, and being well aware of their limited financial policy, I cannot conceive that they would have us believe that they would extend bank credits in order to meet the commitments of the Postal Department. The department is committed to the expenditure of £42,000,000, over a period, to rehabilitate its services. Honorable members opposite must face the fact that the introduction of this measure to increase the existing charges is absolutely necessary in order to enable the Postal Department to carry on its activities, and to provide the highly skilled technical staff and the mechanical mail handling appliances for maintaining postal services at a high level of efficiency. The people who are enjoying the benefits of high wages and liberal amenities must pay the increased charges in order that member? of the staff of the Postal Department may share in the same benefits as they enjoy.

The programme for the expansion of the services that aire rendered by the Postal Department will enable it to increase its efficiency and to give greater service to the public as time goes by. The Minister representing: the PostmasterGeneral and other honorable members on this side of the House have clearly indicated the reasons for the proposed increases of charges for the postal, telegraphic and telephonic services. Although there may be some disagreement among honorable members on this side of the House about certain charges that are made for opening country telephone exchanges at night, it cannot be said that these increased charges are to be imposed for the purpose of increasing the contributions to Consolidated Revenue. They are to be made for the express purpose of meeting the usual commitments of the Postal Department, to enable it to maintain an efficient service and to finance a very extensive rehabilitation programme. I pay a tribute to the high state of efficiency which has been achieved by the Postal Department. I support the bill, and I hope that we shall not hear any more of the short-sighted criticism which we have had from honorable members opposite to-day.

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