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Thursday, 13 October 1949

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Minister for Information and Minister for Immigration) . - The debate on the proposed vote for the Postmaster-General's Department was initiated by the antisocialist socialist member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull).

Mr Turnbull - Anti-socialist is right !

Mr CALWELL - He balances very nicely in some respects and very awkwardly in others between socialism and private enterprise. He talked about the increased cost of postal, telephonic, and telegraphic services. Their cost has increased recently. We debated the matter in June when the Parliament decided to authorize increased postal, telephonic and telegraphic charges to offset the increased cost of providing the services. The increased cost resulted from a variety of causes. One cause was the introduction, of the 40-hour week. Any honorable member who voted against the bill to authorize the increased charges voted against the 40-hour week.

Mr Beale - What absolute rubbish!

Mr CALWELL - The honorable member is an expert on rubbish. The 40-hour week was a large factor in the increased cost of operating the Postal Department. Another factor was that increased staff had to be recruited to meet the increased demand for services that came about because of the prosperity of Australia that has resulted from the good government of the Labour administration. Other factors were cost of living adjustments, arbitration court awards and increased charges for fuel, light and power and increased freight and cartage expenses. There were also increased payments to contractors for expanded mail services, which included expanded airmail services, not only surface mail survices. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), speaking of the floods that unfortunately occurred in his electorate and that of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), said recently that the service for the carriage of mails by air during the floods should be maintained in normal times. He wants more airmail .services. The Government is trying to give more airmail services. It has succeeded in expanding airmail services greatly in the last few years. In addition, it has increased surface mail services. Another factor was the increased cost of office machines, and equipment, such as accounting' machines and typewriters. Another was the increased cost of other materials, particularly of materials purchased from overseas. The Postal Department, with all those extra costs imposed upon it, could not have continued to operate on the charges made by it before such charges were increased. It is wrong to misrepresent the situation and say that the Government should have drawn on surpluses of other years in the earnings of the Postal Department to finance the additional posts, when its annual revenue has not met its annual expenditure. In , other words, it is wrong to say that we should draw on past surpluses for the purposes of subsidizing current losses. To do so would be merely to delay the day when rates would have to be increased. There is also a constitutional difficulty, which was explained at the time, and it is of no use for honorable members opposite to believe that once revenue has been paid into the public account it can be withdrawn at a later time to subsidize losses in subsequent years. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) knows that.

Mr Turnbull - What about TransAustralia Airlines, which the Government subsidizes ?

Mr CALWELL - The Government does not subsidize Trans-Australia Airlines. I repeat for the benefit of all honorable members opposite a fact that has been stated before, which is that the Department of Civil Aviation is paid a sum by the Postal Department for the carriage of mails by air and1 that the Department of Civil Aviation distributes that amount among mail contractors as payment for the services that they render. There is no direct subsidy paid by the Postal Department to Trans-Australia Airlines, and the rate paid to that airline is no different now from what it was when Australian National Airways Proprietary Limited had the monopoly of airmail services, with the exception that cost of living and- other adjustments have increased the costs of the carriage of mail by air to the extent by which the poundage subsidy has been increased since TransAustralia Airlines took over the service. There has been no additional or special subsidy granted to Trans - Australia Airlines.

The honorable member for Wimmera and other honorable members who have spoken in this debate will be interested to know that in the twelve months that ended on the 30th June last, 25 rural automatic exchanges were put into operation and that it is estimated that 151 such' rural automatic exchanges will be installed or will be in process of installation in various localities throughout the Commonwealth in the year that will end on the 30th June next.

That is a very substantial increase in the number of such exchanges.

Mr Turnbull - Is there to be one for Mildura ?

Mr CALWELL - I ask the honorable gentleman not to be parochial. I suppose that if we installed half a dozen automatic exchanges in his electorate he would join the Labour party. He is only concerned with pulling that old parish pump. This Government takes a broad national view and tries to help all the rural electorates throughout Australia. It does not discriminate in favour of those electorates that have returned Government supporters, nor does it discriminate against those electorates that are, unfortunately, now burdened with non-Government supporters. The honorable member for Wimmera talked' about curbing the loquacity of people who use public telephones in the electorate of Melbourne. I pointed out some months ago that if we were to do as he has suggested and install automatic time regulators in public telephone boxes to limit a twopennny call to three minutes, the cost would be practically prohibitive. I also pointed out on a previous occasion that a survey that had been made showed' that on the average, people in the city areas take just about the same amount of time in making public telephone calls as people in the country areas take.

Mr Turnbull - But the people in the country areas have to pay for extra time over three minutes.

Mr CALWELL - People who make telephone calls from a public telephone in a country town to another telephone in the same town enjoy the same advantages as people in the metropolitan areas who call a city number from a public telephone box. I think that on the whole city people are no more loquacious than are country people, and if every person who used a public telephone box took as long to explain his point of view as the honorable gentleman takes to explain his point of view, very few people would be able to use public telephones.

This Government has done a remarkably good job for telephone users. It recognizes that a telephone is no longer a luxury, but that it is an amenity that ought to be available to everybody.

Mr Howse - It is a necessity.

Mr CALWELL - I accept the amendment by the honorable member for Calare that a telephone is a necessity. It is only the absence of materials, principally materials from overseas, that prevents all the extensions of telephone services required in country districts from /being made as rapidly as everybody in this chamber would desire. Nobody desires to see people discriminated against because they live in country areas. There is no greater apostle of the principle of decentralization than I am. I cannot see this country being held and populated if 64 per cent, of the population live in the capital city, as is the case in Victoria. We must get people into the -country districts, and as far as possible and as rapidly as possible orders are being placed for automatic switching equipment and underground cable with both Australian and overseas contractors. Honorable members will be pleased to know that supplies are coming to hand at a much faster rate than has been experienced in previous years and if the present rate of delivery is maintained it is anticipated that the department's estimate that it will be able to connect an additional 60,000 subscribers in the current financial year will be fulfilled. That will be a substantial increase of the number of people who have telephones. One would think to listen to the honorable member for Wimmera that -nothing was being done in the matter of providing additional trunk-line services and that the Government was actually planning for less instead of more of such services.

Mr Turnbull - I did not mention that at all.

Mr CALWELL - The honorable member talked about trunk-line services and -the cost of telephones and the necessity of installing more exchanges and con.necting more people to them. Our est,1. mated expenditure on trunk-line services for this financial year is £2,790,000, compared with £1,683,548 actual expenditure last year. So the Government cannot be accused of defaulting in that regard.

The matter mentioned by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. "Davidson) is one of great concern. In ;1045, the Government did increase the subsidy for remote subscribers from £50 to £100 to enable those living in what might be called the real outback to obtain telephone services. The honorable gentleman has suggested a further increase of subsidy to £200. His suggestion will be brought to the attention of the Postmaster-General. I shall ask the Postmaster-General to have his officers give sympathetic consideration to the suggestion. There must be a limit to such provisions, but it is desirable to encourage people to settle in country districts.

The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), who has performed very good service as a member of the Public Works Committee and has been a party to recommending the establishment of telephone exchanges in metropolitan areas, has pleaded for a better balance between the claims of country and city subscribers than now exists. He said that the manner in which we treat certain country applicants for telephone services is not quite fair, and he mentioned one person who, he said, has been waiting twelve months for a telephone. The officers of the Postmaster-General's Department have advised me that the delay in the supply of telephones is entirely due to the absence of cable and other material, and that the sooner that material comes to hand - and now, of course, as a result of the devaluation of sterling we must get more of it from sterling areas and less of it from dollar areas - the sooner will the back-lag of applications be dealt with. I shall ask the Postmaster-General to give special attention to the claims made by the honorable member for Bendigo, and also to take notice of what the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Thompson) said in respect of matters affecting his electorate and South Australia generally. South Australia is bigger in area than New South Wales but has a population of only slightly more than 500,000 people. I am sure that that State requires special consideration, and the honorable gentleman's remarks will certainly be brought to the notice of the Postmaster-General with a request that consideration he given to his submissions.

The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) spoke about the position in relation to broadcasting services. He may like to know that there are about 102 commercial radio stations operating in Australia and either 38 or 39 national stations. The honorable gentleman said that if it were left to him he would have the American system, where private enterprise holds undisputed sway.

Mr Beale - That is wrong! I said that I would not have the American system.

Mr CALWELL - He also said that under proper administration he would not mind having the British system, which is all-out socialization, but he would not trust that system to my tender care.

Mr Beale - I did not say that at all.

Mr CALWELL - Then the honorable member ended up by saying that the present Australian system suits him because it is a mixture of the American and British systems. I do not know just what the honorable member wants, except that lie wants me to admit that the people who conduct stations operating now on the medium-wave band of amplitude modulation are all due to go bankrupt in a year or two because television is likely to come to this country! I do not believe that that will happen. I consider that there is room for both the system of television and the audio system of broadcasting, which can exist side by side. I hope that one of these days we shall have the proceedings of this Parliament televised or telecast, whichever may be the correct term. I know that honorable members opposite do not want that to happen. Some of them did not even want the proceedings of the Parliament broadcast. There was much stronger opposition to the proposal to broadcast proceedings from honorable members opposite than there was from honorable members on this side of the chamber. However, television of the proceedings will come in time I have no doubt, and will have the advantage of letting the people of Australia see as well as hear their parliamentary representatives. I personally have no fears of that future.

The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) referred to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board that was established under the Australian Broadcasting Control Act. What the honorable gentleman apparently overlooked is the fact that the board has taken over certain functions that were previously discharged by the Postmaster-General's Department in relation to the control of broadcasting services. Ever since the inauguration of broadcasting services in Australia the discharge of those functions has involved the Postmaster-General's Department in a considerable expenditure. The amount of money which has to be provided for the control of broadcasting services has increased from year to year as the industry has increased in importance. A number of the officers whose salaries are involved in the Estimates relating to the board were previously employed in the Postmaster-General's Department. In addition a .number of the charges incurred in the operation of the board are charges that were previously incurred by the Postmaster-General's Department. There have been some increases of costs which have been due to the fact that the board is doing work that the PostmasterGeneral's Department was never able to do because it did not have sufficient staff. For instance the people who got in on the ground floor of the radio broadcasting industry and obtained licences! in Sydney and Melbourne got the best frequencies and got clear channels, and as a result the stations that are operating out in the country districts often have to share channels and operate on lower frequencies. There must be a rearrangement of that condition sooner or later and investigations into the matter require travel to and from country districts to enable the board to give proper consideration to the competing claims of country and city districts.

The honorable gentleman also made another unprovoked and unwarranted attack on Mr. Ogilvy. He suggested that Mr. Ogilvy's appointment to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board was a quid fro quo for the services that the Macquarie Broadcasting Service Proprietary Limited renders the Prima Minister of Australia by giving him an opportunity to report weekly to the nation over the air. That is a terrible charge to make, and I do not think that the honorable member himself believes that it is true. He went further and said that Mr. Ogilvy was now in a favoured position on the board and was able to help the Macquarie network against its competitors. I think that that is an unworthy statement.Whatever any one may think of Mr. Ogilvy, he is a man of honour and integrity. I do not know how he votes at elections; but I do not think that he ever voted for the Labour party. I am certain that not one member of the Macquarie network directorate is a Labour party supporter. The people who own the Macquarie network also own the Sydney Sun, and none of them support the Labour party. All the matters which have been raised by honorable members will be submitted to the Postmaster-General for consideration.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Burke). - Order! The time allotted for the consideration of the proposed votes for Commonwealth Railways, the PostmasterGeneral's Department, and Broadcasting Services has expired.

Proposed votes agreed to.

Mr Beale - I wish to make a personal explanation. The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) represented me a moment ago as having said that I was in favour of the American system of broadcasting, with unlimited and unbridled private enterprise, as against the British system. The Minister was apparently standing upside down, because I said precisely the opposite. I said that I did not favour the American system and that as a matter of personal choice I would prefer the British Broadcasting Corporation system, but that, having regard to Australian conditions and particularly to the fact that the Postmaster-General is represented by a gentleman like the Minister, I preferred the compromise between the two systems.

Mr Calwell - I also wish to make a personal explanation. I think that I heard the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) aright and that every other honorable member heard him as I heard him. He has said, at least by inference, that I have misrepresented him. He does not recall what he said and obviously he has had a second thought on the matter. He needed to have such a second thought.

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