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Thursday, 11 September 1958
Page: 1175

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) has offered criticism of the operations of the Postmaster-General's Department. May I, at the outset, express my appreciation of the department and its officers who are engaged in the service of the community. I feel that, from the highest in the department down to the persons engaged in non-official post offices, a very fine job of work is being done for the people of Australia.

The honorable member for Mitchell, quite rightly, directed attention to the fact that the department suffers because it lacks the finance necessary to carry out its functions and duties. One can remember when, not so many years ago, this Government bowed to the will of the people and the press of this country and decided to reduce the number of public servants. It dismissed from the Postmaster-General's Department about 5,000 employees, many of whom were valuable technicians and necessary for the extension of services to the people. I mention that, because I believe that we should place the blame where it rightly belongs. Responsibility for this situation rests not on the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), but fairly and squarely on the Government for failing to provide to the department adequate funds to enable it to meet the needs of a growing nation. I suggest to the committee that there is need for the department, which is probably the biggest private or public undertaking in Australia, to adopt a more realistic approach to its problems. I know that this cannot be done without a sympathetic government, a sympathetic Treasurer, and Treasury officials who will meet the needs of the Postal Department.

This year there is provision for the spending by this department of more than £101,000,000. I should like to see a provision whereby the department was granted by. the Parliament an authority to effect expenditure over a period of time and to go on the market, if need be, to obtain the necessary money to permit it to engage in those services which are quite lucrative. It is astonishing to me that the Postal Department, with such a lucrative business as its telephone branch, is still unable to give service to those who so urgently need it. I believe it is only one of the public undertakings of this country which fail to give a service for which they could receive adequate and satisfactory returns.

If we evolved some plan whereby the Postal Department could be certain of obtaining, over a period of years, the funds necessary to carry out this work, I feel sure that the department would be only too pleased to meet this challenge and to get on with the work. A long-range programme seems to be most unlikely unless there is a change of heart, and no doubt a change of government. We know that the shortage of telephones is irksome and causes great hardship. It disjoints a business, and causes considerable suffering and inconvenience. It has a most serious effect in country districts where people are many miles apart.

If some special priority is to be given in dealing with this urgent and pressing problem, I trust that it will be given to people who live in country districts, so that they may have the means of communicating with their fellows, thus making up in some way for what they miss by not living in the big towns and cities.

Another matter which I think needs attention is the price of telegrams. Telegrams are too costly, and because they are too costly this service is not being used as much as it was in the past. A reduction of the price of telegrams would stimulate the traffic. 1 want to refer to one or two matters that are not quite so pleasant to the Postmaster-General. I regret that the honorable gentleman has recently been sick, and1 1 also regret that although he has been in the chamber for a considerable period this afternoon, he is not at present sitting at the table. Over a period of years, representations have been made by me with regard to improved telephone and other services in my electorate. The Joint Committee on Public Works inquired into the need to establish a new telephone exchange in Bathurst, which is in my electorate. That committee submitted a report to the Parliament, and the committee's findings, which were that a new exchange building should be erected in Bathurst, were approved by the Parliament. But despite that, no steps whatever have been taken by the Postmaster-General's Department to implement the will of the Parliament. I ask you, Mr. Lawrence, what is the use of these matters being referred to a joint committee charged with the responsibility of investigating them if the Postmaster-General's Department is not prepared to carry out the decision of the Parliament? I have followed this matter up, and only last year I received a letter from the Postmaster-General in response to my requests for the erection of this new building. In that letter, the Postmaster-General said -

It is now expected that the construction of the permanent building will commence during the 1958- financial- year, subject to the necessary resources being available, and it is intended to convert the Bathurst telephone system to automatic working when the new building is ready for occupation. You will appreciate that this adds appreciably to the total capital cost of the building scheme.

I appreciate that, and after I received the reply from the Minister, I wrote to him on a number of occasions, and I have also spoken to him. I wrote to the Postmaster-General at the beginning of the financial year, but since then I have received no definite reply. I can only hope that this is due to an oversight, and that the honorable gentleman will reply to me in the affirmative, stating that the building will commence without further delay. It is a sheer waste of time if this Parliament is to reach decisions on matters such as this, only to have its decisions shelved by the department. If that is the way things are to be done, then the taxpayers should be saved the expense of the Public Works Committee's investigations, and the department should determine these matters without reference to anybody else.

Another matter to which I direct attention is the invasion by the Postmaster-General's Department of land owned by a constituent of mine in the township of Woodford, New South Wales. One day this man found that his land was being invaded by workmen from the Postmaster.General'9 Department. He told them that they had no right to be on his land, but they said that he did not know what he was talking about, and they continued to carry out some cable work on the property. That was .an assault on the rights of my constituent, and in view of the fact that the Postmaster-General's Department has since discovered that the land was, in fact, owned by my constituent and not the Department of Railways, I think it is under a moral obligation to put matters right for my constituent. He proposes to build a home on the land, and the department would be doing the right thing if it were graciously to agree that it did invade his land, that it did cause him some considerable embarrassment, and that it did put him to some considerable expense in obtaining legal advice, having a search made, and making a survey. If the department were to compensate my constituent for the inconvenience and expense involved, it would be doing the right thing, lt is a poor show if a department with an annual expenditure of about £101,000,000 cannot do the right thing for one small member of the community.

I appreciate the great service rendered by the Postmaster-General's Department. I trust that promises given with regard to the Bathurst exchange building and the new post office for Oberon will be honoured, and that this great undertaking will continue to serve the people of Australia in a decent and fair way. 1 am sure that everybody in Australia appreciates the great work done by this grand body of people who make up the Postmaster-General's Department, and I am sure that the department will enhance its reputation if it corrects the anomaly to which I have referred.

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