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Thursday, 11 September 1958
Page: 1177

Mr DAVIS (Deakin) .- I should like to add my remarks to those of the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) and the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), and direct the attention of the committee to the problem of telephones. Like the two honorable gentlemen to whom I have referred, I represent an area of outer metropolitan and inner rural areas where, since the war, the population has increased out of all proportion to the overall population increase in Australia. I have said on other occasions that one of the problems facing us in this country is not so much the overall distribution of expenditure, but rather that expenditure is not necessarily directed to the areas in which the greatest degree of progress or development has taken place. This is something of which honorable members who represent electorates such as mine are only too well aware.

The honorable member for Mitchell made some suggestions as to the form of control of the Postmaster-General's Department. It may be that some sort of semigovernment authority would be better than the present departmental control. At present, I should not like to commit myself to any particular suggestion, but I direct the attention of honorable members to this point, that whilst no doubt it is possible to detect certain flaws in the present administration of the department, it is not necessarily true that to substitute another form of control would remove those flaws. Nor can it be denied that with another form of control errors of another kind could possibly creep in.

The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) said that the department should adopt a more realistic approach, and that it needed a more sympathetic government. It might be inferred from some of the remarks that have been made during the course of this debate that the department is not doing a satisfactory job. In my opinion, over the years, the Postmaster-General's Department has done a magnificent job, and I think that the committee's attention should be directed to the overall picture rather than to individual facets of the department, because to deal with the department in bits and pieces tends to give a false impression. For instance, according to the information supplied by the department, 661,000 were installed in 1939 or an average of 9.5 telephones per 100 of the population. In 1949, the last year of Labour's administration, that number had risen to 1,028,000, or an average of, I think, thirteen per 100 of the population. According to the report for the year ended 30th June, 1957, the number of telephones installed had risen to 1,800,000, or 18.2 per 100 of the population.

It seems that, from those overall factors, we can draw two general conclusions. The first is that the department has, to a very large extent at least, met the needs of the increase in population and the development that has taken place over the years. Further, I think it should also be recognized that over the years we have experienced, in many ways, a marked increase in our standards of living. The demand for telephones is one way of measuring that. To-day, in almost every home, certainly in at least 1,800,000 homes and offices in Australia, there is a telephone. More and more people want a telephone to-day. It is regarded as a necessary amenity in any home. In both those ways, I suggest, the figures which I have quoted - they are readily available - do bear out the fact that there has been a marked improvement in our standard of living, that there has been very great development and that, on this level at least, the department cannot be charged with not being realistic.

What has happened is that in this department, as in other departments, the direction of activity has not necessarily been related to the areas of intense development. We have provided in the Estimates a huge overall sum for the greatest business, or greatest government department, call it what you will, in Australia to-day, the turnover for which in the year 1 957 reached the fantastic figure of £887,000,000. Actually, we have provided something like £100,000,000 for that department, and it is extremely difficult for any one to trace, through the Estimates, or any of the other information supplied to Parliament, just where that money is being spent. I am speaking now, not in terms of whether it is spent on telephones, post office facilities, or telegrams, but rather in terms of the areas of the States in which it is spent. My own opinion is that too much attention has been paid to those areas which have achieved almost full development, and too little attention has been paid to those newer areas such as the ones my friends from Hughes and Mitchell represent, in which development has taken place over the last tew years.

Since there are, so I have b:en informed by people other than Tasmanians, a few imperfect apples, I should like to direct the attention of the committee to one particular flaw, as I understand it, in the Postmaster-General's Department to-day. Since, in the areas about which we are speaking, there are more applications for telephones than the department can at once meet, there exists in the department a system of priorities. I have been informed that these priorities are related, normally enough, to professional and business requirements, and 1 think that the lowest priority is given to the ordinary private telephone. Over the years, I have had a great deal of correspondence with the department on this subject, and, quite frankly, I feel a great deal of dissatisfaction at the way in which the system is operated. I think my friend from Mitchell quoted some cases. I put before the committee only one of hundreds 1 have had in which there are reasonable grounds for assuming that if there is a system of priorities then it does not work on any ordered basis, nor, in terms of the locality in which the decision is made, does it work on any logical scheme that I can discover.

There came to me, some eighteen months ago, an employee of the Commonwealth Government, a professional man with high responsibilities, responsibilities which he carried on over the week-ends. He was required to be on call at the week-ends. He had applied for a telephone. He waited for four years. He had not had a telephone, yet in that vicinity quite a number of other people who obviously, or. the surface of it, had a lower priority, had telephones installed. I could quote that sort of illustration ad nauseam, but it is sufficient, 1 think, to say - and I offer these remarks as constructive, not destructive criticism - that in an organization which is, in the main, extremely efficient, very smooth working, and carrying out its responsibilities as a public utility, and as a commercial undertaking in a way that I think reflects great credit to both the department and the Government, there is this one particular field in which such inefficiency exists as to create very great dissatisfaction in areas where, in the main, lack of telephones is delaying communications.

The final matter to which I direct the attention of the committee relates to one of the rapidly-developing outer areas on the perimeter of Melbourne. I have now been making representations on behalf of a doctor of medicine who cannot have a telephone installed at his house. I was informed, when I first came to this place some few years ago, that in all cases one or two lines were kept so that when a professional man came into the area there would be a telephone line available for him. So extreme is the pressure that I am now assured that there is no telephone line available for a doctor in that district. That is the sort of thing to which I direct the attention of the committee, because I do believe that more consideration should be paid to that very narrow aspect of a very broad question. If attention could be directed to matters of that kind we would get a clearer picture of that which, in the aggregate, is an extremely efficient organization and which has, I think, more than played its part in the development that has taken place under this Government.

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