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Thursday, 11 September 1958

Mr COSTA (Banks) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,I desire to put before the committee certain matters relating to the Postmaster-General's Department. I regret that because honorable members have been deprived of the benefit of the provision made in the Standing Orders for Grievance Day they very seldom get the opportunity to raise these parochial matters concerning their electorates specifically, and therefore are forced to use the time that they are given to debate these estimates in discussing parochial affairs.

All honorable members have complained about outstanding applications for telephone services. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) mentioned, a little while ago, that he had recently been advised by the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs that 30,000 telephones have been connected during last year, and that there are at present more than 40,000 applications outstanding. On those figures, 1 consider that my electorate has fared badly. I have been notified by the PostmasterGeneral's Department to-day that 1,307 people in the Banks electorate are waiting for telephones. If the allocation of services in my electorate were as great as it should be. there would probably be only 300 instead of 1,307 applications outstanding.

The large number of outstanding applications in the Banks electorate is due to the very great progress that is being made there. As some honorable members doubtless know, my electorate embraces a large part of the Municipality of Bankstown, the population of which is increasing at the rate of 19 per cent, per annum. Industry there is expanding at a similar rate. The department should pay greater attention to the expansion of its services in this area, because they are so necessary to industry and to the workers on whom the local industries depend. I have stated the position in my electorate, and I appeal to the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) to give the Banks electorate special attention.

There is another matter that I should like to discuss briefly. The PostmasterGeneral's Department is now in the process of installing a new telegraphic system, which is known by the abbreviated name of Tress, which stands for " telegraph repeating electric switching system ". This system appears likely to make every important changes within the department. In recent history, communications, not only in Australia but also through the rest of the world, have been based on the excellent morse system. Before the advent of that system, of course, they depended on signals made by smoke, flags and other very primitive means of transmitting messages from place to place. When we developed the morse system, we thought that it would do for all time, but it is now being discarded in favour of something better.

The particular aspect of the matter to which I wish to direct attention is the fact that, coinciding with the introduction of the Tress system, a decision has been made by the Postmaster-General's Department to close the postal training schools. In those schools, morse was taught, of course, together with all other postal procedures and practices. As a matter of fact, in those schools, men were taught how to run post offices. Although morse was only one of the things taught in those schools, the department has decided, as a result of the introduction of the Tress system, to close them. I feel there is still a great need for the training of men to run post offices in these modern times. I should like the PostmasterGeneral to consider the continuance of these schools. Let the new Tress method be taught there, as well as the other procedures in the Postmaster-General's Department which, I am sure, still justify the provision of training schools.

There is another important matter connected with the training schools, to which I turn now. When the schools were established in 1945 the departmental administrators at that time selected the men they considered to be the most efficient for the work of training postal officers. The men selected for that work most certainly proved themselves. However, now that the schools have closed, the great services performed by these men for the PostmasterGeneral's Department seem to have been forgotten. The men are hardly retaining their present status. At the time of their appointments to the schools some of them were supervisors in the telegraph branch but now, because of the big change following the introduction of the Tress system, there is not the need that there was previously for the skills which these men possess. They are getting no special consideration. I know these men personally, and I venture to say that had they not met the convenience of the department by transferring to that training work in the schools, but had continued in their former positions, they would now have a very much higher status than they have. At the moment they are on an unattached list, and from my inquiries it appears that their future will be rather bleak. They will not reach the heights within the service that they could have hoped to reach had they not gone into the schools to train other officers.

So I should like the Postmaster-General to consider the re-establishment of these training centres, and also the position of the men who taught in them, whose worth has been proved by the fact that those whom they trained are now very efficiently running the nation's post offices.

I know some of the men who went through those schools as students. They have since been selected by the department as cadet administrators. In due course they will be the men who will direct the PostmasterGeneral's Department. The men who encouraged and coached them, however, are now in the discard. I hope that their position will be favorably considered.

The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) commented on telegraph charges. I feel that the telegraphic branch, like a number of other institutions in the community, has had its day. The telegram is too slow a method of communication for normal modern requirements. The people are not using it because, with the development of the telephone system, people who have to communicate with each other for business and other reasons can do so more quickly by telephone than by telegraph. The telegraph system is also too expensive to use. A person in one suburb wishing to communicate with a person in a nearby suburb could take a taxi- and have a conversation with that person at a cost of about 4s. 6d. It would cost him about 10s. to send a reply-paid urgent telegram to the person. So the telegraph system cannot compete to-day in the communications field with faster and cheaper methods.

The honorable member for Mitchell suggested1 putting the telephone branch under a separate authority. I venture to say that he selected this particular branch of the service for this kind of treatment only because it is making a very good profit at present. Its profit is about £5,250,000 annually. If it were showing a loss he would not be interested. The honorable member for Mitchell and his colleagues believe in doing with the postal services what they want to do with the Commonwealth Bank. They want to shackle the different branches of the postal service so that they will be able to hand them over to private enterprise. If the honorable member studies history he will find that the telephone branch was not always the paying proposition that it is at present.

In a period of years after 1914 the postal services made a profit of about £60,000,000. But instead of being used to finance the expansion of postal services it was paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. That was not the wisest thing to do. A public enterprise like the Postmaster-General's Department should by all means be allowed to stand on its own feet, and when it showed a profit of £60,000,000 over a period of years that money should have been used for its development.

Another matter touching the PostmasterGeneral's Department, which should be considered, is the necessity to co-ordinate planning within the department, particularly the engineering branches. This also applies to other public utilities. Any honorable member would know cases within his own suburb of a fine cement footpath or a macadamized road laid by a local government authority being torn up perhaps in a few days by a gas company, a water and sewerage authority, or the Main Roads Board. I think it is time that bodies of that kind got together to prevent public waste. There should be greater co-operation between all those public utilities and the Postmaster-General's Department in order to ensure that once a good road or footpath has been put down it will not be dug up for the laying of a telephone cable, a gas pipe or anything else of the kind that could have been laid before the road or footpath was made. If not already in existence, machinery for such co-ordination should be brought into existence.

Now I turn to rural automatic exchanges. A man who has been specially trained in this work has complained to me that much of this kind of installation work has been placed with private enterprise. In many instances, instead of the PostmasterGeneral's Department installing a rural automatic exchange, the work is done by private enterprise. There are certain utilities for which the Postmaster-General's Department does the work. A hospital board in Bankstown put a case before me in this connexion recently. The hospital is a very modern one, which was built at a cost of £1,500,000. It needed an automatic exchange, and because the department has decided that this kind of job is to be done outside the department, the hospital, which is a public utility paid for out of taxation, had to search for somebody to do the job at a much higher fee than the PostmasterGeneral's Department would charge. I think the public hospitals should be among the public utilities for which such work has to be done by technicians of the PostmasterGeneral's Department. They are just as much public or government institutions as are the railways or any other government department. I cannot see why there should be a shortage of rural automatic exchanges. I quite agree with members of the Australian Country party who have said that country people should get first priority for these exchanges, which provide a continuous service for seven days a week. Production of them should be stepped up.

The only other matter about which I wish to speak concerns the criticism of duplex services. I am not opposed to the installation of duplex services, because they do provide a service for people. If duplex services were not available, many people would not have a telephone. But I think that better consideration ought to be given to the conversion to the duplex system of services that have been exclusive for up to twenty years. I bring that matter, too, to the attention of the Postmaster-General. A lot of other matters relating to the Postmaster-General's Department are outstanding.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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