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Wednesday, 1 June 1960

Mr WHEELER (Mitchell) .- I think the House will agree that the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) did not deliver a speech of his usual standard to-night. It seems pretty obvious that the cares of being Deputy Leader of the Opposition weigh very heavily on the honorable gentleman. He does not know whom to trust and is suffering the darts of his discontented colleagues. This, with the gaunt shadow of Dalziel flitting disconcertingly across his path, has affected his logic. The honorable gentleman from Werriwa is obviously in an unenviable position. He cannot play the role of the comedian, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) does, and in his search for a role, he must find something into which his character will fit. I am sorry that this evening he gave no inkling of whether he will be a comedian, a serious statesman or a cross between both.

It seems that the honorable member's carefree days - the days before he was appointed Deputy Leader - have gone. The days when the only thing that worried him was ambition have gone and to-day he has the cares of office on his shoulders. He makes the confession that he is a unificationist, and then says that he is a regionalist. It seems that these claims are just as valid as the claim of his respected Leader, who says that he is a democratic socialist. I should like a definition of a unificationist, a regionalist and a democratic socialist Whatever it may be, I think the House will agree that the Australian Labour Party and Labour politics are a drug on the market and cannot sell. The evidence of the Queensland election is proof of this.

The honorable member for Werriwa gave a doleful repetition of the speech made by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren). I give the honorable member for Reid a higher mark for an effective speech than I give to the honorable member for Werriwa, because the honorable member for Reid had all his facts correct. If the honorable member for Werriwa borrowed his facts from the honorable member for Reid, something must have happened in the exchange of ideas because he got them completely confused. He complained of public companies and said that they enjoyed capital appreciation. Does the honorable member for Werriwa prefer to see these companies making losses? If he does he has no faith in Australia, no faith in the development of Australia and no faith in the prosperity of the Australian people. He said that it was a tragedy that there had been capital gains. One can only conclude that the honorable member for Werriwa would prefer to see companies making losses. He bemoaned the fact that he had an overdraft, as if it were a badge of poverty. But does the honorable gentleman not possess assets to get an overdraft? If he has a banker who will give him an overdraft without assets, I should like to meet that bank manager.

Mr Mackinnon - Dalziel will get it, though!

Mr WHEELER - Dalziel is not an asset; he is a liability at the moment. The honorable gentleman for Werriwa will be able to console himself with the thought that, if Dalziel promotes this action, he will be able to save some money by appearing at the hearing for himself. I would not know how effective his advocacy would be, but he could at least save that much money.

The honorable member then trots out an argument which he borrows from his Leader. I will give his Leader this credit, that he does have an idea now and again. The honorable member for Werriwa borrowed the idea of a tax on capital gains. What is a capitalist? On whom will the honorable member for Werriwa levy this tax? I should imagine that he is on very treacherous ground. Shades of John Dedman, who said that he did not want a mob of capitalists in this country! Every man who owns his home is a capitalist. Because real estate values have increased, does the honorable member for Werriwa propose to levy a tax on the capital gain of the man who owns his home? That in effect is what he says. Or will the honorable member make this a very sectional tax? All I can say is that the honorable gentleman for Werriwa should have had a longer conversation with the honorable member for Reid when he borrowed the ideas used by the honorable member for Reid earlier to-day.

I do not want to waste too much time on the trivialities of the honorable member for Werriwa. All I say is that I am sorry that the honorable member did not produce a more effective speech on this occasion. His speech was a dirge against prosperity, and there cannot be any argument about that. It is the result of disturbed thinking, and I shall leave him to his unhappy thoughts. Maybe this gentleman Dalziel has had some effect on the honorable member's thinking, but I shall leave it to him. If I have time at the end of my speech, I shall refer to some of the comments he made recently when he was speaking in Queensland prior to the election in that State. I do not like saying these things about the honorable member for Werriwa because his electorate adjoins mine. I do not like his politics, but I like the gentleman himself. I am sorry to see this metamorphosis come over him.

Mr Haworth - Will you have a border disturbance?

Mr WHEELER - No, there is no need for a border disturbance on the borders of our electorates. The honorable member for Werriwa has some very strange ideas. I can come to one conclusion only, and that is that he has been talking too much to his Leader.

I want to devote my time to a discussion of the Post Office. The Post Office has absorbed so much of Commonwealth revenue that, in a debate of this nature, its functioning becomes a vital issue. The Post Office once boasted, and still boasts, that it is Australia's largest business under taking. Certainly, it is our most important business undertaking, because it touches the lives of every one. Every citizen must use its services, and most of us use them several times a day. We used to be proud of that service, and in many respects we can still be proud of the Post Office. However, complaints are mounting all the time. It has proved incapable of growing with our fast-growing community. It is just not organized to grow rapidly and it is not keeping pace with the development of the country. In my electorate of Mitchell, I recently stood watching the long queue on a child endowment payment day. It extended down the street from a building which may have been adequate twenty years ago, but is completely hopeless today. It is in these rapidly developing areas, such as the area that I represent, that we see the Post Office system at its worst. Despite the efforts of the local staff, there are complaints all the time. These are not against the staff but against the inadequate provisions that have been made.

A large proportion of my mail coming from the constituents concerns Post Office matters - telephone, mail services and the other multitudinous things that it handles. Such expanding areas find the Post Office in a permanent state of overstrain, and I despair of it ever catching up unless there is some drastic reform. The fact is that the Post Office had its hey-day in the times of Cobb and Co. Since then, dozens of new jobs have been loaded onto it as the needs of the community have become more diverse. Physically, it is making a valiant effort to keep up with the times. The new all-air service for interstate mail is a big improvement, but administratively it is a matter of loading all the new burdens on to the same old coach. It just had to be this way.

Government departments, by their nature, are rigid and settle into a certain way of doing things. This becomes the tradition with a concern as old as the Post Office. Basic changes can be made only from outside, and the department has not the flexibility for continual reorganizations such as are demanded by an expanding business in our rapidly growing community. I understand that the strain resulting from this state of affairs is showing itself very seriously among the top executives of the department. There have been several retirements, hastened, I think, by overwork. If this continues, there must come a time when the reserves of properly trained and proved men will be seriously depleted.

Something can be done to improve the situation, I believe, and it should be done immediately. One of the things that can be done is to separate some of the activities which are not directly related and make them autonomous in order that the Post Office may get on with the main work of providing postal services. The provision of new telephone installations, for instance, represents the worst failure in the PostmasterGeneral's Department. In this respect, we are still under conditions of wartime scarcity. If the telephone services were put under a separate, autonomous department, the situation would be much better. That department would be able to raise its own finance and would possibly be able to eliminate much of the red tape which seems to be part of the trouble at the present time. In some of the new areas, there are business and professional men who are hamstringed by their inability to get a telephone service, while private citizens face a wait of years. This is not good enough. Something must be done. Some of the trouble seems to lie in the method of working. For instance, a routine task like the installation of a new telephone is spread over a period of weeks, with a series of visits, each by a different pair of men. This is a situation in which a new broom might sweep clean. A specialist department might be able to speed up the process.

Radio and television are another highly technical field which has become attached to the Post Office, more by accident than for any special reason. This is a field for specialists, and I believe that they might be able to operate more efficiently in this field if they were autonomous. There is a definite need for a change of the present system, which is not very successful. Some things have happened recently, particularly in regard to the allocation of frequencies for radio transmissions, which should never have been permitted to happen. I am especially concerned about and am thinking particularly of the threatened curtailment of the frequencies allowed to amateur radio operators. These amateur operators, some 3.000 in number, have given good service to Australia in times of peace and of war. During World War II., they were invaluable, as they have been in floods, bush fires and other emergencies since.

Australia alone among the nations of the free world wants to cut down the range of frequencies allowed to amateur operators, and it advanced such a proposal at the recent international conference at Geneva. But the other Western nations turned it down flat. We were in the unenviable position of finding ourselves in the totalitarian camp in this matter. Two departmental experts, before leaving for Geneva, met interested members from both sides of the House within the precincts of this building and gave an undertaking that if these proposals for restricting the amateur bands were not accepted by the other nations they would not be imposed on the Australian amateurs. However, on the proposals being rejected in Geneva, the officials who represented Australia at the conference added to the report of the conference a footnote reserving the right nevertheless to apply the restrictions in Australia. In my opinion, this was a breach of faith and a breaking of the pledge given to members of this House within this very building.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has now been involved in this deception. In such a technical matter, obviously he has to rely on expert advisers. These advisers recently gave him a departmental brief in reply to an inquiry - a brief which stated that the pledge which had been given before the officials left for the Geneva conference referred not to the amateur bands as a whole, but to only one of them. This is contrary to the clear recollection of those honorable members who had conferred with the departmental officers before their departure to attend the conference. I know that the Minister feels that he must defend his officers, but I think that in this instance he is carrying loyalty too far, and that the department is acting in a manner unworthy of a great department.

I can conclude only that the conduct of these officials is that of harassed men, and that they have reached a stage at which the solution of departmental problems is the only thing that matters. The fact that the appropriating of these frequencies for other uses is harsh and unfair to some members of the public does not seem to weigh with or concern them. This is a stage at which I think it is the duty of the Government to intervene. I believe that these actions which I have described are a by-product of a situation in which a department has grown too big and too complex to be efficiently managed, and that the sooner it is reconstructed the better.

The Telephone Branch of the PostmasterGeneral's Department is at present in the early stages of the working of the extended local service areas system, which is commonly know as Elsa. This is the most radical reform for a long time. The general opinion among my constituents is that Elsa, like many modern girls, does not lack attractions, but is rather expensive. I was surprised to hear many complaints in places like Glenorie and Arcadia, in my electorate, which have been brought into the Sydney metropolitan network. This enables subscribers at those centres to call any one in Sydney for 4d., which is the local fee. It is admitted by my constituents that that is very good. However, their telephone rentals have been just about doubled, and many reckon that this is too big a price to pay.

A little further out from the metropolitan area, places like Windsor have fared considerably worse. Rentals have been raised and calls to Sydney are still charged at trunk rates, these rates having been increased. I think that in fixing the boundaries of the new zones the department has lost sight of the pattern of modern development. The influence of a great city like Sydney radiates far beyond its boundaries. Communications and telephone business tend to flow along these radial lines. There is a large volume of telephone traffic to Sydney from places like Windsor, Richmond and Penrith, and there is much traffic from these centres also to the nearer sub-metropolis of Parramatta. The charge for a three-minute call from these places to Parramatta has been raised from 8d. to ls. 8d. - 250 per cent, of the original charge - and the cost of a call to Sydney has risen by 4d. It is little compensation to a resident of Windsor to be told that he may now make, at the local-call rate, calls to places like Glenbrook and Blaxland, with which the residents of

Windsor, Richmond and Penrith have had very little communication anyway.

The boundaries of the other zones around Sydney appear to have been determined by the simple but very arbitrary method of drawing lines on the map at fixed distances from the Sydney General Post Office, with very light variations. In doing this, the department has lost sight of the factor of community of interest. It has also wiped out the concessional trunk-call rate from Sydney to places like Windsor and Penrith which operated for twenty years. That concession was granted to satisfy a very real need, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will restore it as quickly as possible. The objective of Elsa - a complete automatic direct service from subscriber to subscriber throughout Australia - is a bold and imaginative one on which the Post Office is to be congratulated. I hope that it will not spoil the whole thing by riding rough-shod over the interests of particular communities.

Another important matter touching on the rights of minorities has been much, in the news of late. The announcement that the Government is to consider action against restrictive trade practices was very welcome. Competition is the only effective control of prices, and the maintenance of effective competition is the lifeblood of the economy of a free community. But how can its maintenance be guaranteed? It is a problem that has puzzled the best legal brains of many countries. It can very easily happen that a law which seeks to promote competition may, in fact, be used to suppress it. The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has demonstrated his legal virtuosity both in the courts and in the House, and his solution for the difficulties involved is awaited with interest.

Many people think we had an indication of the shape of things to come in some of the provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Bill. If so, it was a rather ominous one. Any wider application of some of the drastic principles involved in that bill would be highly dangerous, in my opinion. That bill, in an attempt to prevent one group having too much control of television programme material, introduced a form of compulsory price-fixing. It may be that the courts will have a say on its legality, but the final verdict on its wisdom surely must be left to the future.

To gain his immediate objective, the Attorney-General has compromised one of the basic principles of liberalism. The lessons of history show that in politics, to compromise principles for expediency is always unwise. No doubt it is part of the training of a lawyer that he must learn to compromise to secure agreement by concession when nothing better is possible. On the other hand, it is part of statesmanship that, on basic principles, no compromise is possible.

It is not surprising that the Opposition supported this bill. One could see them secretly licking their lips in anticipation of what they could do with this new method of price control for far less worthy objects if ever they regained power. It would be a wonderful tool for the socialists. It promised them an immediate means of putting on television stations pressure which could mean one-party control of this vital means of propaganda. Further, the method of price control, if valid, would be capable of a very wide extension, with damaging results to the economy through the destruction of competition. Price control, if continued long enough, almost always destroys competition.

Fortunately, the Government accepted amendments which broke down one of the worst provisions of the bill - that which forced the sale of programmes at an arbitrary price - by giving a right of appeal. However, the Government deprived itself of one of the most valuable safeguards of democracy by its method of handling the bill. It kept the bill under cover until the last days of the session, and then attempted to rush it through in a few hours. Thus there was no real opportunity for critical analysis of its provisions. This House, and the people, are entitled to the opportunity of voicing their opinions before any bill becomes law, and a wise government welcomes criticism, because it is far better for a government if any weaknesses are discovered in the beginning and do not appear only after a law has been in operation. I hope no such mistake will be made with any legislation aimed at dealing with restrictive practices, and that every opportunity will be given for advance examination of such legislation.

If the Attorney-General can solve the problem involved in this matter, his name will go down in history, and I venture to say that he will obtain international fame, for most democratic countries are worried by this question of restrictive practices. However, the very fact that it has proved so difficult indicates what a colossal task he has set himself. I hope the AttorneyGeneral does not come up again with a short cut such as he used in the Broadcasting and Television Bill. It would be not only useless, but also dangerous to preserve the outward forms of competition by unwarranted restrictions on the liberty of the individual. I think we have had sufficient foretaste of that sort of thing.

But two traps must be avoided if the proposed legislation is to be successful. It must sustain and expand the area of constructive competition and not make of the imaginative, the progressive and constructive entrepreneur a parasitical host upon which the incompetent may attach himself and fatten upon the successful man's efforts. In addition, its purpose and effect must be truly liberal. Restrictions administered by a government department are no remedy for restraints applied in private. They are always more damaging, in the long run, to the community because they tend to stifle initiative and enterprise, and they always tend to expand in the area they cover.

The Australian people, who have rejected the policies enunciated by the Opposition, are not likely to welcome these policies if they are applied from this side of the House. It is difficult to know how one may launch a verbal rocket capable of penetrating the rarified strata of government thinking; but somehow, in some manner, I hope it will become known to the Government that there are members on this side of the House who have nothing but principle to lose in this place. Consequently, they put a high value on it and will not easily surrender it.

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