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Thursday, 4 April 1968

Mr HULME (Petrie) (Postmaster-General) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill amends the Overseas Telecommunications Act 1946-1966 by introducing some administrative and financial changes in the activities of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. First, reference to the Island of Nauru in the Commission's charter to establish and operate communications stations must be deleted from the Act following the granting of Nauru's independence. Next, provision has been made in clause 4 for a Commissioner who replaces one who has served only a portion of his statutory period to be appointed for 3 years rather than for the unexpired portion of the outgoing Commissioner's term, as at present. At present, staff salary levels exceeding $5,000 must be approved by the Minister. To conform with other legislation it is proposed that the level be set at $7,500. To facilitate administration it is proposed that, at the appropriate time, a higher amount may be prescribed by regulation. Clause 6 of the Bill removes the present restrictions regarding the permanent employment of married women.

Under section 35 of the Act, the Commission is required to pay to the Post Office revenue received from terminal charges on international messages handled by stations controlled by the Commission. However, to recognise the work performed by the Commission in handling this traffic, the Post Office and the Commission have, over the years, entered into net settlement arrangements. The legislation proposes to regularise this situation by having the Commission retain such amounts as are determined in consultation with the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs.

Clause 12 raises the amount the Commission may authorise for the purchase or disposal of property from $40,000 to $100,000 and, to facilitate administration, it is proposed that at the appropriate time a higher amount may be prescribed by regulation. The financial limit will apply also for the procurement of supplies and equipment in Australia and overseas. The period for which the Commission may enter into a lease of land without the approval of the Minister has been extended from 5 to 10 years. I think this conforms generally with commercial practice in Australia at the present time.

Clauses 13, 14 and 15 bring the Act into line with Commonwealth banking legislation by deleting the reference to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The Commission is required to bank with the Reserve Bank, or with a bank approved by the Treasurer. Clause 15 also introduces flexibility in investment by enabling the Commission to invest in the short term money market in accordance with determinations of the Treasurer. Clause 16 has re-made section 77. It retains the Commission's entitlement to have its service telegrams within Australia relating to international communications transmitted free of charge by the Post Office. The Commission will still be obliged to handle telegrams within Australia when requested by the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs during periods of interruption to Post Office services. The Commission will receive appropriate payment for the work it performs in these circumstances. I commend the Bill to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.

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