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Thursday, 15 October 1970

Mr BERINSON (Perth) - Yesterday 1 put a matter to the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) at question time. I now raise it again because 1 believe that his reply indicated that either the question was misunderstood or that he was misinformed. The question I asked was: ls it a fact that al) telephone accounts normally distributed in September were held back until October in anticipation of an increase in rental charges? If so, will the Postmaster-General say why this was done? Is it the Government's view that the procedure adopted was in accord with proper commercial practice?

The reply of the Postmaster-General, in part, was:

If the honourable member's question applied to rental charges, I can assure him that the problems, if any, which the Post Officer has relate to the installation of new equipment. I have had some complaints that there has been delay in meeting the new demand because of the increased rental applying from 1st October, f can assure the honourable member that increased charges were not the reason for the delay.

The Postmaster-General went on to say: 1 can assure the House that nothing was done within the Post Office in an attempt to take any advantage whatever of the new charges. Work went on as usual, other than for some industrial difficulty which did cause a postponement in certain cases.

In other words, if I correctly understand his reply, the Postmaster-General was saying that technical arrangements and not policy would account for any delays. This cannot be right because I have in front of me an account which indicates what actually happened. On it is printed 'Payable within 14 days of 24.9.70.' It was received in early October by a telephone subscriber who always receives his account in September. In fact, the date '24th September' has been overstamped by the date '2nd October'. This account is by no means an isolated example. Before coming to Canberra on Monday I took the opportunity of checking the position with the accounts section of the Perth General Post Office. I was informed that the Postmaster-General's Department had deliberately withheld for delivery until early in October all accounts normally posted in September. It was put to me that the reason for this was that had the accounts gone out at the normal time when, as it was put to me, they were ready and available the Department could have charged only $20 instead of $23.50 because the amending legislation was not assented to until 1st October.

Mr Hulme - But it would have been adjusted in the next account if the account was forwarded prior to the date on which the new rental applied.

Mr BERINSON - This may be so. This is a point to which I will now come. This is what 1 was suggesting by way of implication in. my question yesterday. I am not suggesting that it was an illegal practice, but I think it was a bad practice. 1 believe that the Post Office would have objected if any of its own suppliers were to attempt to adopt the same procedure. I believe that if this sort of procedure were adopted in the commercial field it would be resisted by many people in the community. I am unable to believe that the Western Australian section of the Post Office adopted this procedure of its own accord, alone and without authority. I therefore ask the Postmaster-General to clarify the position again by answering the following questions: Was the deliberate delay in the delivery of Western Australian telephone accounts authorised? If so, will the Postmaster-General give the Department's justification for adopting this procedure? Will he also indicate whether the procedure was adopted in all States?

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