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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3249

Mr MORRISON (St George) (Minister for Science and Minister for External Territories) - Mr Deputy Chairman, the time set aside for the discussion of this subject was one hour. As that time has already elapsed, I move:

That the question be now put.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Luchetti) - Order! The question is That the question be now put'. Those of that opinion say 'aye'; to the contrary 'no'. I think the 'ayes 'have it.

Mr Lucock - The 'noes' have it.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN - Is a division required?

Mr Lucock - The 'noes' have it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN - The question now is "That the proposed expenditure for the Department of the Media be agreed to'. Those of that opinion say 'aye'; to the contrary 'no'. I think the 'ayes' have it.

Mr Lucock - The 'noes' have it.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Postmaster-Generals Department

Proposed expenditure, $18,170,000.

Dr FORBES(Barker) .(8.28> - I should like to say a few words about the estimates for the Postmaster-General's Department. Because I was absent overseas at the time I did not have an opportunity in any of the debates on the various Bills implementing the Government's Budget decisions to make my protest at what I regard as a most vicious kind of discrimination in which the Government has indulged against the people who live in country areas. I refer particularly to the increase in telephone rentals, the abandonment of the decision to construct at departmental expense a line up to a radius of IS miles and various other minor irritants, such as the increase in private bag services and that type of thing as well as the decision of the Government on a wholesale basis to downgrade the official post offices to nonofficial post offices and, in some cases, to cut out nonofficial post offices altogether. I want to raise this matter because I do not think that the Postmaster-General or the Government which, no doubt, agreed in Cabinet to his recommendations to do these things, even begins to perceive some of the problems faced by country people in this sphere or that they begin to perceive that there are involved what I would call quite important issues of principle.

The first of those is that this Government does not appear to recognise that the PostmasterGeneral's Department provides a community service and that community services should be provided to those who need them most. Who can deny that people living in isolation need these services of the PMG Department more than people living cheek by jowl in a suburban street in a metropolitan city in Australia? They need the services for business; they need them in the case of an emergency because of their isolation; they need such services for social contact; and they need them for all the amenities of life which people in the metropolitan cities can obtain in other ways. In this sense, country people are the disadvantaged people in the Australian community. Yet this Government and the Postmaster-General himself, in answer to questions and in other ways in this House, have gloried in emphasising what I would call the cash-nexus approach to the provision of services by the PMG - a sort of approach which would do justice to some of the worst characters out of a Dickens novel or to the traditional American robber barons of the 19 th century. This approach has made it more difficult for people in the country areas of Australia, who suffer from all these disadvantages that I mentioned, to obtain a telephone. The Government's aproach is: To him that hath shall be given. That, in essence, is how I would sum up its approach.

What would honourable gentlemen opposite, including the Postmaster-General, say for instance if we on this side of the House applied the same system to health insurance and established a system that the greater the risk one was and therefore the more expense that was likely to be incurred on one, the more one would have to pay? They would scream to high heaven, and quite rightly. Yet that is exactly what honourable members opposite are doing to country users of the PMG Department. The Minister says: 'It costs more so you pay more'. That is a principle on which he works. I believe that mine is a valid comparison. It is setting back 23 years of progress by a Liberal-Country Party government which was aimed progressively towards the goal of bringing the amenities of the city to people in the country, of reducing the disadvantages and the dangers of isolation and improving productivity in, for instance, my electorate. When I first became the member for the electorate of Barker 18 years ago, one could not ring on the telephone from where I lived to the other end of the electorate without a delay of eight to ten hours. As a result of the expenditure by the Government to which I had the honour to belong there has been an instantaneous telephone service available for many years. Virtually every telephone exchange is an auto

The other important principle that I will mention briefly - I believe it to be important but the Government has departed from itis that if one does not get the same services from the PMG Department, one should not have to pay the same amount as somebody who receives more services. That was a principle on which we worked in respect of rentals paid by country telephone subscribers. They paid a rental which was related to the number of people they could reach with local calls. If they could not reach as many people as somebody who was a subscriber in another exchange district, they did not pay as much in rental. That seems to me to be perfectly reasonable. Such people are not receiving as good a service so they do not pay as much. Yet this Government has abandoned that principle. For this reason I want to protest on behalf of my Party and my constituents at the decision.

The final matter that I want to mention in the few minutes left to me is the wholesale process of which the Postmaster-General has given notice of downgrading official post offices to non-official status. I should like to mention just some of the post offices so affected in my electorate of which I have been notified. They are Goolwa, Kalangadoo, Meadows, Milang, Port Elliott, Robe, Willunga and Yankalilla, all of them vitally important centres to ' the people who use them. Two or three of them are new post offices which have been built only in the last few years and all of them are placed in situations where, if they are downgraded to non-official post offices, the people who at present use them will have to travel 30, 50 or 70 miles to obtain the services that they can obtain only from an official post office.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not so and you know it.

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