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Monday, 13 September 1971
Page: 1170

Mr HURFORD (Adelaide) - One of the many disadvantages in our method of working in this Parliament is the amount of notice honourable members are given of Bills coming before them for the second reading debate. I want to place on record again that there was no prior warning given on Friday when honourable members were here that this Bill was coming on today. My own circumstances are that I arrived from my electorate of Adelaide at 2 p.m. today and went straightinto question time. It was not until the end of question time - 3.30 p.m., 1 hour ago - that 1 knew that this Bill was to come on. I say this to give plenty of warning to the honourable member who will follow me. the new Assistant Minister, the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson), who will assist the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme), that he may have to speak rather earlier than he expected. Frankly I wanted to make a substantial contribution to this debate but because we in this place ricochet from one problem to another, too little time has been allowed us to deal with this problem.

The Opposition has moved an amendment to the Bill as follows:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted because it does not provide for (a) the severance of the Postmaster-General's Department from the control of the Public Service Board and (b) the application of special telephone charges in those areas designated for accelerated development by agreement between the Commonwealth and any State and its Authorities'.

Not only has the Opposition moved that amendment at the second reading stage but also, if the amendment is not carried, it will oppose the second reading of the Bill for very clear and proper reasons, which are the same as the reasons for my Party's opposition to all the Budget recommendations. This Bill is merely part of a very bad Budget and will add to the inflationary situation in our country, which situation the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) has made paramount, he says, in the provisions of the Budget.

The first part of the amendment relates to the severance of the PostmasterGeneral's Department from the control of the Public Service Board. Since the last debate on this subject 2 very good articles have appeared in theAustralian Financial Review' on the subject of the Australian Post Office. The first article began as follows:

Heavily, burdened by its responsibility for the operation of not only Australia's postal service but also its ever expanding telecommunications network, the Australian Post Office has become fat with full-time staff now well in excess of 100,000.

This makes it Australia's biggest single employer of labour (it comprises some 47 per cent of the whole Commonwealth Public Service).

It is also Australia's biggest business, biggest Government department, biggest provider of utility services and one of the biggest consumers of public finance.

It also has some of this country's biggest management problems.

These are reflected in its financial statement for the year ending June 1970-

Wecould add also for the year ending June 1971- which reveals that, despite a continuing improvement in the profitability of its telecommunications sector, the APO recorded only a marginal profit for the year.

That refers to the year 1970. Of course, the Post Office recorded a loss in 1971. In an enormous organisation like this, the management problems are large. I have had the opportunity to work as a chartered accountant in small firms. I have spent my days not only as a professional accountant but also in commerce and industry. 1 have also worked in large firms. In many organisations efficiency is not related to whether that organisation is in the public or the private sector. Often it is related to size. There is an optimum size for all organisations. The Post Office which, as I have quoted, is the largest organisation or business undertaking in Australia, is too big, particularly in regard to personnel, when its responsibilities are added to those of the rest of the Commonwealth Public Service.

The amendment is quite dogmatic when it states that the Opposition wants the Bill to be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide for the severance of the PostmasterGeneral's Department from the control of the Public Service Board. But the amendment does not close the door on the severance being into 2 separate corporations, with the postal services on the one hand and the telecommunications services on the other. Anybody who has studied the accounts of the Post Office knows that, for the most part, the telecommunications services are paying their own way and that the great claim for extra income is for the postal services. If we can break down the Post Office into these separate units we can have not only better management and a better spirit amongst those who work in the Post Office, but also a lot more clear thinking on what postal services should and should not be subsidised by the rest of the community.

If we were able to study the accounts of a separate corporation dealing with postal services as closely as we should, we would note that the reasons for the deficit relate not only to interest charges but also to the fact that the Post Office provides welfare services and other very necessary services for the community generally. I refer to the educational services in the community. There is no doubt that at the moment the rest of the users of the Post Office are subsiding the educational services of the Post Office, as far as I can see. Bulk mail containing educational material which is being disseminated throughout the community, and which should be disseminated throughout the community at a subsided rate, because it is a good educational feature, ought to be costed separately so that it can be argued quite clearly that this should be subsidised by the taxpayer and not by the other users of the Post Office.

Another benefit of the postal services, and that derives also from the telecommunications services, is decentralisation. If we had proper accounting in separate smaller units we would be able to see much more clearly just what the community is spending on decentralisation. I do not say that decentralisation is wrong. Indeed, it is a very firm plank in the platform of the Australian Labor Party. We ought to be working steadily in this direction. But the other users of the Post Office should not be subsidising this decentralisation; the taxpayers should be subsidising it. Another aspect of postal services which is subsidised by the users of the Post Office is the defence service. This should .be brought out clearly in the accounts of the Post Office. The taxpayers and not the . other users of the Post Office should be paying for this sort of thing.

The Opposition continually raises the subject, of breaking down the Post Office into separate units so that these issues can be brought out much more clearly than they are at the moment, When I referred to decentralisation I could well have mentioned the second aspect, of the amendment, namely, the application of special telephone charges in those areas designated for accelerated development by agreement between the Commonwealth and any State and its authorities. This goes to prove the point that I made earlier about the importance with which the Opposition views the decentralisation aspects of the Post Office. We ought to provide more for decentralisation and see that it is costed separately so that it is not the other users of the Post Office who are subsidising it.

Let me refer also to the interest charges of the Post Office. If I had had time in this debate I would have quoted from the current affairs bulletin put out by the Adult Education Department of the University of Sydney in which it is argued clearly by economists - not on emotional grounds at all - that it is wrong that where so much of the capital of the Post Office has been provided out of taxation revenue in earlier years, that capital is still bearing interest charges. My argument, which I will not canvass in any great depth here, is that the Post Office cannot be immune from all interest charges. If we are to have proper accounting, a rate of interest must be charged on money that is borrowed for this organisation, but not where that money was accumulated out of past profits or revenue. There should be much more sophistication in the allocation to the Post Office of interest charges. I think I am right in saying that the interest charged to the Post Office in the financial year completed on 30th June 1971 was $141. 8m. Honourable members can imagine just what a burden this is in the operations of the Post Office when a deficit of between $2m and $3m is . talked about. Honourable members can imagine just what an impact that charge has had on Post Office accounts.

What is the result of all this, what I call bad accounting, bad management and Bad policy on the part of the Government which has not carried out any of those things that the Australian Labor Party has advocated for so long? It is a list of increased charges inflicted on the people of this country. Let me read some of them:

The. Government proposes to increase the 3 basic telephone rentals of $47, (31, and $23 by $8, $6 and 14 respectively.

Service connection fee to rise by SIO to $50.

Local telephone calls will increase from 4c. to 4.75c wilh a corresponding increase in trunk line charges.

Increased charges for the installation or renewal of miscellaneous items of telecommunication equipment:

Telex call charges will increase from 5c to 6c for each meter registration.

Those are the charges in relation to the telecommunications side only.

I turn to the increased charges in relation to the Post Office. These are:

The basic letter rate will be Increased from 6c to 7c for the first ounce.

Parcel rates on the average will bc increased by 10 per cent for domestic and 20 per cent for overseas services.

Overseas airmail letter rates will rise by Se per half ounce (2c in the case of New Zealand).

Aerogrammes will increase by 2c from 10c to 12c.

Increased charges are proposed for registered post and certified mail.

That is a list of the increased charges proposed in respect of Post Office services.

We are debating at this time not only Post Office charges but also broadcasting and television charges. Another list of increases applies to these services. We can be grateful for the fact that, as I understand it, at least the charges to- pensioners have not been increased. But that concession does not apply to telephone rentals in respect of which the charges to pensioners have been increased. Is it any wonder why We, in the Opposition - if our amendment is not accepted, which I suppose will be the case - will be opposing this Bill wholeheartedly?

I join with the honourable member for Melbourne Ports in congratulating the Postmaster-General on his long service as Postmaster-General. This may be the last Budget debate in which he will participate. He may be here next year, but that depends on when the next election will be held. In case this is the last Budget debate at which he will be present, we wish the Postmaster-General a happy retirement. But I say that if there is one thing that I would like him to do before he retires it is to take notice of these arguments that we have been putting forward for the severance of the Post Office from the Public Service Board and, possibly, the hiving off of the telecommunications section from the postal service into its own separate unit:

We would like the Postmaster-General to bring forward a White Paper on this subject. We in the Opposition do not pretend that we can get hold of all the information that we would like so that we may make up our minds on this subject. We must be fairly tentative when we put forward these ideas. We are fortified by the fact that just this has been done in the United Kingdom. We are fortified by the fact that the largest Post Office union, the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, supports the hiving off of the Post Office from the Public Service Board. We would like some more information on the subject. Why cannot we adopt the practices which apply in the British House of Commons where papers are brought down on these subjects so that the matters can be studied at greater length and depth than they are here and so that both sides can come to the right conclusions.

Before resuming my seat, I wish to mention some of the management decisions that have been taken in the Post Office over the last year- I refer to the situation in my own electorate where a rationalisation of postal delivery services is taking place. If I may be allowed to, I mention the suburbs where this is occurring and is causing great consternation. In the local council area of St Peters in the electorate of Adelaide, an autonomous local government area, the local post office is no longer to be the centre for postal deliveries. This service is being transferred out of my electorate to Norwood post office in the electorate of Boothby. A great deal of consternation is being caused by this move.

Although I could take cheap political points on this action, I realise that if we are to have an end to these ever increasing rises in postal charges more efficiency must be found. But I must say this: Where these steps are taken, I would appreciate it very much if the background papers - the rationale for this rationalisation - is put before the public. The Post Office is a public service. I would like to see the case proved as to what the savings in costs are to be by postal delivery services being transferred from St Peters to Norwood and, indeed, in the same way from Walkerville and Nailsworth to Prospect. These are all suburbs within my own electorate of Adelaide. At this time when the postal delivery is by reason of costs getting worse and worse, when only one delivery a day is being made and when businessmen are receiving their mail too late in the day, these further methods by which postal deliveries will start from a distance rather than from post offices close to the points of delivery, are an extreme worry to people in my electorate and, indeed, to me as their representative. I am prepared to argue for this move if I can see the rationale. The Postmaster-General will know, just as the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in South Australia knows so well, that I have written and asked for the details of this rationale, but I am not being supplied with it.

I would like to raise many other matters. I have only a minute remaining. One that I have recently drawn to the attention of the Postmaster-General is the matter of licences for broadcasting and television receivers in nursing homes. I know that those nursing homes that are registered under the Commonwealth do receive the relevant concession. But there are other nursing homes, not registered under the Commonwealth, which are providing a service to people, taking pensioners whom others will not take in their old age. They do not get this concession. These homes are registered under the State. I draw to the attention of the Postmaster-General again, as he is in the House, this problem about which I have written to him. I hope that he will be able to give a favourable reply.

I would have liked to talk about the Australian Broadcasting Commission but no time is available to do this on this occasion. I end, as I began, by saying that I support this amendment for greater decentralisation and for greater efficiency in the Post Office by breaking the Post Office away from the Public Service and by, perhaps, breaking its various services into further units. If this amendment is not carried, the Opposition will oppose the Bill, which is extremely inflationary in nature.

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