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Monday, 13 September 1971
Page: 1174

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) - Like the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) I rise with a measure of confusion as a result of the unpredictability of this place. I had prepared a Budget address which includes much of what I am about to say. However, I will repeat these remarks in my Budget address because I think that the subjects with which I will deal are of immense importance. May I commence by saying that I do realise that, probably of all Ministers in Cabinet and in our Ministry generally, no-one has a more demanding job and receives more continuous representations than the PostmasterGeneral (Sir Alan Hulme). I suppose we must face up to the fact that he personally in many cases would like to see things happen that are just not happening.

I wish to speak for a moment first on the question of radio and television facilities in the rural areas of our great, sprawling nation. I refer to the remarks by the Postmaster-General in his second reading speech in which he indicated that the deterioration in regard to the financial situation within his Department was due to the mounting wage costs flowing from arbitration awards. Salaries for technicians have risen by 29 per cent since June 1968. Another factor was the development of the Darwin booster station for Radio Australia. The final point - and this is the one on which I wish to concentrate - is the cost of the extension of television and television translator services to the lesser populated country areas. We were delighted when the Postmaster-General anounced a few years ago that 38 translator stations were to be provided for the rural areas, of which 14 were to be placed in the electorate I represent, in which the city of Mt Isa is located. Months and years have gone by and honourable members will understand why many people in my electorate are becoming extremely agitated because the provision of these stations is not yet in sight. In case I appear to be parochial I point out that my comments are equally relevant to other similar areas throughout Australia. However, every man to his own responsibilities.

I am immensely grateful that 4 of these stations have been installed. In addition we have seen the establishment of a commercial station in Mt Isa; but central western Queensland and the central highlands are still awaiting the additional stations and there is no prospect of them in sight. Television was provided in the capital cities and provincial cities of Australia IS years ago. I do not mind if my remarks are taken as reflecting a parochial attitude or a limited outlook. I may be called the hick of the House but that means little to me. What I say I mean. What I am about to suggest has not happened anywhere in the world but I believe that it should be part of an intensive drive to establish decentralisation in this nation. If there were a full appreciation of the fact that country areas have little else in the way of amenities and a true appreciation of the importance of de-urbanisation - I use that term for the benefit of honourable members who do not want to hear about decentralisation - much more would be done for the people in country areas. In Sydney recently the servicing of the sewerage system broke down. One newspaper said that had the failure continued a plague could have resulted. All over the world the densely populated areas are creating immense problems. Could it not be reasonably expected in these circumstances that every effort would be made to keep people away from the crowded cities? It is a strange thing that when people become settled in country areas they have no desire to go back to the thickly populated urban areas.

I have always claimed that television should have been provided in country areas before it was provided in the city areas. I may be ridiculed for making that statement, but I accept the risk. The months and years have gone by, but television has not yet been provided in the central highlands and central western areas of Queensland. I strenuously urge Cabinet - by heavens, not the Postmaster-General because I have urged him monthly, year in and year out - seriously to study this matter. Quite legitimate reasons have been put forward for the delay; for example there is only so much money to be spent and technicians are not readily available. If we are to see any sort of reasonable time programme - and I would say a reasonable time for installation would be tomorrow - other sources must be looked to in order to raise special finance for the purpose. Advertisements should be placed overseas for technicians. That is done for school teachers and medical personnel. However, I will get back to that subject in a moment.

Turning now to other services, people in country areas are to pay a considerably increased radio licence fee, and the same television licence fee as is paid by people who live in cities served by 4 television channels. Two channels are available in many provincial cities and 4 are available in the capital cities. The country areas which have television are served by 1 channel and sometimes reception is quite dicey because of storm interference and distance. There has been much discussion and conjecture about the effective range of country television stations. I have made it my business to check very carefully and I have found that reception is excellent up to 30 miles from most country towns where television transmitters are operating. One property about 37 miles, from my home town of Cloncurry has quite adequate television reception; that is in billy, metallic country which is not particularly conducive to perfect television reception.

I plan to be quite parochial in discussing television charges. I think I can safely claim that there was never a time in the history of this country when people in rural areas were less able to meet increased costs. Honourable members who represent areas similar to that which I represent will concede that no areas in Australia has been so drastically affected economically as the far western area of Queensland. I will reinforce that point. The people there have had years of continuing drought. They grow wool and they cannot diversify. If that is not a formula for utter economic disaster I do not know what is. We have been stressing several points over a number of years but I do not know that we have made very much progress. Certain concessions have been granted and we do not deny that for a moment.

However, 1 believe that in one move the Government could gain the approbation of all the people affected in rural areas; that would be by approving of a local call charge to the nearest business centre. That is the whole crunch of the economic difficulties in regard to an effective service. 1 will illustrate what I mean by an effective service. People living in town can ring the baker to order bread and perhaps he will deliver it. We have said this time and again and it is no less true now. In a country area if you want to order a couple of loaves of bread by telephone it is probably necessary to have an extension. As from 1st October it will possibly cost 80c to order a couple of loaves of bread which are worth about 40c. That is a homely example of what happens on a far greater scale.

Country people will be very reluctant to use their telephones in future. The telephone service is expected to contribute to the development of this country. People are advised to go to the inland areas and live there in contentment, but the telephone service is getting beyond the reach of the average person in inland areas. I wish the Postmaster-General could persuade his advisers to agree to give local call charges to the nearest business centre a trial period of, say, 6 months. I very much doubt that there would be much drop in revenue. If local call charges are applied to the nearest business centre the wires will be burning up with calls and there will be greatly increased revenue.

I turn now to a much more , serious matter that is affecting people in the rural areas and particularly in Mt Isa. In many country areas in Queensland and elsewhere people are told that they can expect to have a telephone installed in 1, 2, 3 or more years, but not in the foreseeable future. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett), Senator Lawrie and 1 had a long discussion with the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Brisbane. In a very clear and reasonable manner the difficulties were pointed out to us and I again refer to them now. They are lack of finance and a shortage of technicians to carry out installations. We are not arguing about that, but we say that a solution must be found. Surely one would not expect reasonable people to be told that they may receive a telephone in 1, 2, 3 or more years. 1 wish to refer to the settlers in the brigalow areas. The brigalow scheme is a great scheme designed to open up and develop land. It has become popular these days not to refer to development. This might be all right. We do not want to increase the acreage of wheat or of cane but there are other industries which could be developed, particularly the beef cattle industry. As I will mention in my speech on the Budget, by 1980 it is expected that there will be a shortage of 185,000 head of cattle for the Western European market, not to mention other countries. We cannot stifle development in the beef cattle industry. Perhaps I will be accused of stimulating development to a saturation point in this industry. What are we to do? Are we to close shop and say: 'Australia ceases to be in business'? If that is done this nation will begin to decline in the most serious manner. We will produce the goods and go looking for markets.

Let me return to the settlers in these brigalow areas. Most of them are in my electorate or in the electorate of the honourable member for Maranoa! In these areas men and their families live in half a galvanised iron shed. I have said this in this House time and time again and I will continue to say that this is probably the type of pioneer about whom we once wrote poems. These men represent the hard, rugged, down to earth Australian characteristic which could well be lost over the next 25 years unless these problems are attended to. I repeat: They live with their families in one half of a galvanised iron shed. The rest of the galvanised iron shed is used to store their equipment, their implements, their seed and so on. They are happy people but have the feeling of insecurity that comes from not having communication with the neighbouring town. Some of them are 30, 60 to 100 miles from the nearest centre. They do not have a telephone and they have little hope of getting one in the future.

Let me turn to the flourishing city of Mount Isa. Again I am getting parochial but I think I am in a unique situation. This city provides employment for thousands of our Australians. Even in the shaky, insecure state of the mining share market today this city is outstanding. Everyone looks to the great monumental operation of Mount Isa Mines Ltd as being secure and providing a future for thousands of our Australian workers and providing a great avenue of wealth for this nation. Business people are moving into the city of Mount Isa to provide full services and commodities. The position out there has become quite chaotic. The PostmasterGeneral knows - I have referred it to him again and again - that business people and others are told that they may get a telephone in 1, 2, 3 or more years time but certainly not in the foreseeable future.

I am sure that Mr Peterson, a trader, will not mind my quoting what he said about this matter. He is a public spirited man. An article in 'The North-West Star' reads:

Mr Petersonsaid that his firm had lost a $10,000 deal through delays caused by not having a telephone.

Telephones will become 21st birthday presents in the future', Mr Peterson quipped.

When your child is born you will put his name down so that he can be on the telephone when he turns 21.'

That might sound a little facetious, but here is a responsible citizen who is so disturbed about the situation that he has gathered together a group of people to form a special organisation to try to place their case more emphatically before the Minister. I discussed this matter fully with Dr Thomason, who came to my office in great distress. I will read from another newspaper article:

More than half Mount Isa's general practitioners could be without telephones next year.

The story is that the general practitioners of Mount Isa are moving from their present premises into a new building. Their new medical centre is provided with more modern and much more streamlined medical facilities. In a great throbbing, accident prone city such as Mount Isa adequate and readily available medical facilities should be provided. The situation is that the medical practitioners will move into a new building but they have been told that they may not have a telephone for years to come, as there is no cable in the vicinity. This is completely unacceptable. It is intolerable. The newspaper article continues:

Dr A.T. Thomason, one of the partners and North West Queensland branch president of the Australian Medical Association, said yesterday that application for telephones cannot be made until the new building has been approved.

But he said that the centre has unofficially notified the Postmaster-General's Department and approached the member for Kennedy, Mr R. C. kattar, to relieve this ridiculous situation'.

And it would be ridiculous to have more than half of the 7 general practitioners in the town not on the 'phone,' he said.

This is a most serious situation. I would just as soon get out of this job in a flash unless-

Mr Daly - Hear, hear!

Mr KATTER - It is all very well for honourable members opposite; they are not involved. They live in their city areas and they have all the comforts they want. None of them would really know how to tackle a situation of this nature. They never have to face up to it, and they are not really interested. I do most earnestly appeal to the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon). I am trying to get some mates for our Postmaster-General who will stand full square with him and not say: 'We do not have the finance and we do not have the technicians, so we cannot give you a phone for another 4 or 5 years.' A solution has to be found promptly. I say again - I will say it in my speech on the Budget tomorrow, the next day or whenever it might be - that an approach should be made to raise a considerable, significant amount of money from, if you like, the World Bank. I believe that we should advertise for technicians from one end of the world to the other.

Mr Daly - I rise to a point of order. Is it in order for a member of the Australian Country Party and a member of the Government to attack his own Government which has been in office for 22 years?

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