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Thursday, 16 September 1971
Page: 1491

Mr CREAN (Melbourne Ports) - 1 should like to say a few things about this proposition which the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme) rightly describes as being a quite radical change. But what seems to be missing all through the statement is any suggestion that the people who will be vitally affected by this re-organisation have been consulted in advance. I know that quite a number of my colleagues, particularly those in the Queensland area, have already had representations made to them by the people who are likely to be affected.

Sir Alan HULME (PETRIE, QUEENSLAND) - We have had discussions with staff associations.

Mr CREAN - 1 am glad to learn at least that there has been some discussion with the staff. But the interesting thing is that what is claimed to be an example of decentralisation actually will turn into further centralisation. Where there are now 56 districts there will be 25 districts. There is the rather astonishing suggestion, too, that whilst this proposal applies to telecommunications activities, a similar study is already under way into activities associated with post offices and mail services in the country. 1 suggest that members of the Australian Country Party should be a little concerned about what is involved here.

Dr Patterson - Country Party members are not interested.

Mr CREAN - At least it appears that the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) is concerned, and I am glad to know that there is some glimmering in the Country Party of what is involved in this proposal. It is quite easy to say that only 40 people in each of the 25 districts may have to be transferred. But that is 1,000 people out of a total unit of approximately 10,000. Very human problems are involved. If I gleaned anything from some of the things that were said in a debate earlier today, I gather that if one moves from one country town to another it is not easy to dispose economically of one's house, and I do not know what will be the opportunities for acquiring a similar house in the town to which one moves.

I suggest that this only highlights the things that we suggested in the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill recently. There ought to be a re-examination of the structure of the Post Office. In theory, what is proposed in the re-organisation of the Australian Post Office telecommunications activities seems to me to have some merit, but this does not apply to the way in which it is being handled. In recent times we have had a number of examples of unrest among Post Office staff mainly in the metropolitan areas. I suggest, with all respect to the Postmaster-General, that this proposition will present difficulties for people in country areas. It is intended to close down centres in cities like Cairns and Mackay, and to transfer the activities to cities such as Maryborough.

Dr Patterson - And Roma.

Mr CREAN - Roma is another city which will be affected. I have not had time to study closely the map which is attached to the Minister's statement. All I know is that this proposal was kept reasonably secret. The Postmaster-General paid me the courtesy, as he always does, of providing me with a copy of the statement a couple of hours in advance. Actually, I lost the original copy and he furnished me with another one. But today some of my Queensland colleagues have come to me and said: 'Do you know anything about the changes going on in the Post Office?', because they have already had telephone calls from some of the people who will be affected. It may be that only 35 or 40 people in each district will be affected, but this is a rather bland sort of a way in which to announce this change - to say that it will have some effect on Post Office staff. If it has any effect on Post Office staff I suggest that there should have been closer consultation with them. The PostmasterGeneral said that be has had discussions with the staff associations. Perhaps he has had discussions with the staff associations in Brisbane or Sydney or Melbourne, but this proposition vitally affects people who currently are living in country districts. The Postmaster-General indicated that the re-organisation will begin to operate in the first quarter of 1972. I suggest that he ought to give consideration to consulting with the local people concerned in the particular districts. The implementation of the proposal will mean that people will have to move from the towns where they have lived all their lives and where their children are at school. These people will be told that they have to move.

In his statement the Postmaster-General made the delicate suggestion that 'normal staff wastage will make minimal the number of employees who may eventually need to be compulsorily transferred'. There are some rather disturbing undertones. I know that the Postmaster-General is not the kind of man who goes into these things suddenly. I suppose that there have been discussions. But certainly in the statement there is no indication that there has been any really serious discussion with the people who will be transferred. It is all right to say that the changes are in accordance with the latest management techniques and so on, but there has been no reference to the human problems which will confront those who may be affected. I do not want to say any more about this proposal this evening because I know that one or two of my colleagues, mainly from Queensland, are deeply concerned about the possible implications which this re-organisation will have for their constituents. I hope that the House will be tolerant and give those honourable members a few minutes in which to speak, even at this late hour tonight.

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