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Monday, 17 September 1973
Page: 1082

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Leader of the Australian Country Party) - The Opposition is very concerned about the increases in charges provided for in this Bill and the related Bills which are being debated at the same time. We are concerned not simply because there are rises - we accept that there must be increases from time to time - but because of the extent of the rises and the way they have been presented to the Parliament. The increases have been presented to the public in a way that has hidden the full impact of what is proposed. We are concerned also about the very severe impact of the increased charges as they relate specifically to country people and those who belong to various community groups in all parts of Australia. Most people have been led to believe, Mr Speaker, that there has been no increase in the cost of posting a letter. It is still 7c. Well, so it is but that is not the whole story by any means. For 7c you will be able to post a letter so long as it weighs no more than 20 grams - that is, so long as it weighs 30 per cent less than the maximum weight previously allowed. The cost today of posting a letter weighing say, 21 grams is 7c. When the new charges come into effect that same letter will cost 15c to post - that is, if it weighs more than 20 grams. That is the kind of thing that has not been made clear to the public. Mr Speaker, so that these and associated matters will be more clearly understood I ask for leave to have incorporated in Hansard tables setting out the effect of the proposed increases on letters, parcels, householder' service, periodicals - which include newspapers - and books.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted?

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Could the right honourable gentleman leave it for just a moment and then I will give an answer.

Mr ANTHONY - The material is factual. There are no politics in it.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are percentages in it.

Mr ANTHONY - It is my responsibility if the percentages are wrong.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will give you leave in a minute; that is the point.

Mr ANTHONY - This material is fairly important to the rest of my speech.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course it is but if you want it incorporated with my leave I have to get the percentages checked. You gave it to me only at 8.10 p.m.

Mr ANTHONY - That is true but I have to accept the responsibility if the percentages are incorrect. I am asking that it be incorporated. It is the normal custom in the House to have-

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I just want to get it checked. How about giving it to me before the debate started?

Mr ANTHONY - With all due respect I gave it to you before. There are 3 pages of tables and if it has to be checked I am afraid that it will take longer to get an answer than it will take to deliver my speech. It is not usual for this sort of procrastination to occur when one is asking to table nothing more than statistics without related quotes or political matter.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You can still refer to it. I am not stopping you from referring to it.

Mr ANTHONY - Yes but I am afraid that if I refer to it you probably then will not want to include it. I think it is only right for Hansard to know at this point-

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will agree to include it if it is in order.

Mr ANTHONY - If what is in order?

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the percentages and facts are right.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! This is not a matter for debate. The question is whether the material should be included in Hansard. It is a matter for the Government to decide whether to grant leave for the material to be incorporated. No debate is possible on this question. The question is that the request of the Leader of the Country Party for the material to be incorporated in Hansard be agreed to. What is the wish of the House?

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not at this stage.

Mr SPEAKER - The answer is no. Leave is not granted.

Mr ANTHONY - I think that a precedent has been created for a person who is leading for the Opposition. You are stifling-

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not stifling it at all.

Mr ANTHONY - You are, with all due respect. If these figures have to be checked, it is impossible for someone to do the mathematics of it in a few minutes unless he has a computer. In all the time I was a Minister sitting at the table and responsible for giving leave to incorporate documents in Hansard, 1 never once refused leave to the Labor opposition. I feel that this is an imposition on the rights of the Opposition.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not opposing it.

Mr ANTHONY - You are by refusing me leave to have the tables incorporated in Hansard in the normal process.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am waiting for them to be checked. What are you frightened of?

Mr ANTHONY - I am not frightened of anything; what is the Minister frightened of?

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I am proceeding only according to the forms of the House. The opinions of the Leader of the Country Party and the Postmaster-General about this matter have nothing to do with the Chair, and I ask that no further debate ensue on this matter. I call the Leader of the Country Party.

Mr ANTHONY - Thank you, Mr Speaker, but I think the point is well made that the Government will not allow to be incorporated a document which consists of nothing more than statistics.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We will accept it if it is right.

Mr ANTHONY - So that these and associated matters will be more clearly understood I have asked for leave to have these tables incorporated in Hansard, and I hope that when leave is granted the tables will be placed at the appropriate position in the Han sard record. I believe the Acting Leader of the House is taking an unprecedented step by not allowing something which is straightforward and simple to be incorporated in Hansard. Anyone who studies these tables will see that, no matter what the Postmaster-General might say about international standards and so on, the change to the metric system has been used by the Government really to sock the community. The Government is not concerned to avoid profiting from the change to the metric system, which it asks everyone else in the community to avoid. One wonders too why the Government has not felt it necessary to await the outcome of the inquiry into the operations of the Post Office before embarking on these very important and costly changes. This is just another example of this Government's disregard for important principles. It has set up commissions, tribunals and committees and yet it makes its own decisions. The Government pleases itself.

There are many aspects of this Bill which cause the Opposition serious concern and which should be discussed at length, but it is possible to deal with only the most serious matter. Certainly it is the most serious from the point of view of the Country Party and all people living outside of the metropolises. I refer to the extremely big increases proposed in bulk postage rates. Letter rates will go up by between 25 per cent and 60 per cent and other postage rates by an average of 30 per cent, but the bulk postage rate, involving newpapers, will increase by more than 500 per cent. Because of our concern over this matter I intend to move an amendment in the Committee stage. This amendment will provide for bulk postage charges for newspapers and periodicals to be maintained at their present levels and for the existing categories into which newspapers and periodicals are placed for postal charge purposes to be maintained. Section 29 of the existing Acts deals not only with newspapers and periodicals but also with educational, technical and other publications which, although costly to the PostmasterGeneral's Department, are fundamental to giving all Australians equal opportunities and access to information.

The Government's attitude to postage rates on newspapers, especially country newspapers, underlines the Labor Party's consistent lack of sympathy for and understanding of the conditions under which country people live.

For most Labor members of this House, and for the vast majority of their constituents, a daily newspaper is a very easy thing to get hold of. Either it is thrown over the front fence early in the morning, or bought from a paperseller in the street or at a handy newsagency. For the country dweller, the daily paper, or a bi-weekly or tri-weekly paper, is delivered some time during the morning, if the reader is lucky - and then it is delivered only to a cream-box or roadside gate, and has to be collected from there. Otherwise it comes later in the day or often the next day, or whenever there is some means of delivering it.

A large number of country readers depend on the Post Office for the delivery of their newpaper - either on the day it is published, or on the following or later days. This simple example of just one of the differences between city and country living demonstrates a common, everyday situation which Labor members utterly fail to appreciate. The whole attitude of the Labor Party to people, living outside of capital cities, illustrated throughout this year by a growing list of antagonistic decisions and actions - almost daily it seems - is once again made clear by the Government's decision to increase bulk postage rates by a staggering amount. The Government's motives are not to be found solely in the economics of the Post Office.

The Postmaster-General let the cat out of the mailbag when he told me in answer to a question recently that rural newspapers should pay the same as the general public, otherwise the public would be asked to subsidise owners of small industries who obviously vote for the country party. That was a despicable statement from a responsible Minister of the Crown. This is typical of the blatantly political approach of a Government whose Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), for example, last week went to great lengths to make it abundantly clear that the decision to site an airport at Galston was made on political grounds. He did not try to hide this fact; he almost boasted that it was a political decision. And the Postmaster-General has made no secret of the fact that the decision to bring about these savage increases in postal rates for newspapers also was made to some extent on political grounds.


Mr ANTHONY - The Minister's answer to the question said it.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What was it?

Mr ANTHONY - The Minister said he believed that people who voted for and supported the Country Party should not get concessional rates. The unfortunate part of it is that in its haste to vent its vindictiveness against country people, the Government has also hurt many other people. Church groups who depend on their own newpaper to keep in touch with their members, and to put forward their views on important national issues, also will be penalised. For some, it will be impossible to carry on publishing a newspaper.

But there has been a strong reaction too from trade union groups. They need to keep in touch with their members and put thenpoints of view, but this Government is doing something that will virtually destroy many of these small publications. This is a most dangerous prospect.

There is more need today than ever before for strong, independent voices putting their views. We have a socialist Government determined to change this nation in ways that we will live to regret. Country people in particular are almost under siege by an aggressive, oppressive Government. There must be opportunities for counter points of view to be put.

The Government is spending vast amounts of money on its own propaganda operations, with an army of people, new publications and intensive use of the media to get its story across to the mass of the people who live in Australia's capital cities. The other side of the story must be told. How many people are affected by this vicious Government action?

In country areas alone there are 339 local newspapers. Rather there were 339 until recently. It is quite likely that the number has dropped as the process of closures and takeovers continues because some rural papers are unable to cope with continually rising costs. We can certainly expect to see further rapid changes as a result of these new increased postal rates. The average weekly circulation of all these papers, in total, is more than 5 million.

These newspapers are not simply something to skim through on a suburban train and then drop into a rubbish can, or to read in the bus on the way home from work to see what the latest sensation is. The country newspaper is a vital part of the lifeblood of the country community. It is one of the few ways in which many communities can even be maintained as communities. A newspaper in a way forms part of the heart and soul of a small community. It is the historical record of personalities and events. It is a vital element in the maintenance of that community spirit which is one of the great attributes of these communities.

A newspaper helps to keep people in touch with each other, even though they might never meet for long periods. It tells them not only of events that fall into the category of news but of important things relating to their daily lives and work, such as market reports and indications of coming events such as agricultural field days and community meetings. All the events and happenings of country areas are maintained in the local newspapers. The local paper keeps people informed on the activities of many local organisations, such as local government and service organisations. This is often the only way they can be informed. In fact, in many cases local government and other levels of government are required to publish information about certain proposals for changes in regulations or by-laws.

In a city it is easy to get on the phone, to talk to people and to tell them about meetings and other activities. But in the country that costs too much, so one must depend on the local paper much more than one does in the metropolitan areas.. But the Labor Party just would not understand that. All the PostmasterGeneral can see, apparently, is a subsidy being paid, as he said recently, to a country industry, which he claims supports the Country Party. He is blind to the obvious fact that the benefits of these postal concessions do not go to the newspaper owners; the benefits go to the people who buy the paper and who have to pay postage on it. In his efforts to attack the Country Party he is really attacking and hurting all people who live in country areas, and others belonging to various groups of the kinds I have mentioned.

The savagery of the increases is clear from the following outline of what is proposed on bulk postage rates. From 1 October this year the existing basic rate of 7c per 12 oz., with a minimum charge of He per article, will rise to 7c per 300 grams. That is 40 grams less for the same amount of money. The He mini mum per article will apply for the time being. But then the Postmaster-General is really going to get stuck into the newspapers. On 1 March next year newspapers will be taken out of category A and placed into category B. This is when the trouble will really start. Take a 3 oz paper, which is about the average weight of a country newspaper. It is not small; it is not large like a newspaper which serves a metropolitan area. It weighs about 84.9 grams. At present it costs 1.75c to post it. In March next year it will cost, not 1.75c, but 7c - a rise of 300 per cent. Talk about inflation. There is no inflation as great as this anywhere in the country. Yet this is arbitrarily being imposed by the Government. Perhaps we do need price fixing when a government can carry out arbitrary action such as this. Then in March 1975 that same 3 oz. newspaper will cost 9c to post, and then in October 1976 it will cost 11c. That is assuming, of course, that the Postmaster-General does not increase postage charges generally in the meantime - and no doubt he will. But even so, these increases represent a rise of 528 per cent in the cost of posting a paper between 1973 and 1975. I suppose the PostmasterGeneral is spreading the rises over this period to give many country newspapers - and other publications - a chance to close down gradually instead of suddenly.

Another way of demonstrating the savagery of these rises is that you can now bulk post six 2-oz newspapers for 9c. In 1975 we will be able to bulk post only one newspaper for that price. The present postage bill for the 26 regional dailies represented by regional dailies of Australia is $160,000. It might not sound very much but for these small newspapers it is a lot of money. This figure will jump to $640,000 by March next year - and of course that is only the beginning. One newspaper at present is paying $9,000 a year in bulk postage. This will become $33,000 a year after March next year. How many small country newspapers can sustain this increase or expect their subscribers to pay that increased charge? The people who buy and read this newspaper of course will have to pay.

Of course, many papers weigh more than the 3 ounces I mentioned earlier, so that the postage costs will be even more than the figures I quoted. But even on those figures, a newspaper costing a subscriber 8c will cost 15c by post - that is if people kept buying it, which seems to be very doubtful. How would people in Sydney or Melbourne like to be told that instead of paying 8c for their newspaper they will now have to pay 15c for it? Circulations will fall, and the economics of many newspapers - already difficult - will be even harder.

Even in a country like Australia, which we have always thought of as a free-enterprise society - although that is rapidly changing - there are certain responsibilities resting on the government. Even in a free-enterprise society, there are certain vital national tasks which can be properly coped with only by the Government. One of them is communications. It is a responsibility of the Post Office to provide communications for the people of this nation- no matter where they live. We all know - and the Postmaster-General has told us often enough - that it is expensive to provide communications in remote areas. But that is a situation we have to accept.

There is no reason why the Post Office should be run as a normal commercial enterprise in the profit-making sense. The Post Office is an instrument of national development - it is a national sevice. It is part of the infrastructure of development and the daily living which the Government has a responsibility to provide to all Australian people. This Government will not accept that responsibility. I believe that the provision of adequate communications - the newspaper is among the most important forms of communication for country people - is a matter in which the Government has a responsibility to be involved by way of the contribution it makes towards solving the problems and meeting the costs of the distribution of newspapers and other articles to their readers. Irrespective of whether they be technical, educational or cultural publications, people have a right to be able to get them at a reasonably modest cost, just as anybody can get them in a capital city.

I repeat that there is no need for this contribution by the Government to communications to be made on a strictly economic basis. If a strict economic return were to be the criterion for government action there would be few roads in the country areas of Australia, there would be no railways, there would no extension of power lines into rural areas, there would be a limited number of airports and there certainly would be no telephones. A government which prides itself on its desire to remove all divisions from Australian society, laughable as the evidence of that desire may be, certainly has a responsibility to ensure that country people are not relegated to the position of second rate citizens in this nation. The clear indication of the Australian Labor Party to do that has become very obvious in many ways. The Australian Country Party is especially determined to fight the attack which is being made by Labor upon non-metropolitan people by the presentation of this legislation. In its efforts to strike at these people - efforts which have been very effective so far - the Government is also showing us that all its talk about decentralisation is just so much eyewash. Communications - a fundamental factor in decentralisation - are being made so expensive by the Government that industry will be very loath to move to country areas and pay the costs that will be involved.

We have had some vague references by the Postmaster-General to concessional communication rates for growth centres. We will believe them when we see them. What about the people - by far the great majority - who do not live or who will not be living in growth centres? Are they to get any benefits? That does not appear to be so. The list of actions by the Government aimed at getting at country people is apparently endless. This legislation is just another indication of the Government's desires in that respect. The Opposition regards the subject of the postage rates charged in respect of the newspapers and many other types of publications that are circulated in country areas as being so important that it will be moving an amendment to this Bill and it will oppose the passage of this legislation throughout all stages. Before resuming my seat, Mr Speaker, could I get some indication from the Postmaster-General as to whether the material I sought to incorporate in Hansard earlier is now acceptable for incorporation.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As amended, yes.

Mr ANTHONY - Who has amended it? Has the Postmaster-General amended it?

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Members of my staff say that there were a couple of errors in it.

Mr ANTHONY - I do not see where any amendments have been made.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They were made to one of the pages.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted for the incorporation of the material in Hansard? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -




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