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Monday, 17 September 1973
Page: 1089

Mr KILLEN (Moreton) - I offer the view that the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) is not meeting with any boisterous display of support because no honourable member has risen in his place to say that be takes the view that this legislation is splendid in design and will bring an immense amount of relief and delight to the hearts of all of his constituents. The Postmaster-General is sitting at the table in a state of concealed distress.

Mr McVeigh - He has his heart where his tummy is.

Mr KILLEN - His heart is in anything but this legislation, I can assure honourable members of that. After listening to the views offered by my friend, the right honourable Leader of


the Country Party (Mr Anthony) I want to say this to him: I do not know what you have in mind in the way of an amendment, but if it is against these Bills you have got me for a start. Some years ago there was a character in the Queensland Parliament who bad an immense capacity to get his metaphors mixed. One day he really excelled himself when, with a flourish of rhetoric that would have done credit to Cicero, he said: 'What is this government doing? I will tell you what it is doing. It is gathering up the reins of the ship of state and it is galloping it pell mell towards the edge of the precipice.' All metaphors can be put to one side, but I think that is a pretty tidy account of the Government led by the Prime

Minister (Mr Whitlam) of which my friend, the Postmaster-General, is a member. Whether it is galloping to the edge of a precipice is a matter of opinion. But maybe we will have a closer idea of that on Saturday.

I want to say to my honourable friend, the Postmaster-General: 'You are making a thundering mess of things'. I do not intrude any partisan observations into this. I am keeping politics out of it completely. But when I look at what he has done with respect to these 3 post and telegraph Bills, his first major foray into legislation, I am genuinely upset. I would have hoped that the Minister would have sought before this debate was over to try to retrieve the position. I have always looked upon the Postmaster-General as being a person of immense reason. But I am bound to tell him that I have the gravest of doubts, after seeing these Bills, whether his family motto could be described as 'Patience and reason above all.'

Mr SPEAKER -If it is not a rude question, what Bill is the honourable member debating?

Mr KILLEN - I am coming on to the Post and Telegraph Bill. I would hope that that message would reach you, Mr Speaker, even if it had to be carried by Cobb & Co. coach. A commission has been appointed to inquire into the affairs of the Post Office. These Bills represent a complete insult to each and every one of the commissioners. Neither the PostmasterGeneral nor any other person who takes the view that he has virtue on his side will escape this position. What is the point in appointing a commission to inquire into the affairs and operations of the Post Office when these 3 Bills, utterly radical in their approach, are introduced?

Mr Speaker,you inquired what Bill I was dealing with when I referred to the motto of the Minister being: 'Patience and reason above all'. What patient man would not have said: 'I will await the outcome of this royal commission before I introduce these radical approaches'? What reasonable person would not have said: 'I will wait and see what the commissioners turn in'? The members of this commission are 3 very distinguished Australians. Whatever their report may be, it will be a painstaking one. Why ask the commission to sit? What is the point in it? I ask the Postmaster-General: What if the commission makes a recommendation which calls for the complete restructuring of the Post Office in Australia? What is his position to be then?

What will be the position of the Government? I do not know when the report of the commission will be presented. I venture the view that we would expect to see something in the nature of an interim report by the end of this year. If that is taken as an assumption and if it is taken as a further assumption that the commission will recommend, for example, the establishment of a corporation, what would be the position of the PostmasterGeneral in relation to such a recommendation?

Let me take the position a little further: The commission may recommend the establishment of a corporation and also that that corporation follow the practice adopted in the United Kingdom, that as an independent body it must return something in the nature of the bond rate on capital invested. Postal charges will have to increase still further. I say to the honourable gentleman and to those who sit with him in the Government that this a hotchpotch approach to the problems of the Postmaster-General's Department. I shall seek to summon such puny powers as I have with the hereafter to do something to any member of the Labor Party who ever mentions a sentiment to this effect: 'I believe in decentralisation'. No set of Bills is more designed to fling a wet towel in the face of those who want to live in the bush than these Bills. As the Leader of the Country Party has said, it is all very fine for those whom I might describe, without offence, as being the city slickers-

Mr Katter - The silvertails.

Mr KILLEN - The silvertails, those who live in what we could call the crepe de Chine electorates; but when we are dealing with electorates which cover immense distances this seems to be a most unfair way of seeking to understand their problems. In one of his speeches the Postmaster-General admits precisely that. 'I must hand it to the honourable gentleman. The 3 speeches which he has made on these Bills rival in brevity the speech delivered by Moses. Listen to this:

Broadly the new charges have been determined against the background that there should be no hidden subsidies and that assistance should be given in a direct form where such assistance is justified.

Indirect subsidies! That is a bit of an insult to a Parliament in which every member has an opportunity to determine for himself whether something is an indirect subsidy. The honourable gentleman is saying, in effect, that the Government has not many seats in the country, it does not like its prospects of winning votes there, so those who live in the country can go to Bourke. That is a curious collocation of language. That is exactly what the honourable gentleman is saying.

Mr Katter - It is another Galston.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Kennedy should go and have a cup of tea. I will pay for it.

Mr KILLEN - Mr Speaker, if you wait for a while I will join you. The Leader of the Country Party has put his finger right on this. Of course it costs more to deliver mail say 100 miles up the Langlo. I imagine that the Postmaster-General and some of his colleagues have never heard the expression 'up the Langlo'. If the Government wants people to live there and to maintain enterprises in this part of the world it must be prepared to offer them reasonable services. By these Bills it denies them reasonable services. Precisely the same comment applies to telephones.

Mr Whan - Oh!

Mr KILLEN - I assure the honourable member for Eden-Monaro that we have him on our ringbarking program. The same comment that applies to telephones applies to country newspapers. My friend the Leader of the Country Party is correct when he says that local news in these small provinces is of the utmost importance. If the Government intends to suffocate the basis upon which they exist, it will take from them a very substantial attraction. I am convinced that politics and the discipline of seeking to survive politically encourages one to embrace an immense variety of political weapons. I suppose that flexibility would be one of the chief weapons by which all of us seek to survive. If the House wants an illustration of that, I will give it one now. The present Minister for Science (Mr Morrison) and metrication is an example. I call it metrication. He is in charge of metrication. If you will pardon me, Mr Speaker, it is one of the many things in this world which I do not understand. I have never met a jockey, a trainer, an owner or a horse that understands the metric system. I think it has cost me a lot of money. When one looks at this Bill, one can see some of what I would describe with immense Irish restraint as the evils of metrication. I want to give an illustration of flexibility - for the benefit of the Minister for Science - when there was last, what I would describe as an adjustment to postal charges. Honourable members will notice the euphemism of language which is happily the case. This was an adjustment in 1971. What did my friend the Minister for Science say? He said:

The Government is using the Post Office as a tax collector rather than as a service agency which is what honourable members on this side of the House believe it should be.

A service agency. Look at the honourable gentleman. We should at least congratulate him - he is blushing like a beetroot. Let us be under no misapprehension as to what takes place under these Bills. Again, I am indebted to my friend the Leader of the Country Party for pointing out that in some instances the rates have boomed up 500 per cent. If this illustration given by the Leader of the Country Party seems a little distant, let me take the simple case of posting a 7 oz letter, as I think this illustrates the point completely. At the moment one can post up to a 1 oz letter for 7c. Now I am assured by those versed in metric affairs that that is the equivalent of 28.3 grams. Let me for the sake of tidiness knock off the .3 grams and say that one can send a letter weighing 28 grams for 7c. All clear? Under the proposed rate one can send a letter for the same amount of money - 7c - but the weight is limited to 20 grams. That is a 40 per cent increase. Let me say to the Postmaster-General that at Christmas time he will get no Chrissy card from me, because all Christmas cards and all Father's Day cards - and who would deny me from being sent a Father's Day card - will cost more than 7c. I was distressed when I found that that was the way the thing worked. But then I looked a little further and I thought: What is the merit? Is there any genuine economic merit in bumping up postal charges? And I came to the words of an authority, the finest authority to be cited in this land, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) himself. He had this to say - and I hope this is carved on-

Mr Kelly - His tombstone?

Mr KILLEN - Not on his tombstone. Let us keep ourselves away from death and look on the bright side of life. In 1971 the honourable gentleman had this to say:

Postal and petrol increases in the current Budget will inevitably produce an identical effect, as will payroll tax . . .

There will be immediate rises in costs to all consumers and there will be the inevitable flowthrough as these charges are passed on later in the year. All these rises could and would have been avoided by a government which genuinely sought to hold prices down.

Aha, to hold prices down. Here they are being bumped up, 40 per cent here, 100 per cent there, 300 per cent there, 500 per cent there. And listen to this, Mr Speaker, for we have not yet come to the punch line: How can we take seriously the rhetoric of Ministers on inflation when the Government makes so consistent and comprehensive a contribution to the rapidity with which living costs increase? That is the language used by the Prime Minister in 1971 when very modest adjustments were made to postal charges. Here is a most flagrant attack on country people; here is an example of socialist budgeting. Here is an example of a government which, whether it believes it or whether it understands the position, is galloping pell-mell towards a precipice. If Government supporters think I have no charity in my being I must confirm it; if I see the Government standing on the edge of a precipice I will push it.

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