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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1591

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) - First of all, I wish to comment on what the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) has just said. As chairman of the Government primary industry committee, I am most disappointed that no Labor man was at that meeting. I would in no instance countenance this sort of thing. If these men were invited to the meeting, they should have had the courtesy to send a man to that meeting, even if it was a South Australian or a senator. I do not know who was invited but those who were should certainly have had the courtesy to send someone to represent our Party. This sort of thing is absolutely necessary if we are to have proper understanding and proper relations between Government and primary industry.

I have been asked to address a big meeting of dairy farmers in Tasmania next Tuesday night and on Thursday night of next week I have been challenged to a public debate at a branch of the Liberal Party at which there will be 400 or 500 dairymen and others present. That debate will take place between Senator Wright and a Mr Bessell, a Liberal Senate candidate, Senator Wriedt and myself. I do not want to run away from any challenges that are made to the Government on these issues. The resolutions referred to by the honourable member for Angas are all sound resolutions and I hope that the Federal Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) will put these propositions to our committee so that we can study them and make recommendations through him to the Cabinet.

Mr Giles - I appreciate that. They have been sent to the Minister.

Mr DUTHIE - Good, Tonight I should like to speak on what is happening to the Post Office. The Post Office is on the warpath to downgrade 284 official post offices in Australia to non-official status. On top of this, in Tasmania alone 75 more non-official offices are to be closed in addition to about 45 others which have already been closed over the last 5 years. This information has been conveyed to a union leader in Launceston in a letter dated 10 September 1973, File No. 236/1/48 from Mr Pollock of the Postmaster-General's Department. Mr Langford, who is Secretary of the Union of Postal Clerks and Telegraphists, sent me a telegram two or three days ago which stated:

Strongly protest decision to downgrade eleven grade two post offices and one grade one post office in Tasmania to non-official status. As proposal not discussed with union demand immediate halt to proposal until such time as discussions held with unions concerned. Proposal considered to be detrimental to staff already occupying positions at offices concerned and would affect service to the public in towns nominated.

The Post Office conducted a survey in 1970 under the previous Administration and out of this survey has emerged this plan to emasculate the Post Office, reduce its services and scatter its staff. We are the unlucky Government to be here when the report comes down.

What are the details of this move? The Post Office proposes to reduce 284 official offices to non-official status over the next 3 years. The State figures are as follows: 103 official offices in New South Wales to be reduced to nonofficial status; 48 in Victoria; 45 in South Australia; 39 in Queensland; 36 in Western Australia; and, 13 in Tasmania. The 13 offices in Tasmania due to be downgraded in this manner are at Swansea, Campbell Town, Oatlands, St Marys, Westbury, Railton, Beaconsfield and Cressy, all of which are in my electorate of Wilmot; Cygnet and Geeveston, which aTe in the electorate of Franklin, where the Federal member is Mr Sherry who most certainly would be opposed to this move; Savage River and Stanley, in the electorate of the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) - he too will have something to say about this; and, New Town in the electorate of Denison, a suburb of Hobart. I had the honour to open 5 of those 8 official offices in Wilmot during the past 20 years, and excellent offices they are. Now, however, they are to be reduced to non-official status.

The status of the staff of these official post offices will be downgraded in many cases. The staff in most official offices consists of the Postmaster, a postal clerk and a postal officer. When reduced to non-official status at least 2 and perhaps all 3 of these officers will have to be transferred to other places, probably to the nearest city. This movement of staff will cause a lot of heartburning and disruption of homes and families and possible setbacks in the careers of the displaced staff members concerned. They will have to sell at moderate prices the houses which they own in the country towns where they are living and will have to buy homes in the cities at inflated costs.

I believe this decision of the Post Office has been made on economic grounds. Service considerations have been and are being ignored in these matters. In recent years, the Post Office has been obsessed with profit making procedures. It is not in a bad economic position, anyway. In the financial year 1971-72 the telecommunications branch of the Post Office made a profit of $68m while the Post Office itself incurred a loss of $14m, which was reduced from $26m the previous year. These results indicate a total profit over the 2 divisions of the Post Office of $54m. Why therefore should this emasculating process be launched amongst Post Offices and staff when the Post Office in total is in credit? Why should even letter boxes - letter boxes, mark you - as well as public telephone booths have to be profitable before they will be approved by the Post Office? Why should rentals on telephones increase? Of course, there have been wage and salary rises, but does the Post Office have to increase all these and other charges, downgrade 284 official offices and knock out 75 more non-official offices in Tasmania alone over the next 3 years?

I hope the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) can answer these questions because I am very disturbed at this latest guerrilla action by the Post Office to reduce postal services in hundreds of Australian towns. This is not happening in the cities. The cities have everything. In one part of Launceston, along Hobart Road, there are 4 public telephone booths in a distance of three-quarters of a mile. Yet one cannot get a public telephone cabinet in the country where there is a distance of 28 miles between Post Office telephone cabinets. This is outrageous discrimination against country areas. And this is not all. I understand on good authority that it is proposed that as from Tuesday of next week, if a person moves from his home for a holiday and wants his mail re-directed to another address, he is going to have to pay $1 a month for that privilege; businesses will pay $3 a month.

This means that pensioners who want to stay with their daughters or sons for a holiday and want their mail to be redirected will have to pay $1 a month for that privilege or leave the mail to be delivered at their old address although nobody is there to collect it. This is another pettifogging attitude of the Post Office which horrifies me. The Post Office had a $54m profit in its telecommunications branch, yet it is getting down to this sort of pettifogging attitude. I only hope that the indiscriminate closing of post offices throughout the country and the downgrading of official offices to non-official offices will be reconsidered because the staff will be affected, the country towns will be affected and it is not justified on economic grounds.

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