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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3259

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - On 27 September 1973 during the debate on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill I drew the attention of the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) to the fact that the change that the Post Office had made in the maximum weight of a letter which may be posted at the ordinary rate would be a tremendous imposition on the

Australian people who, in their customary habit, send greetings via Christmas cards. At that time the Postmaster-General retaliated by saying, as reported at page 1691 of Hansard of 27 September:

The industry was advised as far back as last May of the metric weight allowance for Christmas cards;

He uttered these words together with a few others in answer to my statement that night. On reflection this would indicate that the Postmaster-General and his Department had given the Christmas card printing industry a forewarning of the provisions of the Budget. Yet the Government prides itself on the manner in which it kept secret the contents of the Budget. I would like the Minister to elaborate at some stage this evening why his Department, some 5 months after his Government came to power and some 3 months before the Budget was brought down, told Christmas card manufacturers that they had to make changes because his Department would change the allowable weight.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The change was made in the previous year. You are 12 months behind.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - The Minister has just interjected and said that the changes were made in the previous year. I will pick that one up. Why on earth did the Minister issue a Press release a few weeks ago stating to the people of Australia that suddenly he had changed his mind and that if Christmas cards weighed a little more than 20 grams they would be allowed through at the lower rate? These are some of the things we would like to have clarified, because it seems that there is a degree of inconsistency at the present time. I notice my friends in the Country Party agreeing with me.

There are a number of other questions I would like to raise tonight. This is the first Estimates debate that the Minister has had to face in this Parliament as PostmasterGeneral. These are the questions I ask: Firstly, why is it that it costs 21 cents in United States currency, which is equivalent to 15c in Australian currency to send a letter weighing i oz from the United States to Australia when it costs us in our currency from 30c to 35c to send a letter to the United States?

Mr Whittorn - It is all wrong.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) -It is all wrong. I believe that there is a system working between the Postmaster-General's Department - I am not necessarily saying that the

Postmaster-General is responsible - and Qantas Airways 'Ltd to ensure that the letter writer in Australia is subsidising Qantas for carrying mail between Australia and, say, the United States and England. The Postmaster-General's predecessor explained in this Parliament or to me privately once that because of the amount of mail that was coming out of the United States it was a lot cheaper for people in that country to send letters overseas. But I do not believe that that is so because the freight rate per lb or kilo, or whatever weight one wants to apply these days, should be the same regardless of the quantity. The freight rate is not cheaper if more letters are sent. This is a point which I would like the Postmaster-General to explain later on. I recall sitting here for 6 years during which the Labor Opposition cried for a royal commission into the inefficiency of the Post Office.

Mr Whittorn - That is right.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - My friend from Balaclava says that that is right. He was here at the same time. When the Labor Government came to power it carried out its promise and set up a royal commission into the Post Office. But before the royal commission has made its findings the Government has introduced increased postal charges. Up go the charges without the Government even examining the causes of increased costs in the Post Office. Furthermore I recall how the Labor Party, when in opposition, cried that it was time we separated the postal functions from the telecommunications section of the Post Office and how these 2 inefficient organisations had to be broken up. Furthermore we heard that it was high time that the PostmasterGeneral's Department ceased paying interest to the Treasury on capital. Yet a whole year has passed since the Labor Party gained power, and the Postmaster-General has complained about the fact that his Department has had to pay $179m in interest to the Treasury. Nothing has been done. No changes have been made. Everything is exactly the same.

I found it amusing to listen to the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Doyle) this evening defending the Post Office mail exchange at Redfern, when for years the Labor opposition decried the inefficient manner in which the previous Government had run that section of the Post Office. Tonight the boot is on the other foot. Honourable members on the Government side are defending this section of the Post Office in anticipation, but we on the

Opposition side, with vision and wisdom, have remained silent, because we know what is the Government's problem. When in Opposition, honourable members opposite indulged in cheap criticism. I look at the PostmasterGeneral at the table. I like him.

Mr Morris - He is a good-looking fellow.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Yes, he is a good-looking fellow, and I genuinely like him as a person, but the manner in which he is running his Department reminds me of a young boy with his first stamp collection. The greater the face value marked on the stamp the better the collection he thinks he has, but no one has yet told him that when the stamps are splashed needlessly with ink the real value of the collection drops. Since he has taken over the Department the smudge on the stamps has spread, and so has the cost of making any collection grown. He forgets that the more he needlessly increases the cost of postage the more people become reluctant to use his system.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - 'Look at the Government of which you were a supporter.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - The Minister says that I should look at my Government. If he turns to the Hansard record of the debate on the Estimates in 1970 he will find that when I sat on the other side of the chamber I said to his predecessor that no longer could he count on my vote for an increase in postal charges without my previously carefully and scrupulously investigating the reasons for the increase. I believed then that the Post Office had become a cumbersome, ineffectual, expensive, burdensome machine. It is time that the. Postmaster-General started to look at these costs. If the costs are increased people will become more reluctant to use the Post Office. Just as mass production makes the cost of manufacture cheaper, so the initial cost falls when people use the Post Office more. The more letters that are posted the more the initial cost of handling letters should fall. But this is not happening. The Government has resorted to increasing the costs, and this has turned many people away.

In conclusion let me say to the PostmasterGeneral that he perpetrated one of the greatest tricks I have seen in this Parliament in 7 years. He refused to increase the initial cost of 7c for posting a letter but he cut the weight from 28 grams to 20 grams under the guise of metric conversion. Then he made the cost of the next 20 grams 8c. If I go to a shop to buy 2 apples and I am told that one apple costs 7c and if I want to buy 2 apples I will have to pay 15c, I will quickly tell the shopkeeper what to do with his apples.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins}Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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