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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3267

Mr KING (Wimmera) - I have heard some rather strange addresses in this chamber over many years, but the last one really takes the cake. The honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) seemed to glory in getting stuck into the Australian Country Party and Liberal Party on the ground that they had taken no interest in telephone charges. Some of his statements are very hard to understand, and it is difficult to fathom his reasons for mentioning some of those matters. He said that we had put up a sham fight. Who was responsible for the change in rates for country newspapers? It was members of the Country Party and some of our colleagues in the Liberal Party, headed by the honourable mem-., ber for Gippsland (Mr Nixon), who secured it, although the first man to rush outside and claim credit for it was the honourable member for Riverina, who is the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby). Who was responsible for getting a stay on land line rates? Was it not the Country Party, which the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen) has been so generous in supporting?

I pay tribute to the personnel of the Postmaster-General's Department, for whom I have terrific admiration. In spite of all the comments from various sources, to my mind these officers, both male and female, are genuine and hardworking. Though there may be an odd slacker towards the tail end, most of them are certainly hardworking and deserve all the credit that we can give them. I shall go further and apply these comments to the Public Service as a whole. There are far too many critics of the Public Service who do not understand the duties of public servants and do not know what they are talking about.

This has been an interesting debate in which Government supporters have made all sorts of strange comments. The first to set the ball rolling was the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James). It is strange how things have changed. Twelve months ago the Labor Party was terribly critical of the PostmasterGeneral's Department and everything that it stood for. Tonight, the honourable member for Hunter turned a complete somersault and tried to praise the Department. If any Government is entitled to credit for improvement in this Department, it must be the previous Government. There have been few changes in the activities of the Post Office since the Labor Party attained office; the real impact of any changes made by the present Government has not yet been felt. So any credit for improvement must go to the previous Government. The Country Party has always adopted the same line on matters affecting the PostmasterGeneral's Department. No Party or individual members have been more critical of the various weaknesses in the Department than the Country Party and its members. Having said that, I want to say also that where credit has been due it has come from honourable members in this corner of the chamber. But we certainly will continue to be critical where we find that there is a weakness. The honourable member for Shortland has just said that we were silent on telephone charges. How silly can you get.

Mr Morris - You were not even here.

Mr KING - Repeat that interjection. I did not hear it. The honourable member is not game even to repeat the interjection now. The Country Party and members on this side of the House who represent country electorates have always been vocal on issues involving postal and telephone charges for the very good reason that we realise the importance to country people of both the postal and the telephone side of the Department. I think of all the urgent occasions on which the telephone is so important. I think of the times when perhaps for health reasons, sickness, fire and business you just cannot walk out your front gate and go around the corner to do your business. In these outback areas you depend upon the telephone. This is why it is so terribly important to these people. The honourable member for Shortland and others on the Government side ought to remember the old saying: 'The mail must get through'. This is why we in this corner of the Parliament are so critical from time to time of statements that have been made. I agree with the honourable member for Griffith (Mr

Donald Cameron) that the Postmaster-General is a nice fellow. Of course, he is a nice fellow; but I do not always agree with what he says or does. I was very perturbed, as many thousands of people in country electorates were perturbed, when he made that famous statement that it would be cheaper to buy the farm than to put a telephone on it.

Let me get back now to this question of increased rates raised by the honourable member for Shortland. It may be that we defended a case in favour of a reduction of postage rates for country newspapers on the proposal put forward by the Postmaster-General. I am not ashamed of that. I want the honourable member for Shortland to know that I have no financial interest in any country newspapers; I think that I can say that for the bulk of the Country Party members. The basic minimum postage rate for the average newspaper prior to the introduction of this Budget was l.Sc a newspaper. The proposal was to increase the charge to 1 lc over a period of, I think, 3 years. What sort of an increase is that? The Country Party could see what would happen. I must say that I am grateful to the PostmasterGeneral for listening to and accepting our recommendations. But even so, there is a 100 per cent increase. I do not think anyone could say we are looking after country newspapers because of our personal interest. The same consideration applies in regard to other increases. I have a vivid recollection of a previous occasion on which this Party objected strongly to some increased trunk line telephone rates. We succeeded on that occasion because we believed that they were unreasonable. The Postmaster-General and the Government of the day, which was incidentally a Liberal-Country Party Government, accepted the recommendation of the Country Party back bench members. We will continue to oppose any unreasonable costs irrespective of who introduces them.

I want to mention quickly some of the other postal rates. The simple, plain old letter used to cost 7c for 28 grams and the PostmasterGeneral says there is no change in the rate. That is right. There has not been any change in the 7c. But what the Government has done is to reduce the weight for the 7c charge from 28 grams to 20 grams. So for a letter weighing 28 grams that could have been posted prior to the introduction of the Budget for 7c you do not now pay 7c; you do not pay a slight increase; you do not pay double the amount; you pay more than double. The charge has increased from 7c to 15c. Do not tell me that that is not an excessive charge. I cannot see how the Postmaster-General or any other member of the Government can justify that one.

The other matters to which I want to draw attention is the reclassification of post offices. I know that many people from both sides of the House have been very critical because the Postmaster-General has instigated inquiries into the possible downgrading or reclassification of some 300 official post offices and the possible closure of 1,000 non-official post offices. Seven post offices in my electorate come within the first category and forty-six come within the second category. In all fairness I want to say that if the PostmasterGeneral's Department has to increase rates because of a shortage of money or it is not making sufficient profit or, to put it in another way, it is showing a huge loss, any savings that can be achieved of course must be looked at.

I want to defend the Department in one respect. The Department is carrying out an investigation into post offices but this does not mean that there will be an automatic downgrading of 300 post offices to a non-official status. Each of these post offices will be looked at individually. No doubt some of these post offices will be downgraded, but certainly not all of them. My guess is that many of them will never be downgraded. When it comes to the 1,000 non-official post offices-

Mr Corbett - They will have to look at them.

Mr KING - Naturally the Department will have to look at these post offices. I have some figures which may interest honourable members. Some post offices in my electorate show a return against cost of as low as 27.47 per cent plus about 10 per cent income from their other activities. The situation in regard to nonofficial post offices is even worse. One post office in my electorate is showing a return of 3.65 per cent plus, naturally, a few other incidentals.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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