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Wednesday, 18 September 2002
Page: 6684

Mr BILLSON (7:55 PM) —It is great that we are talking about the family tax benefits made available by the Howard government. How remarkably generous they are in comparison to the assistance available to Australian families under the former government. I am pleased that they are getting that kind of attention, because they are a significant step forward in the assistance that the Commonwealth government provides families, at a time when a lot of families are under stress financially and balancing their work and home lives.

But that is not the reason for my rising tonight. I mentioned earlier this week my proposal for TOMI, which I described as the Telstra outer metropolitan initiative. It is a measure modelled very much on the country-wide success that rural and regional Australia has been benefiting from in improved access to modern telecommunications technologies for the outer metropolitan communities; that is, those interface communities that are neither city nor country. They are the ones in the middle, where you see great pressures on infrastructure because of growing residential neighbourhoods and where new enterprises, new manufacturing businesses and new service providers are being established all the time. Often the great mystery that they have is finding their way through the maze and fog of different technologies available to those developing outer metropolitan areas.

My proposal for TOMI was a dedicated team of outer metropolitan Telstra area managers who had a whole of business responsibility to work with households, small businesses and educational institutions to find telecommunications solutions and broadband services that met their needs. Those `go to' people would be the ones that would work their way through the internal machinations of Telstra and work through the different technologies to provide those outcomes. In concluding my remarks earlier this week, I said that there were other things I wished to mention of a similar vein. I speak specifically of the local telephone directory for the greater Frankston-Chelsea area and directory assistance services.

In the greater metropolis of Melbourne, the providers of telephone directories—previously known as Pacific Access and now known as Sensis—apparently did some market research. That market research, according to the people that run those organisations—those directory providers—concluded that consumers were looking for a purchasing guide as their phone book. They were not looking for a coordinated, integrated telephone directory that embraced both the local business houses and the White Pages residential listings; they wanted a buying guide. That is what I was told when I raised with Pacific Access, now Sensis, the deep frustration and disappointment felt within the greater Frankston area—the people I represent—about no longer having a dedicated community directory that included the neighbourhoods from Chelsea down to Frankston and out past Langwarrin.

That measure has been justified by Sensis as being in keeping with their market research. I have never met anybody, not a single person, who thinks that that change has been a good idea. In the outer metropolitan areas around most of Australia's major capital cities, there still is a strong sense of community pride and a strong connection between individuals, their local businesses and their community infrastructure. A lot of people like to support their local traders, but a lot of people like ready access to convenient phone numbers—the phone numbers of their friends, acquaintances and family members. That is what the case used to be in the area that I represent around the greater Frankston area.

There used to be a single directory that had Yellow Pages and White Pages in it. If you were ageing—we are a retirement mecca—and your grip was poor because of deterioration of your hands, you did not have to lug around these huge greater Melbourne metropolitan directories. These are the directories you often see advertised as being good for steps, so you can reach up on top of the cupboard—they are absolutely huge. You should not expect everyone to be Conan the Barbarian, lugging one of these things around and wading through 3½ million Melburnians to find the name and telephone number of your neighbour. But that is what we have to do now. I think that that has been an error, and I am calling on Sensis to change its ways. I will mount the case at another time when I get a further opportunity.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Order! It being 8 p.m., the debate is interrupted.