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Monday, 21 June 1999
Page: 5759


Senator ALLISON (5:11 PM) —I want to follow up my first question. Minister, I was not asking that untimed local calls be available across Australia, although like Senator Schacht I agree it is time we had a good look at that—it ought to be affordable. My question is specifically about rural and remote dwellers. The ask from the Isolated Children's Parents Association—again, I think it is reasonable—was that rural remote dwellers have untimed local calls within the customer's extended zone. That is not anywhere in Australia but between neighbouring extended zones and between their extended zones and their nearest service centre. We are not asking for all calls everywhere to be untimed; simply, we are asking for some of the benefits which those who live in rural areas enjoy over and above isolated dwellers. That was my point.

There are such generous parts of this package for things like continuous mobile phone coverage along 11 of the nation's busiest highways, which again I would argue is of more benefit to urban dwellers, people who travel from city to city and those people in the not so remote regional areas. This is not going to benefit people who are a long distance from any sort of centre. I would argue that we have very generous telecommunications packages for people who already have reasonably good access, but not for this very important group of people for whom the costs of, and the lack of, telecommunications services are really serious problems. I ask the minister for his comment on my first remarks.

The next point in the submission is that the telephone rebate scheme does not address the legislated right of the majority of people who live and work in remote rural areas, unless they personally are the registered subscribers on the phone line on which they make their calls. There are many families in remote areas with children in distance education who will still pay full STD rates to contact their teacher.

The government has accepted Telstra's preferred model of providing a comparable benefit to untimed local calls instead of listening to the people who live in remote rural areas. No other people in Australia have a cap on their local call expenditure, so why should these residents be any different? Many of these isolated remote rural residents are women who through necessity teach their children via distance education. They can be caring for children with disabilities or medical problems and ageing family members, and are not the actual subscriber on the phone. So they do not receive a rebate and hence no untimed local call, as remote rural residents are experiencing.

It is very important that there can be networking between residents. They should know that they are not alone but are supported in their isolation and need for contact. And they should not have to worry about incurring a high expense. It should be at an untimed local call rate. Minister, can you respond to those very important pleas in this submission from the Isolated Children's Parents Association?