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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 351


Mr IAN CAMERON(10.45) —I take this opportunity to bring up the subject of the new Countrywide Calling program which has been introduced by Telecom Australia. This follows a notice of motion which I put to the House this morning . The Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) supports this new concept in his Press release of 12 August 1983. It involves the rearrangement of the old Liberal-National Party community Access 80 which allowed everyone to call his local business centre for a local call charge, which on 1 October will become 15c. That date is significant to the pricing arrangements, because Telecom will increase its charges on that date following Labor's mini-Budget, which asked Telecom for another $100m in interest payments which it owes the Government. Therefore, the Australian Labor Party has increased telephone charges in Australia. The Countrywide Calling concept is very good for people who live in isolated areas, but if one happens to live outside the 32-kilometre radius from one's exchange, one will pay 5c a minute for a call. Under the old community access operation a person could ring his local business centre for the cost of a local call, which under the old charges was 12c but which under the new charges will be 15c, without any timing.

Those of us who live outside the 32-kilometre area are being discriminated against by the Labor Party. Not only are people being discriminated against in the charge for local calls, but they will also continue to be discriminated against in the conversion of manual exchanges to subscriber trunk dialling exchanges. The charge for people to convert is presently a maximum of $600 and they are the only Australians who are expected to pay to have their manual exchange converted from manual to automatic. The Minister for Communications claims that, while some people would notice an increase in the cost of a small number of calls from local to community call rates, this would be outweighed by a big reduction in other calls.

I argue that the bulk of calls by most people are made to persons living in the local community. I would like the Minister to look at the charging arrangements that are associated with the Countrywide Calling program. This program was introduced to help the introduction of digital radio concentrators which will be established in the far flung areas of electorates such as Maranoa. They have a radius of 600 kilometres with boosters every 40 kilometres. No doubt the new charging arrangements will be of benefit to people in these areas. However, a large number of rural subscribers who are living in what I call the middle settled areas will have to pay a lot more for their local calls. I believe that it is up to the Minister to look at this problem and see whether it can be rectified. If anybody makes a call beyond 64 kilometres he will have to pay on a time basis. This is the first time that such an imposition on country people has been introduced. I am still one of those people who believe that we ought to be able to contact our nearest centre of business for a local call charge, because our cousins in city Australia are able to do exactly that.