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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 568


Mr SLIPPER(10.52) —Tonight I intend to be non-partisan. I do not intend to be controversial in any way, except to say that I totally dissociate myself from the outrageous allegations made by the honourable member for Lindsay (Mr Free) and the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Kent), allegations which would be rejected by the vast majority of people in this country, who know what a tremendous contribution to political life the Premier of Queensland has made over his almost 40 years in the Queensland Parliament. But tonight I intend to talk about Telecom Australia.


Mr Cleeland —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: Honourable members have been called outrageous, and the honourable member for Fisher has made a slur upon other members of this House. I think he should be forced to withdraw that remark. I am not an outrageous person.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order.


Mr SLIPPER —For most working people the sound of the telephone ringing after 10 p.m. has the potential to destroy a good night's sleep. In my experience, unless one has confirmed that one will ring at such a late hour, one runs the risk of receiving a hostile reception such as that which the honourable member for Lindsay (Mr Free) received just a couple of minutes ago. To ring at a very late hour is definitely not the way to win friends over the telephone.

Telecom, however, obviously believes that people are willing to make telephone calls past 10 p.m. Although some people may not yet be aware of the fact, the cheaper economy subscriber trunk dialling rates will now apply only from 10 p.m. rather than from 9 p.m. as before. Telecom claims this is because tens of thousands of people were wanting to use the lines each night and were causing congestion to the system. Recently I took the step of calling publicly on Telecom to reconsider this move and make the lower rates available from 8 p.m. each week night. This move I believe has considerable public support. Already I have had numerous people contact me to express the opinion that the present arrangements are almost useless to a large number of Telecom consumers.

Most people have expressed the view that even the prior arrangement, when the economy rate commenced at 9 p.m., was better than now, as this at least allowed those people using the service the opportunity to make a number of calls before the lateness of the hour became restrictive.

Unfortunately those now wishing to use the cheaper rate are having to think twice before ringing after 10 p.m., because of the fear of waking up the person being called. Daylight saving in the southern States also contributes to make the timing of the rate useless for people wishing to telephone relatives or friends in other parts of Australia. As one constituent pointed out in a letter to me, it is now impractical to use the rate to keep in contact with interstate relatives.

For elderly people who use the telephone as the main source of communication with their family members, the changed time slot places a further strain on the household budget. Pensioners and those wishing to take advantage of the economy rate will now be forced to make the calls later in order to qualify for this discount. It is more realistic, however, to expect that people will either not call or call earlier and pay the full charge. As I have indicated previously, I believe the idea of an economy rate is a good one. Consumers should be encouraged, not discouraged, to use this service.

Telecom's excuse for changing the time slot-that thousands of people were ringing at 9 p.m. and causing congestion-is proof that people are willing to use the service extensively if it is provided at a reasonable hour. Since first making the suggestion I have not encountered one person opposed to the introduction of the rate from 8 p.m. Quite simply, people are in favour of having a longer period in which to take advantage of the lower rates. It seems logical that if this occurred, people would begin phoning earlier and this would then help to prevent the 9 p.m. rush.

Instead of making it less convenient for people to use the service, Telecom should look at upgrading its present system and extending the available time period. Unfortunately Telecom's actions in this matter have served only to distance it further from the public. Telecom stands not only to win back dissatisfied consumers with a longer economy STD period, but also to increase its overall business with more people being prepared to take advantage of the service at a reasonable hour. I am sure that if Telecom surveyed consumers it would find overwhelming support for the concept of a longer economy STD period.

The new campaign `Australia, we have a promise to keep' outlines Telecom's claims to be more responsive to the needs of consumers. The suggestion to introduce the economy STD rates from 8 p.m. gives it the ideal opportunity to show the general public that it is indeed serious.