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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1962


Senator TOWNLEY(1.29) —I suppose that at this time of the day which would normally be lunch time I really should be outside this place paying attention to my health. However, I want to take the opportunity of speaking, bearing in mind that the Senate is to sit only this week and a few days of next week. I want to talk about three non-related matters that are certainly non- controversial. They are not matters of any huge import but they impinge upon all of the people of this country.

I want to mention again in the Senate the coinage of Australia. About 10 years ago I asked that a silver dollar coin be introduced in this country. Eventually a dollar coin was introduced. A silver one could not be put into circulation because the value of silver has gone up markedly since I first raised this matter. I am now suggesting that as well as a dollar coin we need a couple of others. We certainly need a $2 coin. Assuming that it will take government 10 years to bring in this new piece of currency, I suggest that we should also look at the need for a $5 coin as well. We all know that inflation continues to exist in this country. People who go to supermarkets recognise that inflation, as measured by cost of living increases, is not really indicative of the way that the cost of food is going up. I am not going to argue about whether or not the $ 1 coin has been well accepted in all quarters. However, I believe there is a need for a change in all of our currency. Apart from the $1 coin, all of the coins that are in circulation at the moment are much too large. These coins are based upon the size of English coins. If one wants to make several phone calls one needs something like half a kilogram of coins in one's pocket for a public phone.

I believe that Switzerland is a good country to follow. That country has denominations of pfennigs of five, 10, 20, 50 and 100. One franc is equal to 100 pfennigs. Switzerland also has a two franc and a five franc coin. One franc is equal to about 50c Australian and two francs is equal to about $1. So the Swiss have a coin equivalent to about $2.50. Maybe that is what we should be aiming at . Except for the five franc coin, all Swiss coins are smaller than our 20c piece . I believe that a lot of metal could be saved and it would be more convenient if we changed the size of our coins. I do not think it would be a very big deal to do this. However, it is something that should be done. Plenty of notice should be given so that when the change is made people can easily adapt machines -more and more are coming onto the markets-to accept the new system of coinage.

Coin operated machines are probably most common with Telecom Australia in respect of phones and, of course, with Australia Post in respect of stamp dispensers. I think that machines of government departments and organisations should be expected to be amongst the first to accept any new coins that are introduced. I raise that matter because I noticed the other day a $1 coin jammed in a postage stamp dispenser at Hobart Airport. Admittedly, the outside of the machine had on it the words 'one dollar'. However, further down there was an indication that the person using the machine should insert five 20c pieces. However, it really is not good enough that the slot for the 20c coins is wide enough to accept $1 coins. I believe that Australia Post should do something about those machines.

I mentioned on another occasion that Telecom had just brought out its new gold phone. However, our new gold coin will not fit that phone. Maybe its design is such that it never will. Now that one can dial internationally from public phones, surely those phones should be designed to accept a $1 coin. They should also be designed to allow for the eventuality of more valuable coins being introduced. It seems simple enough to me for that to be done. I also believe that public phones should be designed to accept 10c, 20c, 50c and $1 coins and eventually $2 coins. The metering should be based on the value of the smallest coin that is accepted by a telephone. That is not what happens at present. Telephones take a 10c piece. However, if one inserts five 10c pieces one will get only 40c worth of time because the metering is such that the time taken is deducted in 20c lots. I do not believe it would be difficult to devise a system under which 20c is taken for the initial phone call and the time pulses that come down the line for metering purposes are arranged in 10c units and not 20c units. This is not a difficult process; it is obviously done in other countries. It seems that Australia is just slow in catching up with some of the practices that are used overseas.

I believe that public phones should have their number placed upon them. There are times when people want to receive calls on a public telephone and in many countries that can be done. In England, America and Canada, I believe, one can dial to a public telephone where the call can be accepted, and I can see no reason why that is not done in this country.

Finally on telephones, it must be nearly time for telephone accounts to show all the subscriber trunk dialling details. I know the system is possible because some of the hotels I have to stay in as I move around the country have systems whereby they can tell me which telephone number I have called, at what time I made the call and the length and cost of it. If it can be done in such places and in America and Canada it is certainly time Telecom got round to doing it in this country. I have heard that the system will be introduced but that there will be a charge for it. That is entirely wrong as well. What other business could send an account which cannot always be verified and expect it to be paid and, if it is not, cut off the service? If a doctor detailed some numbers on my account and could not tell me what they were, or if they did not apply to me, I would have every right not to pay the account. One also has to pay a telephone bill within, I believe, an unreasonably short time. In these days when holidays last for a month a telephone account may arrive on the day after one goes away on holiday. One is supposed to pay it within 14 days, and one can come back and find one's telephone cut off because of the short time available for payment. There is probably a slight carryover time, but certainly the time for paying a telephone account should be at least as long as holidays within the country. Again I say that there should be no charge for Telecom giving an accurate account to those who want it.

One might ask why I worry about this. Cases have been brought to my attention of accounts being demonstrably wrong. People have gone away, nobody has been in the house, yet the accounts have been wrong; and Telecom has said: 'I am sorry, you just have to pay it'. Whilst STD calls are lumped in with local calls there will always be a little suspicion as to whether Telecom's bills are entirely accurate. I remember the Auditor-General mentioning 23 ways, I think, in which a telephone account can be in error. Sometimes it was good for the subscriber, but the majority of times it was good for Telecom.

The third matter I wish to raise concerns this country having some regard for those who drive within city boundaries. For the nth time I ask the Government to introduce a system whereby a car, after stopping and with due regard to pedestrians and whatever else, be allowed to turn left through a red traffic light. This system was introduced many years ago in the United States as a fuel conservation measure, and it works in crowded places like Los Angeles and New York as well as in smaller towns. When we look at the number of traffic lights going up in this country it feels almost as if the manufacturers are in cahoots with the people who put them up, because they seem to grow like Topsy. If they are to be put up, I suggest that this system be allowed. There is no need for tests to prove that it works, because it works in United States cities, both large and small. We would find that the frustration and the temptation to run a red light would be reduced were this sort of thing done. It would save fuel. I know from tests that we did at university that a car engine which runs when the car is stationary uses quite a lot of fuel. If cars could turn through a red light when no pedestrians were crossing-it is at the moment when the driver's light turns green that the pedestrians tear off and we have to wait for the stragglers to cross-we could ease the congestion caused by traffic in the cities of this country. Were this system to be adopted we could do away with the 'Walk' and 'Don't Walk' signs that so many people around this country pay no heed to except when under the direct supervision of a police officer. There is no need to go to a lot of trouble to do it. It could be adopted nationally overnight. If it is not to be adopted nationally, I urge the Australian Capital Territory to adopt it immediately, as could Tasmania. Of course, it would be better for the uniformity of laws if the country did it all at once, but if the rest of the country will not do it, I suggest that the progressive State of Tasmania certainly do it.

These are not matters of tremendous importance. They are perhaps not things that I should raise in the heady atmosphere of an election, but they are matters which affect the average person. They should be acted upon because they would help everyone in this country to a certain degree. Mr Deputy President, I think you will agree that the things I have mentioned are non-controversial. In closing, I am glad that we have this period during the week in which we are supposed to speak on non-controversial matters. I did not regard the first speech today, by Senator Foreman, as non-controversial. Had I not been in the Chair at that time I would have been interjecting or taking points of order about the material of which he was speaking. If we have a gentleman's agreement within the Senate, it should be abided by; and I do not believe it was by Senator Foreman.