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Wednesday, 19 November 1986
Page: 2453

Senator MASON(10.16) —The matter of Telecom Australia needs to be grasped by the Government fairly firmly at this stage.

Senator Puplick —Soberly.

Senator MASON —I agree with Senator Puplick. I shall do my best. On page 12 of the report the Chairman, Mr R. W. Brack, states:

Telecom aims to keep its rates and charges as low as practicable, consistent with financial requirements . . .

That is a very reasonable statement. I notice also from the report that Telecom made a profit of $465m for 1985-86, an increase of $80m over previous years. Whilst this money undoubtedly comes back to Consolidated Revenue, it is arguable whether telephone users should be called on to subsidise the rest of the community, because that is what is happening. Whatever way one looks at it, it is not necessary for Telecom to make that kind of profit. If it did not make that kind of profit the community would be no worse off.

I am concerned about the annual report. Senator Brownhill had an advantage over me in that he received three copies of the annual report, whereas I received only two copies.

Senator Brownhill —But you get two calendars.

Senator MASON —I will talk about that a little later. I received only two copies of the annual report, each separately packaged, each in its own envelope and each mailed to me. The annual report is a very lavish publication. I do not see the necessity for that. It has in it a great deal of colour printing. I did a rough count and found that it has approximately 64 photographs in it of Telecom administration and staff. I cannot see the necessity for an annual report to have in it 64 photographs of its staff all over Australia.

Senator Brownhill —Especially when there are none of you, Senator Mason.

Senator MASON —I am not a member of Telecom staff or administration. I do not think it is necessary for an annual report to do other than convey reasonable information. This annual report does not convey the information that it might. It does not convey information on how much the annual report cost to produce and how many copies were sent out. I ask the Minister to get that information for me because it is very relevant to everybody in this country who has to pay for a telephone. Telecom's calendars are annual diaries which, I gather, because I have been getting them for a number of years, are sent out to selected customers of Telecom. They are quite lavish. One is a very large desk diary with brass corners; it is quite elaborately done. Another is a pocket diary, although it is just too large to put in one's pocket. I gather that the cost of all this is something like $90,000. I would have thought that it was the job of Telecom to provide a telephone service. The sooner we go back to the situation where Telecom just provides a telephone service, the better off everybody will be and the fewer complaints people will make about Telecom.

I recently asked some questions about whether people should be able to get itemised telephone accounts. No, I was told in reply, they cannot have itemised accounts because it would cost too much. But it does not cost too much to give people free desk diaries and it does not cost too much to turn out an annual report with colour photographs of 64 Telecom staff and administration. Where are the priorities? I think these are reasonable questions which need to be asked. To approach them sensibly is part of the long road back for Telecom to its proper and reasonable job which, as I say, is simply to provide a telephone service. If one looks at the general accounts one sees that the maintenance of customer services and maintenance of the network takes about $1.5 billion a year. That is the basic cost. But $5 billion is taken from the community by Telecom as its fee for providing the service.

There have been many complaints. There are very few areas in which I receive more constituent complaints. It is time the Government had a serious outside look at Telecom to try to find what its function is. Senator Brownhill made the point about television advertising. If a company such as Telecom has a monopoly, what is the point of spending huge sums of money on television advertising? One hears of other matters. I gather that Telecom provides community awards to people. Someone can be nominated for a community award for good service and Telecom will turn out some sort of certificate. Laudable though such things are, what is the point of it? Is this the proper function of an organisation which is there to provide telephones? Looking through Telecom's accounts and seeing the amount of money that is spent on administration-$232m-it seems to be time that the Senate, the Parliament and the Government had a good look at where that sum of money is being spent and whether it is necessary to spend that much. To the extent that the Government might decide that that spending is not necessary, everybody's telephone bill should be reduced. That is a consummation very greatly to be desired by everybody who has a telephone.