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Tuesday, 16 October 1956

Mr HAWORTH (Isaacs) .- Whilst the committee is considering telephone exchange services, on which the PostmasterGeneral's Department will be expending £20,100,000 in 1956-57, the time might be appropriate for me to say something, very briefly, about the illegal use of telephones, which has been rather more rampant in the last six months than formerly, particularly in Victoria. I have no doubt whatsoever that this illegal use occurs quite as much in New South Wales and in other States as well. When this matter has been raised on several different occasions during question time in the chamber, I have felt that the department has not treated these offences in the serious way in which they should be treated. Constituents of my own division are rather concerned about the matter, because unfortunately in the division we have had one or two bad instances. I can readily understand the Minister's position, because it is not easy at question time to give a reply which is sufficiently comprehensive to cover all aspects, and I am very pleased that he is in the chamber at present so that he might have the opportunity of reassuring existing and potential subscribers that the department is very concerned about its responsibilities in regard to the misuse of telephones generally.

Apart from the fact that the department's property is being misused in a way which is breaking, or helping to break, the law on what is commonly called starting price betting, the capital cost of the equipment involved is very considerable. I understand that the installation of a telephone costs about £250. That cost is involved not only in installing the telephone in the home or office, but also in tying it up with the existing system of telephones and cables. In my own division recently 46 telephones were found in one flat, so that about £11,500 worth of capital equipment was tied up in those installations alone.

Mr Duthie - I guess they by-passed their federal member to get those telephones.

Mr HAWORTH - Yes, I dare say. The loss to the department occurs not only in relation to the tying up of the capital equipment involved. Most of the calls for which these telephones are used are incoming calls, so that very little revenue results to the department from the misuse of these instruments. The Postal Department should not be expected to be a detecting force for the Police Department, but 1 do think that it has a moral duty to ensure that its property is not being used to defeat the law. I believe that there is ground for much of the sense of grievance felt by many of my constituents who have expressed this opinion to me. It is natural that potential subscribers who wish to increase the size of their switchboards and, perhaps, at the same time, to obtain additional telephones, should be perturbed by the fact that there has been so much misuse of telephones during the last six months. As the Minister rightly said in respect of the incident to which I have just referred, there are sufficient telephones and cables for those in the neighbourhood who require telephone services, but I do not think that that is of much consolation to people living in country areas, or other distant areas, who see so much misuse of telephones but cannot get telephones themselves.

The Minister said that inquiries had taken place following these incidents, but in this respect also there is some reason for dissatisfaction, because the inquiries have not been open to the public. They have been held behind closed doors, so that the public has not known whether officials of the department were at fault, whether equipment in common use could be improved with a view to preventing tampering with it, or whether there was sufficient supervision. Generally, the only announcement about the inquiries has been to the effect that " The matter is under consideration ". I suggest that it would be more satisfactory to have open inquiries, because the people would then feel that the matters had been probed properly and that those responsible for the misuse had been brought to book. It is most unsatisfactory for members of the public to see notices and publicity concerning misuse of telephones, when they themselves cannot obtain sufficient telephones for their requirements.

Further, in the interests of the thousands of very loyal and honest officers of the Postmaster-General's Department, the inquiries should be held in the open so that they may be shown to be free of blame in connexion with the illegal use. I suggest that it will be very hard to convince subscribers and potential subscribers that they should share telephones with other people if they know that telephones are being used in the manner to which I have referred. I have no doubt that within a few days, or perhaps within the next month, there will be another announcement to the effect that misuse has occurred, because this kind of thing is bound to recur from time to time. If the subsequent inquiries are held in public, I think that the people would be very much more satisfied about the position. I sincerely hope that the Postmaster-General will reply to my comments regarding the illegal use of telephones, and that he will be able to give an assurance to the Parliament that when misuse occurs in the future an inquiry will be held in public.

Mr. CLYDECAMERON (Hindmarsh) 14.9], - I wish to join my colleague, the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E.

James Harrison), in commendation of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). I have always believed that when the honorable member for Mackellar gets away from the subject of communism he is well worth listening to. I should be delighted indeed if he could be given a ministerial portfolio - other than that of Attorney-General, of course, because in that capacity he would have the right to chase real or imaginary Communists. I should like to see him in a position in the Cabinet where he could give effect to the very good and sensible views that he so often puts forward in this Parliament.

Mr Ward - To whom is the honorable gentleman referring?

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