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Wednesday, 9 March 1966

Mr HULME (Petrie) (PostmasterGeneral) .- Mr. Speaker,I thank the honorable member first for having given me notice that he intended to raise these matters this evening in the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House. I thank him for his comments about television in the Eden-Monaro area, particularly with reference to the proposed translator station in the Cooma region. He was not quite correct when he said that I was always opposed to this proposal. I was not opposed to it at all. I considered that the most desirable service for the area would be provided by the issue of a full licence to an applicant company. Last year for the second rime in some five to seven years, I caused applications for a licence to be called for this area. When no satisfactory application was received, I agreed that there should be a translator station and I would hope that at some future time there may be another translator station in another important part of this area. I appreciate the comments of the honorable member. I am pleased to see the extension of television to as many places as possible having regard to the economic considerations associated with the extension of television.

The honorable member for Eden-Monaro referred next to the charges from the Jindabyne South telephone exchange to Cooma, lt is as well to look back a little before making a judgment on this matter. The honorable member commented on the E.L.S.A. scheme and suggested that it was not worth while. The E.L.S.A. scheme was developed and introduced in 1960. When it was introduced the Postal Department lost, from a revenue point of view, no less, than 40 million trunk line calls because people who had been called upon to meet a trunk line charge were brought on to a local call basis. To suggest to me and the House that the forgoing, if I might use that term, of 40 million trunk line calls is not a service to the community is, of course, ridiculous. This figure indicates the advantage that has been accrued to the people of Australia. It was said by the Posmaster-General of the day, my predecessor who introduced this scheme, that in the development of these local call areas there would be, of course, a few people who might be disadvantaged because of it. But as with many other things which Governments have to do, we took into consideration primarily the greatest good to the greatest number of people. I might mention that when I talk of the local call area, I am speaking not of the 80 square miles within which people could make a local call prior to the introduction of E.L.S.A. but to the extension of that area to 800 square miles. The area brought within the local call area was ten times the area prior to the introduction of E.L.S.A. So, again, on this basis to say that E.L.S.A. has not been of advantage to the people of Australia would not be correct.

Let us look at the service from Jindabyne South to Cooma. In general terms, the area served on a local call fee basis is an area within 20 miles of a particular exchange. Near the metropolitan areas this is the provision. But there are many areas in the country where we believed the community of interest demanded that we go a little further than 20 miles. So we went to 30 miles. Jindabyne South is 38 miles from Cooma. Ii we extended the provision to 40 miles, many members would rise in the House and say: " Within my area, there is a place 42 miles from a particular centre and we want this brought in, too ". What is to be the limit of such extensions? I suggest that this would mean a complete re-organisation of finances in relation to telephones throughout Australia. We have organised the charges in relation to the costs of providing telephones to the Australian community. If we have to make this sort of re-adjustment - and this is not the only one for which I have received a request in the past two years I have been in this position - we will have to review rentals and the charges in relation to all telephone calls. I submit to the House that merely to look after a local situation like Jindabyne South to Cooma is, having regard to the whole of Australia, an unreasonable attitude to expect the Post Office to adopt.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But does not the Minister understand that they were paying only the local call fee before?

Mr HULME - As I have said, in this situation a few people were disadvantaged, but the vast majority were substantially advantaged. I feel that we were justified in looking at this matter on that basis. The honorable member referred also to subscribers connected to the Michelago exchange who, because the exchange is continuous and because it is in the Canberra local call area, are required to pay an increased rental. This applies to every area throughout Australia where this situation occurs. The honorable member said that the Post Office is responsible for this situation, but I remind him that the proposed charges were submitted to the Parliament and that the Parliament endorsed the charges which are now being made for the types of services which are being provided. I know that we can all argue about details, but again I say to the honorable member that, if we do not accept the position, then we ask for total reorganisation of charges throughout Australia. It was determined by the Parliament that all those who were in the Canberra area would pay the rental which applies to all capital cities plus Newcastle and Canberra. People in these cities have a tremendous advantage because they have such a substantial number of people whom they can contact on 'a local call charge basis. I believe that the constituents of many other honorable members would be delighted to have access to the number of people that those in Michelago have available to them. I believe that many members of the Country Party represent constituents who, while paying increased rental, would be very pleased to have the opportunity to make local calls into a much greater area.

What has been done has been determined by this Parliament. Therefore, every one of us has a responsibility for what has been done. I do not feel that this is a matter which should be directed solely against the Post Office because the Post Office does as we request it to do. I must admit, of course, that I made the recommendation to the Government, but the Government accepted the recommendation and Parliament endorsed it. I believe that if honorable members consider this question in relation to the overall Australian situation, having regard to the telephone services which are provided and the charges which are made - and they must think in terms of the tremendous distances for communications - they will realise that most Australian people are well satisfied with the service that they are receiving, notwithstanding that here and there some people may appear to be paying a disproportionate charge when it is compared with charges in some other area. I say to the honorable member for EdenMonaro that I can hold out no hope that any reconsideration I can give will alleviate the situation in Jindabyne South or in Michelago.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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