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Wednesday, 5 October 1910
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Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I desire to know whether the Government are satisfied in regard to the way in which telephone calls are registered. It appears to me that a subscriber has no guarantee of the correctness of the register. It is not automatic, and no matter what mistakes may be made, he has no way of rectifying them, or, indeed, of discovering them. I took the trouble to go into the Adelaide Telephone Exchange, which, I believe, has one of the most up-to-date switchboards. I found that the manner of getting an effective call is very efficient; but when the parties to a conversation ring off, all they have to depend upon is the fact that the girl in attendance is supposed to. press a button that lifts a lever which moves a figure on a certain register. So far as I can see, there is mo other way of registering calls. There is no way for a subscriber to satisfy himself as to the correctness of his account. At first blush it might seem that when the girl at the switchboard neglects to press the button, it is all in favour of the subscriber, because the call is not registered. At the same time, there is nothing to prevent a girl from pressing the button a dozen times if she desires to do so.

Senator Chataway - And some of them like to do that, too.

Senator VARDON - The girls are only human, I suppose. They get cross sometimes, and might do that. What I wish to emphasize is that there is no absolute certainty with regard to the correctness of the register. It depends upon whether the attendant presses a button or not. I do not think that that is satisfactory to either party. If you could get an automatic register, well and good. But when a great many of the calls are not effective, and cannot be registered, I do not see very well how you are going to get an automatic register. Under the existing system subscribers are placed at the mercy of the switchboard attendant, and they should not be placed in that position. I am concerned in this matter for a correct registration of effective calls, and I should like to see some means adopted which would give telephone subscribers an assurance when their accounts are rendered that the effective calls they have made have been correctly recorded.

Senator McGregor - A subscriber could put a halfpenny in a box for every effective call.

Senator VARDON - I wish the honorable senator would talk sense. A large establishment could not be expected to provide* hundreds of halfpennies, so that one might be put into a box for every effective telephone call. The matter is one which should be treated seriously. The present system cannot be considered satisfactory, even- from the point of view of the Department. They have to depend upon the switchboard attendant, as well as the subscriber, and they have no assurance that she will press the button for every call. I do not think it is too much to ask Ministers whether the matter has been considered, if there is in existence in any other place in the world a better system, and, if so, whether it could not be adopted here? As a telephone subscriber, and one who, in business, must use the telephone frequently, I should like to be satisfied that when .my account is rendered it will be absolutely accurate. Under -existing conditions, 1 do not know that; and if I employ some one to keep a record of 'effective calls on my telephone, and it disagrees with the record of the Department, my record will not be accepted. I am satisfied that, up to a certain point, the present system is a good system ; but there should be some means by which the switchboard attendant and the subscriber might satisfy each other that the number of calls has been correctly recorded.

Senator Guthrie - That could be done by putting a token in a slot.

Senator VARDON - Even that system would not be free from objection, since a token might be put in the slot when the call made was not effective. A subscriber may ring up the exchange five times, to be told four times out of the five that theperson he has rung up is engaged ; and if the system suggested by Senator Guthrie were adopted, the token would not be put in unless the call were effective. If the Government have any scheme in view to overcome the difficulty, they should tell the Committee what it is. Telephone subscribers would be more satisfied than they are at present if they had some assurance that they would be charged only for effective calls.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTCOULD (New South Wales) [10.20].- J. do not think the Government can be surprised that there is some talk with regard to the operation of the telephone system'. It is only to be expected, when a change is made which materially affects the interests of the public, that they will make some little noise about it. Every one must recognise that without some automatic system of checking calls, there is sure to be difficulty. Senator Chataway has told the Committee' the course he has adopted to check his calls. But while it might be satisfactory in certain cases, it could not be regarded as generally effective.

Senator Vardon - And therecord would not be acknowledged by the Department.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- That is so; but I think that some notice would have to be taken of it if a number of subscribers adopted the practice, and it was shown that, as a general rule, the Department was overcharging. I do not suppose for a moment that the Department has any desire to overcharge any subscriber. If a subscriber attempts to keep a record of his calls, he cannot rely upon every one in his place marking the record every time his telephone is used. In many instances a subscriber is disconnected almost immediately after he has been connected with the person with whom he wishes to speak. This may be the result of some error ; but when the connexion is restored it is possible that the subscriber may be charged for two calls. I am not sure that an automatic system would overcome that difficulty which is one of the most serious objections to the adoption of the toll system. Under the existing system a charge of£4 is made for telephone connexion, whether with a business firm or a private subscriber. Under the previous system, I paid £5 a year for a telephone at my private house, and the charge to a business firm was £9. Under the existing system, there is a margin of £5 in the one case, and only £1 in the other, necessary in order to bring about an equality with the previous conditions. If we are to have a toll system I think it would be very much better to adopt that proposed by Mr. Austin Chapman, when he was PostmasterGeneral, of making a charge of£2 or £2 10s. to each subscriber, and even then giving a certain number of free calls. That would have been a very much more popular system.

Senator Guthrie - No doubt.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The honorable senator laughs, but I would ask him for whose benefit the telephone system has been instituted '?

Senator de Largie - Not for the benefit of the favoured few who have telephones.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - If the Department put in telephones for £2 or £2 10s., they would get a great many more subscribers than they have at the present time. We are told that the number of subscribers is less now than it was under the previous system.

Senator Findley - On the other hand, there are complaints from people who cannot be supplied with telephones.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - We have been informed that the number of calls has diminished by 30 per cent. This shows that the public are not making the use of the system which was made of it previously. I am not going to say that the Telephone Branch should be run at a loss.

Senator McGregor - Only three minutes more.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I shall speak for thirty minutes more if it suits my convenience. I object to a material increase in telephone rates before we have some definite information, as the result of investigations, as to the extent to which the system was paying in times past.

Senator de Largie - There is sufficient evidence to prove that it has never paid up to the present time.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Statements have been made that it has paid, that it has not paid, and that because of the way in which the accounts have been kept, no one is able to say whether it has paid or not. We should have had some definite information on the subject before such a change was made. The railway services are carried on in the various States by the State Governments.

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