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Thursday, 6 May 1915

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I move -

That there be laid upon the table of the Senate a return showing, as on 1st October, 1914, for each State, the-

(a)   quantity,

(b)   general nature and purpose,

(c)   value of the materials held in reserve by the Commonwealth to meet requirements in the development of the telephone system.

It is not my intention to speak at very great length in submitting this motion, which has been on the notice-paper now for some considerable time. I gave notice of it some time during last year, before the adjournment over the Christmas holidays. As the Government did not treat the motion as formal, it devolves upon me to support it by some reasons. In ordinary circumstances, a motion of this character would be treated as formal. I shall not have very much to say upon it, but I hope that what I do say will call from the representative of the Postmaster General'sDepartment in this Chamber some reasons why a return giving such valuable information should not be forthcoming. At the time I gave notice of the motion, ithad been published in the press and otherwise, that the Postmaster-General's Department intended at an early date to introduce hew telephone rates. It was suggested that the system was not paying and, in order to make that very valuable adjunct of modern civilization, pay its way, it was thought desirable to increase the charges made for the use of telephones. I am very pleased to see that, since that time, there have been developments which warrant one almost in assuming that that attitude has been . dropped by the Department.

Senator Gardiner - Why assume that?

Senator KEATING - I assume it from what I have seen in the press from timeto time. Not long before I gave notice of my motion, I was very much struck by an article which appeared in the Nineteenth Century of August last, written by Mr. C. S. Goldman, Chairman of the Parliamentary Telephone Committee. Thearticle is entitled, " What is Wrong with the Telephone?"; and much. of the criticism which Mr. Goldman in his article levels at the Department in Great Britain can, I think, be applied with very much greater force to the Department in Australia. In saying this, I do not refer to the activity or non-activity of the Department during a recent period alone, but generally to the work of the Depiirtment practically since the beginning of Federation. Much that Mr. Goldman had to say in his article is worthy of serious consideration by the Post and Telegraph Department of the Commonwealth. Last year, when it was beingfreely stated in the press that it was proposed to increase the telephone charges. I asked a question, upon notice, of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General in the Senate. I asked whether any such increases would be brought into forcewithout an opportunity being first given to the Senate to consider them. The reply given to that question by the VicePresident of the Executive Council was"No"; and I was informed that the Senate would be given an opportunity to consider any increases proposed; but the Minister could not, at that stage, say when the opportunity would be given.

We adjourned over the Christmas holidays and about March, to my great surprise, I found that the telephone charges in respect of trunk-line telephones on Sundays were doubled. That alteration name into force at the end of February or the end of March. I at once communicated with the Postmaster-General by lettergram, on a Sunday night, drawing his attention to the question I asked upon notice in the Senate, and the reply to it, and also to the fact that despite that question and reply, the telephone rates in the respect mentioned had been increased on that day.

Senator Gardiner - On Sundays only.

Senator KEATING - Yes. On the following Saturday I received from the Acting Secretary of the PostmasterGeneral's Department what might be described as a bald, belated acknowledgment of my communication. I should like to say here, incidentally, that the telephone system in Australia, or its extension, so far as trunk lines are concerned, has been very often a matter of taking advantage of existing telegraphic lines and using them on the condenser system. All who have had any experience know that where, for telephonic communication over long distances, telegraph lines on tile condenser system are used, the best time to telephone is when the lines are not being used for telegraphic purposes. In illustration of this I may say that before we had the circuit system between Hobart and Launceston, and were dependent on the condenser system and the use of the ordinary telegraph lines, my experience was that telephone conversations between the two cities could best be carried on ou the Sunday.

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