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Wednesday, 13 July 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) .- I move-

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until 9.30 a.m. to-morrow.

Four honorable senators having risen in their places in support of the motion,

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - This is the first time I have trespassed upon the time of honorable senators with a motion for the adjournment, and it is my intention to be as brief as possible. It was my purpose originally to move the adjournment in order to discuss the position with regard to telephone instruments in New South Wales alone, but I thought that possibly I might exclude other honorable senators who desired to speak of the conditions in their own State, and so I have submitted the question in its present form , though I trust I may be. pardoned if my remarks apply particularly to New SouthWales. . I understand that at the present moment there are 1,000 people in New South Wales - in Sydney chiefly - anxious to become telephone subscribers, but unable to secure connexions because of the inability of the Department to provide the instruments. In order to., show how congested the position is, I may point' out that when coming over from Sydney in the train to-day I learned from Major Marr, a member of the House of Representatives, that he had ho less than sixty-four letters from constituents urging him to see what he could do to facilitate their requests for telephone connexion.. There are two kinds of telephones, the magneto and the automatic. My remarks will be chiefly concerned with the latter. A constituent of mine has written to say that he is extremely anxious to get an automatic telephone, and when I forwarded his letter to the Department, I was informed by the officials that it was impossible to supply a telephone.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does he know whether he is in the area served by the automatic telephone ?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. A fewdays ago, I happened to be at a gathering in Sydney, and in a conversation with the representative of a Chicago firm which has put in most of the automatic telephones in Australia, I jocularly reminded him that he was a nice sort of man, because, after he had put in the automatic telephones the people were now unable to obtain the instruments. In reply, he said to me, I have 1,000 automatic telephone instruments in Macquarie-street. You can have them to-morrow if you want them."

Senator Duncan - And yet the Department say they cannot get them.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I thought the statement strange, and so I made further inquiries. In reply to a telephone message, he wrote me as follows: -

In reply to your inquiry by telephone, I wish to say that this company has on hand, unsold and in stores, for sale, a large number of automatic telephones, which can be delivered Immediately.

He added that there were 454 wall telephones and 1,453 desk instruments, or a total of 1,907. I believe that a large number of people prefer the wall telephone, because it is less expensive; but, on the other hand, many prefer the desk instruments as being more convenient. It is difficult to understand how the Government can say that they are unable to obtain instruments when, as I have shown, there are over 1,900 immediately available in Sydney. I may add that Mr. Burge, the representative of the Chicago firm referred to, did not approach me -with regard to this matter. I made the Overtures, and, as I have already shown, at first in a jocular manner. I understand that tenders were called for automatic telephones in August of last year, and that two tenders were, received - one from the Chicago firm, and the other from Siemens Brothers, a British firm. I be lieve that nearly the whole of the automatic telephone instruments have, up to the present, been supplied by the American firm; but last year Siemens Brothers got the contract at, I understand, £3 18s. 6d. for the wall pattern. The information I have does not disclose whether the accepted tender includes the calling device or not. The price of the automatic table telephone there is £5 19s. 6d. ; here it is £5 10s. equipped with the calling device, and £3 17s. 6d. without it. However, I am not going to argue that the price quoted by Messrs. Siemens Brothers is not cheaper. The American company,' it must be remembered, has to pay an import duty of 10 per cent.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Because of. our scientific Tariff?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. I take it that the Government went carefully into this matter and discovered that the instruments to be supplied by Messrs. Siemens Brothers were cheaper than those which could be obtained elsewhere.

Senator Russell - And they went into the question of exchange, too.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not suggest that the instruments contracted for by Messrs. Siemens Brothers are not cheaper than those which can be purchased from the Chicago firm. But I take it that when the Government called for tenders' for the supply of these instruments they at least adopted . the business precaution of imposing a time limit for the performance of the contract. Though I have not seen the contract itself, I understand that the Chicago firm undertook to deliver these instruments within some three or four months. The first shipment of Siemens Brothers, I understand, was to arrive here in May, and a portion of ' the second shipment was to be delivered in June. It is now July, but so far no consignment of telephones has yet arrived. In these circumstances, it is per-, tinent to inquire whether the Government intend to utterly disregard the period within which the company may deliver these instruments? If they cannot supply them within the specified time, the Government should be at liberty to purchase stocks from other people, and any loss thereby occasioned ought to be made good by the defaulting contractors. I know that there may be three very good reasons why persons who desire to be connected by telephone at the present time cannot have their wishes gratified. The first is that the requisite telephones are not available. Another is that the switchboards are -so crowded that there is no room upon them, to install fresh subscribers. In the third place, the necessary funds may not be forthcoming. Obviously, however, the third reason cannot be operative, because, in any case, the Minister would be obliged to pay for the telephones supplied by the contractors as they arrived. Further, I recollect thatsome time ago, when some of us here were advocating the adoption of penny postage, the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral pointed out that a sum of £3,000,000 bad been specially provided upon the Estimates to enable the Post Office to overtake arrears in this direction. Th at being so, it can scarcely be urged that the necessary telephones are not forthcoming owing to lack of funds. Seeing that there are nearly 2,000 telephones available, for purchase in Sydney, it seems to me that we ought not to ask the people of that city to wait for an indefinite period until telephones are supplied under the contract which has been entered into by the Government. The instruments to which I refer are in the hands of a reputable firm, which recently installed an automatic telephone exchange at Collingwood. Consequently, I would urge upon the Government the advisableness of taking the necessary action without further delay.

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