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Wednesday, 13 July 1921

Senator GARDINER (New) (South Wales) . - No matter what view honorable senators may take of the matter, there are a great many people . engaged in business in Sydney who will be most grateful to Senator Thomas for urging here that the business of the supply of telephones should be dealt with in a businesslike way. . I waited to hear what the Minister's reply would be. He says that the Department is expecting telephones. but I know that there are thousands of business men who have been waiting for months for telephones which should long ago have been placed in position. The Department should be in a position to say whether the telephones required are on' the way, and when they will be available. Two firms tendered for the supply of telephones. I believe that one lot of telephones had to be supplied last May and another in June. We are nearing the end of July now, and they are not yet here. If I went to a business- firm in Sydney for goods they were in the habit of supplying to me, they would not think of asking me to wait until a shipment arrived. They would get the goods I required, if necessary, from- an opposition firm, in order to supply my needs. The Government have, at their command now, nearly. 2,000 telephones, which would practically supply the immediate demands in- Sydney, and they should make use of those telephones. The price is quite unimportant, because, at the most, it might run to £5 10s. for each telephone, and the Government charge a rental of £4 a year for it.

Senator Pearce - The price of calls is contingent on the cost of the telephone.

Senator GARDINER - It might be a matter of £10,000 . for 2,000 telephones which are available in Sydney for purchase. There are thousands of business men who want them, and they would be revenue-producing from the day they were installed. The Government, I suppose, in the interests of economy, are holding back to some distant date, when they will receive telephones that have been ordered under the contract. I do not speak on this matter altogether without information, because, in common with other members of the Senate, I have had interviews with people who have been waiting for months for telephones, and who believe, as many do, that if they make application to a member of Parliament they may get what they want a little earlier. What is the expenditure of~ a sum of £10,000 for a great city like Sydney where revenue from the expenditure ' would be immediately assured ? I should like to know how the contract with the British company was drawn up. I .take no exception to preference being given to a British company, but I say that, if the contract is not drawn up in such a way that if supplies .are not forthcoming within the prescribed time the

Government will be in a position to supply themselves at the cost of the contractors, then it ought to be.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the, contract is not drawn up in that way, then we' do require a Board of Management in the Public Service.

Senator GARDINER - It is not the question of the delay of a month or two, because people have been waiting for months and for years for telephones. When the last tenders were called, one provision, to which, an ordinary man would have bound the contractors, would be to supply the telephones required at the earliest possible date, with penalties for failure. I have said that, from information I have received, some telephones were to be supplied in May and others in June, and although none have so far been delivered, the Government will not take advantage of telephones available in Sydney at the cost of the successful tenderers. I do not know anything about either of the tenderers. Senator Thomas has explained how he became aware of the splendid supply of telephones ' now available in Sydney by merely bantering one of the people whom he believed to be concerned in the contract.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I met him at a function arranged by the American Consul. '

Senator GARDINER - It might expedite matters if the Government informed the successful tenderers that, failing immediate deliveries under their contract, they would purchase the telephones they require elsewhere. I venture to say that there is very little difference between the prices quoted by the two tenderers. Senator Russell has said that there is a difference due to exchange rates, but as these telephones are for sale in Sydney, there would be no difference in price due to exchange. If these telephone instruments can be obtained in Sydney at the present time, it should only be a matter of utilizing Australian cash and thus obviating the difficulties of exchange already referred .to.There need be no interference at all with the existing contract, but if the contract has been drafted so loosely that the company can deliver when they like, then the people of Sydney may go on expecting delivery daily, and yet be disappointed. If these instruments are not delivered within a reasonable time, it is clearly the duty of the Government to buy elsewhere, and an expenditure of £10,000 would purchase the instruments which, we have been told, are immediately available, and which could be utilized at. once. I understand that the Department have been aware all along that these telephone instruments were available in Sydney. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will do something in the matter. The charges to the subscribers is in excess of the cost.

Senator Pearce - What about the lines, conduits, and other expenditure? The cost of the instrument is not the only item.

Senator GARDINER - I realize that other capital expenditure has to be provided for, but I may remind the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) that a return can only be expected when intending subscribers get their instruments. Only then do they begin to wipe off capital expenditure. Until then the Department can expect no revenue. In all friendliness to the Government, I say it is their duty to remedy at once this grievance, which has been such a source of annoyance to a very large number of people in Sydney for a considerable time. Like other honorable senators, I have been approached by intending subscribers who think that a member of Parliament can help them to get a telephone instrument more quickly, but I have been obliged to tell my friends that there is a shortage of telephones and that each man must come in the order of his application. If the terms of the contract are indefinite as to delivery, I would take the risk even of breaking the contract by purchasing the instruments that are available in order that the business people may have telephonic communication at the earliest possible moment. That, at all events, would be a step towards getting over the present difficulty; but if the Government cannot see their way to take such action, then, no doubt, stronger protests will be made a few months hence.

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