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Thursday, 14 September 1978

Senator COLSTON (Queensland) -This afternoon we are debating the motion for the first reading of the Pig Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill 1978. 1 think it is worth while occasionally for a speaker to mention why the speeches do not appear to be relevant to the purpose of that Bill. Many people who follow the proceedings of this Senate are sometimes a little bemused to hear or to read the types of comments that are made on certain Bills when we are speaking in a first reading debate. I point out that Standing Order 1 90 states:

In Bills which the Senate may not amend, the Question That this Bill be now read a First' time may be debated, and in such debate matters both relevant and not relevant to the subject-matter of the Bill may be discussed.

Of course we use that Standing Order so that we may raise matters in the Senate which we think are important and need to be aired in the Parliament. Therefore we use it as a device for the good purpose of debate in the Senate. As my Whip pointed out a couple of days ago, for the first time in his memory he did hear on the first reading of a money Bill debate on the subject matter relevant to the Bill. Of course what I have to say this afternoon will not be relevant to the Bill. I am using the device which is provided to us by Standing Order 190.

I feel compelled to comment on some remarks made by Senator Bonner. I regret that he is not in the chamber. I realise that he had to leave the chamber to attend to important business, but I regret that he is not present because I intend to be somewhat critical of his opening remarks. In his opening remarks he said that he supported the Budget, and he was very plain and clear on this. I thought that Senator Bonner had some compassion for his fellow Australians. Unfortunately, I must have been mistaken, because this is a dishonest Budget, a deceitful Budget and a brutal Budget. Anyone with some compassion for his fellow Australians would not find it possible to endorse it.

I also mention something about the comments Senator Bonner made in regard to sport, not because I disagree with him but because I think there is room for debate on this whole matter of Australian amateur sport. I will not open up the whole debate this afternoon, but I will mention just a couple of matters. Senator Bonner said that our athletes could have come home from Canada with many more gold medals. If they had it would have been quite commendable. I wonder whether this is really of the utmost importance in amateur sport in Australia. Should we be looking for such excellence so that our athletes can go to the Commonwealth Games and come back with gold medals and perhaps some silver and bronze medals and do the same when they go to the Olympic Games in a couple of years time? If our athletes do win medals I think that is fine, but I wonder whether it is not more important to make sure that the bulk of the population of Australia does participate in some formal recreational program. If Australians do this and if they do it extensively it would be inevitable that we would have people with championship qualifications coming forward and going to games like the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games and perhaps coming back with medals. It seems to me that we are placing too much emphasis on the very top quality athletes- the excellence part of amateur sport.

I think that in Australia there are probably too many people who, although they are sporting enthusiasts, would participate in the main in spectator sport whereby they can go along and look at the various sports being played without actually participating. Of course it is important that we watch other people participate in sport but it is also important that we ourselves should participate. I wonder how many of us here participate in some regular formal recreation.

Senator Townley - I do, do you?

Senator COLSTON -Senator Townley is well aware that I do, and I am well aware that he does, of course. I wonder how many people here participate regularly in sport. I wonder how many people in the Australian population actually have a formal recreational program. Senator Bonner mentioned the facilities that we saw at Montreal and some of the facilities that we saw at Edmonton whilst we were in Canada. These facilities are of course very good for the amateur athletes of Canada. I point out, without being parochial, that after 1982 there will be some excellent facilities in Brisbane also and that these facilities will be able to be used not only by Brisbane residents but also by residents of Queensland and visiting athletes from other parts of Australia. This is one of the good things which should come from Brisbane hosting the Commonwealth Games in 1 982.

I will just say something about the comments in regard lotteries. Yes, I do believe that we have to give a greater commitment to sport and recreation in Australia. I wonder whether lotteries are really the answer. There is something of a myth in Queensland that the lottery there, which is called the Golden Casket, did, in preMedibank days, in large part fund the public hospitals in Queensland. If one looks at the public hospital costs and the profits which are made from the lottery in Queensland one can see that there is a vast difference. I am speaking from memory at the moment, but I think that the net profit from the Golden Casket in Queensland last year was about $6m. That is a very small amount of money when one considers the amounts of money which Senator Bonner was speaking of in regard to providing funds for our athletes. This of course was the total profit from the Golden Casket in Queensland.

I wonder whether there might not be another approach in regard to sport which would be worth while. Of course this approach would cost the Commonwealth money, and therefore it would have to be looked at very carefully. Perhaps we could remove or reduce the sales tax on sporting goods in Australia. This would help not only the people who are going to participate for

Australia in internationalgames but also every person who participates in sport in Australia because sales tax is an additional cost on any sporting equipment that a person purchases. It had not been my intention to traverse those two issues. I will now move to the subject matter on which I intended to speak in this debate this afternoon on the first reading motion of this Bill.

Some time ago outside this Parliament I made it plain that there should be an independent inquiry into Australia's telegram service. I am still convinced that there should be such an independent inquiry. However, as I look further into the operations of Telecom Australia I am starting to become convinced that there should be an independent inquiry into many aspects of Telecom's charges. Firstly, may I mention just telegrams- the part of Telecom 's service which concerns me greatly at the moment. I would like to outline to the Senate some of the new charges that are to be made by Telecom as from 1 October this year. These new telegram charges did not receive much attention in the Press. I say that not as any denigration of the Press but rather as a denigration of Telecom for not publicising the increased charges widely enough. Let us look at some of the new charges. For a registered telegraphic address which will not concern most people in the community but which will concern the business community, the old price was $25. The new price will be $30 a year.

Let us look at the actual charges for a telegram. The delivery charge for a telegram on 1 October will rise from 80c to $ 1 . 50. If a person wants to send a telegram and have it messenger delivered by what is often called a telegram boy but what often is now an Australia Post courier, it will cost $1.50. Previously if a person wanted to have the telegram addressed to a telephone number and Telecom just passed on the contents of the telegram through that telephone number there was no charge at all. As from 1 October the charge will be 50c. If a telegram is passed on through a telephone number and then delivered by mail the next day there will now be an additional 40c charge although there used to be no charge. There are a number of other increases in telegram charges. For instance, if a person wants to charge his telegram to a credit card that will now cost 40c. It once cost nothing. If a person wants to have an acknowledgement of a telegram by post that will now cost $1. It used to cost 25c. There are various minor increases in the charges.

Most people now realise that it will cost 1 5c for every word to send a telegram. This means that if a person wants to lodge a telegram, have it trans mitted and then have it delivered by a telegram boy or by Australia Post the average telegram, which I am informed is about 22 words, will cost about $5. It seems to me that the cost of $5 for an average telegram to be lodged, transmitted and delivered is really outrageous. It is the sort of charge which will make sure that people do not use the telegram service any more. The excuse always being offered by Telecom is that the telegram service is losing money. One could well ask why it would not be. I suppose that we could use the rather exaggerated analogy of a person who wants to sell watermelons for $ 100 each. He would not sell many. At the price we are charging for telegrams it seems to me that people will not use this service very much and, therefore it will lose money. The excuse that is being given by Telecom is perhaps just a convenient excuse. As I said earlier, I wonder whether the aim is really to phase out telegrams. I sometimes suspect that it is.

I shall digress for a moment. I outlined in this place on 29 May how it took a telegram that I sent on that day almost all day, from early morning to late afternoon, to go from Canberra to Brisbane. I thought that that was bad enough on 29 May. On the same night, however, Senator Carrick, who then represented the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley), assured me that I would be informed what went wrong on that day with that telegram. It is interesting to know that I am still waiting for a reply. Perhaps the answer was sent to me by telegram. Whenever I try to find out how Telecom arrives at its stated loss on the telegram service I cannot do so. All that Telecom does is state in its annual report how much was lost on the telegram service. I am beginning to believe that some extraneous costs are being charged to the telegram service to boost the loss so that Telecom can say that the loss is so great that it has to increase its charges. We all know that the great money spinners for Telecom at the moment are its telephone and telex services. But I believe that there is a role for telegrams in the Australian community. It is for this reason that I would like to see some sort of independent inquiry into the telegram service to see what we can do to keep the costs low and to see whether the loss stated by Telecom is a loss in the real financial sense of the word. We have a responsibility to provide a telegram service as well as to make profits.

Let me move away a little from the telegram service to some other aspects which I have seen since I became interested in Telecom charges. I was attracted to an advertisement in the Australian Financial Review on Wednesday, 6 September. I read part of the advertisement:

Following reductions in STD and Telex call charges Telecom revises charges for auxiliary services.

There have been reductions in subscriber trunk dialling charges and there have been reductions in telex call charges; so when the advertisement said that Telecom was revising its charges for auxiliary services I jumped to the conclusionwrongfully, I am ashamed to say- that there was also a reduction in some of the charges for auxiliary services. Further, the advertisement stated:

As of September 1st, Telecom advises customers that the charges for a number of auxiliary services have been reviewed and rationalised. This follows on recently announced, significant reductions in the call charges for STD and automatic Telex.

So far, so good. I still thought the charges would be reduced. The advertisement continued:

Tariff changes will take place on a number of categories of services including the following: Miscellaneous telephone calls- for example: particular person, fixed time, reverse charge, credit cards, reminder calls.

The advertisement went on to mention a few other miscellaneous telephone facilities. Later it stated:

In addition, tariffs for private telephone and telegraph lines and Telegrams will also change on October 1st.

I was aware of the increases in the cost of telegrams as of 1 October; so I became suspicious at that stage and thought that I should find out what these revised charges for auxiliary services were. I was dismayed when I did so; because most of them were increases. These increases have not received any great prominence in the media throughout Australia.

I refer to a sample of these increases in telephone charges in Australia as from 1 September. If we make a particular person call there will be an increase in the charge. The cost of a particular person call depends upon the distance called. In the case of the Sydney-Canberra rate, the increase will be from 20c to 40c. That is a 100 per cent increase. If we want to make a fixed time call there will be a 100 per cent increase, from 20c to 40c. If we want to have a charge connect call- not many people would make charge connect calls, but I can recall that in one occupation I had once I made them frequently- there will now be a 40c charge. Until 1 September there was no charge. If we want to have a reminder call- many people use this service when they do not believe that they can rely upon their alarm clock to raise them in the morning- there will be an increase in the charge. As far as I can see, there will be a 10c increase. The call has now been reclassified from a reminder call to a booking call as well as the actual call itself. The total charge will be 50c, as against the original total charge of 40c. There are various increases in annual rental for intercoms, private manual branch exchanges, private automatic branch exchanges, private wire teleprinters and private telephone lines.

All these increases did not receive much publicity. One would hardly expect that they would receive publicity when they appeared in an advertisement such as this, which stated that there were revised charges for auxiliary services underneath a line stating that there were reductions in charges for STD and telex services. I subsequently found, quite by chance, that most of the changes that took place as of 1 September were outlined in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette dated 12 September 1978.I wonder how many members of the public actually read the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.

It would have been much better if Telecom had been totally honest in this advertisement and, rather than saying 'Telecom revises charges for auxiliary services', had said that Telecom increases charges for auxiliary services. We then would have been aware that there were increases in a number of charges. I repeat what I said when I began speaking about Telecom. There should be an investigation into the telegram service. While telegram rates increase and rumours persist throughout Australia that the service is to be phased out, an urgent independent inquiry is necessary. If we have an independent inquiry we will be sure either that what Telecom is saying is correct or that there will have to be some changes to the telegram service as now operating.

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