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Wednesday, 22 August 1906

The CHAIRMAN - I would remind the right honorable member that there is already on the business-paper a . measure relating to penny postage, and that he will be able to dea.l with that question when that Bill is under consideration.

Mr REID - I wish to act in perfect obedience to your direction, Mr. Chairman, but I would ask you to consider whether your ruling would not prevent a fair discussion of matters of this kind in Committee of Supply. I think that by long usage the rights of the Committee of Supply are not interfered with in the way suggested. In the first place, we aire not in the House, but in Committee, and, in the next place, the Bill in question may not be proceeded with. It would be possible, by placing on the business-paper a certain Bill, to deprive honorable members of their only opportunity - in Committee of Supply - to discuss matters of this kind. I suggest that the Committee knows nothing about matters which may lie before the House, and that every honorable member has the fullest right to discuss any matter relevant to the vote under consideration. As this is a very important point, I shall not press for a ruling now, because it would be a pity to have it decided without full consideration, and as an old parliamentarian I advise you, sir, .not to give an opinion from the Chair until you are absolutely compelled to do so. I wish to know from the Postmaster-General whether he has yet abandoned his extraordinary project of charging for the telephone service by the number of calls answered?

Mr Austin Chapman - I have certainly not abandoned it.

Mr REID - Does the Department propose to keep count of all the calls made in great cities like Sydney and Melbourne?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Postmaster-General) - The right honorable member is the first to object to it.

Mr REID - I am surprised that that is so; but it is time that some one objected to it.

Mr Austin Chapman - The principle has not been objected to, but we have been asked to give a larger number of free calls.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Many persons object to the principle, but ask, if it is to bo adopted, that the number of free calls allowed may be increased.

Mr REID - My impression is that the system has been strongly objected to, and that it has been said, " If you insist upon it, at least make your terms more reasonable, by increasing, the number of calls allowed for a subscription." Speaking as one who is not an expert, it occurs to me that the labour of recording the calls will be enormous.

Mr Austin Chapman - The record will be kept automatically.

Mr REID - No doubt the recorders will be something like the gas meters, which charge for twice as much gas as is used.

Mr Austin Chapman - Would the right honorable member think it reasonable for a gas company to charge a fixed subscription to each customer?

Mr REID - That is scarcely a fair illustration. I am disappointed that the project has not been abandoned. My impression is that the telephones already yield a good return upon their cost.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Department does pot seem to know whether that is so or not.

Mr REID - A Department which does not know that will not be able to keep an accurate record of the calls of its thousands of subscribers at all hours of the day and night. With regard to the proposed expenditure in extending the metallic circuits, the honorable member for Parramatta, who was Postmaster-General in an Administration, of which I had the honour to be the head, convinced us that this work was absolutely necessary, and we spent thousands of pounds in carrying it out, and in providing tunnels to enable wires to be placed underground.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We only made a beginning. A sum of £150,000 is required to give metallic circuits throughout the Commonwealth.

Mr REID - I should like to know what is now being done in this matter.

Mr Austin Chapman - The work is being carried on as rapidly as possible.

Mr REID - But only half as much is provided for this year as was spent last year.

Mr Austin Chapman - Certain charges made against the vote last year will not be made against it this year.

Mr REID - What is the "purchase" system referred to?

Mr Austin Chapman - An old system under which subscribers purchased their instruments.

Mr REID - Is the proposed telephone between Sydney and Melbourne likely to prove remunerative?

Mr Austin Chapman - It is estimated that there will be a return of 6 per cent, on the outlay.

Mr REID - It will be a great public convenience. Has the probable effect upon the telegraph revenue been considered?

Mr Austin Chapman - Yes, and due allowance made.

Mr REID - Then I should like to know why, although' £30,000 was voted for the work last year, not a penny was spent upon it, notwithstanding that it was referred to as a national undertaking of great urgency. It is a national calamity that the Postmaster-General was permitted to visit the City of the Seven Hills, because, meeting there distinguished representatives of countries absolutely dissimilar from this, he was carried away by the glamour of his surroundings in an assembly which he adorned, and entered into a project which will inflict a cruel injustice on at least the people of the smaller States. At the same time, he has left undone a great national work, which would return a fair rate of interest on the expenditure, and also provide a sinking fund. Parliament votes money with the intention that the works for which it is asked shall be put in hand.

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