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Wednesday, 22 August 1906

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - The only item under which the discussion to which we have recently listened could properly come is that of the construction of conduits, and the placing of wires underground. I do not intend to follow the Postmaster-General, and the right honorable member for East Sydney into the by-ways they have trod. I think the Postmaster-General was slightly mistaken when he said that the Chambers of Commerce were not opposed to the adop-tion of the toll system of telephone charges. I know that they made representations, and passed resolutions against the adoption of that system. The Postmaster-General probably alludes to the fact that they contended that, if the toll system were adopted, the proposed number of calls allowed for a fixed charge would not be anything like sufficient. They urged that the telephones would not be really useful to even comparatively small users unless an alteration was made in that direction. They pointed out that if the proposed scale of charges were adopted a number of persons would have to give up their instruments because thev could not afford to pay the heavytariff. I hope that before any proposal for the 'adoption of the toll system is brought before us. the Postmaster-General will be able to indicate the extent to which the present telephone service is paying. We should have a balance-sheet presented to us before we are asked to make any change in our present system of charges. The Minister desires to adopt the system that has been followed by private companies, which, ns he has stated, are making excessive profits, owing to their high charges. If the State cannot adopt a more advanced system there will be no advantage in its retaining control of the telephone services. When' a. proper balance-sheet is presented to us, we may see the necessity of introducing a change, in order that undue advantage mav not be obtained by the largest users of the telephones. Moreover, it mav be possible to suggest some scheme which would be preferable to the verv troublesome toll system. The PostmasterGeneral has seen the toll system in operation in other countries, and he must recognise that a great many troubles arise in connexion with it.

Mr Austin Chapman - All the experts in the world are in favour of it.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is because they almost invariably represent private companies, who make very heavy charges, and derive large profits from their services. There is one advantage in the present system, which applies to both large and small users, but which cannot attach to the toll system. The question is not continually arising as to who is responsible for the imperfections of the telephone service. Cases are constantly occurring in which calls have to be repeated, not owing to any fault on the part of the user of the telephone, but because of the defects of the system. Then the loss on one line may be made good by the other business that line brings. The very fact that a grocer's shop or a draper's establishment is connected with the exchange induces scores and hundreds of persons to have a telephone, who do not use it extensively, and would not otherwise have it. I say that the necessity for instituting a thorough inquiry into this question has been shown. That inquiry should set out not only the effects which may flow from the adoption of the toll system, but also the loss or profit which results from the present system.

Mr Austin Chapman - It will be optional with subscribers whether they use the toll system.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The PostmasterGeneral has not yet proposed anything in connexion with that system. I say that the question is not to be disposed of by the bald assertion that most of the experts of the world approve of the toll system, and that most of the telephone companies adopt it.

Mr Austin Chapman - I was referring to Government telephones throughout the world.


Mr Austin Chapman - I say that all those countries which have tried the flat rate system have introduced the toll system. Take the case of London 'as an example.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not know that the flat rate system was ever in operation in London, and I am not aware that Norway and Sweden, which confer upon their people greater telephonic conveniences than does any other country in the world, have adopted the toll system The introduction of that system will not be an easy matter.

Mr Austin Chapman - A protest is sure to be made against any .proposal which affects the big users of the telephone.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am . speaking of the small users, and the PostmasterGeneral had no right to make that interjection. It may happen that some subscribers do not pay to the Department a remunerative price for the use of the instrument ; but the Postmaster-General must know that in a private house, where the telephone is only rarely used, a certain number of calls are made to which no response is received.

Mr Austin Chapman - We propose to make those calls effective under the toll system.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then, why not make them effective now? In my opinion, they will never be effective until the metallic circuit has been universally adopted. If subscribers are to be charged for calls which are not replied to, the life of any Postmaster-General will not be a happy one. I quite agree that if the large users of the telephone are getting a greater service than is commensurate with their subscriptions, they ought to be compelled to contribute an extra rate. But I am not satisfied that the toll system - fair as it may be in many respects - is the best that' can be adopted. I should like to know from the PostmasterGeneral whether any provision has been made upon these Estimates for the introduction of the Marconi system of wireless telegraphy ?

Mr Austin Chapman - The sum of £10,000 is provided for that purpose upon page 259 of the Estimates.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think the Minister should make some statement as to the intentions of the Government in that connexion.

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