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Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2689

Senator Wood asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:

(   1 ) Were 200 gallons of champagne consumed on the Prime Minister's trip to China: if not what was the quantity.

(2)   Was the champagne consumed of French origin: if not where was it produced.

Senator Murphy - The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

In flight information on this subject is not normally kept in my Department. Having, however, learned of the honourable senator's interest in the drinking habits of his colleagues (Senate Hansard 21 November 1973, page 1954), I have ascertained that 35 bottles of champagne were consumed in flight during my trip to Japan and China; 17 bottles were of Australian origin and 1 8 bottles of French. On land, the only champagne which I can personally vouch was of French origin was served at the lunch at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Moreover, some 360 litres of Australian champagne (80 gallons) were sent to China in response to the Australian Ambassador's proposal that Australian wines be served at the Australian Government's two official functions in Peking, a reception at the Australian Embassy for 200 guests and a return banquet at the Great Hall of the people for 550 guests.

Interest Rates: Primary Producers

Senator Willesee -On 18 September 1973, Senator Wright asked me as the Minister representing the Treasurer a question without notice, seeking confirmation that the effective trading bank overdraft rate of interest prevailing now is 9.5 per cent. He also asked whether there is any differential in favour of primary industry or whether 9.5 per cent is the rate of interest currently being charged to primary producers by trading banks.

The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

The rate of 9.5 per cent is the maximum overdraft rate which banks may charge on loans drawn under limits of less than $50,000, but not all such loans carry the maximum rate. A maximum rate has not been established for loans drawn against limits of $50,000 or more since Febrary 1972-interest rates on these loans are left to negotiation between banks and their customers.

As regards the second part of the question, the Governor of the Reserve Bank on 14 September announced that: "For some years banks have, at the request of the authorities, offered concessional rates on loans in a number of areas. In the light of the buoyant conditions new prevailing throughout the economy it is no longer appropriate for this request to be maintained." Accordingly, subject to the maximum overdraft rate where applicable, the rate of interest charged on loans to primary producers will be negotiated by banks wholly on their own assessments of credit worthiness and other factors associated with the borrowing.

Oil Spillage

Senator Cavanagh -On 23 October 1973, Senator Mulvihill asked the following question, without notice:

Can we have an assurance that, unlike the sorry 'Oceanic Grandeur' oil spillage episode, on this occasion the Commonwealth and the States will mount on effective anti-pollution exercise against the North Queensland oil slick? Can the Minister disclose the name of the offending vessel? Will the full rigour of the penal provisions in the Navigation Act or equivalent legislation be applied?

The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

The National Plan to deal with pollution of the sea by oil went into operation immediately the oil slick was reported to the Marine Operations Centre on 2 1 October 1973. Dispersant and spraying equipment, which is strategically located at Cairns under the National Plan, was put into a state of readiness for immediate use. The Queensland authorities on 22 October 1973 chartered a vessel to inspect the slick and take samples for analysis and matching in case the offender was detected. The slick was further kept under observation by chartered aircraft on 23 October 1973, but the shek had moved out to open sea. The only clean-up action required was for Queensland authorities to remove globules of oil from Michaelmas Cay.

Although it is known that several vessels passed through the area at the time, it is not possible to pinpoint the offender unless the sample of oil taken can be matched with oil carried aboard these vessels. Unfortunately the vessels in question were foreign flag vessels bound for overseas ports.

An offender against the provisions of the Pollution of the Sea by Oil Act could be liable to a maximum penalty of $50,000.

Whereabouts of the Vessel 'Blythe Star'

Senator Cavanagh -On 23 October 1973, Senator Wright asked the following question, without notice:

I refer to the sad disappearance about 10 days ago of the Blythe Star' which sailed from Hobart at 6.35 p.m. on Friday 1 2 October. I ask the Minister whether it is a fact that the Overseas Telecommunications Commission's point of contact for communications with shipping in Hobart is closed after 5 p.m. each night and after 5 p.m. during the weekend so as to make Melbourne the only available point of contact Will the Minister assure himself that there is no possibility of deficiency in the communications contact available to shipping in circumstances of distress such as can be presumed to have overtaken this ship?

The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

The coastal radio station at Hobart is operated and manned by the Overseas Telecommunications Commission during the following hours:

Monday to Saturday-7.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. A.E.S.T.

Sunday-8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. A.E.S.T.

Up till 1 1 November 1973 Melbourne radio kept watch on the Hobart frequencies outside the above hours thus in effect giving a 24 hour service.

The overseas Telecommunications Commission have been engaged for some time in the planning and implementation of engineering works to provide the Hobart Station with improved radio receiving facilities at a new site, modern radio transmitting equipment, and the facility for remotely controlling the station from Melbourne Radio at Cape Schanck in Victoria during the hours when the Hobart Station is not locally manned.

These new facilities became fully operational on 11 November, 1973, thus permitting Hobart Radio to provide radio service on a continuous basis.

VIP Aircraft- Use by Prime Minister

Senator Bishop -On 20 November 1973, Senator Marriott asked the Minister assisting the Minister for Defence the following question, without notice:

Will he make inquiries, and advise the Senate when the information is available, as to whether it is true, as indicated in the Launceston 'Examiner' of Monday, 19 November, that the Prime Minister travelled, presumably by Royal Australian Air Force V.I.P aircraft, on Saturday, 17 November, from Adelaide to Sydney to record his vote at the State election and continued to Launceston, arriving one hour late for his appointment at an agricultural show? What was the cost to the taxpayer of this excursion, if it took place? Are not postal votes available to New South Wales electors who wake up in time?

The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

Before the date of the New South Wales election was announced I had accepted many invitations. Among them were invitations to be guest of honour at the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee ball in Adelaide on Friday night, 16 November and to open the Scottsdale Show on Saturday afternoon, 17 November.

After the New South Wales election was announced for 1 7 November I arranged to travel that day from Adelaide to Sydney and thence to Launceston. Like most honourable members I regard it as my obligation to vote in person and to visit polling places at elections in my own electorate.

In the changed circumstances I could not lunch with the Committee of the North-Eastern Agricultural and Pastoral Society before I opened the show. My apologies were conveyed and accepted several days before the show. When I opened it- on time- the record crowd gave every indication of welcoming my attendance and that of the Deputy Prime Minister and their local member, the honourable Lance Barnard, and of not having missed the presence of the honourable senator at all.

My predecessors and I have accepted the advice of our officials to travel by VIP aircraft.

VIP Flights

Senator Willesee -On 27 November 1973, Senator McLaren asked the following question, without notice:

Has the Minister's attention been drawn to an article in the National Times' of 19-24 November which refers to the fact that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Mr Phillip Lynch, used a light aircraft to fly to the town of Pinaroo in South Australia to attend a Liberal Party dinner. Will the Minister investigate the cost of using this aircraft and also the whole cost of the trip by Mr Lynch to attend a Liberal Country League dinner.

The Minister for Services and Property has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

The use of charter aircraft is not regarded as a normal means of air transport. However, as there were no commercial air services to Pinaroo I approved the use of a charter aircraft by Mr Lynch and two members of his staff at a cost of $108. As Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Mr Lynch has the use of official car transport at any time. In this particular instance the cost involved was $ 100.56.

Trunkline Telephone Calls

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -On 27 November 1973, Senator Cotton asked me the following question, without notice:

I direct a question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Will the Minister advise the Senate why so much difficulty is being encountered in Sydney by people who are trying to make trunk line telephone calls by dialling 01 1? For the information of the Minister and the PostmasterGeneral, I recite the circumstances of one occasion involving myself. The elapsed time in trying to make the call was 10 minutes which was taken up as follows: 5 diallings with no response: 3 diallings to which I received an engaged signal: 2 diallings to which I received a recorded voice saying that I should check the telephone number and ring somebody else again: and on the final dialling it took 2 minutes 15 seconds to obtain an answer.

The Postmaster-General has now furnished me with the following information in reply:

Since the end of last year and more particularly since about May this year, the Department 's Main Trunk Exchange in Sydney, in common with private business and industry in general in the Sydney metropolitan area, has experienced considerable difficulty in recruiting sufficient staff to meet its needs. Moreover the staff turnover in the Main Trunk Exchange has been extremely high. Similar problems have been experienced in respect to the Phonogram Section of the Chief Telegraph Office.

In the first nine months of this year recruitment for the Intrastate (011), Interstate (018), International (016) exchanges and the Directory Assistance Centre (013) in Sydney totalled 962 telephonists while staff losses for the same period totalled 1025. In the quarter ended September, the staff wastage exceeded recruitment by 60. Overall, the staff level in the areas mentioned has been around 30 per cent below required strength and at times the shortage has been as high as 50 per cent. As a result, there has been a serious decline in the standard of service available on most trunk call booking levels, Phonograms, Directory Assistance and other special service levels. The high turnover of staff has aggravated the situation in that, while all operators are trained to a high level of efficiency, relatively few remain in employment long enough to gain the necessary degree of experience- six to nine months- to become fully proficient.

The difficulties experienced on the particular occasion mentioned by the honourable senator, are consistent with those to be expected in a situation of severe staff shortages. An automatic queuing system is associated with the 0 1 1 and most other booking and special service levels to ensure that, within reasonable limits, calls are answered in the order of origination. If, because of delay in receiving an answer, a caller hangs up and dials again, he loses his place in the queue. As the queue accommodates only a limited number of calls, it follows that if callers repeatedly hang up and dial a new call, the latter enters at the end of the queue. Congestion occurs and callers not able to get into the queue receive the engaged signal. It is not possible to state precisely why the Senator received a recorded voice announcement in two instances. However, under overload conditions such as those described, such a condition can occur.

In an effort to improve the situation the Department after consultation with the staff associations concerned recently turned its attention to recruiting part-time staff. Results so far are pleasing and in recent weeks a noticeable improvement in the standard of service on most levels has been achieved. However the situation is still far from satisfactory and will be aggravated by the heavy demands likely to be placed on all operating staffs between now and the New Year.

It is pertinent to add that for more than a decade the Post Office has foreseen that the time would come when it would be impossible to recruit the numbers of telephonists required to provide manual trunk service. It was for this reason that plans were made to introduce subscriber trunk dialling and there is no doubt whatever that, without STD, trunk line service in Australia today would be chaotic Quite clearly, to avoid delays and, indeed, to benefit from the lower cost of STD calls, the Post Office strongly recommends that callers wishing to make trunk calls should use the automatic trunk service whenever possible.

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