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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Sir GEORGE BELL (Darwin) . -I support the amendment of the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald), the object of which was to provide means for a discussion of telephone charges and services. The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) accused the Opposition of stonewalling, but I point out to him that he would not have had the opportunity to discuss telephone charges and services if the honorable member for Corangamite had not moved the amendment. In the main I am in agreement with the remarks made by the honorable member for Lang concerning the telephone services. Increases of telephone rentals and call charges were brought into effect recently under Statutory Rules 1941 No. 261 'which will adversely affect telephone users in country districts. .1. have always considered it to be wrong to make a big rental charge for telephones. I believe that a substantial reduction of that charge would lead to a more extensive use. of the telephone services. I have not such a great objection to the call charges, which 1 regard, in the main, as reasonable. If, however, the rent equipment were reduced, more people would install telephones and even if the husband or wife of the home did not initiate many calls, it is more than likely that they wo.uld receive a good many, and' so the revenue would benefit. The honorable member for Lang made a gibe at the Opposition because telephone services had not been extended more widely while the previous Government was in office. I have been endeavouring for the last twenty years to encourage a. more general vise of the telephone services. During the nine years that I was Speaker, I spoke from the floor of the House on only three occasions, and on each of them I emphasized the need to develop our postal, telephonic and telegraphic services to country districts. I hope that the errors of policy in this connexion which have persisted for so long will be corrected in the not distant future. If honorable members opposite who represent country constituencies would join with honorable members on this side" of the chamber who also represent such areas, in making united representations to the Government, I am sure that effective action would he rr. ken quickly. \. desire to say a few words concerning ii lui -official postal officers. On many occasions, honorable members opposite have expressed' themselves emphatically on the desirability of ensuring that every body in the community shall enjoy at least the basic wage. In my view, the most sweated people in the Australian community are the non-official postmasters, some of whom receive only 15s. a week for daily attendance at their offices from. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Our old-age pensioners will shortly be receiving fi 3s. 6d. a week and, in my opinion, it is absurd and unfair for us to- call upon non-official postmasters, who render such an important service in country districts, to work for the small wages they now receive. Of course, they would not do so unless they had the interests of their various districts at heart. I stress, as I have clone on many previous occasions, the need to improve the conditions of these non-official employees.

I regard some of the increased charges provided for in this bill as unjust, especially to people living in country districts. I do not consider that the new imposts are wise, even from the point of view of the Postmaster-General's Department. It would not be in order for honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber to move to reduce the charges, but I sincerely trust that the Minister assisting the PostmasterrGener al (Mr. George Lawson) will use his influence to secure a. rectification of the grave injustices under which residents of country districts will suffer in having to pay increased charges, thus being adversely affected in comparison with the more favoured people who live in the larger centres of population.

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