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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1476

Mr HICKS —Is the Minister for Communications aware that many farmers are facing cash liquidity problems because of the necessity to pay high interest rates which are unparalleled in Australia's history? Is the Minister also aware that this has resulted in delay in payments of some telephone accounts with a subsequent cutting off of the telephone service by Telecom Australia thus leaving some women and children on isolated farms without telephone communication? Given the seriousness of this situation, will the Minister assure the House that no family living in an isolated location will be left without telephone communications for any period as a result of the Government's high interest rates policy?

Mr DUFFY —A few points have to be made that arise from the question. First, as the honourable member for Riverina-Darling will understand-I hope-Telecom is an independent statutory authority, and it will not be directed by this Government on matters such as that.

Opposition members-Oh!

Mr DUFFY —Do some Opposition members disagree with that? Having made that point, I return to the question which obviously is a matter which causes genuine concern to the honourable member. Quite a few representations have been made on this matter. I can assure the honourable member that if in fact representations are made by him on behalf of constituents, or by the constituents direct, they will be considered by Telecom on the basis of those representations. However, I think it is worth pointing out because it raises a point which is very close to a debate which is going on in this country at the moment. It is interesting that the question has come from the honourable member as a member of the National Party. Currently there is no communications policy from his side of the House. One of the reasons for that is that a somewhat damp policy, but a reasonable enough policy in many ways was put out. Although I think it is not thought through in the direction in which it is going in certain areas, at least the shadow Minister did have a policy. That policy is currently being squeezed by the dries. One of the things I would have thought that the members of the National Party ought to be considering very seriously at this stage would be the result of the policy which would come from the dry members opposite in telecommunications. I remind the honourable member who asked the question that currently there is a cross-subsidy to rural areas in this country by Telecom of half a billion dollars. I heard from the Leader of the Opposition, in a television debate with me one evening, that the Opposition would put that on budget.

Mr Carlton —That is not correct and you know it.

Mr DUFFY —The shadow Treasurer interjects that it is not correct. I will get the transcript. It is correct. That is what the Leader of the Opposition said, or has it changed again? I am sorry. When is the Opposition going to get the policy out? It will save me some confusion. Get it out. I repeat that the matter raised by the honourable member is a matter of genuine concern to him. I think he would better serve his constituents if he pulled that mob into line to ensure that the cross subsidy that operated so well in rural Australia will not be destroyed by the Opposition.