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Tuesday, 5 May 1987
Page: 2572

Mr SHARP —Will the Minister for Communications confirm comments attributed both to senior Telecom Australia officials and union officials that, firstly, Telecom is planning to raise the charge for a local call at a public telephone booth from 30c to 60c and also will reduce substantially the number of public telephone booths available; secondly, Telecom will be placing a three-minute time charge on local calls instead of the flat rate of 18c; and thirdly Telecom will be charging 72c for calls made to the 013 directory information number?

Mr DUFFY —The honourable member raised various matters. The first one related to public telephone call charges and reports of some official within Telecom talking about the charges being doubled. As far as I am aware that matter has not been considered by Telecom. It is a matter for Telecom to consider. In relation to the reduction in the number of public telephones, two things ought to be clearly understood although again, as far as I am aware, this has not been considered. If it has been considered I will receive a report in due course. The reduction in the number of public telephones would be based, if it is intended, on two matters: Firstly, for public telephones in areas where vandalism is a grave problem; and secondly on the basis that public telephones run at a huge loss. In areas where they are not used sufficiently-and from time to time Telecom undertakes surveys-they may well be removed on that basis. The next matter the honourable member raised was that of time local calls. I am advised that that matter currently is not on the agenda but it is always in the background as an issue which Telecom may have to consider. It is a matter which, I am advised, is not under consideration at the moment.

I have dealt previously at some length with the matter of the 013 directory assistance number. That service was operating at a loss of around $54m. The reason was that many people-and as telephones are used mainly in the business area this must include a lot of people in business-were just too tired to look up a telephone book and rang directory assistance. Considerable cross-subsidies operate at the moment within Telecom. That is not one subsidy that Telecom is prepared to allow to continue as a drain on other services. There will be no charge for directory assistance: Firstly, where the telephone number is not in the book-people will be charged only if they are not prepared to look up the number-secondly, if people are out of the area and therefore do not have access to the book; thirdly, in relation to public telephones; and, fourthly, Telecom will make special arrangements for people who may be visually impaired or who, for other reasons, are unable to use the phone book. Those people who are not prepared to take the time to look up a phone book when the entry is there will be charged.