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Tuesday, 22 September 1987
Page: 456

Mr SCIACCA —Is the Minister for Land Transport and Infrastructure Support aware of Press reports indicating that Telecom Australia is shortly proposing to introduce a system of time charging for local telephone calls? Further, is the Minister aware that such speculation is causing serious concern particularly amongst the elderly, the disabled and volunteer organisations throughout Australia? Can the Minister assure this House and the public that Telecom has no current plans to introduce such a fee structure and that if such a scheme is introduced in the future it will take full account of the respective needs of different groups in the community?

Mr DUNCAN —Madam Speaker-

Mr Donald Cameron —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention to page 145 of the Notice Paper which records the fact that I put on the Notice Paper on the first day the Parliament met a notice of motion condemning the Government for coalescing with Telecom on this matter. I ask you to rule that the question is out of order.

Madam SPEAKER —It is a notice of motion condemning the Government; this question is seeking information.

Mr Donald Cameron —Aw!

Madam SPEAKER —But I think the honourable member has made his point.

Mr DUNCAN —I thank the honourable member for his question. The Government is well aware of the anxiety that exists in some sections of the community.

Mr Howard —Have you got the right file?

Mr DUNCAN —Will you hold your tongue.

Opposition members-Oh!

Madam SPEAKER —Order! I tell the Minister that the Chair will run the House, not the Minister. Those on my left will be silent.

Mr DUNCAN —But it also needs to be recognised that Telecom has a massive capital investment in its local network. Local call areas in Australia are quite large by international standards and many untimed calls in Australia would be timed trunk calls in the majority of overseas countries. Further, there is ample evidence that many who are heavy users of long duration local calls, especially business users, are not meeting a fair share of their costs and are thus being subsidised by other users. In particular, Telecom is taking steps to address the long holding time involved by people using data services.

Telecom naturally conducts periodic reviews of its tariffs and the timing of local calls is one of a number of options it looks at in reviewing the viability of the local network. However, at this stage neither Telecom nor the Government has plans to introduce timed local calls. If timing were to be introduced, opportunities would have to be developed through creative pricing to allow all local call users-householders, the elderly, disabled, volunteer organisations and businesses-to satisfy their needs in an equitable way. Such an arrangement would also be subject to Prices Surveillance Authority scrutiny. I conclude by repeating that, at this stage, neither Telecom nor the Government has plans to introduce timed local calls.