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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1431

Senator TOWNLEY(10.45) —I should like to raise a couple of matters on the adjournment this evening. One of the reasons that they have to be raised on the adjournment is that these days it seems fairly difficult to get answered the number of questions that used to be answered. Once upon a time every honourable senator in this chamber used to get a reply to about one question per day, but that seems to have gone by the board over the last few months. That has been to the detriment of the Senate.

Senator Walsh —Oh!

Senator TOWNLEY —The Minister at the table is one of those who speaks at much too great a length in reply to some questions. Some of his replies are just filibusters, although I must admit that, in his replies, he gives a lot of information that is very forthright and honest, but the fact is that it should be done by way of ministerial statement rather than replying to a question.

I think that it was a couple of years ago when Senator Chaney was a Minister in this place representing the then Minister for Communications that he said that my mother had been frightened by a telephone-perhaps whilst I was in gestation. So tonight I shall perhaps add to that rumour by talking once more about phones. This is brought about for two reasons. Recently in Hobart there was a convention at the new convention centre at Wrest Point, which is very important to our tourist industry. As Senator Reid has just said, tourism is very important to Canberra. So tourism is very important to Tasmania. Anything that makes matters more difficult for tourists or gives them the impression that they are not being looked after in the way in which I would want them to be looked after in Tasmania is something against which I take this opportunity to speak out. Although this might seem a fairly simple matter, it is something that must be drawn to the attention of Telecom Australia at this stage.

Over the years, I have tried to point out to the members of the Senate and to the public that there are not nearly the number of public telephones in this country that there should be. When one compares Australia with a place such as the United States of America, I would say that we have perhaps one-twentieth of the number of telephones in city areas such as Sydney as does the United States. That may not be an accurate comparison; it is just by my observation. But certainly the number of public telephones, or pay phones as they are called, that seem to be available, and easily available in big cities in the United States, is way in excess of what it is here. There are certainly not enough public phones in this country.

We are now seeing Telecom unwittingly embarking upon a course that will make the number of telephones available to a lot of people who rely on pay phones even less than it is now. We are now seeing the introduction of a very good telephone, called the gold phone. There was an advertisement in one of the newspapers this morning. It was inserted by Telecom. At the bottom of it, it says 'Gold phone-no one knows more about phones than we do'. That must have been written by an advertising agent, because it is my belief that some of the Telecom personnel are becoming out of touch with reality with regard to what people want with telephones. I would hesitate to say that they are out of touch because I believe that so many of the top personnel in Telecom who may make decisions about telephones have free phones. They do not realise how important a public telephone is to those people who live in areas where the average income is not as high as it might be in the areas where they live and perhaps where a lot of members of parliament live.

As I have said, the gold phone at first sight appears to me to be very good, but it has several weaknesses. They are all weaknesses that I believed can be changed if Telecom thinks about it. It is a good telephone in that it accepts 10c, 20c and 50c pieces. I hope that it can be easily modified to accept the $1 coin when it becomes available. However, the pulses that it receives are based upon 20c pulses. If somebody puts in a 50c coin because it is the only coin that he has he does not get 50c worth of call; he gets only 40c worth of call, which is not all that important. Why should Telecom or the people who are operating that phone get 1c profit, let alone 20 per cent more than they deserve? It would not be very difficult for phones of this type to be pulsed so that they operated not in 20c units but in 10c units.

For the benefit of the Senate, what happens is that the period of conversation is determined according to the rate of what is chargeable for local calls, subscriber trunk dialling calls or international subscriber dialling calls. A pulse is sent down the line which switches the phone on or off depending on whether or not there is any money in it. If it is a 20c pulse somebody who thinks he will get 2 1/2 times a 20c call for his 50c will be making an error. I do not think this is robbing the public, but a few years ago 10c was all that a person had to pay for any local telephone call. Even these days, when the value of money has gone down over the years, it is still something to which I do not think the owner or renter of that call box is entitled.

In some areas of Australia it is impossible to get through to the exchange on a gold telephone. That was the case recently at a convention centre in Hobart where there were people from virtually all over the world. Many of them had a credit card which I imagine Telecom wants to issue. However, they could not get through to the exchange to make either a reverse charge call or to use the credit card that had been issued. Those of us who are away from our offices and have need occasionally to use public phones will recognise that it is important to be able to get through to the exchange so that the call can be connected. Until recently, except on some of the red phones, that has not been possible either. This is different.

We are now moving into an area where I think a lot of the red phones will be replaced by gold ones. I believe the gold phones will become very popular. They are good, as I said a moment ago, in most of their attributes, but as they become more popular the number of green phones or ordinary public phones available will be fewer. Telecom has the attitude that unless a particular telephone would get a certain amount of money, on no account would it be installed. As gold phones on which one can make STD and ISD calls become available in restaurants and places of that kind the number of real public phones that have nearly all of the facilities that should be available in a public phone will be fewer and, I think, that is going the wrong way.

In this country we seem to be moving toward a time when the numbers of credit cards of one kind or another are on the increase. To remove from use by credit card holders a huge number of public telephones over the next few years I believe is very much a step in the wrong direction. If a person wants to phone home to get some money sent to him for some reason or another-he may have lost his wallet or something of that nature-he may have very few coins but he cannot even quickly dial his home and say: 'Can you ring me back on this number?'. As I understand it, the number that is printed on any public phone is not the actual number which if dialled will connect the caller. I believe there is a list at the exchange that has a cross-reference to those telephones. However, places such as England do have public phones which, if the number is dialled, connect the caller. I have had the opportunity to speak to people in England who have called me from a public telephone box and asked me to ring that number back. I believe that system should apply here. I can see absolutely no reason why, if we are going to use this system where gold phones will become quite extensive throughout the community, we cannot have that kind of system.

Gold phones are good because they have a decent push button system. They do not have a redial; I think they should have. They should certainly have the facilities that I have just mentioned. They should be pulsed so that they operate on 10c pulses; they should accept $1 coins when they become available; they should have the actual phone numbers printed on the outside and they should be made available for reverse charge and credit card calls. As I understand it, at the moment in most cases none of those facilities are available.

I have tried dialling 0176 on several of these phones. It is the usual number that one uses in a public phone to get through to make a long distance call. In different States they seem to work, but they certainly do not work at the casino in Tasmania and they do not work in certain other areas where I have tried them. However, it is my belief that any telephone that takes money should have as many services available as is possible. Why are we limiting these services instead of making them as extensive as possible? I know that the difference between a red phone or a gold phone and a green phone is that the red and gold phones are hired by people for use in their premises. However, I think it should be a rule of Telecom that the people who want to install a red or gold phone have to make these other facilities available for the community of Australia. As I said earlier, a lot of people rely on pay phones. As more gold phones become available I believe that the number of green phones will decrease even way below their already low number, and that is something that I believe Telecom should and most probably will look at in the near future.

One other matter I would like to deal with this evening relates to something I have mentioned in the Senate on other occasions; that is, the size of the coins that we use. We are just about to see the start of the use of a $1 coin. I am not blaming this Government at all. This is not a political matter. It is a practical matter. It is time that the whole coin system of this country was looked at once again. There seems to be no reason why we cannot get by now with just a 1c coin, a 5c coin, a 10c coin, a 25c coin and a $1 coin. I am sure there are some people here tonight who would say that is a pretty good system of money that is used in other areas of the world. Not only should we get by with those denominations, but we should also reduce the size of the coins that we have at the moment. I am not sure if honourable senators collect as many coins in a day as I do. I tend to put them in one pocket and quite often at the end of the day one side of my suit ends up looking longer than the other side.

I believe the size of our coins is outdated. It is a carryover from when we had coins that were a copy of the English size. It is time that they were all made smaller. Perhaps the 1c coin is all right, but all the others are ridiculously large. An inordinate amount of metal is being used. I ask the Government once more to consider this matter of changing the size and the value of some of the coins that are used in this country. We have at last got round to a $1 coin. This is about 10 years after I first started asking for a $1 coin in this place. With inflation it is time we started looking now at a $5 or even a $10 coin. I would like to see a $5 coin if it can be produced soon and a $10 coin from a government of whichever flavour. The Government has already produced the $1 coin and should now move to the next size up. This is obviously what we need in this country.

Senate adjourned at 11.03 p.m.