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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 158


Senator PETER BAUME(12.48) —Mr Deputy President, I raise today the supply of a telephone service to a family living in an extremely remote part of Australia, the upper Tuross valley in south eastern New South Wales; the saga that has accompanied this story; the attempt to get a telephone; and the procedures which Telecom Australia is following which may not impact well upon isolated rural Australia. I understand that one of the papers which has been tabled today and which will be discussed later in the Senate is a Telecom report entitled `Service and Business Outlook for 1985-86'. Without discussing the report I note that at page 23 Telecom sets out, under the heading `Network Development Outlook' a section on the rural and remote areas program. It identifies that program and states that it comprises three parts, the conversion of remaining manual telephone services to automatic, the replacement of part privately erected lines by wholly Telecom provided plant, and the connection of new services in areas not practicable to serve previously. It states that 33,000 services fall under these categories which will need the new Telecom program. It states further that a vital component of this program is the digital radio concentrator system and describes that.

The story that I will put before the Senate probably covers all these problems. The upper Tuross River in my State is a very beautiful and isolated area, sitting inland from the town of Bodalla and beneath the Monaro. The upper Tuross and the Belowra valley used to have a telephone service provided by a manual exchange operating out of Nerrigundah-a very small hamlet, itself inland from Bodalla. I used to call the area without difficulty when I was a doctor. One of my patients lived in Belowra. I was able to go through the Nerrigundah exchange and talk to my constituents or, as they were then, my patients. But for about seven years now they have had no service at all. People who previously had a telephone service now have none. They have had many promises but those promises have not been acted on adequately. We have the extraordinary circumstances now of Telecom actually offering a service to people who have not got it but who had it some years ago under a system which Telecom says it wants to replace because it wants to improve the service.

It might be worth while setting out the background of this case to the Senate. Until June 1977, a telephone office operated at Nerrigundah. It closed because of the retirement of the postmistress or some other equally fortuitous event. There were two subscribers, including my constituents who had a private line from Nerrigundah to their property, a distance, perhaps, of 15 or 20 kilometres. The situation applying at that time is set out in a letter of September 1977 from the State Manager of Telecom to the former honourable member for Eden-Monaro, Mr Murray Sainsbury, when representations were first made. I seek leave to incorporate that letter which sets out the situation which applied in the valley.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Telecom Australia

Telephone 922 6688 Area Code 02...State Manager

Telex 20751...Box 5333 GPO

Reference N293/1/135...Sydney, N.S.W. 2001

September 1977

Mr M. E. Sainsbury, M.P.

Member for Eden-Monaro,

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Mr Sainsbury

I refer to your personal representations on behalf of Nerrigundah subscribers concerning closure of the Nerrigundah telephone office.

When the Nerrigundah telephone office closed in June 1977 there were two subscribers connected and five persons in the area waiting for new telephone services. One subscriber was transferred to the Bodalla automatic telephone exchange and the other, Mr Thompson, was connected temporarily to Narooma manual exchange pending an examination of the area to determine the most efficient and economical method of providing automatic telephone services.

At the time of the closure of the Nerrigundah telephone office, Mr Thompson was advised during an interview that the use of privately erected lines for automatic telephone service had been discontinued and that connection to Bodalla would be dependent upon the provision of a Commission line. This would involve Mr Thompson in the payment of a cash contribution of $2,400.

Mr Thompson indicated during the interview that he would be willing to conduct a telephone office in his residence. However, it is the policy of Telecom Australia to extend the benefits of automatic telephone service with subscriber trunk dialling facilities to all subscribers throughout Australia and the establishment of small manual exchanges with limited facilities and hours of service is being avoided where possible.

The examination to determine the best method of providing telephone service in the area is continuing and the Customer Services Manager, Nowra will advise Mr Thompson of the results as soon as they are known. In the meantime, it would be to Mr Thompson's advantage to maintain the privately erected section of his line to the best practicable standards to ensure a reasonable service from Narooma.

Yours sincerely

W. T. SCHMIDT

State Manager


Senator PETER BAUME —I thank the Senate. I draw the attention of the Senate to the last sentence of that letter which stated:

In the meantime, it would be to Mr Thompson's advantage to maintain the privately erected section of his line to the best practicable standards to ensure a reasonable service from Narooma.

Telecom was switching the service between exchanges. The clear implication at that time was that the service would continue and that these people's telephone connection to the world would remain. This was a period of drought and hardship for those on the land. In 1981 a letter from the Telecom customer services branch indicated that the service was not operating, that this was probably due to the condition of the privately owned section of line and that in that time of drought the people had not paid their rental on the non-operative service. I am not sure that I would pay rental on a non-operative service either. In any event I happen to know that these people, who were graziers, were, as were many other graziers at the time, out on the road with their cattle, trying to keep them alive.

By 1978, the Commission was thinking differently. It was no longer thinking that the people concerned should maintain their privately erected portion of line for land connection. Telecom was now thinking about a radio link from the Narooma exchange and it was talking about converting the old telephone service and including a new service for another member of the family. I have two letters from Telecom-one dated 12 April 1978 and the other 14 April 1978-to members of the family which set out the new proposals. I seek leave to incorporate those letters in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letters read as follows-

TELECOM AUSTRALIA

Telecom Busines Office

Telephone 2 5111 Area Code 044...31 Kinghorne Street,

Telex 26463...Nowra, N.S.W. 2540

Reference AS:PA...Postal Address:

P.O. Box 533,

Nowra 2540

12.4.78

Mr E. D. Thomson

``Belowra''

Nerrigundah, N.S.W. 2545

Dear Sir,

Telecom Australia is now preparing to proceed with the connection of a telephone service to your property ``Belowra'' using a radio link from Narooma telephone exchange. The Yowrie telephone exchange is the closest to your premises and although Narooma exchange is to be the actual connection point, the charge for provision of the telephone service has been assessed as though the link were provided between Yowrie exchange and your premises.

Similar quotations for telephone services are being prepared for Mr. H. Burns, Mr. N. R. Broomham, Mr. W. F. Dance, Mr. M. Collett and Mr. F. D. Thomson.

A charge for provision of telephone facilities is assessed on the radial distance between your premises and the exchange site, the first 16 km radial distance provided for a standard service connection fee currently $120.00, which applies to any applicant in the Commonwealth of Australia. A surcharge of $160.00 per half kilometre or part thereof beyond the 16 km radial distance is chargeable. As your premises are not in excess of 16 km radial distance, no cash contribution is chargeable.

You would be required as an applicant to pay the normal service connection fee and annual rental for a telephone service. Current rates are, service connection fee $120.00 and annual rental (at a base rate for a single telephone instrument) $120.00.

I wish to emphasise that this letter is intended to advise you of the charges applicable and should not be taken as indication that a service can be provided in the near future. Your acceptance of the terms would be appreciated, but it is not required that you forward any remittance at this stage. The intention of the letter is to allow you to confirm your application under the conditions stated above before final arrangements are made for special radio link equipment to be obtained. Indications are that at least 12-18 months delay would occur before the equipment becomes available.

Yours faithfully,

A. STIRLING

for Customer Services Manager

Telecom Australia

Telecom Business Office

Telephone 2 5111 Area Code 044...31 Kinghorne Street,

Telex 25463...Nowra, N.S.W. 2540

Reference AS:PA...Postal Address:

PO Box 533,

Nowra 2540

14.4.78

Mr F. D. Thomson

``Belowra''

NERRIGUNDAH, N.S.W. 2545

Dear Sir,

Telecom Australia is now preparing to proceed with the conversion of the telephone service to your property ``Belowra'' using a radio link from Narooma telephone exchange. The Yowrie telephone exchange is the closest to your premises and although Narooma exchange is to be the actual connection point the charge for provision of the telephone service has been assessed as though the link were provided between Yowrie exchange and your premises.

Similar letters for telephone services are being prepared for Mr W. F. Dance, Mr H. Burns, Mr N. R. Broomham, Mr E. D. Thomson and Mr M. Collett.

A charge for provision of telephone facilities is assessed on the radial distance between your premises and the exchange site, the first 16km radial distance provided for a standard service connection fee currently $120.00, which applies to any applicant in the Commonwealth of Australia. A surcharge of $160.00 per half kilometre or part thereof beyond the 16km radial distance is chargeable. As your premises are not in excess of 16km radial distance from Yowrie, no cash contribution is chargeable.

As an existing subscriber you would not be required to pay the normal service connection fee and annual rental in advance. Your existing contract for telephone service Nerrigundah 1 will continue.

I wish to emphasise that the letters are intended to advise each of the residents of the charges applicable and should not be taken as an indication that a service can be provided in the near future. Indications are that at least 12-18 months delay would occur before the equipment becomes available.

Yours faithfully,

A. STIRLING,

for Customer Services Manager


Senator PETER BAUME —I am grateful to the Senate. By 1980 nothing had happened. Those people, with no telephone service, had been told that they were not paying the rental for a non-operative service and then told that they were going to be put on some radio connection, but nothing had happened. So the former member for Eden Monaro, Mr Murray Sainsbury, wrote in February 1980 to the then Minister for Post and Telecommunications, the Hon. Tony Staley, seeking some follow-up. When that letter elicited no response he wrote again in June 1980. The Minister had an answer from Telecom by September 1980. I seek leave to incorporate the answer which Mr Sainsbury received from Mr Staley at that stage, which included, among other things, apologies for the inordinate length of time it took to respond to representations.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Minister for Post and Telecommunications Parliament House

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Mr Sainsbury,

You wrote to me in February 1980 and again on 12 June 1980 on behalf of your constituents living at Belowra, west of Nerrigundah concerning the provision of a radio telephone link to the Narooma Telephone Exchange.

I am sorry that I have not been able to reply earlier on this matter. The advice that I have now received from Telecom Australia indicates that because of the very high costs involved in providing telephone communications to this isolated part of the South Coast, the programming of the required work has of necessity been given a low priority in Telecom's annual capital works program.

It has not been possible for the work to be programmed in this present financial year and as a consequence the telephone services in the Belowra Valley could not be provided before the 1981-82 financial year.

I realise that this will be disappointing advice for you and your constituents in the area and I have asked Telecom Australia to keep the works program under review to see if some way can be found to bring the project forward.

Yours sincerely,

A. A. STALEY

Mr M. Sainsbury, M.P.

member for Eden-Monaro

Parliament House,

CANBERRA, A.C.T. 2600


Senator PETER BAUME —I thank the Senate. The Minister regretted that Telecom's capital works program could not accommodate the work. The letter stated:

. . . the programming of the required work has of necessity been given a low priority in Telecom's annual capital works program.

That is pretty cold comfort to people living in this kind of remoteness who previously enjoyed a telephone service but who, with the march of progress, lost it. Telecom indicated further that the 1981-82 financial year would be the first opportunity to provide the service. In 1981 I started taking up the matter. In fact I took it up with the then Minister for Communications, Ian Sinclair. His response indicated that Telecom expected to undertake the work to connect these people to a service sometime in the 1982-83 financial year. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the letter from Mr Sinclair to me setting out those matters.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS

Deputy Leader of the National Country Party of Australia

Leader of the House

Member for New England

20 Jan. 1981

Senator The Hon. P. E. Baume,

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs,

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

My dear Minister,

You wrote to me on behalf of residents of the Upper Tuross Valley situated west of Bodalla concerning telephone services. Telecom Australia has informed me that a telephone service to the area was originally provided from the Nerrigundah Post Office and manual telephone exchange by a long aerial line for Mr D. Thompson of ``Belowra''. The service is now leased in the name of Mrs M. H. H. Thompson. Following closure of the Nerrigundah Post Office on 30 June 1977, as a result of the resignation of the Postmistress, temporary telephone service was provided from Narooma telephone exchange until 27 November, 1978 when the line was connected to Bodalla automatic exchange.

The service was provided in 1947 under conditions whereby the subscriber erected and maintained a section of aerial line. For some years this maintenance was carried out infrequently until the circuit became inoperative. In accordance with Telecom's policy regarding privately erected and maintained lines, field staff have given technical advice to Mrs Thompson and her sons on many occasions regarding repairs to the line, and in October 1978 written advice was forwarded indicating what repairs were necessary and providing a telephone number on which Telecom could be contacted for further advice if required.

Plans to provide services for the seven waiting applicants in Belowra Valley and a wholly maintained Commission replacement service for Mrs Thompson have been prepared. These involve provision of radio telephone facilities requiring the establishment of a radio transmission site and individual radio telephone equipment at each residence.

Telecom has also advised that current programming provides for this work to be undertaken in the 1982-83 financial year. Prior to installation work commencing, Telecom Australia will advise the residents concerned of the terms and conditions applicable to provision of a service.

Yours sincerely

IAN SINCLAIR


Senator PETER BAUME —I thank the Senate. Obviously, nothing happened in the 1982-83 financial year or I would not be making a complaint. In February 1984 Telecom wrote to the family again indicating that a radio telephone concentrator-yet another proposal-was to be established at Mt Wandera during the financial year and that it would enable the provision of a full telephone service. This information is set out in a letter from Telecom to the family dated 7 February 1984. I seek leave to incorporate that letter in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

TELECOM AUSTRALIA

District Telecommunications Branch

Wollongong

Telephone 21 5111 Area Code 044...Nowra Business Office,

Telex 26463...27 Kinghorne Street,

Reference CFG/RVP...Nowra

Postal Address:

PO Box 533

Nowra, N.S.W. 2541

7 February 1984

F. Thompson

Nerrigundah

Dear Customer,

Present plans provide for the establishment of a radio telephone concentrator at Mt Wandera this financial year. Following the installation of this equipment, it will be possible to provide you with an automatic telephone service and access to the Subscriber Trunk Dialling (S.T.D.) network.

The policy with respect to the provision of rural lines provides for applicants for new automatic telephone services who are located within a radial distance of 16 kms from the nearest exchange to pay the Standard Connection Fee for a basic exchange line service. Applicants beyond 16 kms are required to pay a Rural Connection Fee in lieu of the Standard Connection Fee, currently $150.00.

As your residence has been measured at more than 16 kms from the nearest exchange a Rural Connection Fee of $375.00 is payable. The normal rental of $115.00 per annum for a domestic service will apply.

A list of ``Special Conditions'' applicable to telephone services provided by radio is attached which should be read before completing the enclosed application.

Should you wish to proceed with a connection to the automatic system under the conditions outlined, please complete and indicate on the enclosed ``Application for a Telephone Service'' form, the Automatic Colorfone of your choice. This form may be returned in the ``Business'' envelope provided. Please note that only a standard telephone may be connected to your telephone service.

Yours faithfully,

C. F. GALE

for Customer Service Manager, Nowra


Senator PETER BAUME —I am grateful, Mr Deputy President. On 10 September 1984 another letter indicated that the final connection was expected within three months, that is some time during 1984. So that we can keep the story straight I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard that letter.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

TELECOM AUSTRALIA

District Telecommunications Branch

Wollongong

Telephone 21 5111 Area Code 044...Nowra Business Office,

27 Kinghorne Street,

Nowra

Postal Address

P.O. Box 533

Nowra, N.S.W. 2541

10.9.84

Dear Sir,

I refer to my letter of 7th February, 1984 in which you were quoted the connection fee payable for your telephone service. The enclosed quotation sets out the charges involved.

In anticipation of your acceptance of the charges, and as final connection is expected within the next 3 months, instructions have been issued for the connection to proceed.

If you:

(a) decide not to proceed with your application, please advise the Telephone Business Office, Telephone-Nowra 044-21 5111 (Free Call).

(b) wish to proceed, the ``Amount Now Required'' as indicated in the quotation should be forwarded to this office or paid at any Telecom Business Office. Cheques should be made payable toTelecom Australia.

Any other form which has been enclosed with the quotation should be completed and returned.

Yours faithfully,

F. GALE

for Customer Services Manager, Nowra


Senator PETER BAUME —By October 1984, one month after the letter which I have just had incorporated was sent, Telecom was advising that the project was delayed because-I will give its reasons-the Jilliga repeater tower installation was held up awaiting an answer to a Telecom proposal from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. It was held up because of duck shoving within the Public Service.


Senator Kilgariff —How much did all that cost?


Senator PETER BAUME —I do not know how much it cost but I know that almost seven years have passed since people who had very real reasons to need a telephone-reasons to do with health, particularly-used to have a service under a manual exchange. Then they did not have one at all. This matter was held up while Telecom worked out the interdepartmental problems. In December, I understand, the obstruction was overcome and, according to another letter dated 29 October 1984, the installation was scheduled for completion `by Christmas 1984 or shortly after'. At that stage Telecom sought payment from my constituents as the installation was seen to be imminent. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard Telecom's letter of 29 October 1984.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Telecom Australia

District Telecommunications Branch

Wollongong

Telephone 21 5111 Area Code 044...Nowra Business Office,

Telex 26463...27 Kinghorne Street,

Reference CFG/RVP...Nowra

Postal Address

PO Box 533

Nowra, N.S.W. 2541

29 October 1984

Mr F. Thomson

``Belowra''

via Bodalla, N.S.W. 2545

Dear Sir,

I refer to your letter of 16 October 1984 concerning the installation of your telephone service.

An accurate estimation of the date of connection cannot be given at present because of circumstances beyond our control. The Jillaga Radio Repeater Tower installation is held up awaiting an answer to a Telecom proposal from the National Park and Wildlife Service. On receipt of an answer from this Department, a better estimation of a likely connection date can be made.

I will write to you as soon as further information is available.

Yours faithfully,

C. F. GALE

for Customer Services Manager, Nowra


Senator PETER BAUME —Of course, Mr Deputy President, nothing very much happened. In January 1985 the installation date was set back to March. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a letter of January 1985 from Telecom advising that Telecom expected to have the installation completed by March.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

TELCOM AUSTRALIA

District Telecommunications Branch

Wollongong

Telephone 21 5111 Area Code 044...Nowra Business Office,

Telex 26463...27 Kinghorne Street,

Reference CFG/CF...Nowra

Postal Address

PO Box 533

Nowra, N.S.W. 2541

Mr F. Thomson...7 January 1985

``Belowra''

Bodalla, N.S.W. 2545

Dear Sir,

I refer to our letter of 4 December 1984 quoting the Rural Connection Fee and Rent in Advance for a telephone service to your premises at ``Belowra'' Via Bodalla.

As Telecom now expects to have this installation completed by March this year it is imperative that we know your intentions regarding this matter.

Should you have decided against proceeding with this installation, your early advice would allow the equipment to be diverted to another waiting applicant.

If you wish to proceed, your early remittance of the quoted sum of $403.75 would be appreciated.

Yours faithfully,

C. F. GALE

for Customer Services Manager, Nowra


Senator PETER BAUME —So the saga goes on. In March 1985 telephone numbers were actually allocated and the installation should have been completed by March. The installation date was amended further to late May 1984. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard the letter from Telecom of 1 March 1985 to my constituents advising of these matters. This is my last incorporation.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

TELECOM AUSTRALIA

District Telecommunications Branch

Wollongong

Telephone 21 5111 Area Code 044...Nowra Business Office

Telex 26463...27 Kinghorne Street,

Reference CFG:JA...Nowra

Postal Address

PO Box 533

Nowra, N.S.W. 2541

1 March 1985

Mrs Y. Thomson

``Belowra''

via Bodalla 2545

Dear Madam,

I refer to your letter of 12 January 1985 regarding your application for telephone service at the above address.

Telephone number 77 9312 has been allocated to the service in the name of F. D. Thomson, and it is expected that installation will be completed in late May 1985. Installation work on the ``Jillaga'' concentrator has recommenced and should be finished at the same time.

Telecom has already made a considerable outlay in both labour and capital cost toward this project, and although a definite completion date cannot be guaranteed because of the many factors involved which are beyond our control, I think it is not unreasonable to expect payment shortly now that final connection is expected within 3 months.

Yours faithfully,

C. F. GALE

for Customer Services Manager, Nowra


Senator PETER BAUME —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. I visited Belowra in July. As I said, it is a very beautiful area. This part of the State I represent is extremely beautiful. It is always a great place to visit. The roads are terrible. One travels over bush tracks. The people live in a very remote state. They are about equidistant between Cooma and Bodalla. One would not think it was very far from anywhere but their children cannot go to normal schools; they are learning by correspondence. They do not know what they will do when their children, who are now nearing high school age, require schooling other than correspondence schooling. They still did not have their telephone service in July. It did not matter about the promises, it did not matter about the date, it did not matter about the fact that they had been asked for money and it did not matter that they had been given telephone numbers. They had been promised again and again and still the telephone was not there. The Thomsons at that stage had no idea when they could expect to be on the telephone again. Knowing their telephone number, we actually tried it this morning. I still do not know whether the service is connected. All I know is that the number is ringing but we cannot get an answer. When I visited them a month ago, they certainly were not on the telephone.

This tale does nothing to enhance the reputation of Telecom as an efficient operator that delivers to its clients what it promises. I commend to Telecom that it examine this saga. Whatever else it does, it should understand that there are people in isolated pockets of my State and in many other States who are waiting for the rural and remote areas program to be more than just a section in a glossy report which we are to discuss this afternoon and to become a reality for them. Whatever else happens Telecom should get the people of this isolated valley and others like it on the telephone now without any more delay, without any more broken promises and without any more mucking around over dates of completion that never come to pass.