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Tuesday, 6 June 1989
Page: 3451


Senator SHEIL(5.15) —I make an impassioned plea to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Senator Gareth Evans) to reconsider-I am not just grandstanding-on the grounds of equity for people. One has to consider that a person in a city can ring the whole gamut of government departments for the price of a local call, but people in remote areas have to pay subscriber trunk dialling (STD) rates to do so and often have to wait, while listening to music, until they get through to the right person. That seems inequitable to me. Also, people in remote areas are really being taxed twice in this instance. The cost of putting up a building in the central business district of any metropolitan area is very high. Telephone subscribers in remote areas contribute towards that building through their taxes. But on top of that, they have to pay STD rates to make phone calls to government departments.

The Government is supposed to service all people. As has been mentioned in debate on a previous amendment, Telecom puts telephone boxes in remote places for the convenience of those people. Just on the ground of equity, I make the plea for 008 numbers to be provided. This was suggested to me by a most perspicacious constituent; it is not just an idea that has been promoted in order to grandstand and get publicity. If the Minister is worried about the cost of it, the equipment is already there. It is rather like the situation when a military campaign is written off. It does not cost any more to provide the service. If there were an additional cost involved, one can imagine that that would be offset by the equity provided to people in remote areas. The precedent has already been set for 008 numbers for the wives of Defence Force personnel. The Australian Taxation Office has 008 numbers, although it is rather peculiar that it may have an 008 number listed in the metropolitan telephone book, but not in regional ones. For example, it is not listed in the Gold Coast phone book that it has a 008 number for Brisbane calls.

I understand that the Minister is saying that technical amendments are being made to improve the system. But I just cannot see, on the ground of equity alone, how the Government could not support an amendment such as this to give the people in the bush a chance to ring at a local call rate government departments that have a high degree of public contact. It is so easy for people in the cities to do that but so much harder and more costly for people in the bush. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Australian Democrats will not support this amendment just on the one ground of equity for rural people.