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Tuesday, 6 June 1989
Page: 3452


Senator TAMBLING(5.24) —I do not think I have ever heard such woolly thinking as that which we have just heard from the Australian Democrats. I also believe that the stance taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Senator Gareth Evans) has been totally inconsistent. For example, would the Democrats knock back a 008 number to the electorate offices of senators if that was what was offered to them to enable their constituents to make appropriate inquiries? Let me assure honourable senators that that offer has just been made to me by the Minister for Administrative Services (Mr West). It has also been made to a number of honourable senators who need to service people from rural and remote communities. In order to service our constituents' needs properly a 008 number will be installed in our electorate offices in the near future-in fact, those negotiations are currently under way. The Minister for Administrative Services has authorised it, has accepted the need for it and has in fact put it in place.

Senator Powell mentioned that there were a number of service phone numbers for various departments that already need to utilise the 008 facility. We are well aware that such needs arise for rape crisis centres, women's referral centres or social welfare oriented organisations and groups. Most of those receive a Commonwealth government subsidy for their operation, and the Government is happy to pick up the cost of the installations in that regard. I believe that this is a matter of consistency. The Government should accept that there is a need for servicing the community. The proposals that have been promoted for some time by Senator Sheil, both through questions in this place and through notices of motion, and in a number of other proposals, can only mean an improvement of government services and answerability and accountability to the community generally.

I certainly support the amendment moved by Senator Alston, which states:

That all telephone users in rural and remote areas should be able to make telephone calls, free of charge, to the nearest regional office of each Commonwealth Government Department and agency.

I believe the amendment stands on its merits. It should stand on the precedent that has been set by the Government.