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Tuesday, 6 June 1989
Page: 3454

Senator TAMBLING(5.33) —I referred earlier to the woolly thinking of the Australian Democrats on this issue, and I would like to reinforce what I said. This amendment highlights the policy commitment that telephone users-and I stress the word `users'-in rural and remote areas should be able to make telephone calls free of charge to the nearest regional office of government departments or agencies. As Senator Sheil has pointed out on a number of occasions, the use of 008 numbers is envisaged. My understanding of the increased facility and technology that is available is that the use of a 008 number might not be free of charge but is in effect subject to a local call charge to the agency or the department that the user may be seeking to call: the consumer or the user in the remote area makes a call at a local charge; the additional costs are then picked up by the department or the person who is registered as the holder of that 008 number.

Therefore, there would be no loss of revenue to Telecom Australia in the operation of the intent of this amendment and it would greatly assist people in rural and remote areas of Australia. For example, let me point out that in the Northern Territory there are dozens of Aboriginal communities where it is necessary for Aboriginal citizens to make extensive use of Telecom services in dealing with government departments and agencies such as the Department of Social Security, the Department of Employment, Education and Training and the Department of Community Services and Health. I can assure honourable senators that those Aboriginal constituents in the Northern Territory do not like standing at public telephone boxes with dozens of coins listening to the recorded music while they wait for departments to engage in their discussions or, alternatively, as Senator Sheil pointed out, in the expectation that there will be departmental easy returns. Often the people dealing with those departments have to go through a number of referral agencies within the department before they can get the appropriate services that they require.

I believe the intent of this amendment to strike at the very provision of policy, to provide for telephone users in these remote areas to be able to make those calls, is the important issue that is at stake. I am surprised that we do not enjoy the support of the Democrats on this amendment.