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Wednesday, 14 June 1989
Page: 4026


Senator POWELL(7.13) —by leave-I move:

(1) Page 7, after clause 12, insert the following new clause:

Secretary to have general administration of Act

``11a. Section 13 of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end the following subsection:

`(2) The Minister shall direct the Secretary to make provision for the development of a service which will enable a person to make a telephone call to an office that is under the general control of the Secretary, at no greater cost than the cost of a local telephone call.

Commencement: Royal Assent'.''.

(4) Page 19, after clause 47, insert the following new clause:

Telephone access to offices at cheap rate

``47a. The Principal Act is amended by inserting the following section after section 214:

`214a. The Minister shall direct the Secretary to make provision for the development of a service which will enable a person to make a telephone call to an office that is under the general control of the Secretary, at no greater cost than the cost of a local telephone call.

Commencement: Royal Assent'.''.

Amendments Nos 1 and 4 will allow the clients of the Department of Social Security and the Department of Veterans' Affairs to have telephone access to the appropriate officers at no greater cost than the cost of a local telephone call. When speaking during the second reading debate, Senator Sheil reminded the chamber that during the debate on the telecommunications legislation the Opposition attempted to move a blanket amendment which it believed would have the effect of implementing 008 call access to all government departments. At that time, the Australian Democrats did not support that amendment. We believed that this was an inappropriate way to implement a policy with which we agreed. We believed that it was much more apposite to embody that kind of direction within each department's Act. It is ironic that the first department that we are dealing with in this respect-the Department of Social Security-has a fine record of providing 008 facilities for its clients. I am informed that all of its country and regional offices in Tasmania, Western Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory and Victoria have 008 services. New South Wales seems to be lagging behind. I am sure my colleague Senator McLean will keep a weather eye on what happens there. Some more work also needs to be done in South Australia. The Department has used national hotlines effectively and I understand that it intends to continue to do so. This is an equity issue for people who live in rural areas.

I would like to comment on Senator Sheil's initiative in reminding the chamber of the telecommunications legislation. I made a public statement about this aspect of Australian Democrat policy about a year ago. Following the debacle of the wheat legislation, it is obvious that National Party members and senators put their heads together and said, `What can we do for our constituents?'. It is good when people who have perhaps a 60 per cent majority actually sit down and think about what they can do for their constituents. I am very pleased that they signalled that they would be prepared to agree to these amendments.

Given the good record of the Department of Social Security in providing services at regional offices, I believe the wording of the amendments is appropriate. We welcome the Government's support for amendment No. 1 regarding the Department of Social Security and amendment No. 4 regarding the Department of Veterans' Affairs. This will ensure that, in the interests of equity, people who do not live in metropolitan areas or in regional centres will have this kind of access. We also welcome the initiative of the Opposition in flagging its support last week for this kind of approach.