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Tuesday, 22 July 1902


Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) (AttorneyGeneral) . - I regret the absence of my honorable colleague, Sir Philip Fysh, who is better informed upon this subject than I am, although upon a debate of this character the intention of honorable members is rather to make suggestions than to engage in any final discussion upon the merits or demerits of specific practices. In its essence the question is the old one, as to the extent to which the State is justified in providing telephonic facilities with a view to increasing not only the public convenience but the public revenue. It is difficult to determine the exact point at which we should declare - " Beyond this the advantages conferred upon the public will not be commensurate with the loss imposed upon the taxpayer." Exactly where that line should be drawn will always be a matter of contention. The views of honorable members will be influenced by the practice ' which formerly existed in their respective States, and by the density of population in the districts from which they come. Liberal as the honorable member for Parramatta may have been, when he was Postmaster-General of New South Wales, he established precedents which would apply only in that great State. He would have needed an additional measure of caution if the precedents which he established were to be applied to portions of Australia as different as are Western Australia and Tasmania from New South Wales and Queensland. My honorable colleague, the Postmaster-General and his advisers, were thus placed in a delicate position. ' Different practices existed in the six different States, and we had to adopt that one, or some amendment of it, which seemed likely to apply fairly in an average way throughout the Commonwealth. I have listened in vain to-day for either some protest or approbation from representatives of those States which are receiving enhanced benefits as compared with those which they formerly enjoyed. There are many such benefits. The rates which are now charged are lower than they were previously in these States, and the time during which the public can engage in telephonic conversation has been extended. Of course we hear nothing of these advantages. But from those States in which reduced facilities are now given we naturally hear a cry of alarm. It has to be discounted by the fact that it is inevitable in the initial stages of establishing a uniform system throughout Australia. The honorable member who moved the adjournment comes from a State in which the people have been treated most liberally in telephonic matters. Consequently there need be no surprise at the tentative discontent which is engendered in bringing that State up to the Australian standard. The particular matter which aroused thehonorable member's wrath has met with its due reward. Instructions have been given which will enable the two great centres of the West Coast to communicate with each other directly without the necessity for sending their messages over a main trunk line.


Mr Watkins -Why is this special privilege given in one case ?


Mr DEAKIN - If honorable members will turn to the regulation referred to by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo they will find that no minimum distance was fixed below which a line would cease to be a trunk line. The words used are " 25 miles in length or under." Therefore a line a foot long might be termed a trunk line. It was the endeavor of the Postmaster-General to decentralize that led to the curious anomaly in Tasmania. The Deputy Postmasters-General were allowed to determine what, according to the practice of their respective

States, were trunk lines. The complaint which the honorable member has made is due to the fact that the Tasmanian authorities denominated this particular line on the west coast of that State a trunk line. Instructions have now been given that where two small settlements are concerned no line under five miles in length is to be regarded as a trunk line, whilst in the case of cities the minimum has been extended to ten miles. The honorable member for Parramatta was in error when he declared that the three minutes limit was not of universal application. So far as the postal authorities are aware there is not a line outside of Victoria where three minutes is not the ordinary limit.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But in nearly every country people are allowed to use the telephone for more than three minutes.


Mr DEAKIN - The three minutes limit is universal because 70 or 80 per cent. of the conversations in which business people engage consist merely of a question and a reply. That period is also fixed with a view to preventing a monopoly of the line. Otherwise it would be sometimes possible for a few men to get possession of a telephone line , to the exclusion of their rivals. The Postmaster-General has been impressed with the good case made out by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo and others in favour of an extension of the three minutes limit to five minutes, at a reduced charge for the last two minutes. That appears to be a reasonable suggestion, and I have every reason for believing that he will shortly make a concession in that direction. The other series of complaints by honorable members had reference to the deposits required in connexion with the construction of certain telephone lines. Apparently honorable members have assumed that this new condition is to apply to the construction of all such lines. But it is not so. It is to be applied only in cases where the estimated revenue is not considered sufficient to justify the erection of a line.

Mr.JosephCook. - It is not the guarantee of which we complain, but the cash deposit.


Mr DEAKIN - It is very desirable in the public interest that we should obtain a cash deposit in cases where the revenue is doubtful, if we can do so without unduly hampering those concerned. The point at which we should say - " We require something more than our expectations in this case to induce us to construct the line " is very difficult to determine. But, unless some such restriction is imposed, many deserving localities will be denied proper facilities for communication. There must necessarily be discrimination, in justice to the various communities interested ; and the communities which offer the best results have the first claim to be heard, and must be first considered by the Postmaster-General. The honorable member for Bland appears to have received some very proper encouragement in submitting his proposal.


Mr Watson - It is not my proposal ; I think it came from some one in the department.


Mr DEAKIN - The proposal to which the honorable member has referred appears to meet with approval in the department and to offer a satisfactory means of escape for those in the back-country, with whose conditions it is most difficult to deal. There, in many cases, those concerned will be satisfied with simpler appliances, which the Government simply dare not erect as their own, and expedients may be devised to work well for some time. The people will take advantage of natural conditions and circumstances to obtain short cuts so as to reduce expenditure, and thus, with the assent and assistance of the depart^ ment, obtain the privileges which they desire to enjoy without imposing any burden on the public purse. This plan seems to offer great opportunities for development, and I trust that amongst the amendments made in the regulations will be included some for promoting and encouraging self-help in this connexion throughout Australia. But I do not say, even apart from this matter, that it ought to be necessary to insist on so large a deposit in the great bulk of the instances which come before the Post-office authorities. The proposed guarantee, however, was a very good basis on which to start - on which to lay down in a business-like cash fashion a principle which would have the effect of bringing home to the public what their responsibilities were. I have not the least doubt that the representations made by the honorable member for Cowper and other honorable members will have due effect, and will not be passed over, as that honorable member appears to think they have been. We have as a basis these regulations framed with the best knowledge and judgment the department possesses, but not proposed as representing the completed regulations which must ultimately be evolved. Honorable members, Australian born as many are, and all Australian residents, have yet but a very imperfect conception of the enormous area of this great continent, of the immense diversity of its conditions, or the absolute contradistinctions which obtain. There is but superficial appreciation of the difficulty of moving the people of the different States out of the grooves into which they have grown in regard to expenditures of public money.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the AttorneyGeneral sits down we shall all apologize for speaking.


Mr DEAKIN - The only excuse I have for speaking is that honorable members have given me such good material. I shall' have great pleasure in submitting the several representations which have been made. As to some of these representations, I know that they will be accepted, and as to the others I am sure they will be considered. With the assistance of the House I hope we shall obtain, if not entirely satisfactory regulations - that is beyond the dream of the most ambitious politician - just and workable provisions, fair to the people of Australia as a whole. The -task of framing regulations so minute as these must necessarily be, capable of meeting the needs of 4,000,000 of people spread over the whole of this enormous continent, is one in the performance of which difficulties must be discovered. Defects may readily be forgiven by members of this House, who are to some extent, at all events, acquainted with the innumerable and almost insuperable difficulties tobe encountered in Federal administration and legislation.







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