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Tuesday, 27 September 1904

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Most of the matters to which reference has been made by honorable members arose before I took office, but I shall give early attention to them. I shall have a summary made of the complaints which are recorded in Hansard, and cause full inquiries to be instituted in-regard to them. I am very, pleased that the proposal which I put forward the other day, to use fences and trees for the support of telephone wires, in order to give the people in the country districts cheaper telephonic communication, has received such favourable notice from honorable members. When I took office I found a large number of applications for telephonic .communication from country districts awaiting action ; but the cost of procuring and erecting poles would, in many districts, Be so large as to make it impossible for the Department to do what is asked. In some cases the erection of poles would cost as much as £20 a mile. Moreover, if it were found that the line did not pay, it would not be worth while to remove those poles to other places, so that the loss to the Department would be very heavy. If, however, the wire was supported on trees and fences, the expense qf erecting it would be very little, and should the line prove unprofitable the wire could be removed to another district without much loss to the Department. 'I have, therefore, given directions in the cases which have come under my notice that they be referred back to ascertain the possibility of utilizing trees and fences for the carriage of the wire, and when they are again reported upon I shall do what I can, having regard to the public interest, to give communication to those who are asking for it. . I am fully aware of the disadvantages under which country people live. It is, for instance, impossible in many cases for them to procure a daily paper containing market reports and other information necessary for the proper carrying on of their business, while, should sickness occur, it is difficult for them to obtain the services of a medical man. Therefore, if cheaper means of providing telephonic communication can be devised, I shall do all I can to give outlying districts the advantage of them. I shall also endeavour to impress upon the residents of country districts the need of assisting the Department in the matter of supervision. If an inspector has to be sent some fifty miles from a centre of population to supervise the erection of telephone wires and their maintenance, the cost is considerable j but I feel sure that in many districts the residents themselves will be only too pleased to undertake this work and the erection of the wires at a cheap rate. It should also be possible for the Department to instruct them in the manner of repairing wires, so that if a circuit were broken by the fall of a tree through a bush fire, the trouble could easily be set right. With regard to other matters of administration, although the honorable member for Gwydir says that he expects great things from me, i do no.t profess to be any better than my predecessors, but I shall do the best I can to give every facility to people both in the country and' in the cities in their dealings with the Department, so that its operations may be as beneficial as possible to the Commonwealth at large. I further promise that any matters which honorable members bring under my notice shall receive my personal attention. .

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