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Wednesday, 30 June 1915

Mr SINCLAIR (Moreton) .- I was very much hurt' on Friday .at the contempt which was exhibited towards the. Postmaster-General when he got up to. make an explanation or "mark time" - whatever it might be. When a gentleman, is returned by a constituency, and then selected by his own party to fill an important Ministerial position, he ought, 'at least, to command the respect of those who sit behind. him. I think it was very unbecoming of members, of the Ministerial party to treat the honorable gentleman in- the way they did, I regret very much that for quite a number of years there has been a huge loss on this Department; but, before putting any further burden, on those who use the telephone or other agencies .of the Department, the PostmasterGeneral might look into themanagement' as a whole, and see if much of the waste cannot be avoided.

Mr Spence - That has been done already, and a big saving ought to be effected.

Mr SINCLAIR - Something has been done, but there is room for quite a number of improvements. For instance, I believe that the old system prevailed that where there is a revenue of £150 per annum a continuous telephone service is granted. The public in country places do- not require a continuous service, but an extended service. The Department has said right, through, that a district must either take an eighthour service or a twenty-four hour service; and I' believe that some, time ago tests were made in Queensland as to the number of calls between midnight and 6 o'clock or 9 o'clock in the morning, with the result that, over a period of some months, there was only one call. That call, I may say, was by some pressman on unimportant business. In smaller country towns I am sure that an extended service of twelve hours per day would be very much appreciated, and would relieve the congestion of the trunk lines, with the additional advantage of returning more revenue and saving expense in the matter of attendants. I hope that, whatever is done, the ground - rent for telephones will not be increased. We have a cheap and good service in Australia, and if there is any deficiency itshould be made up by increasing the rate per call, and not by increasing the ground rental. To many a private family a rental of £3 or £3 10s. is a good one; and it is the large business firms, who are calling some one up every few minutes, that cause the extra expense. There is much room/ for improvement in the matter of the use of trunk lines. I can give an instance in the Laidley and Brisbane trunk lines; and I have, myself, waited from an hour to an hour and a half in order to communicate with Brisbane. My own opinion is that, in all . country places near to a city there, should b& omnibuslines with exclusive use. A good deal, of the- congestion on the trunk line- is. caused: by intermediate stations cutting in for hours and hours, and depriving the trunk, lines of the revenue which rightly belongs, to them. If the line I have mentioned, were in constant use. for eight hours, it would earn: something like £14 per day ; and yet we are told that such lines are not paying. I think that with a little bit of management a great saving could be made. I think the: minimum charges- for calls are ridiculously low. It may, of course,, in some instances be regarded asa hardship that the users of telephones have to pay a little more; but I can assure the Postmaster-General that in quite a number of towns the peoplewould keenly appreciate the opportunity to use a telephone by paying doubleor three times the minimum amount. As to the rate- of a penny for the first 15 miles. I do not think it is worth whileswitching on that, distance for that sum. In most towns the residents are asked to. guarantee any deficiency ; and- 1 think the public will be quite willing to pay 2d. or 3d. a call. The telephones would pay if the- Government would only depart from their present hard-and-fast rule. A good deal of revenue is lost in the way I have indicated; but, as I have suggested, a minimum of 3d. per call would not be regarded as unjust by the users of country telephones. In many instances the Department have dilly-dallied with contractors to whom they have owed money. They have kept them waiting from six to twelve months and have only come up to the mark when threatened with prosecution. As the Department is not short of money, when a contract is completed it should be paid for. Not only does the Department delay in paying, it also retains the contractors' deposits; and as many contractors are men of moderate means - in fact, are poor men who have to live on what they get from these small contracts - they cannot afford to be kept out of deposit money, let alone contract payments. I hope that the Department will display more energy in regard to the construction of telephone lines for which sanction has already been given. Right throughout Australia there are men out of work, so that there can be no excuse advanced that men cannot be obtained, and as in many instances half, and even more than half, the cost of these lines has been contributed by the settlers, the Government should get a move on. If they have not the permanent staff to do the necessary work they should let contracts, or take on temporary hands, as they see fit; but, above all, they should get the work done, more particularly at a time when so many men are looking for work. There is no excuse on account of lack of labour, and there is no excuse on the ground that the money cannot be found, because, in the cases that I have mentioned, the money has already been voted by Parliament. I hope that the Minister will give a gentle hint to his officers to see that this work is expedited.

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