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Thursday, 11 September 1958

Mr L R JOHNSON (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- Appreciating, as I do, that a large number of Opposition members are eager to avail themselves of this opportunity to protest against the inadequacy of the services that are under consideration, I intend to be as brief as possible. I should like to confine myself to the estimates for the PostmasterGeneral's Department. Deficiencies in the administration of this department are such that, although approximately £95,000,000 was appropriated last year, for some inconceivable reason only approximately £93,000,000 was spent. I am sure that a large number of people who have been denied reasonable postal and telephone services will entertain high hopes when they note that the proposed vote for this year is £98,067,000.

Postal and telephone services in the electorate of Hughes, which is one of the most rapidly expanding electorates in Australia, are most unsatisfactory.

Mr Bryant - And it is the most effectively represented!

Mr L R JOHNSON (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It could be that it is the most effectively represented electorate, but that is not for me to say. It is important that I should direct attention to the needs of this rapidly expanding electorate on the perimeter of the great City of Sydney, because it is in such areas that there is a great influx of people. The lag in telephone installations is not being overtaken at a reasonable rate. The position in the electorate of Hughes is most alarming. It is not to the credit of the Government that in that division there are approximately 4,000 outstanding applications for telephones. This year the addition to the total number of telephone subscribers is 72,246. That is 6,993 fewer than the number for the previous year. We cannot be pleased with such a state of affairs.

I think most honorable members are appreciative of the importance of telephones as a modern and effective means of communication, especially in trade and commerce. The provision of telephones affects our ability to compete economically with enterprises in other parts of the world. Recently, the committee and the House have been concerned with important national problems associated with trade. I submit that one of the reasons why our industries are having difficulty is the fact that our telephone services are not nearly as good as they are in other parts of the world; and I shall substantiate that contention.

The number of applications for telephones outstanding at June, 1957, was 73,712. That was only 12,297 fewer than the number for the previous year. In other words, we are not overtaking the lag in applications for telephones to any great extent. I think it is only fair to claim that services controlled by the Commonwealth Government" should be provided within a reasonable time. Why should the people finally come to believe that when they want a service from the Commonwealth Government, they must expect to wait two or three months or ten or twelve years? Why cannot we expect to overtake the lag in telephone connexions and give a service in a reasonable time? The number of applications for telephones has fallen dramatically, and there is a good reason, lt is not to the credit of Australia, with a comparatively low density of telephone usage, that we should have a decline in applications for telephones. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) would do well to consider the reason.

Mr Davidson - I am sorry to contradict the honorable member, but applications are increasing.

Mr L R JOHNSON (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Contrary to what the Minister has said, I understand that there were 147,888 applications for telephones in the year ended June, 1956, and in 1957 there were 115,373, or a fall of 22 per cent, in applications. I do not know where the Minister gets his figures, but I suggest that he have another look at the annual report of the Postmaster-General's Department, dated June, 1957, from which I have taken my figures. If there is any mistake, the Minister might be able to correct me. This report states precisely that there was a fall of 22 per cent, in the applications for telephones. No doubt the Minister will take the opportunity to deal with the matter.

Mr Davidson - Is the honorable member referring to the figures as at 30th June, 1957?


Mr Davidson - This is September, 1958. I assure the honorable member that although there was a little drop, the figures have gone up again and the total is about 1 30,000 a year.

Mr L R JOHNSON (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There should be a reasonable limit to interruption in debate, particularly when we are dealing with a report relating to the year ended

June, 1957. If the Postmaster-General wants honorable members to be better informed, he might pay some attention to the efficiency of the department under his administration regarding the .provision of reports. I say that the provision of reports by that department is no better than the provision of telephone services. There -is -general inefficiency and lethargy as a result of 'this 'Government's -administration. That is no reflection on the personnel concerned, because :this Government determines policy and the manner in which the department will pursue -its activities generally.

The fact is that in Australia, we have a telephone density of 18.8 telephones for each 100 head of population. That might sound impressive, but we are only seventh in world rating; and the first six countries are miles ahead of us. We lead the alsorans. There is a .great gap between the sixth and the seventh nation, and we are at the head of a long field of stragglers. As a member of the Australian Parliament from New South Wales, I am not impressed with the fact that in the Australian Capital Territory there are 31.12 telephones for >each 100 of population, and in New South Wales only 18.87 telephones per 100. There is something wrong, and New South Wales and possibly other States need to be given better :consideration.

What is the reason for the fall in applications for telephones? The Minister should 'feel some responsibility. First, there is the long waiting period. In -some cases in my electorate - and this may seem incredible, but I am prepared to substantiate my statement - people have been waiting in -the Sydney metropolitan area for a telephone over -the whole period that this -Government ;has been in -office. That is to say, they have been waiting about -nine years.

Mr COUTTS (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - :Have they abandoned hope?

Mr L R JOHNSON (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not sure, but only recently a gentleman told me that he 'had submitted his application for a telephone before -this Government was elected. :He said he made the application because of the approaching confinement of his wife; ,then he introduced me to his twelveyearold daughter. By that time tie felt that the need for a telephone had long -since disappeared. One of the reasons -why people are not applying for telephones is that they realize the hopelessness of the situation. When there .are persons waiting -for eight, nine or ten years in many electorates, we can understand why they get discouraged. No -doubt it would be -possible in many exchange -areas to double the number of applications for telephones if there was some indication that a service would be provided within a reasonable time.

The rate of applications has also been affected adversely by the introduction of the fee of ;£10 for connecting a telephone service. That fee was introduced by this Government about October, 1956, and it was most distasteful to many people. Many of them had lodged applications eight or ten years before; .and then were told that they would have to pay an installation fee of £10. One can understand why they objected to that charge, and why many of them cancelled their applications. It is like placing an order for goods that have been advertised by a city store, travelling some distance at heavy expense and then arriving to find that the price has been increased substantially. It would have been fair to waive the installation fee in the case of those who had lodged applications 'before the decision to impose the 'fee was reached. That would have been a reasonable attitude for the Government to take.

There is no question that. the demand for a fee by the Government -has affected the number .of applications. When the department decides after .a long wait to .proceed with the installation of the telephone, it states that if the applicant pays an installation fee and a proportion of the rent, it will proceed with the installation of the telephone. The effect of that is, in practice, to make people wait for two, three or six months, during which period the Government holds £10, £15 or £18 of their money without .giving any services in return or paying interest on the money.

Mr Davidson - The honorable member knows that -that one is not right.

Mr L R JOHNSON (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the postmasterGeneral intends to pay interest on -the money, I. hope -he will -be good enough to tell me, and I shall submit some accounts to him and ask him to forward his remittances to 'me.

Many people take the view that as money is tight under the Menzies-Fadden Administration, they are not prepared to lodge £15 or £20 for the Government to keep for an indefinite period. It is not a statutory period; it fluctuates for various reasons. The position is most unsatisfactory. I wish that the Minister would not interject. My time is limited and he will have ample time to express his point of view later.

Another reason, 1 believe, why applications for telephones are decreasing is the inferior service, known as the duplex service, which is developing in the community. This is a matter that the honorable member for Mitchel] (Mr. Wheeler) has dealt with on several occasions, and I am sure he will support to the fullest possible extent my contention that duplex telephones are most unsatisfactory and are not wanted by the Australian people.

What is the position? Last year, 13,271 duplex telephones were installed. The total number that had been installed up to 30tn June, 1957, was 78,368. 1 am sure that most honorable members will agree that the duplex system is not very satisfactory, despite the considerably high rate of connexions. The system is not as bad, I suppose, as many people profess it to be, and it is not as bad, for example, as the party line system, in which one line serves two or more subscribers, and the cost of installation is more economical in consequence. Each party to a duplex installation has a separate number and meter, and there is no question that there is full privacy in the use of this system, but few people want it. They prefer to pay more for a superior service.

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