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Wednesday, 3 April 1968

Mr HULME (Petrie) (PostmasterGeneral) - 1 cannot in the 10 minutes I am allowed endeavour to cover this subject adequately. Nevertheless 1 would like to make one or two comments on what honourable members have said. I am not one of those people who believe that we can ever reach a stage at which we can be completely satisfied. Honourable members have offered criticism. In whatever terms their remarks were couched, they represented criticism of my predecessor, who was a member of the Country Party. I remind honourable members that in 1957 or 1958 he initiated the ELSA scheme, and as a result 45% of the trunk line calls which had been charged to country dwellers became local calls. This was a tremendous advantage to many people living in the country areas.

The Postmaster-General's Department receives a certain amount of capital money year by year. This money is voted by this Parliament and it is distributed by the Post Office having regard to the capital requirements of the community as a whole. When I became Postmaster-General a little over 4 years ago there was a substantial volume of deferred applications for telephone services throughout this country, and there was a great demand in this Parliament that the problem be solved. Other problems, of course, existed at the same time. We have substantially solved the problem of deferred applications. At that time, 4 years ago, there was a constant request, particularly from members representing country electorates, for automatic services. This, of course, was part of the scheme enunciated by Mr Davidson back in 1957 and 1958. When the installation of rural automatic exchanges was considered, naturally the cost became a factor to be considered. So we had to try to overcome the problem of cost. Certainly there is a substantial cost associated with these services, but it must be remembered that those who are in the situation described tonight are those who are paying, generally speaking, the lowest telephone rentals. They are not paying the maximum rental which those who live in the capital cities are paying. They have this advantage. I am not saying that it completely overcomes the disadvantages.

Mr Beaton - What about-

Mr HULME - 1 did not interject when the honourable member for Bendigo was making his speech. I suggest he might let rae have the few minutes that are available to me. The people that I am speaking about could, with the old manual exchange, get a telephone service on one wire. This is not possible if an automatic service is required. If you want automatic services you must have suitable equipment between the telephone exchange and your residence, and you must have a metallic circuit with two wires. The honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) said that we allocated $1,056 in relation to each service. This is the amount which is allocated to each service virtually throughout Australia, so that to this degree the country dweller is in exactly the same situation as the person who lives in a metropolitan area. So there is, at this level, some equality.

I think the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) said that he wanted a change in policy. I hear many requests in this Parliament for changes in policy which will require considerably increased expenditure. The honourable member for Mallee shakes his head to indicate that this is not true bat I, as the Minister listening to questions asked day by day, know that there is a very substantial demand by members of Parliament for greatly increased expenditure. Unfortunately none of them indicates to me where to obtain the additional money. I will not attempt to forecast tonight what the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) will reveal when we come to the end of June, but I think some honourable members will get a shock when they realise the deficit which has been occasioned by the expenditures that we have incurred over and above the revenues we have received.

If we are to have a reasonable economy within the postal services we must establish an equitable amount for those who want telephone extensions. Our funds are not unlimited. If honourable members tell me that they prefer the number of deferred applications to increase, that is all right. No doubt if they lived in the country that is what they would prefer, provided of course that it happened in the metropolitan area, but if they lived in the metropolitan area they perhaps would not worry so much about the country. We have an overall responsibility in this matter.

The honourable member for Bendigo mentioned the placing of rural automatic exchanges. He said that some people living near the exchange pay nothing for installation while those some distance from it have to pay a considerable amount. That is just a matter of fortune. It is reasonable to expect that the RAX will be placed where the main centre of population is located, and if a person establishes himself in thai area he will benefit. That is exactly what happens. The RAX is placed by the Department at the point where it will serve the greatest number of people and will be able to meet the demands which the people in the whole area will make upon it.

I do not believe there is any easy solution to this problem. As 1 said at the beginning of my remarks, I do not think we will ever reach the stage where we will be completely satisfied with the result. As I have indicated on more than one occasion, I am quite prepared to have a further investigation and analysis of figures available within the Post Office to see whether it is possible to do more than we are doing at the present time, but I think it is unreasonable for honourable members to suggest that there is something unfair about the system because someone is required to make a personal payment for the use of a telephone. It must be a question of balance. Great advantages have been obtained in the past by reason of concessions that have been made, for example, in relation to rentals. They are in three different categories, and most of the people about whom we are concerned are in the lowest category.

There is another problem. If we do not change over to the automatic system we may find many telephone office keepers moving away or not continuing with the job. Then complaints arise because the Post Office has to install an RAX or find someone else to fill the vacant position, but the self-help which has been part of the telephone system in country areas over many years suddenly disappears into thin air. There are many problems associated with this matter and it is a case of the people helping themselves to a substantial degree in the areas in which they live. They cannot expect the Governnent to do everything.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 12.10 a.m. (Thursday)

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