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Thursday, 4 April 1968

Mr DEVINE (East Sydney) - in reply - The Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) has given some figures to support his claim that an increase is warranted. My colleague the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) has answered the Minister. However, I have asked the Minister some questions which he has not yet answered. In particular, I have asked whether the companies which lease the phones to shopkeepers and other people pay a charge to the Postmaster-General's Department for the use of the telephone cables and equipment We have been told the figures relating to subscribers. My concern is that the taxpayers of this country pay $1,146 for the installation of telephone cables to the point at which a red telephone is connected. I want to know whether these companies are paying a fee to the Postal Department for the use of that cable, or whether they are given a free service. If no fee is paid, I take exception to this practice. The companies which lease the red telephones receive from the lessees $840,000 a year and it may be that not one cent of that amount is paid to the Postal Department to help to defray the costs of telephone cable and all the equipment necessary in a telephone exchange. That question ought to be answered.

The honourable member for Melbourne Ports has pointed out that the coin mechanism could be adjusted to receive three 2c pieces but I do not think that the PostmasterGeneral has even considered that suggestion. It has been said that the coin mechanism will not operate with lc pieces, but can be operated with 5c and 2c pieces. Are we to assume that each time in the future the charges for calls on red telephones are increased, each increase will be of at least 2c? This would mean that after the next increase the charge for each call will be 9c.

I do not think that the PostmasterGeneral has answered the challenge put to him in Parliament. He has not substantiated his Department's claim that an increase should be approved. I ask honourable members to give this matter some thought and to reject the statements made by the Postmaster-General. All honourable members appreciate that the red telephones provide a service, but we also realise that they are taking away revenue from the Postal Department. The manufacturers of the red phones should be called upon to assist the revenue of the Postal Department. I believe that until the Postmaster-General is prepared to give to the Parliament all the relevant facts and figures the regulation should be dissallowed. The taxpayers' money is being used by private enterprise to gain profit and the companies concerned should be called upon to pay, instead of the costs being borne by the subscribers and the general public.

Although the manufacturers of the red telephones are receiving rental charges of $840,000 a year it seems they are not paying one cent for the use of telephone cables and equipment. If the Minister allows this practice to continue I will be forced to conclude that something shifty is going on within his Department for which he should be called upon to answer to the Parliament. If the Minister refuses to inform the Parliament whether these companies are paying a fee I think we can conclude that he is condoning the free use of Postal Department equipment. Unless they are prepared to pay for the use of the equipment they should not be allowed to use it. I sincerely hope that the Minister will inform the Parliament whether the companies concerned are paying the Postal Department any charge to offset the costs incurred by the taxpayers of this country.

Question put:

That the motion (Mr De vine's) be agreed to.

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