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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1481

Mr SAUNDERSON(5.35) —I am thankful for this opportunity to speak in relation to the communications area of the Budget. I would like to respond to some of the points that have been raised by the honourable member for O'Connor ( Mr Tuckey) and the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron). Both honourable members were fairly critical of Telecom's attitude to people, particularly those who live in the country regions. I think perhaps we really ought to look at some of the facts. For instance, the honourable member for Maranoa indicated that he felt that Telecom's profit was reasonable for the amount of revenue it turned over. But he did not go on to say that, in fact, also involved in that revenue turnover is the $250m which is used as a cross- subsidy to assist in keeping the charges in rural areas much lower than they would be otherwise.

The honourable member for O'Connor was a little critical of Telecom in that he felt that Telecom did not really have the interests of people in the rural areas at heart. I think it is probably a pity that he has not read the 1982-83 report from Telecom, because if he had he would have seen in fact how much it is putting into improving the services in the rural areas. That report shows the performance of Telecom last year in terms of converting people from manual systems to fully automatic systems. Last year Telecom was able to upgrade 10,000 services from manual to automatic systems. That was more than 10 per cent of those who are currently on manual systems. To say that Telecom is not putting effort into and taking note of the problems of people in the rural areas I think is a very poor effort on the part of the honourable member for O'Connor.

I want to give some idea of the cost incurred in those conversions. As Telecom has pointed out, the estimated cost to convert the rest of the manual systems in Australia-there are some 35,500 of those-to fully automatic systems is $250m. Keeping in mind that that cost would be on top of the cross-subsidy which is already being put in by Telecom, that is a conversion cost in excess of $7,000 per telephone system. It is not so that Telecom will get any increased revenue. It will simply be providing a better service to people in the country areas. Full conversion will be achieved by 1990. Given the very large cost involved in that, I believe that that is quite a reasonable target for it to be aiming at. That covers the 35,500 people who are on manual systems, but some 44,000 people have no telephone system at all. Telecom is putting a lot of effort into both research and development and it is looking at about 5,000 services for those 44, 000 people who have no telephone service. As has been recorded in the report, Telecom has already purchased 65 earth stations which will be used when the satellite is aloft to help provide telephone services to outback areas. Telecom has developed a digital radio service which is being experimented with now and which will also be used to help provide services to people in outback areas. I totally refute the criticisms of the honourable member for O'Connor and the honourable member for Maranoa about Telecom's attitude to people in the country. I believe it is providing services and making every effort to improve services to those people who have poor ones.

I come back to the arguments that have been raised by people in relation to the satellite and the present Government's policies on it. I have to point out what the situation was when the present Government came to power. A decision has been made by the previous Government that the satellite should go up. That decision was made after some fairly quick exercises to try to justify it. The Government made some allocations and said that certain people would use a portion of the satellite. When we came to power what did we find? Half the capacity of the satellite system was unallocated. There was no real known use for it and certainly no positive policy by the previous Government as to how it could be used. Certainly in the area of broadcasting it had no clear policy. It did not give any consideration to what should happen.

The satellite uses the latest technology. It has the potential to improve services in Australia. It also has the potential, if it is not properly checked, to destroy some of the fine services we have already. The previous Government had given no attention to what should be done with the spare capacity of the satellite, what controls needed to be brought in and the people who should be allowed to use it. This Government is getting opinions from people who are interested in using the satellite. It has found confusion amongst people in the broadcasting area. They have been trying for ages to get a clear cut, long term policy on how broadcasting should be developed in Australia. From the previous Government they got nothing at all. They were left with half baked ideas with no positive long term direction.

This Government, in its first six months, has organised inquiries. It is now dealing with people who are interested in broadcasting and television. We are asking them: 'What are the real problems? What needs to be done?' We are also telling them that we will come up with long term clear directions so that they will know where to invest and how things will operate. They will have long term policy direction so that they can develop communications systems in Australia, particularly in the broadcasting area, to the total benefit of everybody in Australia.

The honourable member for O'Connor was very critical of some aspects of Aussat Pty Ltd. He was particularly concerned, as was the honourable member for Maranoa , that Telecom should not be involved. Those honourable members have a big fear about the bogey of the trade union movement, particularly the Telecom unions. I can speak from some experience having worked in Telecom and having been an active member of the Australian Telecommunications Employees Association. If we look at the history of Telecom and its unions in the 80 years of communications in Australia we find one of the best industrial records of any industry in Australia. The honourable member for O'Connor talked about the Telecom staff who give people in his electorate the best service that they can. He said that they are hard working people. Then he talked about the union. Quite obviously the member for O'Connor has no understanding of what it is all about because the technicians providing the services are the people in the union of which he was critical. They have a real conscience and concern about the communications industry. They have worked diligently over the last 80 years and have built Telecom and the communications system in Australia into the finest system in the world.

Mr McGauran —It is union officials like you who are the problem.

Mr SAUNDERSON —The honourable member talks about union officials. Obviously, he has no comprehension of the trade union movement because the union officials and the Telecom unions have one of the most democratic processes in the trade union movement. The unions are led by their membership, not by their officials. That is what people on the other side of the House have no comprehension of. That is why they cannot formulate an industrial relations policy. They do not understand trade unions and proper democracy.

The previous Government came up with a halfbaked scheme to provide regional television with supplementary licences. That was well and good; but it did not bother to find out whether supplementary licences were viable or whether people wanted them. We now find that there is no use for them. Regional television stations do not know what to do with them. This Government is trying to prepare, in conjunction with the use of the satellite and the long term development of broadcasting in Australia, a situation in which supplementary licenes will become viable and useful for regional television stations. That will ensure that people in regional areas who currently have only one commercial station will have a much wider service.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mrs Darling) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.