Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 19 July 1906

Mr LONSDALE (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so, but it cannot be applied to all branches of the Post and Telegraph Department. If it were applied, for instance, to the mail services, those living in the interior would have to pay very heavily indeed for the delivery of their mails as compared with what would be the cost to those living in the cities. The Department should go into this matter thoroughly and should commence with the preparation of a proper 'business balance-sheet, showing the capital expenditure and the cost of maintaining the service. One reason why many country districts are unable to secure extensions of the telephone system is that a very high charge is made for erecting the lines. Some weeks ago I referred to this phase of the question, and I desire to again bring it under the attention of the Minister. Before determining upon the rates to be levied, the Postmaster-General should have a business-like balance-sheet prepared, and ascertain what the service is costing.

Mr Ewing - The information, .regarding the whole system was made available only about a month ago.

Mr LONSDALE - -Quite so. It is idle to talk about conducting this system on business lines unless our words are followed bv deeds. One great obstacle in the way of the extension of the system to country districts is that the persons to be served are required to pay not only for. the erection of the lines, but for their maintenance, a fee of 25s. per annum being levied for the latter purpose. The honorable member for Gwydir said that under the present system a merchant could obtain for a vear a service that would cost him ;£:too per annum under a toll system of £d. per call. I would point out, however, that that would mean 50,000 calls per annum, or in other words, 1,000 a week, 150 a day, 19 per hour, or 1 in every three minutes. I scarcely conceive it possible that any merchant makes such a demand on the service. It is idle for us to base our arguments in favour of the extension of the system to the country districts upon such statements. As a matter of fact, some business establishments have not one but several telephones in use ; and, whilst we seek to do the right thing by the rural districts, we must recognise that in all matters of business we ought to be just and reasonable. The position of these merchants should be considered. The call system is, in my opinion, the best that could 'be adopted, since under it every manhas to pay in some degree for the services rendered him. It also prevents frivolous conversations over the lines. Another point is that if payment had to be made for each call those having telephones in their private houses would not allow their neighbours to use them as so many of them do at present. Such a practice is forbidden by the Department, but human nature is such that every one seems to delight in obtaining something at the expense of the Government. This use of the telephone service by non -subscribers would not occur if it meant that the subscribers themselves would have to pay for it. I cannot express an opinion as to the number of calls that should be allowed at a fixed rate, but the proposal that the charge should be reduced as the number increases is a wise one.

Mr Ewing - Once the correctness of the toll principle is admitted the question as to the number of calls to be allowed is simply a matter of detail for consideration.

Mr LONSDALE - That is so. When I first read the correspondence in the press in reference to this subject, I thought that the initial charge proposed to be made by the Government was too high. That charge should be sufficient to cover the cost of connexion, and after the number of calls allowed in respect of that initial charge has been exhausted, special rates 'should be leviable. The honorable member for Gwydir said that, owing to the absence of the toll system,Gunnedah was unable to secure an exchange. Unless the regulations have been altered, it is open to that town to secure a limited exchange under the present system.

Mr Webster - We could not obtain the requisite number of subscribers.

Mr LONSDALE - The rates in respect of an exchange having fifteen or more subscribers are£8perannumforbusiness houses, and£5 per annum for private residences, but, strange to say, in connexion with a limited exchange having less than fifteen subscribers - there may be only three or four - the charge under the present system is only £4 5s. That seems to be an extraordinary way of doing business.

Mr Webster - That would not be a public exchange.

Mr LONSDALE - It is a private exchange by means of which people living in theone town may converse with each other over the telephone wires, just as they would do if they were subscribers to a public exchange. The only difference is that, instead of a switchboard operator being in constant attendance, one of the officers in the post-office has to connect subscribers. Occasionally there may be slight delay in getting connected, but otherwise there is no difference between a limited and an ordinary public exchange. Some consideration should be shown for the residents of country districts, not only in regard) to the telephone service, but in respect to the carriage of mails, because these services can be rendered at less cost to those residing in large centres of population. If the telephone system were established on a business-like basis, we should be able to serve the country districts without making the heavycharges at present imposed. I have endeavoured at different times to secure telephone services for various districts in the electorate I represent, and I fail to understand some of the methods of the Department. On one occasion, when asked to construct a telephone line, they made a demand for a guarantee, but the people who desired the construction of the line said, " We will have nothing to do with guarantees. We will give you £100 in cash to erect a line." The Department asked for a guarantee of only£22 per year for seven year's, yet they refused this offer.

Mr Ewing - When was the offer refused ?

Mr LONSDALE - About twelve months ago.

Mr Ewing - It ought not to have been refused.

Mr LONSDALE - That was the view, not only of myself, but of the PostmasterGeneral. Despite what he said, however, the offer was refused until I agreed to do something which I ought not to have been asked to do. Only then did I succeed in obtaining the service for which I sought. As the time allotted to private members' business has almost expired, I ask leave to continue my remarks on a future occasion.

Leave granted ; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.

SUPPLY (Formal).

Public Service Administration : Removal and Transfer of Officers in the Postal Department : Naval Director : Telegraphic Instruments at the Royal Exchange, Sydney : Telephone Facilities : Patents Offices, Deposits : Federal Capital Site : Long-Service Medals, Naval Brigade : Alleged Combine in Oatmeal : Warrnambool Battery: Lift in Sydney Post Office: Commonwealth Flag Design: Fellmongery Trade.

Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair, and that the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply - proposed.

Suggest corrections