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Wednesday, 28 February 1973
Page: 103


Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - Mr Speaker,I would like to join those who have congratulated you on your appointment to the office of Speaker. I do that very warmly, as a co-Deputy Chairman of Committees with you in the last Parliament. I also congratulate the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) on his appointment as Chairman of Committees. Tonight 1 am encouraged to talk about the need of the provision of telephones in rural areas. I have heard a lot about the progress that, is going to be made under this Government and the speed with which it will operate. I hope that some of that speed will be directed into those areas where there is a need for it. I hope that there will be an improvement in the conditions which are applying. I am not suggesting that some improvements have not been made. Quite a number of automatic exchanges have been provided, 'but there are a lot of applicants waiting for telephone services. I note that the Government intends to hold a royal commission into the Post Office.


Mr Whan - Hear, hear!


Mr CORBETT - Someone said: "Hear, hear!' What I am concerned about is that these very urgent and very essential needs may be postponed until such time as a report is brought down. We know from previous experience the delays that can occur when these commissions take place. So I appeal to the Postmaster-General not just to take refuge in the fact that there is going to be a royal commission, because whatever the finding may be it surely could not do other than urge the provision of advanced communications and automatic exchanges, with the consequent benefits that they bring.

This is not the first time that I have spoken on this and other subjects. But a very long delay is being experienced in the provision of these telephone services. I also make a plea for the provision of more automatic telephone exchanges. The position is that until they are provided people cannot even help themselves. They cannot construct a telephone line because they do not know where it is to go and they have nothing to connect to until those exchanges are provided in the areas where they are designed to go. I notice that the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) is in the chamber. I hope that he will take notice of the comments that I am making on this matter. I would like to draw attention to the fact that it is not simply a matter of dollars and cents. A human problem is involved in relation to the provision of telephone services. The running of a property today is a business. How many people would be prepared to conduct a business without the benefit of a telephone?

But the matter goes deeper than that. I would like some consideration to be given to wives and the mothers of children who are isolated and away from any assistance that would be available to them if telephones were provided. What is the use of an excellent ambulance service, even 50 or 60 miles away, if there is no way of contacting it in an emergency. The matter goes a little beyond what most people mink to be the position. If the Government intends to live up to its claim that it is interested in people, as it has said so often, I point out that here are some people who are deserving of its consideration. I hope that the Government will live up to the claim that it makes in this direction. I am looking for a definite programme of what is to be done. Because this policy introduced by the previous government is only a comparatively new one - I am not sure of the exact date of its introduction but it was only a couple of years ago - it is only just getting off the ground. What we want now and urgently need is a definite programme of what is to happen. When can these people expect to be provided with these telephones and telephone exchanges? I urge the Postmaster-General to give us a programme in this direction, even if it is not as forward thinking as we sometimes hear from the Government is the case. At least let us know where we stand on this matter. I urge that this consideration be given.

I point out also from an economic point of view that this is a once-only expenditure. It is costly to provide these services, but having provided them to the standard at which they are being provided under the scheme, the cost of maintenance is reduced very substantially. Indeed, automatic exchanges will not work effectively until the subscribers to those exchanges are provided with lines of the very highest standard. We can look forward to a decreasing maintenance cost for those services which will be provided with this very high standard of communication. Surely in 1973 it is not too much to ask that a telephone be provided. It would be reasonable to expect that the lag in all areas that is existing now be looked at particularly in the areas of greatest need. The only way we can overcome that lag is by a greater provision of funds for that purpose.

I was a member of the Public Works Committee last year. Last year the Committee approved the construction of telecommunications exchange buildings in Sydney and Brisbane. If I remember rightly, the cost of the Brisbane telecommunications exchange was approximately $l0.2m. It was essential that it be constructed. If it were not agreed to by the Committee at that stage, there would have been complete chaos in interstate and in international communications. So the justification for that expenditure of capital in Brisbane definitely existed and the Committee approved of it. But having this type of amenity or facility in a capital city is very little consolation for the mother of a sick child who cannot even contact another person for assistance. I can cite other instances where bush fires have surrounded a home - this is not drawing a long bow; it has happened - and women have endeavoured to keep the fires back and have suffered very seriously In health as a result of having to do so. I know that in the past we have had to accept this type of living in certain areas, but surely in 1973 we should be closing in on such problems. In point of fact, we are going much too slowly in that direction. So I urge the PostmasterGeneral, who I am sure has a sympathetic nature, to look very closely at the problem of providing adequate telephone services to those areas. I ask him particularly to look at the humanitarian side of the matter. If he has any doubt about where the area of great est need is, I would like him to come into the area and meet some of the people who make such appeals to me. They are sometimes emotional appeals but they are very well and very soundly based on the real need of these people to have this amenity provided for them. I leave it now to the PostmasterGeneral to provide a programme and to give some indication of when this amenity can be provided in outlying areas.







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