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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2684

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - Today T want to touch on one or two subjects. You know, Mr Speaker, how difficult it is for honourable members from this side of the House to ask questions. We have to use opportunities such as the grievance debate to obtain some information. I am glad to see the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) at the table because he is one of the Ministers to whom I would like to direct questions. First of all I want to refer to civil aviation. I am concerned about the reports I hear of the possible reduction in subsidies to some air services. I am wondering to what extent this will affect air services, particularly in my own area in inland Queensland, and in the western areas of Queensland such as the Channel country and the Gulf country, which are represented by other honourable members. It is vital that these airlines be maintained.

I hope that the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Charles Jones) will be able to give me some assurance that there will be no reduction in essential air services or developmental air services as a result of the consideration of these subsidies. That is one of the angles I wanted to stress today. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to the problems that confront people in these areas before any reduction in services is contemplated or implemented in those areas. Air services are undoubtedly an essential part of life there. I notice in the report of the Department of Civil Aviation for 1972-73 at page 143 that subsidies to airlines cost about $2m. The total administrative and operational expenditure amounts to almost $101m. So the burden of subsidies is not very great. I trust that the Minister will give very serious consideration to the detrimental effect that such action might have on those air services.

Another point which relates to inland areas concerns telephone services. I have brought this up on a number of occasions. The PostmasterGeneral has never given me any encouragement to believe that there will be any improvement. In fact, I believe that the policy of the Government means that there will be a deterioration of services being provided in the areas where I suggest they are most seriously needed. I take some pride in the progress and development of Australia. I take pride in the progress and development of my own State of Queensland. I am pleased to note that that progress - which is based on the very sound economy that was provided for Australia by the previous Government - is still flowing on in spite of some disadvantages that this Government is bringing to this country. I will refer to my own State now but no doubt this applies to other States. The number of applications for telephone services in Queensland, according to Press reports I have seen lately, is increasing at a faster rate than telephone services are being provided. I hope that the Postmaster-General will do everything in his power to overcome this problem.

I would like to see all of those people who have made application for telephone services in the metropolitan area receive those services but at the same time, if there is to be priority on the score of greatest need - do not forget that this Government has been very vocal in its discussions and in its general claim that it is helping those in greatest need - here is one opportunity for the Government to show whether it really means that. The PostmasterGeneral has said that it costs $X to install telephone services in the metropolitan area and that it costs a lot more - possibly twice as much or even a little more than that - to provide telephone services in rural areas. I have forgotten the exact figures. I suggest that the need for these services in rural areas is at least twice as great. It is probably 10 times as great, because not only do those people out there depend on telephones from a business and social point of view, but also life depends on them. I am not drawing a long bow or exaggerating the need because I could quote instances. The Postmaster-General himself would concede that point.

It is difficult to provide all the services that are required. I ask the Postmaster-General to look at this position and to examine it. I know that a royal commission is investigating the matter at the present time. Nevertheless I dp not want to miss this opportunity to ask the Postmaster-General, when considering the report of the royal commission, to take into consideration the problems that confront the people in those areas in obtaining a telephone. For example, one gentleman in my area told me that he had an application in for a telephone for some 5 years. Under the policy of the previous Government he would have received that telephone without a charge for construction. He lives about 15 miles out of town. Despite the fact that he has waited all this time, he has been advised now, I understand, that the telephone will be provided for him providing that he pays the cost - some $5,000. Unfortunately, because of previous unfavourable conditions and the serious financial position which he was in but which he is gradually overcoming now because of better seasonal conditions and prices, he is not in a position to pay $5,000-odd to have a telephone provided.

As late as 18 October in reply to a question the Postmaster-General said that the number of country automatic exchanges which were provided under the previous policy was 93 in Queensland and a total of almost 2,000 services - including new services and existing part privately erected services - has been provided under that scheme. Very many of those people would not have been able to have a telephone at all if it had not been for the generous and understanding policy of the previous Government in providing those services. It is interesting to note that, of those 1,939 services provided in Queensland, only one was over the 15-mile line, so that would bring the cost back to an average. The need for those services is very real.

The Minister for Civil Aviation has undertaken to give me a written reply rather than taking up the time of the grievance debate. I am quite happy with that and I thank him for it. The other point I wanted to raise concerns television services in western areas of Queensland. There has been some delay in this matter. The honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) has been vocal on this matter, as I have been. There is a tie up between air services, telephones, television, communications and these other things that are so sorely needed. I am sure that the Minister for Civil Aviation will be aware of this need in regard to the subsidies for airlines, which cost some $2m. I emphasise that we are not asking for the impossible. That raises the point, which I may have mentioned before in regard to airlines, that the amount of money that has been spent on television - $4m or $5m - is not very much when one considers the amount of money that is brought into the community by those areas.

Not so long ago I was in Quilpie. I was advised that the estimate of the cost of a rail strike on the condition of cattle held up as a result of the stike was something like $750,000 just for the hold up alone. I am not canvassing the merits pf the strike. One can imagine the tremendous advantage to this country of the produce from those areas, yet we are having difficulty in obtaining television in places like Quilpie. I have been informed by the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) only today that it is expected that the television stations at both Miles and Roma will begin to radiate in November 1973. But there may be some further delay in the other stage 7 stations. I just hope that the Government will give more consideration to the needs of people in those areas. I emphasise their needs because there is only a few members in this Parliament who are able to do that job.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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