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Tuesday, 18 April 1972
Page: 1203

Senator MILLINER asked the Acting Postmaster-General, upon notice:

I direct my question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Will the Minister give favourable consideration to, firstly, the time limit on trunk line telephone calls being extended from 3 minutes to 5 minutes, particularly in country areas, and, secondly, all trunk line calls to ambulance centres, hospitals or doctors in country areas being charged for at the local call rate?

Senator COTTON (New South WalesMinister for Civil Aviation) The answer to the able senator's question is as follows:

Post Office experience is that the majority of trunk calls are of three minutes duration, or less. With the arrangement of charging operatorconnected trunk calls on a 5-minute basis instead of in 3-minute periods, there would be an inducement for many callers to prolong their conversations unnecessarily. The increased time during which trunk lines would be occupied as a result would necessitate provision of additional lines, at substantial cost, at a time when difficulty is being experienced in keeping pace with normal growth in trunk call traffic.

The first proposition put by the honourable senator therefore cannot be accepted. I think the answer to it lies in the use of subscriber trunk dialling (S.T.D.) whereby the charge for a trunk call is directly related to the conversation time used, and not related to three-minute segmentsor part thereof as in the case of operator-connected trunk calls. The Post Office is extending the availability of S.T.D. as quickly as it can.

Regarding the suggestion that trunk calls to ambulance centres, hospitals or doctors be charged as local calls, the honourable senator would know that in 19S9 the Government approved a major policy which determined the basis of development of the telephone service in Australia. Part of this policy increased the distance over which calls could be made for a local call fee, from 5 miles to about 20 miles. With relatively few exceptions, the community at large gained considerable benefit from this development.

While certainly not denying that the circumstances requiring a call to a doctor, for example, may be important and urgent, such calls generally speaking form a small part of subscribers' total telephone usage and therefore would normally not constitute a high cost item. I think most subscribers would, in an emergency, wilingly pay the cost of a trunk call for help or expert advice if such were not available for a local call fee. Since the cost of line plant has a relationship with distance, it simply is not practicable to disregard distance in the application of charges for telephone calls, even calls of a special nature.

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