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Thursday, 24 August 1972
Page: 406

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - When this matter was first debated in the Senate a number of reasons were advanced for referring it to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment. Senators will be aware that amongst the 7 legislative and general purpose standing committees of the Senate there is one entitled the 'Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment'. These 2 words 'Social Environment' would seem to indicate that a whole range of matters might be referred to that Committee without very much regard to their relationship to the type of committee that it is. I suppose it could be argued that if a reference came forward and a suitable committee to which to refer it could not be found, this Committee could take up the reference. So it was back in May of last year that the matter of telephone directories was raised in the Senate. The resolution of the Senate was:

That there be referred to the Standing Committee on Social Environment the following matters -

The content, form and presentation of the Information Section of telephone directories . . .

The reference was made with a view to:

(a)   an improved section or dissection of postal telephone and telegraphic material; and

(b)   a more modern and more functional layout,to facilitate easier reference to the information desired.

In the short debate that look place in the Senate on 13th May of this year, speakers mentioned that the matter might perhaps more properly be directed to the Joint Committee of Publications. I have a considerable measure of agreement with this proposal, being involved with that Committee. But as was pointed out by the Minister and other speakers, no machinery was available for a reference of this kind. Speakers who took part in this discussion expressed their great sense of frustration with the services provided by the information section of telephone directories. So it was agreed that this matter should be referred to the Senate Committee of which my colleague from South Australia, Senator Laucke, is the Chairman.

With all respect and sympathetic appreciation of the frustration which I think everybody has when he looks through any directory of information until he becomes familiar with the index and the headings and information of this nature, in a Senate in which the committee system is already very heavily loaded and has a considerable number of difficulties imposed upon it both in the provision of membership and in staffing, I question whether a measure like this should take up the time and, indeed, the expense of a committee. I suppose it could be said that it is a matter of some public interest and that at least the operation of an inquiry of this nature provided an opportunity for the general public not only to do some study but also to bring forward its viewpoint on a matter over which we were led to believe the entire community was greatly inconvenienced and about which people were very concerned.

In response to this claim, the Committee advertised in all capital city morning newspapers. It invited the presentation of written submissions from interested persons and organisations. Honourable senators will recall from their reading of the report that it is stated on the second page that the response was poor. Therefore, in order to obtain a representative range of views and opinions, the Committee subsequently undertook a further inquiry by way of seeking information from people in the commercial world, the trade union world and in the sphere of consumer organisations, as well as from independent publishers. So a cross-section of opinion and information was sought. The Committee undertook some examination and has brought forward a report which is the subject of our debate this afternoon.

I think that it is not always appreciated or acknowledged that a comparatively simple instrument such as a telephone directory becomes very much a part of our social life inasmuch as in our ordinary working or private lives we cannot function without it. The telephone directory is a Post Office publication. I think that it is the only Post Office publication which goes into the home of a telephone subscriber. Of course, there are quite a number of telephone subscribers in Australia and a great number of homes which are described as those of telephone subscribers today.

This book is referred to frequently. To this extent, it becomes something to which we turn not only for telephone numbers but also for a wide variety of information extending from postcodes, addresses and the names and numbers of government offices to all of the various other services that one might expect a telephone directory to provide. As I think the report states, it becomes a matter of balance as to what should be and should not be regarded as essential and frequently used information. I think that it is important to note - this is also contained in the report - that the telephone directory is more than just a commercial publication. Rather, it is a document of great social and personal value. In an attempt to give what the Committee hoped would be an intelligent report to the Senate, the members examined information pages from a number of directories, including those from Chicago, Edmonton in Canada, London, and Pretoria, the national capital of South Africa, as well as others from cities of the United States of America. The report has requested that certain clarity be achieved in the information pages; that a way bc found in which essential information and that which is most frequently used be placed in a position on its own; and that information such as the instant call guide service or STD codes be readily available while promotional and other material to which we do not often refer be placed in another part of the directory altogether.

The section of the recommendations for which 1 displayed some enthusiasm was that referring to maps. In some of these directories, maps showing the area within the ambit of the directory have been displayed. This has not been continued in this way or in the way I would like to see it done. In our work as senators and, indeed, with our general interest in the States and country areas when we seek to find particular areas we frequently depend upon maps for the purpose of relationship and location. I hope that the recommendation contained in the report which refers to maps will be taken note of by the PostmasterGeneral (Sir Alan Hulme). One could say other things about this. But I think that it is sufficient to note that the Committee has responded to the words of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson) in

May 1971. He said that he regarded this reference as a short one and as a matter which could be disposed of very quickly. I think that this is exactly what happened thanks to our secretariat under the leadership of Mr Thomson who obtained a great deal of the material and put it down for the Committee to examine and reach a decision on quickly.

In finality, I think it should be said that however much information is provided in a telephone directory, the final matter lies within the personal responsibility of the people concerned. After all, with a little reflection and one or two references, I do not find the telephone directory a difficult volume to use. I think that we all expect rather too much from our telephone directories. I do not think that information can be repeated over and over again in varying forms although it is true to say that this is exactly what happens throughout the pages of telephone directories. I think that it is also pertinent to observe that the results of the work of the Committee have been noted already in the directories that have been published since the report was tabled. Therefore, to that extent the work of the Committee has been very useful.

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