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Thursday, 26 June 2003
Page: 17847

Mr JENKINS (1:04 PM) —On the day that the Telstra (Transition to Full Private Ownership) Bill 2003 is being introduced into this parliament I wish to raise some concerns that I have about telecommunications and the provision of telecommunications in an electorate like Scullin. I was put onto a problem by a constituent in a new estate which is within 20 kilometres of the central business district—and, while I would call it regional, it is hardly remote.

This constituent wanted to get access to broadband services, but he had no access to optical fibre, because, for some mysterious reason, when the new subdivision was laid out none of the providers set down a cable network. He was then informed that one of the options open to him was ADSL using pair gains. The real problem there is that this type of technology fails if the person is more than 3½ kilometres from the exchange, which is so in the case of this subdivision. After I contacted the minister, I received a reply from his office on his behalf and it was suggested that the person could use satellite technology. Sorry, but we are talking about a place that, whilst on the urban fringe, is basically metropolitan Melbourne and is only 20 kilometres from the CBD. If a person is having these problems in trying to get access to this type of technology, there is something still drastically wrong with telecommunications.

Whilst there has quite rightly been emphasis on ensuring that regional, rural and remote Australia has its concerns covered in the way it is supplied with telecommunications, the job is not being properly done when there are anomalies such as this. The undertakings given and suggestions made by the minister were totally inadequate. They have not solved this constituent's problem. It is all right to talk about satellite technology, but in practice that type of technology is terribly prohibitive on an economic basis. These are the types of things that people want assurance on before they see any agreement to the full sale of Telstra. They want undertakings that our telcos—especially Telstra, as the premier telco—will be supplying basic services.

The second issue I want to raise today is the way WorkCover payments impact upon parenting allowance. A constituent was off work for a period of six weeks because of an injury that required surgery to her hand. This person is a single parent with responsibility for kids. She had a parenting payment of approximately $250 a fortnight and was working part time for 30 hours a week. When she went onto compensation because she needed the operation on her hand, the payment under WorkCover of 95 per cent of her wage was deducted from her parenting payment on a dollar-for-dollar basis and she lost the payment. Here we have a person who was doing the right thing. She was trying to make sure that she was providing for her family, with assistance through the parenting payment. Then, through no fault of her own, she had an accident at the workplace which required rectification. She was off work for six weeks and WorkCover replaced 95 per cent of her wage, but because of the way in which our social security system deems that to be income replacement she was penalised.

This is a vastly different case from a lump sum payment leading to somebody leaving the work force. This was all about this person maintaining herself in the work force, and she and her family were put under great strain for the period she was under WorkCover, on the basis of the income test reducing her access to her benefit. I would hope that, when we are looking at the adequacy of payments and at the way we can assist families, we look at this as an issue. I put it to the parliament—and I hope the minister will pick it up—that this is different from the way somebody under a lengthy period of workers compensation with perhaps not much prospect of returning to work would be treated. This was a short-term arrangement. This person should have been encouraged by continuing to at least receive some of her parenting payment, which would have enabled her to cover the expenses of being a single parent and getting back into the work force.