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Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Page: 204

Ms BIRD (12:53 PM) —I am particularly interested in raising with the parliamentary secretary the developments that have recently been referred to by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts on the community service obligations of Telstra. The minister would be aware—although the parliamentary secretary may not be aware—that I recently had cause to raise with the minister concerns about students at the TAFE in my local area. Four public telephones have been provided on the TAFE campus in previous times. Their concern was a notification that appeared on two of those phones to say that they would be removed. The students raised with me a particular range of concerns around those telephones being very strategically placed to provide access for students, particularly at night.

One of the phones proposed to be removed is at the welfare studies building, which frequently runs night-time courses in which many women participate. That phone is used extensively when students have finished their course for the night, to let people know to pick them up. It is also the phone closest to the disability services unit. For a number of students in wheelchairs who met with me on the day, that particular phone is an important provision. There are, of course, three other phones on the campus and the expression of the students was that generally during daytime hours it would not be a great problem to traverse the campus to other phones, but, to its credit, the campus is nicely landscaped with quite a few trees around and at night having to traverse the campus to get to other phones would create some serious concerns for many students.

I was quite surprised when I approached local Telstra management to be told that educational facilities are not covered under community service obligations. I assume that would also apply to university campuses and perhaps even to some of the more senior college arrangements where mature age people access the campus and need access to telephones. It is certainly true, I acknowledge, that there has been a great expansion of the use of mobile phones but the reality for most of the students I spoke to is that they do not utilise mobile phones. Many of them are on welfare payments and study at TAFE in order to improve their job prospects. They do not have mobile phones and use public phones quite extensively.

I could not find from Telstra on what decision they allocated two out of the four phones—whether they had looked at usage rates or anything like that. They could not provide that level of information. All they would say to me was that it was not financially viable to maintain four services on the campus. I recognise that the minister recently put out a statement that this issue would be explored with Telstra, hopefully before any sale goes through, when it would become a redundant issue. I understand that is proceeding. I would very much appreciate advice from the parliamentary secretary about the nature of those discussions and whether there is a proposal to extend what is covered under community service obligations. I would argue that, in particular, educational facilities should be covered and there may be others that the community would quite rightly suspect should be covered. For my local area, I would appreciate any advice on the progress of those discussions and their format.