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Monday, 10 October 1994
Page: 1304

Senator TIERNEY —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Communications and the Arts. An internal Telecom report on service and fault performance has revealed that the telephone infrastructure in southern and western New South Wales is clapped out and poorly maintained. To quote from a report of Telecom's technical transmission group:

The existing rural telephone network is in very poor shape . . .

Let me repeat that:

The existing rural telephone network is in very poor shape . . .

When will this Labor government direct Telecom to spend some of its reported $1.7 billion corporate profit on this second-rate phone service that country people have to put up with?

Senator McMULLAN —I do not have a particular brief on the concerns Senator Tierney might have about particular concerns in New South Wales. If there is something the minister wants to supply in response to those concerns, I will get him to do so. We all know that Telecom continues to have a very substantial investment program around the country. I do not think it should be a cause of concern to senators that it is getting a good return for taxpayers on their investment.

  Public enterprise cannot win. When it delivers a good return on investment, it gets criticised. When it does not, it gets criticised. I think we have a situation where Telecom is a good investment. That is why those on the other side are so enthusiastic about selling it and why we are not going to. Telecom has reported a strong growth, it has increased revenues and it has contained its costs. This has led to increased dividend payments to the Commonwealth, which I think we would all welcome. I am not aware of it being in any way generated by a decline in Telecom's investment activity. If the minister wants to add anything to that, I will get him to do so.

Senator TIERNEY —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. We all welcome profit from public enterprise but we also welcome community service obligation, particularly for the bush. To quote what is wrong with the service in the bush:

The servicing of the network investigated is totally understaffed . . . There are no reliable records kept of completed repairs . . . Faults are not being repaired at all, the service restoration method is to transpose around the problem . . . There is a zero level of field staff understanding of the transmission testing techniques and operating principles . . . Modern testing equipment although adequately supplied, is only used by a minority of staff . . .

When will rural people get some of this $1.7 billion and have the money spent on universal service in rural areas, as is the obligation of the government?

Senator McMULLAN —This is a desperate effort to have it both ways. Those opposite say, `We do not in any way mind this profit,' but then they want to work out how it ought to be spent other than in the way determined by the members of the board of Telecom, who are appointed for just that purpose. In my understanding, we have a very substantial amount of infrastructure investment going on in the Australian telecommunications industry, and many Australians are getting a very good service because of that. We find that the measurement of telecommunications service to consumers in Australia gives Telecom a very solid vote of support as a high quality service provider. That does not mean there are no problems. As I said before, if the minister wants to add something with regard to the specific matters raised by Senator Tierney, I will forward it to Senator Tierney.