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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5278


Senator TIERNEY (2:13 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Alston. Minister, many of the families of victims of the terrorist attack in Bali have incurred, and are still incurring, additional telecommunications costs in trying to contact and stay in touch with their family members. Are you aware of any actions that are being taken by telecommunications companies to help alleviate these costs during this incredibly difficult time for these families?


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Tierney for his very important question. I have this morning been in contact with a number of the major telecommunications carriers, and I am very grateful for their prompt and understanding response. All the carriers approached have reacted sympathetically to the plight of the victims of the tragedy and their families.

Optus will waive all charges for fixed line calls from Australia to Bali for a week-long period starting midnight Saturday, 12 October. Optus will waive all international charges for calls from an Optus mobile to any number in Bali during this period. Optus will waive charges for calls from an Optus mobile where the Optus customer was in Bali during this period. Optus will credit on a subsequent bill those customers who have already been billed for these calls since Saturday night. Optus will also implement arrangements to waive bills for customers who died in the Bali tragedy. Optus has provided a number of mobile handsets and prepaid calling cards to the Darwin Hospital for use by victims and their families. Optus will work with government to put further arrangements in place to provide assistance in relation to telephone calls between hospitalised victims of the tragedy and their immediate families. Later this afternoon, Optus will be issuing a statement with the full details of these arrangements.

As far as Telstra is concerned, for all Australian immediate families who have been affected by loss of life or injury arising from the Bali disaster, it will provide free of charge to those families the following. Telstra will offer the services of the counsellors of its own employee assistance program. Telstra will offer the support of trauma and grief counselling services to help individuals come to terms with what has happened. Telstra will waive for a period of one month from the date of the disaster, after which the situation will be reviewed, all fixed and mobile telecommunication costs including calling, fax and Internet charges incurred for local, national and international communications in connection with the disaster. This will include, for example, international fixed and mobile calls between Bali and any Australian location and between the various Australian staging locations. Telstra will also waive outstanding personal phone bills of deceased victims of the tragedy. For all those Australian non-government, non-profit organisations providing on-the-ground support in Bali or at various Australian staging locations or who are assisting victims of the disaster and their immediate families who have been affected by loss of life or injury arising from the Bali disaster, Telstra will waive for a period of one month from the date of the disaster all fixed and mobile telecommunications costs including calling, fax and Internet charges incurred for local, national and international communications. Telstra has also announced today that it will donate $100,000 to the Australian Red Cross Bali appeal.

Vodafone will be waiving any outstanding personal phone bills of deceased persons. Vodafone has also agreed that it will work with government to put arrangements in place which will mean that additional phone costs incurred by the injured or their immediate families for calls between each other while the injured are hospitalised in Australia can be waived. Final details will be announced shortly, including a contact number for Vodafone customers affected. Finally, Vodafone has agreed that it will waive the cost of any international call charges incurred by victims and their families for calls between Australia and Bali from the time of the bombing to the time the victims return to Australia.

The government welcomes these initiatives by the carriers. We certainly hope that other carriers will respond in a like manner. In the time available, the response has been very impressive. We hope that there will be an ongoing understanding of the difficulties that telecommunications can solve in many instances.