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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5409

Senator FERGUSON (3:26 PM) —Having listened to Senator Mackay at length, one could be forgiven for thinking that there was no drought in Australia, because it rains a lot everywhere that she talked about. It rains a lot in Cairns, and she mentioned also that it rains all the time in your area too, Senator Hogg. I do not know too many places in Australia right now where it is raining all the time. As a matter of fact, most of the people that I know are affected by serious drought, so I imagine that the sealant joints in most of those areas are quite safe for a considerable time to come, not that Senator Mackay would be very concerned about the drought that is occurring. It rains in Tasmania every now and then.

We all know, and the government recognises, that access to quality communication services is an important issue for all Australians. It is an important issue for every one of us throughout the whole of the country and, having served on a telecommunications inquiry almost seven years ago, which was called `Telecommunications towards the year 2000', I could tell Senator Mackay—if she were willing to stay—that the state of the infrastructure and the services available to Australians in 1995, when Telstra was wholly government owned, was absolutely appalling. Those in regional and rural Australia in many places could not even access a fax machine. That is what the services were like under a fully government owned Telstra. What have we seen since Telstra has been part-privatised and since it has been asked to act as a corporate business?

Senator Lundy —Nothing.

Senator FERGUSON —We have seen nothing, Senator Lundy? Obviously you are too young to have made a telephone call internationally some 20 years ago when, instead of it costing you $5 for half an hour, it used to cost about $3 a minute. But then again, you would be too young to remember those times when Telstra was fully owned by the government. The enormous advances that have been made in Telstra over the past six or seven years cannot be overstated. We have seen the introduction of a far superior infrastructure, even through my area, which is some 170 or 180 kilometres from a metropolitan area. Do not try and tell me, Senator Lundy—or as Senator Mackay would if she were still here—that, because of this `terrible' part-privatisation of Telstra, services have been run down and are not what they used to be, because in fact services are better. I happen to live in one of these places. Services are far better now than they ever were even five years ago. If you took the trouble, Senator Lundy, to move out into the Australian bush, you would actually find out for yourself that services are a lot better.

To absolutely make sure that quality communication services are available, the government has implemented regulatory safeguards such as the customer service guarantee. The customer service guarantee and the proposed network reliability framework should give comfort to all Australians who are looking for communication services. Senator Lundy may come with all of her modern ideas about the state of services provided by Telstra. If only she could go back a few years, she would really understand. I am old enough to remember party lines. Things have come a long way since then. The telecommunications network was fully government owned at that stage. Under the customer service guarantee, as Senator Lundy is well aware, telephone companies must connect or repair services within a specific time frame, or provide an interim service or pay compensation. It must be done and it is done.

The NRF, which is going to be introduced on 31 December this year, will bring a new level of monitoring, reporting and, importantly, pre-emptive action and remediation at a network and individual service level. It is all right to come in here crying wolf about what might happen in the event of the sealant not working on some joints in the network around Australia; I think 45 billion joints was the number that was quoted by Senator Mackay. She said that a map ought to be provided of where all these joints were. It would be some map, I can tell you! But Telstra have advised in recent times that the gel continues to be effective on 97 per cent of those joints and the issues relating to the remaining three per cent are already being addressed. Senator Mackay comes in here and cries wolf, all because of her philosophical objection to any further sale of any part of Telstra, when in fact Telstra is currently more than 50 per cent government owned and the faults that she finds in Telstra are occurring while the government still owns a majority of Telstra. (Time expired)