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Wednesday, 8 April 1998
Page: 2754


Mr FILING (12:08 PM) —I will answer a couple of points that the Minister for Finance and Administration (Mr Fahey) has raised. The first relates to his comments about the actual technology. The argument that the technology is better, as my understanding is, in latter times has never been raised; it has always been the subject of the contract.

Let me give you an example from an interview with one of the government's own experts from the ACA, the head of ACA's analog closure education program, Mr Warren Duncan. The interviewer on 3AW put to Mr Duncan that a knowledgeable caller had suggested that digital coverage would never cover the whole of Australia, that it was impossible. This is Mr Duncan's answer—the answer of the government's own expert:

That could very well be the case, but the difference really is that . . . it's because of the nature of the technology . . . Analog can stretch out over quite considerable distances whereas, dependent upon where the base station is, digital may not cover the same extent . . .

Those words on the service, on the technology, are from the mouth of one of the government's own experts. Here he is, damning the digital coverage when asked the question, `Can it provide the same sort of coverage that analog could?'

It was once said of the Bourbon dynasty: they learnt nothing but remembered everything. I must say that one of the great criticisms of the community about government in modern Australia is that, whenever a mistake is made by government, it either tries to cover it up or compounds the mistake by pretending that it was not a mistake in the first place. That seems to be the situation here. We have had the argument from the Minister for Finance and Administration that somehow the people who are supporting analog phone networks are neo-Luddites, somehow wedded to sort of steam engine technology.

Yet, at the cutting edge of the world's marketplace in mobile phone services in the United States, the analog network is doing very well, thank you very much. In fact, the analog network in the United States is highly competitive, cheap, and provides an excellent service. Because the United States is not as hidebound as we are to sort of leap into the first new technology that appears on the block, it actually has better digital technology that we do. The United States has the situation where its digital technology and its analog technology can go hand in hand. So you can get a phone that will roam in both types of technology—but you cannot do that here in Australia.

The minister—the same minister who, in the year that analog technology was mooted for destruction, spoke 728 times, never once mentioning the analog network—was trying to pretend on a radio program that there was, in fact, a similar sort of technology available in Australia. That is absolute rot, and he should have known that.

There is another aspect to this, and that is the question of safety. Regional Australia obviously experiences considerable problems with bushfires and disasters, and all those sorts of emergencies that occur from time to time, where, because of the geography, the distances, the isolation, telephone technology is absolutely critical to personal safety. We have a situation where this government concedes that, in the event of bushfires in remote areas, you would be better off carrying two telephones, a digital and an analog, because the analog would probably give you a better chance, in an area where there is poor coverage with the digital network, of being able to communicate to ensure your own personal safety.

I have had personal experience of this with fishermen in my electorate. They were persuaded by Telstra's telemarketers to buy digital; they said, `We suggest you go for digital technology. It is exactly the same as the analog technology you've already got.' Those fishermen bought it, they paid thousands of dollars; they got out to sea and they found it did not work.

Mr Deputy Speaker Dondas, you would know from your own territory that the tyranny of distance and service delivery would make the destruction of the analog network in these circumstances an absolute aberration—in fact, a neglect of duty on the part of this government to provide the best possible service availability to all citizens, no matter where they live. We live in one of the world's most remote continents, and we have the problem of distance and sparseness of population.

I would have thought a government would be committed to what are called its community service obligations, its universal service obligations—those things that are quietly being smothered to death by the government as it sells off the rest of Telstra. Those community and universal service obligations include the right to access the best technology available to all Australians. That does not mean that having a fetish for one particular type of technology should deprive some Australians of their right to access that technology. (Time expired)