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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15118

Ms JANN McFARLANE (9:02 PM) —I rise tonight to discuss something that has been spoken of in this place many times. However, what I am about to say bears repeating, as this government does not seem to have caught on. I am talking about Telstra—in particular, the huge variation in the quality of services that Telstra's various departments are delivering to their customers. Firstly, I would like to discuss the hardship Telstra has inflicted upon one of my constituents, Robert Atherley. Mr Atherley is a hardworking accountant who runs a firm with approximately 2,000 clients. Being the information age, this firm has had the good sense to conduct a lot of its communications via the Internet. Firms of this size require Internet connections that are fast enough to allow them to conduct their work in a reasonable time frame. As such, Mr Atherley sought to upgrade his ADSL connection via his Internet service provider. The ISP, accordingly, passed on the line request to Telstra. Mr Atherley was informed that this transfer would be almost seamless and that it was a regular request performed with no problems whatsoever.

The first part of this changeover occurred, as planned, the same day. The current ADSL connection Mr Atherley had was disconnected. He expected, as Telstra had told him, that the reconnection would be quick and problem free. As Mr Atherley was soon to find out, this was not to be the case. When he approached my office around lunchtime on Thursday, 1 May, he had been without an Internet connection for nearly three business days—three days of not being able to access Internet based research and information, three days of not being able to contact people who were on the move and otherwise uncontactable, and three days paying a large portion of his staff to twiddle their thumbs.

Upon calling Telstra to inquire about the delay, he was informed that the paperwork had gone missing and that the order would have to be resubmitted, much to his disappointment. However, Mr Atherley assures me that his Telstra phones were working perfectly, so his staff members were able to hear the many angry clients that called up and abused them, with crystal clarity. Amazingly, this situation was not resolved until the end of trade on Friday, 2 May. Mr Atherley, naturally, will be charged the normal fee for changing over to another ADSL service, and Telstra's poor response will go unchecked. How can Australian business and industry be expected to compete globally when broadband roll-out is being handled as poorly as this? I think it is also worth mentioning that Australia's broadband roll-out is falling behind in regional economies quite dramatically and that we are at risk of being disadvantaged commercially because of global communications trends and Telstra's slow development of infrastructure.

I would also like to take this opportunity to raise Telstra's long-term handling of the Hamersley communications towers in my electorate. These towers have been causing interference to home and data telephony for decades. I have been told anecdotally that for just as long Telstra executives have been too petrified to confront the issue. And here we are in 2003 with nothing done. It is only now that Telstra is trying to liaise with Hamersley residents in a serious way, through meeting with the Hamersley reference group, a group of local residents working for solutions to their telephone, Internet, and security system problems. As one member of the group pondered, `I wonder how long it would take Telstra to fix the phones if it were the administration in Canberra who were having problems?' This sums up a point that I think Telstra needs to take on board: it provides a service as much to individual Australians as to corporations and governments. It is, regardless of who owns it, a provider of infrastructure to our nation.

I would like to see Telstra continue to show some commitment to resolving the issue for Hamersley residents and businesses by bettering services in more general terms. These people have been, in some cases, unable to use their phones due to radio interference for a number of decades. Despite going through the appropriate fault channels at Telstra, no official procedure, plan or strategy has ever been developed for attacking this problem affecting residents living around the communications towers. Let us hope for the people and businesses of Hamersley and the surrounding area, and for Telstra users all over Australia, that this recent cooperation is a sign of things to come from the organisation.

I do appreciate that I never hear from those constituents who do not have any problems with Telstra and enjoy an adequate level of service. While there are a great many satisfied customers out there, people who have had a negative experience with Telstra are often forced to pay the exact same rate as those who are receiving good service. Personally, I live in a part of the Stirling electorate that enjoys an acceptable standard of service. However, my line rental is exactly the same as those in the Hamersley area. I would dearly hope that the people at Telstra appreciate the injustice in such a situation. These people are paying the same price for a much lesser service, and for decades Telstra has not been able to come up with a solution.