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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 261

Senator MASON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Communications. I refer to an answer to my question on notice, No. 827, which states:

Section 101 of the Telecommunications Act 1975 provides that proceedings do not lie against Telecom or its employees or contractors in respect of loss or damage suffered by a person by reason of default, delay, error, or omission in relation to the provision, maintenance or operation by Telecom of a Telecommunications service.

Hence I ask: Is it not a fact that many Australians have been seriously disadvantaged by this immunity from court action which Telecom Australia enjoys and which bears, indeed, more heavily on the community because Telecom is a monopoly? Would a private organisation or company providing a similar telecommunications service enjoy the same immunity under the law as does Telecom? If in this case the answer to that is no, will the Government institute an inquiry which will give telephone subscribers some legal recourse in cases where Telecom or its staff have been plainly deficient?

Senator WALSH —I must confess that I do not remember question on notice No. 827 or the answer to it. I apologise for that culpable negligence but I have a piece of paper that says that there are no relevant statistics and, therefore, Telecom is not in a position to comment on the assertions made by Senator Mason. As a matter of interest, most major telecommunications administrations have provisions in the legal instruments establishing them similar to the section 101 prescription in the Telecommunications Act of 1975.

Senator MASON —I ask a supplementary question. With respect to the Minister, I find his answer gibberish. What possible relationship can the question of statistics have to the question I asked? Will the Minister answer my question as to whether the Government would institute an inquiry which would give telephone subscribers much needed legal recourse where Telecom employees are in fact deficient?

Senator WALSH —I will put the proposition about an inquiry to the Minister for Communications, but I think the answer is probably no. If the Australian Democrats were in government, we would have inquiries into everything. Those inquiries would proceed endlessly, and nothing else would be happening. As to whether it was gibberish, Senator Mason asserted that a privately owned corporation would not have the indemnification that Telecom has. I am advised that that is not true, that there are legal instruments similar to section 101 in most countries whether the undertakings are privately owned or not. I will refer the other specific questions he asked to Mr Duffy to see whether he can supply any information.