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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 528

Senator BOURNE (7.29 p.m.) —I rise in the adjournment debate tonight to raise some serious concerns about Telecom—the quality of its network, but most importantly its corporate culture. I hope to table a number of documents to illustrate my concerns. The catalyst for this speech is the absolutely bizarre experience which a Ballarat man by the name of Mr Robert Bray has just been put through by Telecom, an experience in which Mr Bray's perfectly civilised request to have a phone put on resulted in his name being referred to a local hospital for psychiatric treatment.

  Mr Bray has supplied a statement to me. It states that he recently moved to Ballarat and asked Telecom to connect a silent line. Telecom did so, but the phone service was faulty and Mr Bray reported that fact to Telecom the day it was connected. That night, Mr Bray had a long phone conversation with a Mr Allan Harris of Melbourne during which they discussed their personal experiences as victims of child abuse. The following morning, a Telecom employee rang to tell Mr Bray that his phone calls were being taped and broadcast in Ballarat.

  Mr Bray again complained to Telecom. Four days later, he was rung by a community psychiatric nurse from Ballarat's Lakeside Hospital. The nurse told Mr Bray that he had been referred to the hospital by Telecom because he had complained that his phone calls had been taped and also that Telecom had made similar referrals previously. Subsequently, the Telecom manager who had contacted the hospital visited Mr Bray and, in Mr Bray's words, apologised overwhelmingly. The manager said that he was concerned that Mr Bray may have been an ex-mental patient. Subsequent to that, pornographic literature was dumped on Mr Bray's back doorstep.

  Mr Bray's proof of evidence states that he gave no permission to Telecom to monitor or tape his telephone calls, to refer him for psychiatric treatment, to give out his name, to give out his address or to give out his silent telephone number. He has made a complaint to the Australian Federal Police, who do appear to have made a quick and a thorough investigation of this case.

  Subsequently, we were offered an explanation of this incident by Telecom. It states that there was no customer recording equipment in Ballarat which would have allowed the taping of the conversations between Mr Bray and Mr Harris. However, we do understand that phone calls can be monitored in any exchange and they can in any exchange be broadcast on an internal loudspeaker. All that would be required to record telephone conversations is a portable cassette player in this case. We make absolutely no claim that this has happened. We have no idea whether or not this happened in this case, but it is possible.

  Telecom also said that Mr Bray's number was not silent for the first three days and could have been given out to someone who had a grudge against him, who then rang pretending to be a Telecom employee. On the evidence we have seen that seems most unlikely. As far as we can tell, phone numbers are not normally available for two or three days after connection. Mr Bray's number is listed on his account as being silent after three days, which fits in with that. Telecom also told us that the Telecom manager had contacted the hospital because he was concerned for the safety of his employees, but a Telecom employee had been at Mr Bray's residence the day before and had suffered no ill effects, and was even offered a cup of tea.

  The Democrats believe that this case raises serious concerns. Some of them are specific to Mr Bray and Mr Harris. If their conversations were monitored—we believe Telecom has a clear case to answer on this point—then their privacy has been grossly violated. But the fact that Mr Bray was referred for psychiatric treatment is not disputed and is simply outrageous.

  The question we ask is: were Mr Bray's experiences the product of unique circumstances or are they are symptom of a wider malaise within Telecom? There is little doubt that Mr Bray's privacy has been grossly violated, whether or not his calls were monitored. In this he is not alone. The experience of Telecom customers whom we know have had their phone calls taped without their knowledge suggests a willingness to invade the privacy of people who make serious complaints against Telecom. Indeed, one of the documents I hope to table shows that information obtained through the monitoring of Brisbane's Tivoli restaurant was passed on to a legal firm representing Telecom in its dispute with that restaurant. To us, this smacks of industrial espionage.

  We are well aware that the Australian Federal Police are investigating allegations of phone monitoring and taping, and everything that we have heard suggests that it has been very thorough. We do not presume to know what it has found, but the length of its investigations suggests that the problem of illegal monitoring and taping is not a small one. We urge the government to release its findings as soon as it is appropriate.

  Another lesson we can draw from Mr Bray's experience is Telecom's persistent habit of blaming the victim. Mr Bray made a legitimate complaint and was assumed to be mentally ill. This is an obviously extreme episode, but it is not unusual for people who make unusual complaints, particularly about persistent faults, to be told that there is no fault. In effect, they are told it is in their imagination.

  The fact that Telecom offered us an explanation which does not stand up to close examination has been par for the course. Frankly, we are sick of it. We are sick of being offered briefings designed to show Telecom in the best possible light in the hope that we do not spot the inconsistencies.

  These documents are full of examples which show how that has happened. During our many briefings on the casualties of Telecom, we were frequently given to believe that Telecom's network achieved a 98 per cent call completion rate, making the CoT complaint of persistent faults somewhat incredible. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and other documents that we hope to table will show that Telecom is in fact looking at the moment at a call completion rate of around 90.2 per cent rate. This means that one call out of 10 probably will not go through. Telecom is happy with that. That is just not good enough. These documents show that people inside Telecom also believe that that is just not good enough.

  There are many other things shown in these documents. I also want to table the letter we have written to the Minister for Communications and the Arts (Mr Lee), delivered today, asking for him to take certain actions on certain things about Telecom. I do not want to take any further action until we have that answer from the minister. I look forward to that answer and I look forward to discussing it with other members of the Senate. In the meantime, I seek leave to table these documents.

  Leave granted.