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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5872


Senator MACKAY (2:33 PM) —My question is to Senator Alston, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Can the minister confirm that the Estens report into regional telecommunications services accepts at face value Telstra's claim that its new FuturEDGE work force management database will solve the widespread problems associated with Service Plus and Director? Does the minister accept these claims at face value as well?

Honourable senators interjecting


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Did you say `Service Plus and Director? I could not hear you properly.


The PRESIDENT —Order! There was discussion in the chamber that did make it rather difficult to hear the question. Senator Mackay, could you repeat your question?


Senator MACKAY —Can the minister confirm that the Estens report into regional telecommunications services accepts at face value Telstra's claim that its new FuturEDGE work force management database will solve the widespread problems associated with Service Plus and Director? Does the minister accept these claims at face value as well?


Senator ALSTON —I do not recall reading anything about Service Plus and Director—whatever they relate to. Senator Mackay might be able to throw some light on that.


Senator Mackay —The Estens report.


Senator ALSTON —If you want to talk about the Estens report, I can do that at great length, because Estens deals with—


Senator Mackay —That is what the question is about.


Senator ALSTON —No, it is not. I do not know what the question deals with. Does it deal with mobiles? Does it deal with general quality of service? Does it deal with the Internet?


Senator Mackay —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I do not know whether the minister wants me to read the question out for a third time, but the question was about the Estens report and one of the recommendations of the Estens report. Perhaps the minister could indicate whether he has in fact read the Estens report?


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. It is a question of the interpretation of your question. Minister, I hope you now understand what Senator Mackay is trying to ask you.


Senator ALSTON —As best she can, she seems to have explained her position. The fact is that I have read the findings and the 39 recommendations. I do not recall something called—


Senator George Campbell —They were the bits you wrote, weren't they?


Senator ALSTON —He's gone mad! You don't need a telephone to talk to him; you could hear him if you were interstate.


The PRESIDENT —Please return to the question, Senator.


Senator ALSTON —I do not recall something called `Service Plus and Director'. Whether that relates—



Senator ALSTON —Maybe Senator Ray has read this particular recommendation. He can enlighten us as to `Service Plus and Director'. Does it relate to the quality of service? Does it relate to the Internet? Does it relate to future-proofing? Does it relate to mobile phones? I am aware of all these recommendations—



Senator ALSTON —You might think it is quite clever to find something so abstruse that does not relate to the main game, but it highlights Labor's decision to play at the fringes. I noticed that Senator Cherry the other day put out a very comprehensive document on media policy. Can anyone last recall Labor ever getting serious about policy? To refer to some obscure provision without giving any context or explaining what it relates to in any event is silly nonsense. I can tell you what is in the Estens report, and I can tell you that, overwhelmingly, it has given a big tick. Some matters do need to be attended to. In terms of quality of service, you and I well know that Austel's quality of service reports have made it abundantly plain that Telstra has lifted its game across the board on both fault repairs and installations to the point where 90 per cent plus is the norm.

In terms of Internet access what Estens recommends is that 19.2 be a licence condition and I think that is a reasonable proposition. In fact, he finds that as far as mobile phones are concerned the roll-out to towns of 350 or more, plus continuous and spot coverage on highways, is more than sufficient to meet the needs of those wanting mobile service, particularly when we have a 50 per cent subsidy on handsets for satellite services. If somehow none of those things mattered to Senator Mackay and the Service Plus and Director were the main game then I would be very interested to hear a bit more about it.


Senator MACKAY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to page 74 of the Estens inquiry. This was one of the major recommendations that relates to Service Plus and Director and a system called FuturEDGE, which I also referred to. Isn't it true that the Estens report—and I again ask the minister whether he has read it—completely ignored the extensive problems in the network caused by the use of a corrosive sealant gel and took Telstra's advice on this as well at face value?


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —The logic of that is quite breathtaking: `Have you read the report, because you will find that it comprehensively ignores something I think is important?' If it comprehensively ignores it, by definition it is not there, so what is the point?


Senator Mackay —Have you read the report?


Senator ALSTON —I have told you I have read every one of the findings and recommendations.

Honourable senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senators on my left and those on my right will come to order and allow the minister to answer the question.


Senator ALSTON —We have a report in excess of 300 pages. I have already received comprehensive advice in relation to it. We are going carefully through the implications of each of those recommendations and I have looked at the parts of the report that deal with the major issues.


Senator Mackay —This is one of them.


Senator ALSTON —You might think it is major but, once again, you seem to be very obsessed—


Senator Faulkner —You have not read your own report.


Senator ALSTON —Of course, you have read it!


Senator Faulkner —No, I haven't but I am not the minister.


Senator ALSTON —And you never will be.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner, Senator Mackay asked a question. Senator Alston, can you complete the answer, please?


Senator ALSTON —What we have done over the last five years in this area has been made abundantly plain by Mr Estens, and we have done very well. (Time expired)