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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5875


Senator LUNDY (2:46 PM) —My question is to Senator Alston, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Can the Minister confirm that Advantra—the company which won the contract for IT in the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the ACCC—is now fully owned by Telstra and trades as Telstra Enterprise Services? What steps has the minister taken to ensure that Telstra does not have access to sensitive information, relating to Telstra, held by these three agencies?


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I cannot tell you off the top of my head what arrangements the agencies might have put in place to ensure that information they regard as sensitive should not be made available to Advantra/Telstra. To the extent that they are matters about which they would be concerned, I would therefore expect that they have entered into negotiations to ensure that their interests are fully protected. Other than that, I do not know that I could really add much.


Senator LUNDY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister acknowledge that the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet are the principal government departments responsible for communications policy? How can the minister assume or possibly guarantee that commercially sensitive information about the government's policies and plans cannot reach Telstra via its wholly-owned subsidiary, Telstra Enterprise Services, which has control of the IT functions—including data and voice communications—in both of those departments?


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —If the proposition is that somehow Telstra is our company and, therefore, it has access to sensitive government policy information, then of course there is an obvious solution, as you know, isn't there? If, however, the issue is not privatisation, which would resolve all these conflicts of interest—


Senator Lundy —It's a probity issue. Don't try and fudge it; answer the question!


Senator ALSTON —Don't try and get annoyed, either! It does not become you.

Honourable senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Senate to come to order so that we at least have a chance of hearing what the minister has to say.


Senator ALSTON —To the extent that there are concerns about anyone with whom the government might contract in respect of IT outsourcing or, indeed, of the use of any sensitive information, one would expect that the government has put in place those sorts of arrangements. It is not confined to telecommunications policy; it is a whole of government issue. (Time expired)