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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5887


Senator MACKAY (3:42 PM) —I think the last two coalition contributions have been peppered with what one may call politely, I suppose, irony in relation to the defence of Senator Alston. Certainly I actually quite enjoyed Senator Eggleston's contribution—it was highly ironic. I would like come back to the issue of the Estens report. I note with some amusement that the press release that the minister put out when the report was released said:

The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, today released the full report of the Regional Telecommunications Inquiry.

What it did not say is, `PS: he never bothered to read it'. I think he probably ought to. We found out in question time today that he has skimmed through the recommendations. One of the critical issues that was raised in the Estens inquiry and also in the Besley inquiry is the issue of fault management. That is one of the big issues. The state of the network is a mess. I have to say that the Estens inquiry did concentrate on this and did look at it, as did Besley.

My question today referred to page 74 of the Estens report, in which Telstra advised the inquiry of what they were doing in relation to fault rectification time. For senators who were not around during this period, the most infamous case of problems with fault management was the tragedy of Sam Boulding. So we are not talking peanuts here; this is a big issue: fault rectification in the network. My question today went directly to the issue of fault rectification—the time that it took; the downgrading of staff— and Telstra reported to Estens on some of the things that it was doing. On page 74 the Estens report says that Telstra has recognised that its work force management databases— and it names them, if the minister is listening: Service PLUS and Director—have contributed to some of the problems discussed in the Besley report. Whoopee! They finally got that right. But at least they have recognised it. The report continues that, to that end, Telstra has advised that it is developing a new computerised work management system, Future Edge, that will be able to better map skills to jobs and calculate work times, et cetera. It then goes on to say that the pilot implementation of the new program announced in Estens, Future Edge, commences in December 2002 with deployment throughout 2003. One of the major reasons this was done was, as I said, the tragedy of the Sam Boulding case. People do not have to believe me: they can go and have a look at a number of inquiries that were done, including the report by the Australian Communications Authority in relation to that.

Let us highlight what we have here. We have here an inquiry which, from the very beginning, had two fully paid-up members of the National Party on it. Putting that aside, the minister still has the hide to get up and call it `independent'. He was so convinced that it was independent that he admits here in the Senate that he has not even read the report. He has not even read a major report— supposedly the seminal, pivotal report on which this government will make a determination as to whether it is going to sell Telstra. He is so incompetent that he gets up in the chamber and admits he has not read this pivotal, seminal report that they said would determine the future of Telstra and its customers, particularly in relation to services in regional Australia. I have to say to you, Mr Deputy President, that is pathetic.

A number of these issues were also canvassed in Besley. The minister obviously did not read the Besley report either—because in many cases, particularly in this one, the Estens inquiry was getting updates on what Telstra had done as a result of the Besley report. One has to ask the question: did he read the Besley report? I think not. So what does he do? He just puts out press releases `releasing' reports—and, as I said, he did not put, `PS: I have not bothered reading this major report into your future, people of Australia, in relation to what remains of Telstra, the people's company, still 51 per cent held.' I think the rumours about this minister are true. I think he is bored out of his brain. I think it is time he retired.

Question agreed to.