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Minister criticises Telstra plan to remove 5,000 of its 32,000 pay phones over the next seven months.

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Monday 20 February 2006

Minister criticises Telstra plan to remove 5,000 of its 32,000 pay phones over the next seven months


TONY EASTLEY: Telstra is under fire for its pl ans to cut a large number of public pay phones from country and city areas. 


Parts of a Telstra Country Wide briefing note published today in the Financial Review , indicate the telco is planning to remove 5,000 of its 32,000 pay phones over the next seven months. 


National Party MPs are furious about the plan, which they say will hurt rural and regional Australia. 


And the Communications Minister, Helen Coonan, is also annoyed that Telstra has not told her about the plans. 


From Canberra, Gillian Bradford reports. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Telstra's relationship with the Government has been far from rosy recently, and now it's just got that little bit worse. 


RON BOSWELL: It would require a lot of explanation, and I will be making inquiries today. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Ron Boswell is the leader of the Nationals in the Senate and has long campaigned for better phone services in the bush. He says any plans to cut pay phones could hit regional areas the hardest. 


RON BOSWELL: To be in our offices and saying look, there's 5,000 pay phones here that we're going to remove, and we're going to do it for these reasons, and then we could put up an argument that it wasn't… it was unnecessary. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Telstra has already started marking some phones it plans to get rid of. 


That's news to Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan, who hasn't been told about the plan. 


HELEN COONAN: Telstra hasn't either raised this plan with government or discussed it with me, so that in itself is disappointing.  


I'm very keen to discuss any plans that Telstra wishes to implement in relation to these matters, but I should stress very clearly that Telstra is required to provide pay phones across Australia where phone services are inadequate.  


And they have that obligation expressed in law under the universal services obligation, and they get paid a contribution from other carriers in order to provide that service. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Is it good enough for Telstra to say there's good mobile service coverage, you don't need a pay phone? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, that may not be adequate because the people who need pay phones traditionally are people who have difficulty in perhaps accessing a mobile or paying for other telephone services, so I want to get to the bottom of what it is that Telstra is saying in this rationalisation program. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Are you disappointed they haven't put this across your desk, and certainly the desks of other MPs who might like to provide some feedback on plans to cut pay phones in their towns? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, I think it is disappointing that this is the first that this has been brought to my attention, this proposal has been brought to my attention, and clearly I agree that it is very useful to raise this with local members, and certainly with the minister, so that there can be a proper approach to a plan of this kind. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Will Telstra be getting a clear message from your office today that it's not good enough to let you know about these sorts of plans? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, I think that would be self-evident that if you wish to work with the Government in cooperation on these sorts of matters, it's certainly helpful to have advance notice of the plan.  


But what we'll do is we'll sit down now and we'll have a look at it, but the message that I'm conveying loud and clear is that we will not be leaving anyone stranded in the bush for telecommunications. 


TONY EASTLEY: Communications Minister Helen Coonan speaking there with Gillian Bradford in Canberra.