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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2602

Ms LIVERMORE (12:36 PM) —I draw to the House’s attention the concerns of constituents of mine, the Watts family of Mirani. Patty Watts and her family are frustrated, and for good reason. On 13 January they woke to find that their landline phone had gone dead. Since then, they have been locked in an ongoing battle with Telstra to fix the underground cable delivering phone service to their home on Watts Road. This battle is to restore not only their own phone but also the phones of five other farm houses on the road. They have been without a landline since then, and they are dealing with patchy mobile reception, which has put pressure on running their farm business.

When I rang the Watts family this morning, I reached them only because Patty was outside hanging the washing on the line. She receives mobile service only in a small area of her backyard, and she has to leave her phone near the Hills hoist so that it will receive calls. It makes for a frustrating life: having your landline diverted to your mobile but having only marginal mobile reception. Patty Watts constantly has to go outside to check her phone for missed calls and voice and text messages. Then, when she is on the phone to Telstra attempting to communicate her frustration, the phone battery goes flat because she is kept on hold so long.

Patty tells me that one time when she had to speak to Telstra, she drove her car down the road because she had to use the car’s phone charger to keep the battery alive—that is how long they kept her on hold. She has had to speak to Telstra so often and for so long—to people in call centres all over the country—that at one point she was reduced to tears of frustration. Telstra has now told the Watts family that it will fix the problem on 24 April. It is a disgrace. That is still more than a month away and it will be three months from when their line first went dead. This is just to repair 10 metres of cable that is water damaged.

What have Telstra been doing since 13 January and for the last two months? Why is it taking so long? Neither the Watts family nor my office can get a clear answer from Telstra on these simple questions. Last year, the service on Watts Road was out for eight weeks with similar problems. With young children and elderly people in the area, and the road being more than 50 kilometres from Mackay, there are also safety concerns that arise from the phone being out of service for so long.

Sadly, this is a blight on the record of Telstra and an example of Telstra falling short in service delivery to remote Australians. My office receives numerous calls about Telstra every week, registering similar complaints. Let me make it clear that I do not blame the techs for this. The Telstra techs—the ones who are left in the company—or the contractors they bring in can only work with what they have got. This is the result of failure at the senior levels of the company to invest in its core network. In the years leading up to privatisation and since then, the company has been concerned with propping up its balance sheet in the short term at the expense of building and maintaining its network and employing the staff needed to keep even basic services, like a landline, operating reliably. It also makes me wonder what the National Party were thinking of. It is amazing that they believed the Prime Minister back when he was making those promises that Telstra would not be privatised, would not be sold off, until telecommunications services in the bush were up to scratch. I think it would be hard to convince the Watts family at the moment that Telstra services in the bush are anything like up to scratch.

Telstra obviously has other matters on its agenda than the needs of people in rural and regional areas. Just yesterday Telstra was in the newspapers, spruiking its plan to turbocharge its broadband network. But that is only if you live in a capital city—in fact, only in certain parts of capital cities. It is a move that the papers yesterday described as cherry-picking the markets where Telstra can register the most profit. To people in regional areas it probably will not come as much of a surprise, but it is nonetheless another slap in the face from Telstra. Telstra claims on its website that its vision is to create a world of one-click, one-touch, one-button, one-screen and one-step solutions. That is nice if you live in Melbourne, but in Mirani all you get is a world of frustration.