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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5411

Senator EGGLESTON (3:36 PM) —Senator Lundy, you must never have heard of Networking the Nation or the Internet Assistance Program operating in Australia to improve regional telecommunications. I am surprised, because you purport to be someone with a great interest in issues related to telecommunications. Networking the Nation has been an extremely successful program which has greatly enhanced regional telecommunications. The Internet Assistance Program, now operating across the whole of Australia, works to provide advice and support and to increase speeds, where necessary, for users of dial-up Internet services. We, as you know, let a special contract of $150 million to provide Internet data and fast fax access for people in the most remote areas of Australia—a satellite provided service that is the envy of the rest of the world. It is a little unfair, perhaps very unfair, of you to be so critical of a great company which is doing so much for regional Australia, Senator Lundy. It has responded to the outcomes of the Besley report. Telephone services are now installed and repaired. Senator Lundy, please do not go—we would rather you remain to hear the rest of this.

Most of the Besley report findings have been addressed with great effect. Regional telecommunications have greatly improved since the Besley committee went around Australia and took evidence on the level of telecommunications services. To suggest, as Senator Lundy has done, that the company is running down services and not spending money just to fatten up the bottom line so that it will look more attractive as a saleable proposition is just absolute nonsense when one considers how much money has been spent on programs like Networking the Nation and, as I said, the special $150 million program to improve telecommunications in the most remote parts of Australia.

Telstra has also improved mobile phone coverage for around 200 towns around Australia. For example, in Western Australia we have had the Wireless West program which has meant that CDMA has been extended throughout the south-west of Western Australia. Now many of the wheat belt towns which had no access to mobile phone coverage have mobile phone coverage. We have improved mobile phone coverage along the major highways of this country. That is a great improvement in telecommunications services which simply cannot be denied. We are providing a satellite mobile phone handset subsidy of up to $1,100 a unit, and this means that people living in the most absolutely remote areas of Australia can have access to a phone service wherever they are. For example, if Senator Lundy ever decides one July to take a holiday in Western Australia and go down the Canning Stock Route, she will have access—she is back—with the use of a satellite handset. They are just examples of the way in which Telstra has really worked to improve telecommunications around this country since the Besley report was brought down.

Senator Mackay somewhat cynically referred to the new committee inquiring into telecommunications—the Estens committee—which will report quite soon on the current status of telecommunications in Australia. Mr Estens and his committee are all from regional Australia. They are people who are quite genuine consumers of telecommunications services in the regions. I can say with very little doubt of being wrong that they will report that telecommunications services in Australia have greatly improved and have been significantly enhanced since the time of the Besley report. Telstra will, as the Prime Minister said, be in a position to be sold because— (Time expired)