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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7911

Senator TIERNEY (3:11 PM) —Senator Lundy shows a very poor sense of history in talking about what is provided in telecommunications in this country. She was not actually here in the Senate when the Keating government was trying to run Telstra. We all look back to that era when we had a total monopoly. This is the scheme that Labor would like to return us to. They would like to have the core services in a government monopoly and flog off all the rest. That would return us to the days that we had back in the seventies and eighties. I remember those days well. You would receive a bill from Telstra and you would think, `This is a one line, itemised bill. That's wrong.' You would ring Telstra and tell them that the bill was wrong and they would say, `No, it's not. If you don't pay it, we'll cut off your service.' That is the sort of system you want to send us back to: a monopoly on the central core of Telstra. That is not the way to go. The way to go is the competitive telecommunications regime which we have provided and which has dramatically improved telephone services in this country. People like Senator Mackay and Senator Lundy are trying to make out there are massive problems in the system.

Senator Mackay —There are.

Senator TIERNEY —There are minor problems in the system, Senator. I turn particularly to your misleading comments and the things that you have put out on the network improvement scheme. You are trying to make out that that is a list of a whole series of faults through the system, when Telstra keep telling you time and time again that it is a proactive maintenance database. It is a list of jobs to do. Senator Mackay, you obviously do not understand that.

Senator TIERNEY —No, you do not.

Senator TIERNEY —Why are you making such misleading statements about it? What you do with a network system like this is try to anticipate where the faults are going to be in the future and try and upgrade and fix on a series of priorities. Look at the real record, Senator, in terms of priorities 1, 2 and 3 on the CNI. Telstra is doing very well on the improvements, and you must acknowledge that. Do not try and make out that this is a list of faults right across the system. The faults right across the system were back in 1994, when a secret Telstra document, which fell off the back of a truck, showed the absolutely appalling state of the service network in western and southern New South Wales. This was an internal Telstra document under the Keating government. If you look at the situation that we had in the early nineties and compare it to the situation now, it is light years ahead.

Under the customer service guarantee that we have set up with major fines if services are not provided, there has been a dramatic improvement in the system. The creation— and being a regionally based Senator, I have watched this very carefully—of organisations such as Telstra CountryWide means that we have a much more responsive system close to the grassroots that can go out and respond quickly. The response rates have gone up dramatically and the improvements have gone up dramatically. With the introduction of digital technologies you find that the whole system is far more reliable than it was before.

The thing that you have to acknowledge about Telstra right through its history is that it has really good engineers. It is a good engineering company. It comes up with good engineering solutions to the telecommunications problems in this country and, if you compare this with a lot of systems around the world, it is far better. The approach of this government, where we have sold half of Telstra but still have the majority in government hands at the moment—

Senator Mackay —Are you going to sell the rest?

Senator TIERNEY —We have said what the process is for doing that and, when the standards get to a point where we are happy, we are going to look at it again. You know that, and you are part of an inquiry that is now going around Australia looking at it. I note that the great interest in this inquiry seems to have dropped off. You were very anxious to have it finished by the end of this year. We are now almost to the end of this year and I think we have had three or four hearings. There is not a great deal of interest in the parliament in the inquiry. There is not a great deal of interest in the community, and the reason for that is the dramatic improvements in standards in telecommunications in this country that have occurred under the regime established by this government over the past five years. (Time expired)