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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26333

Senator MARSHALL (2:22 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Does the minister support Telstra's use of mass service disruption notices to exempt itself from normal customer service standards? Is the minister aware of the Australian Communications Authority telecommunications monitoring bulletin for March 2004 which shows that Telstra tripled the percentage of its services which are exempt from customer service standards due to mass service disruptions from three per cent in the June 2003 quarter to nine per cent in the March 2004 quarter? Is the minister concerned that, for almost one in 10 services, Telstra is using bad weather as an excuse for not meeting standard customer service requirements? What is the minister going to do about Telstra blatantly using mass service disruptions to avoid providing all Australians with decent telecommunications services?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I do not accept at all that Telstra are blatantly misusing notices, although it is true, as no doubt those opposite would be aware, that between approximately 1.30 and 3.30 this morning Telstra did initiate a software upgrade and it was not anticipated to have an adverse effect. In fact, there has been an outage on customers. Once the upgrade was completed, Telstra became aware of some other authentication issues. But, basically, as soon as Telstra became aware of this, they began working with vendors to isolate the cause of this issue and resolve it. It depends on what the problem is as to whether or not there needs to be a notice or whether Telstra can take action to fix it.

The universal service obligation and the way in which Telstra deal with their customers and with service complaints are appropriate. If you look at the announcement today, you will find that Telstra give great attention not only to service upgrades but to trying to make sure that all services, particularly to rural and regional Australia, are appropriate. There is certainly no evidence—at least, none that has been brought to my attention—to suggest that Telstra are using outage notices inappropriately, nor that they would do so. Obviously Telstra have to cover a huge network and there are, from time to time, some difficulties. On my understanding, Telstra will move to fix those as soon as possible. The suggestion that, through some perverse way, they just simply use an outage notice inappropriately is, I think, not borne out by the evidence.

Senator MARSHALL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I was actually asking the minister about disruption notices and about the growth from three per cent in the June 2003 quarter to nine per cent in the March 2004 quarter. I also refer the minister to last week's Senate communications committee's Australian telecommunications network report and recommendation 11, which states that mass service disruption notices should not be used by carriers to avoid their obligations to consumers. Isn't the government's mass service disruption policy just a rort for Telstra to avoid providing regional Australians with decent telecommunications services? Will the minister now accept majority recommendation 11 and stop Telstra's widespread use of mass service disruptions to exempt itself from basic customer service standards?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Thank you for the supplementary question. The government does not run Telstra. That seems to be something that escapes the attention and purview of the opposition. Telstra deal with outages when they need to and they deal with repairs to service lines when they can. There is a suggestion by the opposition that, inappropriately, outage notices are used simply to avoid making repairs and providing the services that Telstra have undertaken to do. There is no way in which the government can direct the way Telstra operationally conduct their repairs. It is a matter about which the government obviously has a concern to ensure that regional and rural services are appropriate. (Time expired)