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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 732

Senator BOURNE (6.58 p.m.) —I wish to bring to the Senate's attention tonight two new Telecom matters which have come to my attention since my speech on the adjournment last Monday. I will seek leave to table relevant documents at the end of this contribution.

  The first matter is the extraordinary case of Mrs Margaret Prill. Together with her husband, Mrs Prill bought two adjoining blocks of land in Drummoyne from Telecom for the purposes of residential development. After a long delay with rezoning, they commenced construction only to find that $50 million worth—$50 million—of Telecom cables were buried under about one quarter of the property. The existence of the cables had never been admitted by Telecom and, indeed, it appeared not to know that they were even there, even though the properties in question adjoined the Drummoyne exchange.

  It is quite clear that Telecom made a major error in selling this property and this is admitted in an internal Telecom letter which was inadvertently provided to Mrs Prill. Yet Telecom has refused to buy the property back and has offered what can only be called a derisory amount of compensation to the Prills for stalling their development plans.

  The Prills have a large amount of money tied up in the property, leaving them unable to purchase further development properties to generate an income. The result has been financial loss and a large level of personal stress. A satisfactory engineering solution has not been found and they have been caught in an impossible situation through no fault of their own.

  This is a very brief history of the saga which began in April last year and has yet to be resolved. Instead, the Prills have been subjected to the sort of treatment by Telecom which I can only describe as typical and indeed quite brutal. They have been misled, intimidated by aggressive lawyers and made to feel that this disaster is all their fault.

  Telecom has refused to take responsibility for an error which it privately admits is its own. I hope to table a letter Mrs Prill faxed to the Minister for Communications and the Arts (Mr Lee), a further note to ourselves, and the internal Telecom letter I referred to which admits Telecom's error.

  I would urge the minister to direct Telecom to immediately buy back the property and compensate the Prills for the losses they have suffered at Telecom's hands. This is not a complex compensation matter involving intermittent telephone faults which are hard to trace and to quantify. It is a straightforward blunder by Telecom in selling land it should not have sold without making absolutely clear that the cables were there.

  The second matter I want to raise is a new development in the case of a Ballarat man, Mr Robert Bray. Honourable senators will recall that Mr Bray alleges that a Telecom employee rang to tell him his phone calls had been taped and broadcast in Ballarat. As a result of Mr Bray's complaint, he was referred by a Telecom manager to a local hospital for psychiatric treatment. In conversations with the Democrats, Telecom has stated that Mr Bray's calls were neither taped nor monitored. We were very specific in asking about monitoring and taping, and in both cases we were told that it did not happen.

  This morning, a Telecom employee who deals regularly with the casualties of Telecom was at the premises of Mr Brian Love, proprietor of Lovey's Restaurant. During the course of the conversation, the employee, Mr Peter Gamble, admitted that Mr Bray's conversations had been monitored. Mr Love has reported this to the Australian Federal Police, who are investigating Mr Bray's allegations. Mr Love has also provided us with a statutory declaration, which I will seek to table shortly.

  These examples are completely consistent with the pattern of behaviour I described on Monday. And they are not historical examples. Telecom claims to be changing but there is far too much evidence that this is not the case, even amongst the people who are supposed to be leading the change. I look forward to meeting the minister tomorrow morning to discuss what can be done to shock Telecom into taking seriously its responsibilities as a corporate citizen and public utility. I seek leave to table these documents.

  Leave granted.