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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5410

Senator LUNDY (3:31 PM) —It is my great pleasure to be able to reflect on some of the comments just made by Senator Ferguson. I am very pleased that he raised the issue of quality telecommunications services. He claims that Telstra just keep getting better and better. Hello! Ask a few people out in rural and regional Australia. Ask a few people in outer metropolitan Australia who are struggling to get a decent connection. I would put it to the Senate that Senator Ferguson is too old to understand that people do not just want to use the telephone network for voice calls and for telephony; they want to use the network for Internet connections. This might be a concept that Senator Ferguson is completely unfamiliar with because of his old age—

Senator Ferguson —Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I will not claim that it is a reflection, but I would remind Senator Lundy that you are never too old to learn but sometimes you are too young to remember.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —You have no point of order, Senator Ferguson.

Senator LUNDY —That was a very flippant attempt to interject, Senator Ferguson. I put it to you that people want to use this network now for purposes other than a mere voice call. They actually want to use it for some of the more sophisticated services like connecting to the Internet for the transfer of data. What has happened is that, since partial privatisation, Telstra have decided that they are not going to spend very much money at all on their network. They are going to pretend that they are a modern telecommunications company. They are going to pretend, with the help of the minister—who is their chief promoter in the chamber and certainly in public—that they are somehow preparing for the future. The evidence heard at the Senate inquiry and the evidence coming forth to estimates and other inquiries is clearly the opposite. Telstra are not future-proofing their network; they are going backwards at 100 miles an hour. Why? Because they do not want to spend money. They want to fatten up their bottom line in preparation for further privatisation.

This does not serve the interests of Australians. What Australians want is a quality, affordable telecommunications system that provides for their needs in the future and that provides adequate Internet connections, fast enough to make the transfer of data meaningful. What we have here is a government dead set on promoting a Telstra that has been moving backwards at 100 miles an hour. Is it any wonder that we find this incredible situation, where Telstra are effectively using what can only be described as dodgy products to try and make their existing network withstand the pressure of wear and tear—I would suggest standard wear and tear—on what is an ageing network. They are using gel that does not work. They forgot to test it. Why? Because they sacked all the people who were supposed to do that kind of work. They have outsourced a lot of this maintenance to NTL and others, and it is no wonder that Australians are now facing a situation where one good shower of rain, as happened in Albion Park recently, can knock out the network— not just for an hour or two hours but for days, and in this case for over a week. That is because they have pared back the maintenance required on an ageing network. By definition it will need more maintenance as it gets older, while ever it is not replaced, and now the network starts falling over. It is very interesting to see that this issue of sealing the can of gel has emerged now. I make this prediction: as time goes on, issue after issue will be put on the table that will demonstrate Telstra's negligence when it comes to the appropriate and adequate maintenance of our telecommunications system.

Where does that leave Australians, whether they live in the bush or anywhere else? It leaves them with a degraded service. It means they have a system that does not even provide for basic services these days— take note, Senator Ferguson—for Internet connections. Over a million people in Australia cannot even get some of the faster broadband services like ADSL. Why? Because Telstra put in cost cutting technology designed to save them money while they were fattening up the bottom line in preparation for privatisation. This is not where this country needs to go. We need to be installing infrastructure, and we need to be building infrastructure that is actually going to serve our future social, economic and cultural needs. That is not what this coalition is doing and that is not what Telstra are doing. It will never happen while ever they are pursuing the further privatisation of Telstra in this country.