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Wednesday, 10 May 2000
Page: 16237

Mr LLOYD (7:55 PM) —Tonight I rise to raise the concerns of a company in my electorate over the unintended consequences of the outbreak of legionnaire's disease in Melbourne. The problem this company has is that a couple of months ago they applied for a Freecall number, a 1300 number, which they intended to use in an advertising campaign about to get under way. Unfortunately, this Freecall number is almost identical to the Victorian health department Freecall number; there is in fact only one digit difference. Of course, the Victorian health department Freecall number was widely advertised as a number that people who were concerned about the legionnaire's disease outbreak could ring. Obviously many thousands of people have rung this number. Unfortunately, the Victorian Bracks government did not react quickly enough to the fact that many thousands of people were going to ring this number. My understanding is that at that time, a couple of weeks ago, there was only one operator on the 1300 number. This meant that the number was constantly engaged and people kept dialling the number. Unfortunately, many of them missed the number or made a mistake on the number, so that this company, Guttershield, in my electorate received on 1 and 2 May between 400 and 500 wrong numbers, all calls which were meant for the Victorian Health Department.

As I said, this was a new number which the company had installed. In fact, they had not used it at all and probably had received only one or two phone calls on it. The problem is that 1300 numbers are free call numbers for the customer and the consumer but they are charged to the business. Guttershield are facing a considerable bill for these phone calls. I understand it is probably in the vicinity of $300 or $400 for calls that they have received through no fault of their own but through the fault, I guess, of the Victorian government for not putting enough people on to answer their phone number. The company rang me after they had contacted Telstra, because Telstra maintained that they had done nothing wrong. They had provided the 1300 number for this company, Guttershield, at West Gosford and they were still providing the service. They said that they were not responsible for people dialling the wrong number, and they were not prepared to refund the cost of these calls. In desperation, to try and stop the calls coming through and let their staff get on with the normal business of running the business, they got Telstra to have that number diverted to a message bank which said, `The call cannot be connected. Please check the number and dial again.' This did at least stop the calls. The only advice I have got from Telstra is that Guttershield should contact their account manager and let them know that they have a problem. But Telstra have not made any commitment that they will refund the cost of these 1300 calls to Guttershield, nor has there been any commitment from the Victorian government to compensate for the cost of the calls.

I realise that in the context of this very serious disease outbreak which has affected hundreds of people, including some of our colleagues within the parliament, that cost of $300 or $400 may not be the huge impost. But I believe that it is a principle, and I really do not know where to turn. I accept the fact that Telstra say that they are not responsible, that they have delivered the correct service, but I do not believe that the company should in any way be held responsible for or made to pay for these calls. I certainly appeal to Telstra and to the Victorian government to look at any claims that may come from Guttershield to assist them in not having to pay this impost of the 1300 number. Any other businesses that may be affected similarly should also consider the fact that once they get a 1300 number they are responsible for any calls that come through regardless of whether those calls are for that business or for any other purpose.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 8.00 p.m., the debate is interrupted.