The Incumbent: Chapter 41

Summary:It's an intricate web of murder plots, government conspiracies and rampant tanning. Oh, and the future of the entire nation.

In the relative quiet of the call centre, he had the time to start exploring the corporate intranet further. Even though he was at the bottom of the VastTel hierarchy, he still had the same network rights as the CEO. It would take the IT department weeks to remove his access to email accounts, documents, directories — all the entitlements of the company chief.

The fact that Jones had been the company's first computer-literate chief executive explains why he had found a plethora of documents that should have alarmed any of his predecessors. There was the Whitlam, Beevis & Hogsbreath report that Trisha Botherington had reported on. Another similar report from a year ago was called 'How to Cut Costs by Completely Removing the First 12 Tiers of Management with No Detrimental Effect Whatsoever'. Another showed how the company could reduce further occurrence of bad debt by getting rid of one customer who currently owed the company $14 billion.

One report was: 'How to Cut Costs by Completely Removing the First 12 Tiers of Management with No Detrimental Effect Whatsoever'.

But the most significant finding, as he trawled through the archives, was an official-looking document titled 'Government Telecommunications Policy Number 127'. It sounded like a particularly dry piece of text, and Jones almost skipped right past it as a favour to his brain, but, for some reason, he had second thoughts, and decided to have a look. What he found was startling.

It was an official internal government document, and he'd never seen one before, so he downloaded it and printed it out. It somehow seemed more official when he saw it on paper.

The document had the Department of Treasury logo at the top of each page, a distinctive emblem comprising a kangaroo who appeared to be smiling, with a wad of cash stuffed into her pouch. Underneath, there was something that looked Latin, but which was actually a random selection of letters selected by the design agency.

The opening sentence said it all. 'Estimates now place the proportion of the workforce employed by VastTel at close to 72 per cent. Many more are employed in support services for VastTel and its staff, in the fields of psychiatry and the production of corporate T-shirts and high-waist-banded trousers. The remaining 20 per cent of the population are gainfully employed in mining, manufacturing and a myriad of other productive causes, or in finance. Studies of the VastTel workforce have confirmed that more than three quarters of existing staff are unemployable in a competitive marketplace. It is in the national interest, therefore, that VastTel continues as an inefficient monolith. Any steps to introduce realistic competition, forcing operational improvements in VastTel, will result in widespread unemployment, and the likely collapse of the economy.'

Jones couldn't believe what he was reading. It seemed inconceivable that the government was involved in such a momentous cover-up. And was it really necessary? Surely these people would be able to find jobs elsewhere? He considered the thought for a moment, and then looked around the room.

'Stay calm, people!' screamed the supervisor, who was far from following his own advice.

'Perhaps they've got a point,' he said to himself.

He wanted to read further, but he was interrupted by a phone call. It was the first time his phone had rung that morning. In fact, it was the first time anyone's phone had rung for some time. It immediately attracted the attention of his supervisor, who was walking the floor.

'Hang on,' he yelled across to Jones. 'Don't answer it. We don't know who it is. It could be a customer.' There was panic in his voice.

Jones let it continue ringing. The supervisor looked very concerned, and a little unsure of what to do next.

'I don't know how this one got through, but perhaps we should let it ring for a while.'

Just then, another phone rang in the far side of the room. The call agents were now starting to fidget. There was definitely a nervous energy in the room.

'Stay calm, people!' screamed the supervisor, who was far from following his own advice. 'There's clearly a fault of some kind. I'll get an engineer down here to fix this.'

Several other phones started to ring. Then some more. The sound was becoming uncomfortable. The supervisor, who was also the floor's union representative, was ready to call a stop-work meeting. He wanted to yell 'Everybody out!' but he knew that nobody could leave the room. It wasn't safe. He was aware of the emerging unrest outside the building.

Topics: Telcos


Phil Dobbie has a wealth of radio and business experience. He started his career in commercial radio in the UK and, since coming to Australia in 1991, has held senior marketing and management roles with Telstra, OzEmail, the British Tourist Authority and other telecommunications, media, travel and advertising businesses.

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