Telstra: blame it on the rain

Telstra is denying accusations of contempt of Parliament made by Tasmanian Senator Sue Mackay, following today's Senate decision to investigate the matter.The Privileges Committee is set to investigate the allegations surrounding Telstra's parliamentary statements concerning "network faults" made last February, which Mackay has claimed do not coincide with a leaked Telstra memorandum dated December 2003.

Telstra is denying accusations of contempt of Parliament made by Tasmanian Senator Sue Mackay, following today's Senate decision to investigate the matter.

The Privileges Committee is set to investigate the allegations surrounding Telstra's parliamentary statements concerning "network faults" made last February, which Mackay has claimed do not coincide with a leaked Telstra memorandum dated December 2003.

In Senator Mackay's motion for an investigation she accuses Telstra of "misleading the Senate", as she says if the leaked documents are correct the network fault estimates made by Telstra's group managing director, Bill Scales, and head of service advantage, Anthony Rix, are "untrue".

Scales stated in parliament that "The largest proportion of the faults [in the Telstra phone network], I think, over that period are as a result of the weather". However the leaked documents obtained by shadow minister, Lindsay Tanner, say "Fault rate growth appears to be due to general network deterioration rather than a specific exceptional cause".

However, Telstra have said today that the documents do not suggest the network is in disrepair, rather it shows that the company sought and received AU$20 million in extra funding to spend on the network.

"It's wrong to suggest the leaked document recording hundreds of dollars being spent on network maintenance is evidence of neglect," said a Telstra spokesperson.

Senator Mackay stated in her submission that "lengthy discussions" were held with Telstra over the effects of the weather on the network, with the Telstra officials claiming that the network shouldn't be expected to cope with the "extreme and exceptional weather conditions" seen in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in the period from December 2003 to February of this year.

Rix was quoted as saying "The claim that faults rise [in Telstra's network] due to network neglect and the decline in staff numbers is a myth ...", however according to Senator Mackay the leaked Telstra memorandum stated that an increase in network faults were due to "reduced rehabilitation activity" and an "intense focus on providing quick fault restoration driven by performance imperatives".

Senator Mackay said in her submission that she interprets this statement as saying "Telstra has not fixed the problems properly in the past and that cuts in staff have resulted in only quick fixes being applied".

Yet Telstra said today that it stands by the evidence it gave at the estimates committee, maintaining that there is "no evidence of network neglect".

"The network is aging and requires maintenance. This document delivered more funding to address that problem, therefore the two statements are not inconsistent," said the Telstra spokesperson.

The Privilege Committee says it has not been given a deadline for the investigation which is still in the "early stages".

If found guilty Telstra officials could face individual fines of AU$5000 and up to six months imprisonment, with the company also receiving a fine of AU$25,000.