Telstra CEO: No free emergency texts for Queensland

Telstra provides emergency alert text messages to Queensland residents as part of a commercial contract with the state government, with CEO Andy Penn saying it will not do so for free.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Telstra CEO Andy Penn has called Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's suggestion for the telco to provide disaster warning text messages for free "ridiculous" and "disgraceful".

During the recent bushfires in Queensland, Telstra sent out more than 1.2 million emergency warning texts to residents as part of a commercial contract with the state government.

It is likely to send out more text alerts during the next week as Cyclone Owen hits the east coast of Australia, bringing with it heavy rain and destructive winds.

"We provide the Queensland government with very significant technology and telecommunications networks. At their request, we provide those services to them, so to suggest that Telstra's responsibility then to provide that for free is ridiculous," Penn told ABC Radio on Wednesday morning.

"We put in place the telecommunications infrastructure under contracts required by the Queensland government, requested by the Queensland government, and obviously that costs money so we get paid for that.

"How we get paid for that is function of those commercial arrangements agreed on by the Queensland government, so then to come back later and say by the way we don't want to pay for this, that's disgraceful."

Palaszczuk said she would escalate the issue to her state and territory counterparts as well as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the Council of Australian Government (COAG) meeting in Adelaide on Wednesday.

According to Palaszczuk, the technology being used is simple and shouldn't be expensive, and the text messages are a community service.

"We shouldn't now have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the emergency alert systems," Palaszczuk told media.

Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford added that the contract needs to be revisited so that taxpayers aren't funding an emergency service.

"We believe that this should be a community service arrangement by either the federal government or by Telstra or a combination of the both of them, but we don't believe that taxpayers in a state should have to pay for a commercial arrangement," Crawford told ABC Radio.

"Telstra is making money out of this and it's not appropriate that Telstra is making money out of Queenslanders in their time of need."

Telstra's emergency services support has come under fire of late, with the telco in October being found to have breached the rule that ensures all 000 calls on its network are carried to emergency call operators following an investigation into Triple Zero emergency call services.

According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), Telstra failed to deliver 1,433 calls to the emergency service operator on May 4 due to a network outage, breaching s 22 of the Telecommunications (Emergency Call Service) Determination 2009 and the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 .

The outage had been caused by fire damage to fibre cables, causing mobile voice connection interruptions across New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland for a period of around nine hours.

Earlier that month, the ACMA similarly found Telstra to be in breach of assisting customers with life-threatening medical conditions, with the telco directed to commission an independent audit of its priority assistance obligations compliance.

"The remedial direction results from an investigation into Telstra following two incidents in 2017 where customers with serious, chronic health conditions were unable to use their Telstra landline service," the ACMA said.

"Neither customer was registered for priority assistance, but both made plain their serious health conditions and their need for a working telephone service.

"In both cases, the customers passed away."

According to the ACMA, in both of these cases, Telstra failed to provide priority assistance information eight times when customers had enquired, and also failed to put into practice emergency medical request procedures nine times.

Telstra has since commissioned the audit, which will examine the scripts and training being given to Telstra staff members and will look into past complaints on the issue.

With AAP

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