Government silent over telecommunications report

28 May, 2003 10:00 PM
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THE Federal Government is yet to respond to the Estens inquiry, six months after it received its report into the adequacy of telecommunications services in the bush.

This is despite Communications Minister Senator Richard Alston saying back in November last year the Government would consider the findings and recommendations in the report "as a matter of urgency and provide a comprehensive response to them".

The recent federal budget made no reference to any Government response to the findings of the inquiry, which was headed up by Moree farmer Dick Estens.

The three-month inquiry found mobile services to be adequate but that there were pockets of the fixed network causing concern for rural customers.

It found the Government had "responded comprehensively to the findings" of the Besley Telecommunications Services Inquiry and in "addressing community concerns raised in that report".

The inquiry's panel made 39 recommendations.

"The implication of there not being any provision (in the budget) is that it's going to be found within other programs, I presume," National Farmers Federation chief executive officer Anna Cronin said.

"But we don't know what the overall figure should be for Estens. Obviously we're very keen to see all of those recommendations acted on.

"It's six months later and we're yet to see any response from the Government and I think we need to see one fairly urgently."

Federal Labor agriculture spokesman Senator Kerry O'Brien agreed the Government should release its response as a priority.

"The question needs to be asked: if they're not prepared to release it now, and there's nothing in the budget that shows they've made a major commitment, what confidence can there be that this (Government's response will be a) comprehensive (move to embrace) Estens' recommendations for assistance for regional Australia?"

A spokesman for Senator Alston said the Government was aware of the NFF's interest in the report, but no date for a response had been established.

"We do expect to release a response in the near future," he said.

The push by the NFF for a Government response to the inquiry comes as Telstra Country Wide (TCW) says new survey results show that regional, rural and remote communities have been experiencing improved performance from Telstra over the past two years, with the overall rating of TCW increasing by more than 40 per cent.

Telstra Country Wide managing director Doug Campbell said the third regional telecommunications survey report ‹ based on a survey of nearly 500 business, political and community leaders from across Australia ‹ confirmed that telecommunications services had improved significantly since the establishment of TCW.

"Regional leaders have judged the overall performance of Telstra Country Wide at 7.8 out of 10, a 44pc improvement from the 5.4 rating we received when we conducted our first survey in 2000," he said.

Among the recommendations made by Estens inquiry were that:

pthe Government continue the satellite phone subsidy scheme beyond current arrangements;

pa licence condition be placed on Telstra so all Australians would be guaranteed a dial-up Internet speed through the fixed network of at least 19.2 kilobits a second;

pthe Australian Communications Authority identify the worst performing exchange service areas, with Telstra then made to provide an undertaking to the Government about how to lift their performance;

pwork be done to identify areas where terrestrial mobile coverage could be extended through Government support for capital costs (with the Government to then consider providing such assistance);

pTelstra be required to maintain an ongoing presence in country areas, but such a requirement "not be unduly prescriptive or burdensome and be broadly compatible with Telstra's commercial interests";

pthe Government regularly review telecommunications in country areas and fund future service improvements in the country rather than impose financial obligations on the industry.

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