Doorstop on Telstra announcement > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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20-June-2018

Doorstop on Telstra announcement

Mural Hall, APH
10:45 am
20 June 2018

 

E & OE

 

FIFIELD:       

This is a difficult day for the staff of Telstra and our thoughts are very much with them. I’ve spoken to the CEO of Telstra, Andy Penn, who has advised me that this is a matter that he’s very focused on. He appreciates that this is a difficult time for their staff. Mr Penn has also advised me that Telstra will be putting in place a $50 million transition program to assist affected staff. These changes will occur over a number of years. It's important to recognise that our telecommunications companies operate in a highly competitive environment that is constantly evolving. That is indeed true for all Australian businesses, which is one of the reasons why we will continue to work hard to secure the passage of our company tax cuts.

 

JOURNALIST:

Telstra’s had a bunch of outages in the past year. They had a lot of service issues. Are you confident that these job cuts won’t just contribute to more problems?

 

FIFIELD:

Well, it's up to each telco business to make judgments as to the best way to meet the needs of their customers and the best way to satisfy their shareholders. Telstra have determined that this is the program that they will pursue to provide the service that their customers expect.

 

JOURNALIST:

Telstra also provide massive amounts of our telecommunications in this country. Are you- do you have any concerns that they might be putting profits for their shareholders ahead of service for Australians?

 

FIFIELD:

It's important for all telcos to meet the expectations of their customers, to make the business decisions that will deliver to consumers the products that they expect. Mr Penn has indicated that part of the reason why Telstra is pursuing this approach is to ensure that they can simplify the product offerings for their customers.

 

JOURNALIST:

Telstra’s pretty much the only teleco that does any decent service in the bush. Do you have any concerns that regional areas will be particularly hard hit by these job cuts?

 

FIFIELD:

The objective, as announced by Telstra, is to enhance the offering of products to consumers. Mr Penn has indicated that these staff reductions will essentially be in the areas of management and back office, that the customer-facing roles in Telstra are where they will continue to put their emphasis and their focus.

 

JOURNALIST:

Have you sought any assurances that these won’t affect regional and rural areas?

 

FIFIELD:

The balance of roles between metropolitan and regional areas Mr Penn has indicated will continue to be much in the proportion that they currently are.

 

JOURNALIST:

The profits are something in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, if not over a billion dollars. Do you concede that this is potentially a bad look for a company that has been going through some troubles, particularly when it comes to customer service recently?

 

FIFIELD:

Well, it's up to each business to explain why they take the decisions that they do. Telstra have indicated that their objective is to provide a good service to their customers, to simplify their product offering, and to put the business on a better footing.

 

JOURNALIST:

Minister, what levers do you have to ensure a good outcome for consumers following this change from Telstra?

 

FIFIELD:

Telstra will continue to be required to meet the customer service standards that they currently have. They will continue to be subject to the oversight of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and also the Australian Communications and Media Authority. I've recently announced that we are going to be reviewing the customer safeguards that are currently in place to ensure that we have even greater transparency when it comes to the complaints that are made against telcos and also how those are handled.

 

JOURNALIST:

Do you accept you’re using the ABC as a punching bag?

 

FIFIELD:

Look, the ABC is an important national institution. It makes an important contribution to news and current affairs. Indeed, the ABC is one of the important underpinnings of civic journalism in Australia. It's also one of the important underpinnings of media diversity in the nation.

 

JOURNALIST:

What did you think of the managing director’s speech yesterday?

 

FIFIELD:

Look, I’m not in the habit of providing a commentary on speeches provided by the CEOs of agencies in my portfolio.

 

JOURNALIST:

Minister, a question regarding arts as your- I guess, wearing your Arts Minister’s hat.  Today, the ACT’s report into pill testing has come out and it's recommended a national rollout of such programs, such as drug testing programs across music festivals across the country. As Arts Minister, is it that something you would like to see happen?

 

FIFIELD:

Well, I don't consider that the consumption of illegal drugs is something that is intrinsic to the performing arts or live music in the nation. I would urge people who attend arts events to say no when someone offers them illicit substances.

 

JOURNALIST:

But we've seen that it could potentially save lives. In the case of the ACT, there were two lethal substances which were detected. Given that this has a potential of harm minimisation, is it worth considering?

 

FIFIELD:

The best way for people to protect themselves against illicit substances is not to take them.

 

JOURNALIST:

Telstra is also looking at hiving off some if its infrastructure assets into a separate company. Is this paving the way for the NBN to be sold specifically and have you addressed that with them?

 

FIFIELD:

Telstra have announced that they will be establishing a separate business unit that will contain most of their infrastructure; the pits, the pipes, the undersea cables. Telstra have not made any decisions about what the future of that business unit may be. Mr Penn has indicated that that decision to create that business unit gives Telstra optionality. But they have made no decisions. We have always had the policy, as have our predecessors, that NBN will ultimately not remain in the hands of government.

 

JOURNALIST:

Minister, the government’s currently paying Telstra about $270 million a year to provide pay phones and ensuring that the lines are intact. Do you think the government’s getting good value out of that money and would you consider renegotiating that with Telstra?

 

FIFIELD:

As part of the agreements reached by our predecessors with Telstra in the rollout of the NBN, there are payments of around $10 billion dollars over the life of the NBN and that goes towards moving people from the Telstra network to NBN and shutting down the Telstra network. We also have separate to that, the Universal Service Obligation which provides funding to Telstra to ensure that everyone in the pre-NBN world has access to a fixed line service. We have announced that we are reviewing the Universal Service Obligation arrangements, given that they were framed for an environment before the NBN. And the Productivity Commission has undertaken a report that says that it's important that those arrangements are refreshed and changed for the future.

 

JOURNALIST:

Does that mean lower payments for Telstra?

 

FIFIELD:

We have made no decisions about the future of the Universal Service Obligation, but what we won't do is change those arrangements until we have determined that we have in place protections to ensure that everyone can have access to service.

 

JOURNALIST:

If that infrastructure company was spun out into a separate company, whether listed or unlisted and was separated from Telstra, are you confident that those service obligations would be transferred to that company, to make sure that services were still being- well, the infrastructure was maintained?

 

FIFIELD:

Telstra have advised that they've made no decisions about the future of that infrastructure business unit that they will be establishing. And we have made no decisions about future universal service obligations. But what we are absolutely committed to is that what replaces the current universal service obligations will ensure that there are protections for all Australians, that they will have access to the services that they need.

 

JOURNALIST:

Thanks everyone.

 

FIFIELD:

Thank you.

 

[ends]

 

            


Authorised by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Liberal Party of Australia, Parliament House, Canberra.