Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 9 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 2610 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
I am not opposed to a major corporation like Telstra undertaking activities which will reduce its overheads and in turn presumably lead to lower prices for their customers, but when it comes to a matter as serious as the 000 emergency system we have to be absolutely certain that any reductions in outlay are not occurring at the expense of quality of service to people, in this case, in extremely serious emergency situations.
A national emergency call-taking working group has been in dialogue with Telstra about this process of restructuring, to make sure that we do not end up with a serious problem in individual cases. The ACT has been the home of a call centre. The proposal is to move from a centre in Canberra to redirecting calls to a centre presumably in Sydney or Melbourne. The concern about that is that the loss of local knowledge by a local operator answering an emergency call may be critical in being able to address that call properly when it is made. Mr Osborne, in his question, referred to the problem of someone in Perth ringing up and asking for emergency assistance and having the call directed to Canberra. I imagine the ambulance would take rather a long time to reach somebody in Perth if it was dispatched from somewhere in Canberra.
Mr Speaker, I have also heard of another case more recently in the ACT. I have not confirmed the details of this, but I understand that a call came through about a road accident close to Black Mountain and the call was directed to the Fire Brigade at somewhere like Dickson here in the ACT. Other information associated with that call led the Fire Brigade person in Canberra to query the nature of the call. It turned out that the call was in fact being made in respect of an accident that had taken place near Black Mountain near Tamworth. So you can see that the local knowledge that was applied by the Fire Brigade officer might have saved an ambulance or a fire engine from being dispatched quite pointlessly to somewhere near Black Mountain in the ACT. Even though it was detected at that early stage in this case, probably valuable minutes were lost while particulars were being ascertained and the matter referred back to the call-taking centre somewhere else. I am concerned about that.
Meetings have been taking place, I understand, with officials from Telstra to develop a way out of these problems, in particular focusing on what happens with the use of mobile telephones when it comes to making 000 calls. With a fixed telephone, Telstra know where the call is coming from, because it is a part of the information which apparently comes up on the screen. But with a mobile telephone I gather that the information that comes to Telstra is information about the nearest telephone tower through which the call is being directed. It is possible in those circumstances for a call being made, say, in Queanbeyan to be directed through a call tower that might be on a hill somewhere in the ACT, or vice versa. I am even told that it is possible that calls being made from mobile phones in northern Tasmania can be directed through towers in southern Victoria. Clearly, it is not much use to an emergency service if the call is going through entirely the wrong jurisdiction or the wrong location.
Mr Speaker, we have made it clear that we do not consider the present arrangements, at least as far as we can ascertain at this point, to be satisfactory. We have commenced a discussion with Telstra and we will press Telstra not to proceed with any changes unless they are demonstrably not going to threaten the efficiency and quality of service which is available to people who are unfortunate enough to need an emergency service based on a 000 call at any time in this jurisdiction or, for that matter, anywhere else.