Telstra’s CEO has rejected a Queensland government suggestion that disaster warning texts should be sent free, calling it ridiculous and disgraceful.
Andy Penn said on Wednesday the telco sent more than 1.2 million texts to Queensland residents during the recent bushfire crisis, as part of a commercial contract signed off on by the state government.
He rejected outright Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s assertion that the service should be free.
“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,” he told ABC radio.
“We put in place the telecommunications infrastructure under contracts required by the Queensland government, requested by the Queensland government, and obviously that cost money so we get paid for that.
“How we get paid for that is a function of those commercial arrangements agreed on by the Queensland government. Then to come back later and say ‘by the way we don’t want to pay for this’, that’s disgraceful.”
Ms Palaszczuk said she would raise the issue with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other state and territory leaders at Wednesday’s Council of Australian Government meeting in Adelaide.
Sending the texts was a community service, the technology was simple and it shouldn’t be expensive, she said.
“We shouldn’t now have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the emergency alert systems,” she said.
Queensland Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford said the contract with Telstra needed to be revisited so taxpayers would not have to foot the bill for a life-saving 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,” he 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.”
Mr Crawford said he did not know what Telstra’s profit margin would be on emergency message service.
He said the government was expecting to send out more text alerts in coming days as Cyclone Owen crossed the coast, bringing forecast heavy rain and destructive winds.