17 September 2019


ROWLAND: My question is to the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts. I refer to the text relay service CapTel, which is part of the National Relay Service, which helps senior Australians who are deaf to make and receive telephone calls. Why is the government removing access to the CapTel handset from the National Relay Service?

FLETCHER, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, CYBER SAFETY AND THE ARTS: I do thank the shadow minister for her question. Of course, the National Relay Service is a very important communication service for Australians who are deaf, hearing impaired or have a speech impediment. We have committed to spend $22 million a year to deliver the National Relay Service, so that people who have a hearing impairment, or speech difficulties, are able to use the telephone system.

Of course, it is very important that we are getting good value for money for taxpayers, and that's why we've recently gone through a competitive procurement process under which the incumbent, ACE, Australian Communication Exchange, had the opportunity to bid to retain the contract. And in the result they did not retain the contract. The contract has been awarded to a new company, Concentrix, who will continue the National Relay Service commencing from 1 February 2020.

It follows a competitive selection process which is designed to get the best possible outcome for Australians who need to use the National Relay Service. Indeed, the Concentrix service will offer new options which are not available under the current arrangements, including, for example, the ability to receive texts over iPads, tablets and smartphones.

I want to make it very clear: the Morrison government is technology agnostic about the services provided through the National Relay Service. At the moment, the position is that the owner of the existing proprietary CapTel system has cited an exclusive agreement and has declined to provide it. Should they be interested in providing it, to maintain it for existing recipients of the CapTel service, of course we'd be very happy to speak to them about that.

But I do want to make it absolutely clear that there is no threat to the National Relay Service. The National Relay Service will be maintained. There will continue to be the provision of technology. Indeed, there will be new technology options under which people who are hearing impaired, or who are speech impaired, can view text so that what is spoken by the person on the other end of the phone is converted into text, which they will be able to view. The National Relay Service is very important and the National Relay Service is continuing.