Australia– WA- The cost to taxpayers of each SMS or voice message alert sent during WAs bushfire emergencies has been revealed to be $4.35 costs Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis says Telstra is morally bound to subsidise.
Supplementary information provided to a Budget estimates hearing shows WA spent $1,010,841 last financial year on 231,955 SMS and voice messages during 23 potentially catastrophic emergencies, including the blazes that threatened Boddington, Bullsbrook and Northcliffe over summer.
The costs were broken down as $999,400 in operating costs and $11,410 in telecommunication career fees.
Neither the State Government nor Telstra was able to say what the operating costs went towards.
Mr Francis told Parliament last month that Telstra should be providing the text alert service free, joining Victoria in putting pressure on the telecommunications provider to stop charging State governments to use the potentially life-saving technology.
The Emergency Alert platform is funded by all State and Territory governments, with WA contributing 10 per cent of operating costs based on its proportion of the population.
Carriers Telstra and Optus charge additional service fees when it is used.
Mr Francis, who has offered assurance that the cost has no bearing on deciding whether to send out alerts, said WA and other States had started to argue at a Commonwealth level that Telstra, as the controller of the majority of the infrastructure, had a community service obligation to offer the service for no charge.
Shadow emergency services minister Margaret Quirk agreed that Telstra should be providing the service free as a community service. I have contacted several Federal ministers and I would expect that the Government would have at least done the same, Ms Quirk said.
A Telstra spokesman said Telstra was committed to public safety, including providing the national triple-0 service, communication