Coonan launches Telstra dial-a-quote freecall number

Possibly overwhelmed by media interest in the government's campaign to privatize Telstra, federal communications minister Senator Helen Coonan has launched an automated "voice grab" service to disseminate her views to the fourth estate, or anyone else prepared to listen.

A likely first in Australian politics, the new service allows callers to hear the views of the minister in the form of a prerecorded script, presumably to allow radio or podcast services take a recording of the spiel.

Users merely call 1800 064 270 and follow the prompts - in this case choosing "Option 1" to access a verbal counter attack from Senator Coonan on claims from Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo that his organization is over-regulated. The number is also provided on Senator Coonan's Web site.

"I am glad the new Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo says he wants to keep providing quality services to the bush. But regional Australians do not expect the government to leave them at the mercy of unregulated promises and fine sentiment - they do not want the government to play regulatory roulette with their telecommunications services," Coonan's new recorded message service says.

Telstra's CEO is so far declining to share his thoughts on the novel use of his company's technology by the communications minister to deliver a prerecorded pasting on his views and calls to Telstra last night were greeted with a firm "no comment".

Other government sources were bemused by Coonan's dial-a-quote service, with one insider cheekily suggesting it could eclipse the success of "that frog ring tone".

Another said the service was a legitimate use of resources, adding journalists were still free to call people and that the recording may help them get their quotes straight.

Coonan's dial-a-quote service is the latest in a succession of technologically innovative solutions from Australia's politicians.

In September and October 2004 Prime Minister John Howard pioneered the phenomenon of voice spam when thousands of unsuspecting electors were bombarded with prerecorded answering machine messages from the Prime Minister urging recipients to re-elect his government during the 2004 election campaign.

Labor unsuccessfully complained about the tactics to the Australian Communications Authority, which investigated but found that no breach of existing laws or regulations had occurred.

Labor communications spokesman Senator Stephen Conroy was in transit last night and could not be contacted immediately for comment.

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Julian Bajkowski

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