Obsolete or lifesaving? Telstra payphones will now be free to help Aussies in need

Aug 04, 2021
Telstra's new move has been hailed a "game changer". Source: Getty

Once upon a time payphones were a necessity, but as cash fell out of favour and mobile phones became semi-permanently attached to us, they too have fallen by the wayside for many. But, according to Telstra, they’re still a lifeline for many Aussies particularly in emergencies, natural disasters or when unexpected circumstances arise.

Telstra’s chief executive officer Andrew Penn said in the last year 11 million calls were made on payphones, with 230,000 of those made to vital services like the emergency services. As a gesture to help keep the services available “when it’s needed most”, the company announced they will be making all payphones in the country free.

Penn said the move would mean that local and national calls to standard fixed line numbers and calls to standard Australian mobiles on any of Telstra’s 15,000 payphones “on street corners and in the tiny towns, truck stops and airports in every corner of the country” would now be free.

“Payphones have been part of Australia’s landscape since they were first used in the 1880s and at one point – just before the arrival of mobiles – there were more than double the number that we have today,” he said.

“Since mobiles became nearly universal, a lot of Australians might not give them much thought. Until there’s a natural disaster. Until you’re in vulnerable circumstances, homeless or fleeing domestic violence.

“That’s why I decided it’s time to make payphones free. Because even in the age of the smartphone they play such a critical role in our community, particularly in times of need, and particularly for those in need.

“I’ve seen myself how much payphones are part of the fabric of Australia and how important they are in good times, and bad. I’ve seen queues of people waiting in line, coins at the ready, to use a payphone to call home and tell their family and friends they’re safe after a bushfire, a cyclone or some other natural disaster has taken the mobile network down.

“I know payphones are also a lifeline for thousands of vulnerable Australians – the homeless, the isolated, those escaping domestic violence – and often provide their only link to critical support services and those that care about them.”

Brendan Nottle, Salvation Army major, welcomed the move for more vulnerable Australians, telling ABC News it was a “game changer” for people who couldn’t afford a mobile phone, or have had to leave dangerous domestic situations.

Aussies on social media have also welcomed the move, saying that people often don’t think about payphones, until they need them the most.

“They may not be front of mind when things are good but many Australians rely on them in times of crisis; they have an important and enduring role to play despite technological advancement… Just as safety phones on freeways do,” one commented on Twitter.

“Thank you Andrew (Penn), this is helpful to many homeless/unhoused people I know in my town,” another said.

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