Telstra customers in south west Victoria who lost phone, internet and eftpos services after a devastating fire should be eligible for national disaster relief payments, Premier Ted Baillieu has suggested.
Ahead of today's Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra, Mr Baillieu said the November 22 fire at a Telstra exchange in Warrnambool had left about tens of thousands of people without communications.
''This has effectively been a disaster, a social and economic disaster,'' Mr Baillieu said. ''Some 60,000 people without communications, without eftpos, without capacity to do business and this may well be the first time we have had a communication failure of this size and substance and impact.''
Mr Baillieu – who promised to raising the issue with his federal and state counterparts in the meeting – said disaster relief arrangements needed to recognise communications failure. He said he would be asking Prime Minister Julia Gillard to expand an inquiry to examine eligibility for disaster relief arrangements.
''We'll be asking today of the Commonwealth to expand the inquiry that has been announced to include social and economic impacts and also to look at emergency disaster relief responses,'' he said.
Under an agreement between the states and the Commonwealth, disaster relief and recovery assistance is offered to help state government meet the cost of natural disaster such as floods and fires, and provide urgent financial assistance to communities.
The arrangements apply to bushfires, floods, storms, cyclones, landslides tsunami and even meteorite strikes.
But there are no provisions for disasters affecting commercial developments.
The November 22 fire wiped out 65,000 landlines, 15,000 internet broadband connections and thousands of mobile phone services. Mr Baillieu has previous called on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to visit the area, saying the
Federal Government has failed to recognise the significance of the problem.
The story Telstra customers deserve disaster payments: Baillieu first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.