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Chapter 5 - Criminal conduct

 

Coopers & Lybrand Report

Towards the end of 1993 Telstra commissioned an international audit company, Coopers and Lybrand, to report on Telstra’s fault handling procedures, particularly in relation to complaints like those raised by the members of COT. In a letter dated 17 September 1993 (AS 1010) to AUSTEL’s Chairman, Mr Robin Davey, the then-Shadow Minister for Communications, Senator Richard Alston, wrote:

"Finally I note that Telecom propose to engage one of the "Big Five" accounting firms to audit its handling of the COT cases with Austel merely having unspecified access to the consultants and its output.

If such an audit is to have any legitimacy it is essential that it should be commissioned and paid for by Austel. To allow one party to litigation to select and pay - undoubtedly generously - for the judge would not be tolerated in any judicial proceedings. It should not be tolerated here."

Regardless of the concerns expressed by various government ministers, including Senator Alston, it was Telstra alone who paid Coopers & Lybrand and Bell Canada International Inc. to carry out that work. Then, in the case of the COT arbitrations, Telstra paid for the arbitrator and the arbitrator’s helpers who were then also exonerated from all liability for anything untoward that they might be involved in.

Senator Alston’s objections to Telstra being allowed to pay for both the Coopers & Lybrand audit of Telstra systems and the Bell Canada International Inc (BCI) audit of the main COT claims, and the telephone exchanges that the COT businesses were connected to, was particularly alarming because, as is now known, both those reports were not only orchestrated by Telstra, but were orchestrated by AUSTEL too, as their April 1994 ‘COT Cases Report’ clearly shows. (Note: these Bell Canada International Inc (BCI) tests are discussed in the next chapter)

This is even more alarming because, although all this auditing was carried out on behalf of the Government Regulator, Telstra was still able to manipulate the results by hiding any findings that went against them, whether those findings were reported by Coopers & Lybrand or BCI, and they accomplished this with even more manipulation, this time by using various exemptions in the FOI Act, such as Legal Professional Privilege (LPP) or adverse findings against Telstra marked as (ADV), as (AS 1015, 1016, 1017, 1018 and AS 1019) so clearly show.

A further alarming aspect of Telstra’s interference in the official auditing process is that any adverse findings could also be deliberately omitted from the formal Coopers and BCI reports that AUSTEL and the TIO had already agreed would be provided to the COT arbitrator. This meant that the arbitrator would never know what it was that Coopers and BCI found wrong with Telstra’s processes.

Since Alan has since proved that both the Coopers & Lybrand and BCI reports were fundamentally flawed and exhibits (AS 1015, 1016, 1017, 1018 and AS 1019) show that not all the adverse findings against Telstra have been revealed – even now – how then can the present Coalition Government condone the behaviour that led to the arbitrator not only accepting two thoroughly flawed reports as arbitration evidence, but then basing his final decisions, in part at least, on those flawed reports? 

How can the results of the COT arbitrations still stand, as they have for the last twenty years, when it has been obvious for some time that these were not the only findings against Telstra that Telstra has kept hidden, and that some of those hidden findings included technical documents that were falsified so the arbitrator would not uncover the truth about Telstra’s failing telecommunications network? How could Telstra get away with manipulating the law as it stood back then, in 1994, without even being asked to explain what really went on during the COT arbitrations?

It is important to note that when Coopers & Lybrand investigator, Robert Nason, and his secretary, Sue Hurley, met with Alan at his Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp on 13 October 1993, Alan supplied them with evidence supporting his claims that Telstra had knowingly misled and deceived Alan during his 11 December 1992 settlement. Alan explained that two technicians visited Alan's businesses on 3 June 1993 to investigate his continuing complaints regarding his phone service and inadvertently left behind a briefcase. When Robert Nason and Sue Hurley saw this evidence they were shocked and likewise convinced that Telstra had clearly disadvantaged Alan's previous settlement claim.

A letter dated 3 November 1993 to Mr Robert Nason, (Coopers & Lybrand) from the Hon Senator Richard Alston, Shadow Minister for Communications (AS 938) notes:

"I have at last received a copy of your terms of reference and these make it clear that the review requires Coopers & Lybrand to "conduct an independent audit of (the) adequacy, reasonableness and fairness (of) Telecom's approach to Difficult Network Faults reported by customers over the last 5 years".

The review also explicitly requires Coopers & Lybrand recommendations to take "into account Telecom's legal obligations".

Despite the clear nature of these terms of reference I am disturbed to learn from several COT members that your review will not deal with questions of misleading and deceptive conduct".

While the final public Coopers & Lybrand report is almost identical in regards to Telstra's previous settlements with the COT Cases at point 2.20 to that as shown in their draft at point 2.20, it is important we highlight one particular variation

Draft

"We have found evidence that an inappropriate use of legal representation and aggressive tactics were used in negotiating settlements and attempting to develop a resolution process." (AS 939)

Final

"We believe that in some cases an inappropriate use of legal representation and aggressive tactics were used in negotiating settlements and attempting to develop a resolution process" (AS 940)

Alan has always been convinced that the segment referred to in the Coopers & Lybrand draft "have found evidence" was the same evidence Alan provided Robert Nason and Sue Hurley during their visit to Alan's business on 13 October 1993 which shocked them and left them both speechless. At point 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 Nason clearly articulates he placed the Bell Canada International Inc Report, Coopers & Lybrand Report and the AUSTEL COT Cases Report into evidence.

Had Dr Hughes been provided the true findings in this case, those of Coopers & Lybrand as well as AUSTEL's secret findings on this settlement issue, as arbitrator he would have had to find against Telstra regarding these settlement issues instead of finding in favour of Telstra.

Although Senator Ron Boswell’s questions on notice were put to the Senate Estimate Committee Hearing in December 1993, they are most relevant to this date line, mostly because of the question that the Senator put directly to Telstra (AS 1030), i.e.: 

“In the review by Coopers and Lybrand of Telecom’s difficult network fault, policies and procedures will the terms of reference allow Coopers and Lybrand to examine the issues of misleading and deceptive conduct of Telstra?”

Telstra then replied:

“...Telecom does not accept that it has been involved in such conduct” and “Should allegations of such conduct arise in the course of C&L investigations, Telstra would expect C&L to have proper regard to such allegations on the conduct of its work” and “Telstra would also expect C& L to address any such allegations in its reports” (AS 1230). 

When Coopers & Lybrand later presented their draft report, it did include the suggestion that Telstra may have been party to misleading and deceptive conduct, but all those references were removed from the final version. The final version also excluded any references to a letter that Graham wrote to Robert Nason (a partner at Coopers & Lybrand) confirming that Telstra had knowingly sold faulty equipment to him, nor did it refer to the evidence that Alan also provided to Mr Nason supporting Alan and Graham’s belief that Telstra had knowingly misled and deceived them, nor did it include the evidence that Alan had found in the briefcase and also passed on to Mr Nason.

Perhaps this conduct was not disclosed, because it is directly related to the threats recorded in Telstra’s internal memo of 9th November, from the Group Managing Director of Telstra Mr Doug Campbell to Telstra's General Manager of Commercial Mr Ian Campbell (AS 942), saying: 

"I believe that it should be pointed out to Coopers and Lybrand that unless this report is withdrawn and revised, their future in relation to Telecom may be irreparably damaged."

These are strong words from the most senior manager below the CEO of the largest telecommunications corporation in the country; a corporation that, at the time, had a monopoly hold on the industry in Australia.

Although the draft and final versions of the Coopers & Lybrand reports are not exactly complimentary of Telstra’s handling of COT matters, anyone reading them would not notice that by simply changing a word here and a phrase there, Coopers & Lybrand altered the draft so that the final version did not reveal what they really uncovered. For example, in paragraph 15 of the draft it is noted (AS 943) that:

"Telecom should satisfy itself that the customer premises equipment complies with Austel's technical specification or seek assurances from the customer that this is the case to ensure that the services supplied by Telecom are fit for purpose under the 1974 Trade Practices Act."

In the same section of the final version (AS 944) however, there is no mention of ensuring they that “…the services supplied by Telecom are fit for purpose under the 1974 Trade Practices Act.

The draft report, at point 23 under ‘Other Recommendations’, notes (AS 945) that:

 "Fitness for Purpose: Telecom needs to issue, inter alia, instructions to sales, installation, maintenance, fault investigation and repair involved with PSTS and/or CPE work that checks must be made to ensure the PSTS will meet or continue to meet the "fitness for purpose" requirements of the 1974 Trade Practices Act for the circumstances they are dealing with."

In the final version Coopers & Lybrand have again left out the major issue of the service provided being ‘fit for purpose’ according to the1974 Trade Practices Act (AS 946), the very issues that AUSTEL advised the Government would be addressed by Telstra in a commercial settlement process, with no need for an arbitration if it was proved that Telstra had acted outside of the 1974 Trade Practice Act. But once again, here we have the arbitrator accepting the Coopers & Lybrand report, even though it did not include any reference to what Telstra should be doing according to the Trade Practice Act. 

Robert Nason has now been a senior executive in the Telstra Corporation for some time, including holding the position of Group Managing Director, Business Support and Improvement in 2014. In 2013 he was also appointed as Chairman of Foxtel, but before that, back in June 2010, I provided Mr Nason with a condensed draft version of this story and most of the Exhibits it refers to, in the hope that he could facilitate a resolution to Alan’s matters. Mr Nason has never responded.

However, Sue Laver, Telstra's General Counsel did write instead, noting:

I refer to your letter dated 1 June 2010 addressed to Robert Nason, Group Managing Director of Corporate Strategy & Customer Experience.

"Your claims were resolved pursuant to the arbitral award dated 11 May 1995. Over the thirteen years since the award, you have repeatedly sought to have your complaint re-opened. Telstra does not propose any further review of your claims or to respond to any further correspondence from you"

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Quote Icon

“I am writing in reference to your article in last Friday’s Herald-Sun (2nd April 1993) about phone difficulties experienced by businesses.

I wish to confirm that I have had problems trying to contact Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp over the past 2 years.

I also experienced problems while trying to organise our family camp for September this year. On numerous occasions I have rung from both this business number 053 424 675 and also my home number and received no response – a dead line.

I rang around the end of February (1993) and twice was subjected to a piercing noise similar to a fax. I reported this incident to Telstra who got the same noise when testing.”

Cathy Lindsey

“A number of people seem to be experiencing some or all of the problems which you have outlined to me. …

“I trust that your meeting tomorrow with Senators Alston and Boswell is a profitable one.”

Hon David Hawker MP

“…your persistence to bring about improvements to Telecom’s country services. I regret that it was at such a high personal cost.”

The Hon David Hawker MP

“…your persistence to bring about improvements to Telecom’s country services. I regret that it was at such a high personal cost.”

Hon David Hawker

“Only I know from personal experience that your story is true, otherwise I would find it difficult to believe. I was amazed and impressed with the thorough, detailed work you have done in your efforts to find justice”

Sister Burke

“I am writing in reference to your article in last Friday’s Herald-Sun (2nd April 1993) about phone difficulties experienced by businesses.

I wish to confirm that I have had problems trying to contact Cape Bridgewater Holiday Camp over the past 2 years.

I also experienced problems while trying to organise our family camp for September this year. On numerous occasions I have rung from both this business number 053 424 675 and also my home number and received no response – a dead line.

I rang around the end of February (1993) and twice was subjected to a piercing noise similar to a fax. I reported this incident to Telstra who got the same noise when testing.”

Cathy Lindsey

“All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”

– Edmund Burke