All 15,000 Telstra (TLS.AX) payphones across Australia will now be made free in a bid to support people without access to landline or mobile phone.
These include standard national calls and SMS from Telstra payphones. Dialling overseas will still incur a charge.
Around 11 million calls were made using the payphones in the last year, including 230,000 calls to services like 000 and Lifeline.
“The availability of a payphone is a vital lifeline, especially for those who are vulnerable including the homeless, people who are isolated or someone escaping an unsafe situation,” Telstra CEO Andrew Penn said.
“We take our responsibility for keeping people connected seriously, and today’s announcement shows that commitment at work.”
Penn said he had seen the role payphones played in natural disasters, with people lining up to ring family and tell them they were safe.
Payphones are also essential infrastructure for people fleeing domestic violence, as victims may not have safe access to a mobile phone or landline, he added.
“During COVID-related lockdowns, we’ve seen domestic and family violence agencies report a 60 per cent rise in new clients seeking help for the first time, and an increase in abusive behaviours overall,” he said.
“I hope that making payphone calls free might play a small part in helping them get the assistance they need.”
“This is an absolute game changer for many of the people we work with across the nation. The reality is this piece of infrastructure is absolutely critical because a lot of Australians either don’t have a mobile phone, lose it or the phone’s charger, or simply run out of credit,” the Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle said.
“Connection is absolutely vital for every human being, but particularly for those who are vulnerable. It’s really important for them to break down that sense of social poverty, social isolation, and to connect with a friend or with support services.”