Regional | Sustainability |

Speaking the same language: how we’re reaching out to First Nations communities

By Telstra Sustainability Team May 16, 2022

In some of Australia’s most remote communities, a small band of dedicated employees is battling to bring clear communications – and honest conversations – to people who really need them.

Providing communications in some of the most remote and wide-open spaces on the planet presents major physical and technical challenges. But – like a mobile call itself – there are few things that are as important to remote customers as a clear, candid, easy-to-understand conversation.

“Ultimately people love talking to someone face to face, even if it is to complain about phone coverage or to check their bills,” laughs Priscilla West, the ebullient Townsville woman who since April 2021 has worked as Telstra’s first dedicated Cultural Compliance Officer.

Priscilla has the challenge of being the officer appointed to monitor the remediation actions ordered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, following the exposure of unethical sales practices to First Nations customers at five Telstra-licensed stores.

One might expect Priscilla to be weighed down by policy regulations and potential conflicts – but in fact, she’s nothing of the sort. Amid a heavy schedule of compliance monitoring, Board reports and stakeholder meetings, this proud Kalkadoon/Djaku-nde woman is finding time for a growing number of “community check-ins” – visits to the farthest-flung communities, where good mobile signals are a prized possession. She says nothing gives her greater pleasure.

“I’ve been out with the pink bus in Far North Queensland, and I’m hoping to go on many more trips with the Regional Australia teams,” says Priscilla, referring to the striking Telstra van that since late 2019 has visited more than 140 remote communities, advising customers, addressing faults, and cancelling ‘bad debts’.

“Our goal is to make sure every customer understands what they’ve paid for and is able to get in touch with us after we leave,” says Priscilla. “No matter where we go, everyone’s so welcoming and so grateful to have someone to ask questions to. When we went to Bamaga recently, I understood the local language, which made the customers much more relaxed to come and have a yarn and ask us questions directly.”

A dedicated hotline

In March last year, Telstra set up its First Nations Connect Hotline – a contact centre in Darwin staffed exclusively by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team members. By mid-2022, there will be 16 agents at the centre.

Thecla Brogan, the team leader, says her first year in the job has been hard work but incredibly rewarding. “We’ve had significant challenges with COVID, but most of our agents have stepped up to the challenge,” she says. “We’re targeting remote communities, so there’s a wide range of enquiries – billing, NBN connections, a lot of pre-paid recharges… People need to be educated about their bills, because in the past they haven’t been properly told how they work. It’s all about understanding – and trust.”

Every year, Telstra receives an estimated 25,000 calls from First Nations communities, relating to everything from billing and faults, to enquiries about specific products and services. According to Thecla, having a friendly voice on the end of the line – a voice that understands you – is critical.

“Over the phone, people can immediately hear that we’re Aboriginal and they get real comfort from that. They are mostly calls in Broken English, we can help to make complex subjects simpler and easier to understand. With faults and connectivity issues, we’ll also help customers make reports to the faults team.”

As well as proactive reporting, the check-in services are ramping up their visits – aiming to reach another 200 communities over the next financial year. The pink van is a lesson in consistency. Nearly three years on, it’s still run by Telstra’s NT area manager, Nic Danks, who goes on 90% of the tours himself.

“Since our first trip to Hermannsburg, we’ve covered more than 35,000 kilometres, from the APY Lands to the top of Far North Queensland, the Kimberley and all across the NT,” says Nic. “This year, for the first time, we’ll be visiting Kalgoorlie and central WA.”

Support where it counts

The tours are not sales trips, but a chance to reach out and support Telstra’s most remote customers – 11,200 of them to date. “We make sure they don’t have any bad debts (and remove them if they do), and they’re on the most appropriate plans. We also make sure they can use the Telstra app and have contacts for the First Nations Hotline, so they can get in touch if they need to.” To break the ice, everyone who visits the van gets a $50 pre-paid credit applied to their mobile, and often something to eat.

“We’ve cooked 38 kilos of sausages in the past four days,” laughs Nic. In towns where there are reports of poor connectivity, the team will also check the local tower and signals and report any faults. “It’s not the Telstra circus coming to town,” says Nic. “It’s about looking after people as well as we can, and providing the greatest value we can in a limited time.”

Ultimately, says Priscilla West, it’s about sensitivity – to the local people, their customs, their land. “Whether it’s a local check-in or a poster promotion, we have to make sure that everything’s appropriate – the language, the content, the imagery – not just for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audience, but for each individual group where that marketing will be used.

“We have to make sure we’re speaking to the right people, asking the right questions, making sure we really understand the local issues – so we can pass people’s feedback directly to the right managers, and make sure it’s really being used to improve the customer experience. We can only advocate for our mob if we really listen to them.”

More information

The Telstra First Nations Connect Hotline is based at our Darwin offices and operates from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. You can reach them by telephone on 1800 444 403.

Find out more about our First Nations programs here.

Sustainability |

Five things we learned in our first year of being carbon neutral

By Tom Penny July 8, 2021

It’s been a year to the day since we went carbon neutral and we’re proud to still hold Australia’s largest certification through Climate Active. We’re committed to staying carbon neutral, as well as reducing our emissions, and want other Aussie businesses to join us in helping to address climate change. So, what did we learn along the way, and how can other businesses get on board?

Running Australia’s leading telecommunications and technology company means it takes a lot to keep the lights on. And with the rising demand for data owing to ongoing COVID lockdowns and a move to online working, learning and entertainment, we can only expect to use more energy over time to keep Australians connected.

Climate change is one of the defining challenges of this decade, and that’s why we’re taking action now.

Ultimately, the most difficult part of going carbon neutral is taking the first step, but it gets much easier once you’ve started. Here’s what we’ve learned in the past year.

Focus on reducing your emissions first

Going carbon neutral should come with two objectives: to set ambitious commitments to reduce emissions as much as possible, then neutralise the remaining emissions with carbon credits.

The first step is to figure out where your biggest emissions are coming from. If you’re starting out, the GHG Protocol provides great guidance and tools to help build your emissions profile.

For us, we looked at everything from the fuel we use for our vehicles and generators (scope 1 emissions), the electricity we use to run our network, offices and stores (scope 2 emissions) and our travel, operational waste and even the emissions from our suppliers providing equipment to build our network (scope 3 emissions).

We’ve drawn on 15 years of emissions reporting to identify air conditioning, ventilation systems, power conversion and lighting as our biggest energy users across thousands of our fixed network sites and datacentres. So this is where we’re focussed on reducing our emissions.

For example, we’re using outside air to cool our facilities on cold days; switching fluorescent lights to LEDs and adding motion sensors to switch them off when they’re not required. We’re also running parts of our network with thousands of solar panels and using smart meters to help us track performance and manage the load.

We’re working closely with our suppliers to better understand our value chain emissions and incorporate new low-emissions products and services into our business to be as efficient as possible going forward.

When it comes to setting your emissions targets, The Science Based Targets Initiative is a great organisation that aligns to the latest research about what needs to be done to reduce the impact of climate change.

Invest in long-term relationships with carbon credit projects

When sourcing carbon credits, we’re not looking for the cheapest, quickest option. We’re building long-term relationships with project owners to create real impact for many years to come.

In Australia, we’re purchasing credits from a small number of First Nations savanna burning projects and reforestation projects. This year we’ve purchased 70,000 credits in Australia, up from 11,000 the year before.

Once again we’ve purchased credits from the Southern Aurukun Savanna Burning Project in Cape York which combines traditional knowledge – how to read country and knowing when to burn – with high-tech hardware including helicopters, fireballs and leaf blowers, to ensure traditional patchwork burning is performed in the right way and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced on Wik and Kugu country.

With cooler fires lit by the right people at the right time of year, we can reduce carbon emissions and better manage the threat of wildfires in the dry season.

Other First Nations savanna burning projects we’ve invested in this year include the Batavia Savanna Burning Project in Queensland and Wunambal Gaambera’s Right Way Fire Project in Western Australia.

Choose organisations and partnerswho share your same values

It’s also important to make sure that the carbon credits you invest in are actually making a difference to avoid or remove greenhouse gas emissions. Sourcing credits from projects that line up with your company values will help set you up for success.

Some of the guiding principles we follow when choosing projects include: Is the project location aligned to where we operate? What is the project’s connection to land? Do they use traditional land practices? Does this project create economic benefits for the local community, especially those in regional, rural or remote areas? Is the project aligned to addressing our largest source of emissions, energy? And, is there an opportunity for technology to improve the outcomes of the project?

Think big (like, really big)

Climate change is a global challenge, and we need to look at ways to support a global solution.

It doesn’t matter where emissions are released in the world, it all contributes to the same environmental impact, and climate change is disproportionately affecting developing nations.

Last year we purchased more than two million carbon credits globally to achieve our carbon neutral certification and we continue to invest in relationships with solar and wind farms in India as part of this.

Australia’s carbon offset market ripe for the taking

By some estimates1, Australia’s carbon offset market could drive $24 billion worth of investment and tens of thousands of jobs – particularly for regional and rural communities.

Australia has the potential to create large quantities of carbon credits to help address climate change and opening up to international markets could create a significant new export opportunity. 

Forecasts also indicate carbon markets may need to grow by 15 times by 2030 to keep up with the increasing demand in addressing climate change.

We’re also continuing to explore investments in projects that remove CO2 from the atmosphere, such as reforestation, buying more time for the world to decarbonise.

What’s next?

Getting everything together for a carbon neutral certification can be a herculean effort, particularly for smaller businesses. If you’re looking to take the first step on your carbon neutral journey, reach out to Climate Active today.


Sustainability | Telstra News |

Five ways we’re designing for a better environment

By Tom Penny May 27, 2021

It’s been a little over a year since we announced our plan to respond to climate change – including a move to become carbon neutral in our operations from 2020, and our plans to enable renewable energy generation equivalent to 100% of our consumption by 2025 and reduce our absolute emissions by at least 50% by 2030. Energy is only one part of our puzzle, though – there’s more that we can do with the products we design and manufacture.

Each year, we use 1.4 million kilos worth of packaging to deliver our products to customers. As we move to being more sustainable and environmentally aware, this is an area where we can make significant impact with some small changes.

Today we’re announcing that by the end of 2022, all Telstra branded packaging will be made of renewable or recycled material and be fully recyclable.

One of the first products to be housed in these new materials is the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 2, with Telstra pre-paid devices and Telstra 5G Home Internet following suit.

More efficient packaging for our products

As part of the redesign process, we needed to step right back to evaluate how we package our products. It’s no longer enough to follow the old norms on packaging – we needed to be more creative when working out how to use more sustainable packaging, while keeping our products safe during their journey to the customer.

Packaging for the Telstra Smart Modem Gen 2 has been reduced from two sheets of paper across separate boxes to a single half-sheet, which folds in an origami-like way to protect the modem and safely store related cables and accessories.

We’ve also reduced the use of any plastic beyond the Smart Modem, its cables, the Wi-Fi password fridge magnet we include and the protective film – and we’ll no longer use inks or print finishes that could impact the ability to recycle the packaging afterwards.

Together, these changes are driving a 75% reduction in packaging materials for the Smart Modem Gen 2 – in fact we’re using approximately 258,000 less kilos of packaging across the 1.1 million Smart Modems we ship each year.

This material reduction has flow-on effects too – the fact that we’re using less paper also means our packaging weighs around half as much as before. As a result, our pallets can fit 33% more stock, further reducing our delivery footprint.

Using renewable and recycled materials in our branded packaging is only one half of the story – it’s important to us that all materials we use in our packaging can be recycled by customers afterwards. As part of our commitment, we’re also applying the Australasian Recycling Label to clearly identify how customers can recycle each packaging component.

Moving to plastic free distribution of consumer products

We’ve also begun work to reduce, then eliminate the use of the plastic courier satchels we use to deliver products to customers – we’re choosing to use recycled paper packaging instead. When you’re packaging and delivering products at the scale that we are, these small changes can add up to a big difference.

In the coming months, a new automation will enable the outer packaging used to transport consumer products to become more closely folded around the product, helping to minimise wasted material and push us one step closer to plastic-free distribution of consumer products.

A more sustainable future through the Telstra eCycle Program

These changes to packaging are just the start for us. We’re setting two more goals to help us become a more sustainable organisation.

Firstly, we’re aiming to recycle or reuse over 500,000 phones, modems and other devices such each year to 2025. Our second goal is to increase our network waste recycling rate to 85% by 2025.

Electronic waste (e-waste) is Australia’s fastest growing waste stream, with 66 per cent of Aussies stashing at least one piece of unwanted tech at home. In fact, our research* revealed Australians are hoarding 61 million unwanted or unused technology items.

Between May and July this year we’re running a trial to provide all Australians – not just Telstra customers – with a service to ensure certain devices** they no longer need are reused or recycled responsibly. We’re calling it the Telstra eCycle Program, and our ambition is to make it simple for Australians to conveniently recycle e-waste on an on-going basis.

The trial is an extension of our 22-year partnership with MobileMuster, Australia’s only voluntary, government-accredited mobile recycling scheme, and now sees us able to collect landline phones, modems, routers, tablets, Telstra TV streaming boxes, smart home technology, wearables, gaming devices and IoT devices as well as smartphones at participating Telstra stores across the country. You can find your nearest participating Telstra store here.

Check out this short film from Western Sydney University student, Lachlan, as he explains the recycling journey. Lachlan’s video was a finalist in the 2020 MobileMuster film competition.

Turning landline phones into food with Australia Post and PonyUp for Good

Last year we partnered with social enterprise PonyUp for Good to collect and recycle Telstra rental phone handsets at Australia Post locations across the country.

During the eight-week program, PonyUp for Good collected and dismantled 6,791 handsets and 4,038 batteries and prepared them for recycling and retrieval of precious components including metals and plastics which will go back into making new products.

PonyUp for Good then donated 50% of the profits from the sale of these recycled and reused materials to SecondBite, Australia’s largest fresh food rescue charity, to provide meals for approximately 3,000 people in need.

Trade in your old phone for Telstra credit

If your old phone still works and is in decent condition, you can do your part for the environment and recycle it, while earning yourself some Telstra credit thanks to our partnership with Kingfisher Mobile Australia.

Trade-in gives you credit on your Telstra bill in exchange for an out of contract device you’re no longer using. You can then use that credit to make purchasing a new device more affordable on a Telstra plan while also keeping your old phone in use and not in landfill.

Things you need to know

* Research conducted by YouGov in November 2020 with 1,010 Australian participants aged 18 and over.

** We are not accepting televisions, computers, printers or batteries through this program. Please contact your local council or visit Planet Ark’s Recycling Near You website to find out how you can recycle these technologies.

Regional Australia
Regional | Telstra News |

Giving back to our regions

By Dr Ben Gursansky September 10, 2020

Telstra’s executive regularly travels to regional areas to meet with rural and regional customers and stakeholders in their communities to get a firsthand sense of the issues that matter most to them. While this hasn’t been physically possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, it hasn’t stopped us from keeping a strong focus on connecting with and supporting regional Australia.

We care deeply about keeping communities connected, which is why our purpose is to create a connected future where everyone can thrive. It is also why we’re working to help foster digital inclusion and provide support to community organisations. In more recent times that is especially so for those that have been impacted by the various crises experienced right across our country, from bushfires, drought, floods and now COVID-19.

We’ve identified a range of essential services – not-for-profit, and cause-related organisations – that are on the frontline of helping disadvantaged groups and impacted communities, and we’re working closely to help them with various philanthropic endeavours and initiatives. Many of these organisations we already partner with through our business, and this donation is an extension of that support to further enable their important work continuing through technology.

Melbourne Indigenous Transition School

This includes organisations like the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School (MITS), where COVID-19 affected students’ ability to stay connected to the school during the ongoing lockdown.

It was critical that students remained connected with the school and each other during the lockdown. MITS staff had to ensure they were able to continue their academic growth when away from Melbourne, which means a heavy reliance on technology. Technology that isn’t as accessible in remote Indigenous communities.

We helped to keep students connected to their schooling with a donation of mobile broadband devices delivered safely and contactlessly into Indigenous communities to ensure classes could continue remotely. Schoolwork is now completed at a distance via virtual software applications each day. The children are able to connect in real-time and discuss their work via online learning.


SHINE for KIDS is a national charity supporting children and their families with relatives in the criminal justice system. Being separated from a parent is a traumatic experience, and prisons can be tough on kids visiting their parents or relatives.

SHINE for KIDS is designed to help families maintain relationships while incarcerated, but the effects of COVID-19 mean that physical access to prisons has been limited in 2020.

Our donation has allowed children to stay connected to their families through the pandemic virtually. Parents can now connect with their children via iPads and read books to them to maintain the all-important relationship.

Youth Insearch

Youth Insearch works with at-risk youths aged 14-20 to help them onto the right path for success.

Since 1985, it has worked with youths in the community to reduce crime, violence, drug/alcohol abuse, self-harm and suicide in young people through workshops and community support. It also works to get youths helping youths so each member can positively affect others.

Similarly, COVID-19 meant that in-person workshops were not always possible, but with our donation we’re helping to facilitate these mentor meetings virtually.

We remain committed to supporting regional Australia. As restrictions lift, we are looking forward to getting back out across our beautiful and vast country to hear from our customers, and continue to provide assistance in the future to organisations that are helping to improve the lives for all Australians.

St Vincent de Paul - Vinnies
Telstra News |

How we helped Vinnies go carbon neutral

By Jules Scarlett July 29, 2020

We know that achieving real action on climate change is going to take all of us working together. Telstra, along with our challenger brand Belong, were the first Australian telcos to be certified carbon neutral earlier this year. Now we want to share what we learnt along the way.

To continue to tip the scales on climate action, we have teamed up with Deloitte to help the St Vincent de Paul Society, Victoria, on their journey to become certified carbon neutral.

Vinnies Victoria already works to build a circular economy, diverting more than 3600 tonnes of apparel and over 10,000 mattresses away from landfill last year.

It is now taking accountability for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the operations of its stores and other charitable works. By investing in 10,000 tonnes of high-quality carbon offsets, Vinnies Victoria has this week been certified as carbon neutral by Climate Active.

On top of this, Vinnies have also committed to reducing its ongoing carbon footprint going forward.

These are great steps from such a well-respected organisation, and we congratulate Vinnies on their achievement.

We recognise that for organisations big and small going carbon neutral requires a detailed understanding of your operations, a strong knowledge of how to source ethical and high-quality offsets, and the proper governance and due diligence to ensure your commitment is leading to action. We were proud to offer Vinnies some guidance on what we learnt about this through our own certification process.

We’re also passionate about ensuring the long-term effectiveness of Australia’s carbon offset market. This is a huge opportunity for our country. By some estimates, the carbon offset market could drive $24 billion worth of investment and tens of thousands of jobs – particularly for regional and rural communities.[1]

We look forward to working with more organisations who are taking up the challenge of going carbon neutral.

Our commitment to climate has to go beyond just words to ensure that we’re engaged in real change. That’s why I’m pleased to say we are making progress on our commitments to use power sources from 100% renewable sources by 2025 and reduce our total emissions by 50% by 2030.