Fiery Debate Over Bill For Emergency Text Messages

At the height of the Queensland bushfires two weeks ago, emergency text messages were the fastest way to alert people of the impending danger.

Recipients didn't need to register or be signed up for anything -- people simply received the text if they were in one of the affected areas.

"QFES advice. Unprecedented fire weather affecting your area today and in the coming days. Stay update about fires in your area", texts read.

But now there's a fiery debate over who should pay the phone bill, with revelations Australian telecommunications companies will charge taxpayers for the 1.2 million messages sent.

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"We send out emergency texts that should be free of charge - we shouldn't now have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for these emergency alert systems," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Wednesday.

She believes those messages are a community service and should be free.

Telstra says that's ridiculous.

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"We provide the Queensland government with very significant technology and telecommunications networks. At their request we provide those services to them, so to suggest that it's Telstra's responsibility then to provide that for free is ridiculous," CEO Andy Penn said on ABC Radio.

"How we get paid for that is a function of those commercial arrangements agreed on by the Queensland government, so for them to come back later and say 'by the way we don't want to pay for this', that's disgraceful."

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There's no denying that the bill could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and with a tropical cyclone looming off the Queensland coast, it could grow again.

"This just appears like a case of bill shock for the Premier," opposition leader Deb Frecklington said.

The Premier is set to discuss the issue at this week's Council of Australian Governments meeting in Adelaide.