By Peter Caton
THE tiny Tweed village of Mooball could lose its solitary public telephone booth as Telstra prepares to slash 1000 booths around Australia.
Mooball is just one of a number of Tweed villages and towns, including Murwillumbah, which could be hard hit by Telstra Country Wide's latest move.
The company is understood to be planning to remove some of the 32,000 payphones nationally that are underused, highly vandalised, or among a number of phones at the same location.
Yesterday the plea from Mooball was to be left alone.
"Don't take our phone away. We've lost everything else," said Bernie Quinn, president of the Mooball Moovers Progress Association.
Mooball - one of the Tweed's smallest centres - has just one public phone box which sits outside the closed post office and general store.
While the village still has the Victory Hotel and the famous Moo Moo cafe which has taken on the post office role, Mr Quinn said the phone box was still needed when those were closed.
"We've lost everything out of Mooball. Surely we couldn't lose the phone booth now," he said.
"It does get use a lot. I see truckies using it and mums and dads... and the mobile phone coverage is awful."
Last year Telstra it removed a phone booth at North Kingscliff, even though it was near a caravan park and according to locals could be vital in the event of a beachside emergency.
Yesterday Federal MP for Richmond Justine Elliot predicted the payphone cutbacks would "just be the beginning of a slash and burn of telecommunication services".
"Slashing the number of payphones by up to 50per cent in many areas of rural and regional Australia will be a devastating blow to these communities," she said.
She said the Howard government should include payphones in Telstra's service obligations to rural and regional Australia. Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan said she was disappointed Telstra planned to remove payphones without consulting with the government.
It is believed the numbers will be reduced over the next seven months with country towns in at least four states facing the loss of half their public outdoor phones. A Telstra Country Wide spokesperson Ian Peters said payphones were "a very, very high cost item" and could not guarantee that no town would be without a payphone.