Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has taken the extraordinary step of forcing the current provider of the National Relay Service to hand over customer details, in an attempt to resolve a stalemate over the future of the deaf phone service.
From next February, users of the National Relay Service will no longer be able to use a CapTel - a type of captioned telephone handset - to make phone calls.
Instead, people will have to use a teletypewriter to communicate, which CapTel users have complained is slower and more cumbersome to use. Canberra's Tom Brimson told The Canberra Times in August the new system was so complex, he required an instruction sheet to dial Triple-0.
The change is due to a switch in provider.
In July, the federal government signed a new three-year deal with Concentrix for $66 million.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Communications said in August the change was necessary due to years of cost overruns from the current operator, Australian Communications Exchange.
The service cost $31.2 million to run in 2017-18 and $32.2 million the year before.
Mr Fletcher said despite repeated requests, Australian Communications Exchange had not handed the details over.
He said the customer details were needed to support CapTel users to transition to alternate services.
"It is surprising and disappointing that it is necessary to take this step," Mr Fletcher said.
"I would have expected greater cooperation from [Australian Communications Exchange] in either providing the information or seeking it from other parties."
Labor's communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said the intervention was "the latest evidence of this government's mishandling of CapTel".
"This is what happens when you don't listen to the community. This is what happens when you fail to plan adequately," Ms Rowland said.
But Mr Fletcher laid the blame at the feet of Labor, as the contract was originally negotiated when Stephen Conroy was minister.
The contract failed to include a way to compel the company to provide the information to the government, which was why this formal legal instrument was required, he said.
The instrument requires the company to give a representative of the department the names, telephone numbers, addresses and email addresses of current CapTel users.
If the company does not have the information, it is required to take "all reasonable steps to obtain the information or documents" and pass it on.
The customer database is maintained by a third party - AccessComm - which is the distributor for CapTel handsets in Australia.
"They're asking them to hand over something they don't have," AccessComm director Tony Bennetts said.
However ASIC records indicate the companies are intertwined.
AccessComm's shares are wholly owned by a company called DHL Holdings, of which Edward Gilliland is a director. Mr Gilliland is also a registered officeholder of Australian Communication Exchange.
But Mr Bennetts said the companies were two distinct entities.
"AccessComm is not even a subcontractor to [Australian Communications Exchange]," he said.
Instead the companies provided two separate parts of the National Relay Service by necessity. When the contract was signed, the government stipulated that Australian Communications Exchange could not distribute the technology as well.
Mr Bennetts is concerned the directive may be in breach of privacy laws.
"I cannot provide them with that information without getting consent from each and every user to pass their details on," Mr Bennetts said.
However it is believed the legal instrument provides an exemption from privacy laws.