Free payphones have become a lifeline for Australians in need

Payphone usage is skyrocketing with nearly two million free calls being made every month.
Teresa Corbin · 10 August 2023 · 2 minute read

Since mobiles became nearly universal, a lot of Australians might not give them much thought. Until there’s a natural disaster. Until you’re in vulnerable circumstances, homeless or fleeing domestic violence. That’s why two years ago, we made all local and national calls to standard fixed line numbers and calls to standard Australian mobiles on our public payphones free and followed this with free Wi-Fi across select enabled payphones.

Fast forward 24 months, and Australia’s payphones have become an essential lifeline for those in need.

Since the introduction of free calls, there have been a staggering over 40 million calls made, seeing demand more than double.

Across critical helplines is where we’ve seen some of the sharpest rises in calls, with key increases over the past 12-months including:


That's an increase of 30% for calls to Lifeline on the previous year; 28% increase for Headspace; 30% for Centrelink, and 15% for the emergency services.

The growing importance that payphones play within key community and regional groups is also reflected in the locations of our most used payphones.

For example:

  • Australia’s most used free payphone is located at the Sacred Heart Mission in Melbourne’s CBD. It provides crucial support to people experiencing homelessness, domestic violence and other challenges. Nearly 3,000 free calls are made every month, averaging one call every 14-minutes.
  • The next five most used payphones are in the Northern Territory and are predominantly used by regional and First Nations communities, providing a vital link for many who may not have other ways to stay connected. 

Payphones are more than just a way to make a call. For Australians experiencing vulnerable circumstances, they are a lifeline. They provide a link to critical services, as well as essential connections with family and friends. We are seeing the importance of payphones grow more and more each year, and we're glad that we can provide this important lifeline during times it is needed most.

In addition to free payphone calls and texts, we now also have 3,300 payphones with free Wi-Fi access and are in works to make this service available across even more of our payphones.

We’re committed to helping keep one million Australians in vulnerable circumstances stay connected every year. For anyone seeking support, we offer a range of assistance options like our Top Up program in partnership with Infoxchange, flexible payment terms and long-term account holds to provide help when it’s needed most. 


Payphones becoming free has given people access to services that they’re in desperate need of, with a lot of people able to connect with housing and support services. It’s fantastic that they can just go straight to a payphone and they know they don’t need coins, they don’t need money, they can just jump on the phone and get support.


Payphones are also a wonderful way of people connecting and a lot of people we work with right across the nation are suffering not just from poverty but also social poverty . They don’t have access to family and friends so payphones are a great way of connecting them with people who care. There’s been a 15% increase in the number of people accessing the Salvo helplines through payphones so this initiative is really important because it says to people that help is there, but more than that help the ability to connect with that help is also there. That’s something that’s been missing in the past and payphones have fixed that problem which makes such a difference to the people we work with.


Brendan Nottle, Commanding Officer, Salvation Army


How to access our free Telstra payphones

To find the closest payphone to you, you can head to our payphone finder and enter your location to see a list and map of your closest options. It will also be able to tell you which phones support our free Wi-Fi if it’s internet connectivity you need, rather than to make a call.

Making calls on our payphones is as simple as dialling the number you’d like to reach, but if you need a hand connecting to Wi-Fi, here are the basics:

  • Turn on your device’s Wi-Fi if it isn’t already on
  • Select the “free Telstra Wi-Fi” in your Wi-Fi settings
  • The Telstra Wi-Fi portal will launch automatically where you’ll just need to agree to the terms and conditions.
  • That’s it! You’re online.



By Teresa Corbin

Chief Customer Advocate

Teresa Corbin was appointed Telstra's Chief Customer Advocate in December 2021. She joined Telstra after a long career as a consumer advocate, including being the CEO of the Australian Communications Customer Action Network (ACCAN) for over a decade.

Teresa joined Telstra because she wanted to bring customer advocacy into a company that was committed to implementing responsible business practices. After decades on the other side of companies like Telstra as a consumer representative, she wanted to see if she could make a difference from the inside.