Senate resumes – Telstra sale looming

I’ve managed to have a rare weekend at home with absolutely no work related commitments (although I have to dip into the email from time to time.) Tonight I fly back to Canberra for a fortnight of Senate sittings. This ‘two weeks on-two weeks off’ sitting pattern continues through until December.

There’s any number of major policy issues on the agenda, from the Telstra legislation, to welfare changes, workplace changes, tax proposals, national security and student services on Uni campuses, all of which will have big impacts on millions of Australians.

Amazingly, Helen Coonan seemed to suggest on TV this morning that the Telstra sale Bill might come up for a vote this fortnight, even though it has yet to be made public, and the details of the funding packages and regulatory changes are nowhere to be seen!! No matter how much you agree or disagree with what Qld Nationals Senator, Barnaby Joyce, has done in agreeing to support the Telstra sale, I can’t believe he’d be so silly as to let them push through the sale Bill first and let them produce the details later, let alone let them do it without some form of genuine Senate Committee examination.

The value of Senate Committees isn’t that it can give politicians a chance to posture and run their arguments, it’s that it provides a chance for people with expertise to put their views before the Senate AND have those views and evidence tested by Senators from all sides. There have been a number of Senate Committee reports in recent times which have shown that, regardless of whether you support public or private ownership, the existing regulatory regime is highly inadequate. The Committee I now Chair tabled one just last month. Among other things, this report highlighted that even the Government Regulator – the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – felt their current powers and budget were clearly inadequate to get fair competition (e.g. see paragraphs from 3.49 onwards).

If Barnaby wants to get a reasonable assurance that all the things the Government is promising will work to ensure decent service and a fair price in the bush, he’s far better off ensuring the detail is put in the public arena and independently tested, before he votes to let the rest of Telstra be sold. Once the vote has happened, he’s lost all leverage. I can almost guarantee he’ll get screwed over down the track by the Government reneging anyway, but he may as well make it as hard as possible for them.

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  1. How it goes, I suppose, is anybody’s guess. It would be my reckoning that there would be a bit of disquiet amongst the Coalition backbenchers about rushing the Bills through parliament… in case they be perceived as having a lack of respect for the institutional frameworks.
    Methinks it will be an interesting few weeks in Parliament.

  2. Hmm, the final sale of Telstra ha? Now that its being ruled by an American we feel safe to sell the rest of off it do we?
    I don’t understand why there is such a huge issue with Telstra problems in the bush when half their services are inadequate in the city!
    I, like most of you here, live in Brisbane and the Telstra broadband service here is appalling, the Cable system is rigged with problems on a monthly basis. Sure its better then the bush but its on par with broadband services in developing countries. Once it goes private, they are not even going to pretend they care.
    Hey got a problem? Try another cable provider, oh wait, there is no other in your area, well tough, guess your going to be paying us anyway
    …. Great.

  3. We can only hope Senator Fielding votes Nay to prevent the full sale since Joyce will be supporting it.
    Whilst the fund Joyce has got is better than the nothing beforehand – what does it do to improve services? Nothing.
    Strengthening the USO will do nothing as Telstra is all ready trying to get out of that – head of regulatory affairs Kate McKenzie said as much recently.
    As highlighted on Insiders this morning, the American “three amigos” don’t quite comprehend how big of an issue this is for Australia.

  4. About Telstra and it’s ability/willingness to provide telecommunications to the “remote”, I itallic because I hear some suburbs of cities have problems. I read last week about an Adelaide tec company which has provided telecomunications for the UN and probable the Aus. military in the Middle east (it is late and i cannot recall the company name .. I do remember it was established in the 50’s and cut it’s teeth providing communication to the SA outback .. money in mining) Why can’t such an Aust. company, with Aust. tax money give this big country blanket coverage. After all, even coast huggers get intrepid and go buch in their big 4x4s and they need to talk to their broker no matter where they are. Forgive the sinicism, I really think we have the ability to let all Australia talk to each other .. and it is home grown.

  5. Rather than delaying the sale of Telstra, people from the left – yes, the left! – should encourage the sale.
    What are Telstra’s three main areas of activity? (1) Fixed phone lines. (2) Mobile phones. (3) Internet services. So what future do those have?
    (1) Fixed phone lines. In much of Europe people no longer have home phones; they just use mobiles. At the moment in Australia fixed calls are the cheapest, but when you think about it, mobiles will inevitably become even cheaper. The only infrastructure they take are the occasional tower and a high-speed fibre-optic backbone.
    (2) Mobile phones. For the abovementioned reasons, mobile phone calls will get cheaper – a *lot* cheaper. The ease of establishing mobile towers on buildings also means objections will be minimal to a region being serviced by multiple towers – destroying Telstra’s natural monopoly state.
    (3) Internet services. A whole bunch of companies offer competition, including over their own infrastructure, totally bypassing Telstra’s. As wireless internet becomes faster and more powerful, the need for even that will diminish.
    So Telstra’s future is hardly bright. The days of massive telcos controlling gigantic infrastructure are fading already. For now Telstra is large and profitable, but can you seriously imagine Telstra even existing in 20 years?
    You might as well sell it now, gouge whatever profits remain in the old, anachronistic wired network, and wait for it to die. Because it WILL die, whether in government hands or not. So why not maximise its use between now and then?

  6. How could I (as a lefty) encourage the full scale sale of Telstra? You are right, land lines are starting to die out, as Mobile phones and VoIP takes over. Mobile phones are by far cheaper from anyone except Telstra and the Internet, well, you over exaggerate the scale of independence other companies have from Telstra.
    Nevertheless, it isn’t about selling Telstra once the services are fixed or whatever, it’s about having a centralized network for communications. The country should not have to rely on private owned enterprises for such vital systems as communication.

  7. Senator, saw your great work on Senate Question Time today. Wondering if Coonan’s non-answers affected your thoughts on the subject in any such way.
    I also note her non-answer on Senator Brown’s question on will the Senate gag/guillotine debate on Telstra.
    And not to be rude but I think you need a slight haircut.

  8. Thanks Vee
    Helen Coonan’s ‘answer’ was a bit strange. Hard to know whether it means they will try a one week pretend inquiry, or a moderately reasonable inquiry over a month or two. We’ll have to wait and see I guess. I’d have to say I think Barnaby would be silly not to ensure there was a proper chance to examine how solid all the Govt’s promises are
    (by the way, your comment about my hair was warmly welcomed by my staff person who has been trying to persuade me to get it cut for the last few weeks)

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