Telstra Sold – Senate Sold Out

The package of 5 Bills that allow the sale of Telstra was guillotined through the Senate tonight, with Barnaby Joyce voting with the rest of the Government Senators, as he has through every step of the corrupted and tawdry process that was used to prevent proper scrutiny of the legislation and its many flaws.

A Senate Committee was given only a one day hearing to take evidence from the public on the Bills. This occurred less than 24 hours after the legislation was released by the government. There was less than a week from when all the legislation was released to when the final vote was forced on the Senate.

The only chance for the Senate to directly query the Minister on the detail of legislation is in the stage of the debate which is called the Committee of the Whole. This involves the whole Senate going into committee, thus enabling Senators to speak more than once on any amendment or issue, and to ask for explanation, clarification or seek guarantees from the Minister.

Today the Government – without any advance notice – used its numbers to limit this examination stage of the debate to less than four hours for all 5 Bills. Not content with doing this, Government Senators spoke and asked puffball questions of the Minister to use up as much of the time as possible.

I’ve been working as an adviser and Senator for over 15 years. There have been guillotines used many times before, but the only case that was even remotely comparable was the package of 7 Migration Bills that were forced through the Senate following the Tampa incident in 2001. Even then, most of the Bills had been around in some form or another for a while, and there was no attempt by Government speakers to talk out the time to prevent others speaking. Of course, those Bills were supported by both major parties, so only smaller parties were opposing the whole thing.

I can’t think of a single example in all my experience where such total arrogance and contempt for the Parliamentary process was displayed. Of course, the one thing that is different now than at any other time in the last 24 years is that the Government has a majority in its own right in the Senate.

Any hope that the Liberal and National parties might not use this smallest of majorities to trash the entire purpose and role of the Senate was obviously forlorn.

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  1. Well the vacillations of Barnaby Joyce have been slighty more interesting than hearing about the leadership qualities and ambitions of Peter Costello.
    If its any consolation Barnaby Joyce has moved from being a hero of sorts to a crummy little ‘politician’.
    I think though the average voter must be becoming very uncomfortable with the idea of a Howard controlled Senate. They are’nt all dumb- they know that something is very wrong- even though many havent a clue about the parliamentary process.And I doubt that they will forget.
    So, all the better for the Democrats in the next election.

  2. Bloody Hell Andrew, the government has been trying to sell Telstra for 10 years or more. To claim it was shoved through in 24hours is a blatant lie and another example of how out of touch with reality your party is.
    Don’t ever wonder why your party has become an irrelevence. One day it might actually dawn on you that you speak for, at best, 2% of the Australian population.

  3. gibbo
    As my post said, there were 5 Bills. If it was just one Bill of a single page saying ‘Telstra will be sold’, you would have a valid point.
    If you think changes to the powers and role of the ACCC, the constraints (or lack of them) on Telstra under the Trade Practices Act, the licence obligations (or lack of them) on Telstra, the controls over how the National’s porkbarrelling fund will be used, etc etc are not worthy of any scrutiny, then please say so.
    Last I looked, about 60-70% of the Australian population opposed the sale of Telstra, and those that supoprt it may not all think the way it has been done or the regulatory environment it will operate in have been got right. The level of vote you get overall has not got much to do with how many people you speak for on a particular issue, or for that matter whether a view is worthy of consideration.

  4. Good on you Andrew, you’re 100% right. I am generally in favour of selling Telstra, but what people don’t realise is it is not just a matter of authorising a big bunch of shares being sold.
    There is so much else involved in the sale that is activated by the legislation. Therefore, regardless of your view on the sale itself, allowing this short period of time to review the content of the legislation is awful, regardless of your general ideological position.
    Yes, Gibbo, we have all had years and years to work out whether we are in favour of government ownership of Telstra or not. What we haven’t had is a proper and considered review of the ACTUAL legislation being passed, regardless of the *big* outcome, which is the sale itself.
    The wider problem is that the government in this case seems to be using its majority in the worst way possible, to pass ideologically contentious legislation through without review. We can all fight about whether it is a good idea to sell Telstra and I would probably agree with you if we had that discussion. However, not allowing people of all ideological positions to consider the wider ramifications is simply irresponsible of our current government.
    Given the billions of dollars involved, what is the problem with allowing us all to have more than a five minute peak at the legislation before the Senate votes?? We know it is going to pass, but we should all be allowed to at least air critical viewpoints, so that the government cannot simply sell a multibillion dollar asset without explaining the wider ramifications for us all, even those of you who think you are getting a good deal out of all this.

  5. The Government’s intention to sell Telstra may have been around for 10 years gibbo, but the Bills to make it happen have not Those bills were put together in a hurry, not allowed to be properly scrutinised and shoved through the senate far too quickly. Why? If the Government has been waiting 10 years to do this surely a couple of weeks – months even – more to allow a proper scrutiny of the Bills and amendments made to them if needed is not that much to ask?
    Just because a majority of people voted for the Government it does not mean a majority were happy with, or supportive of, every single detail of the policy platform put forward at the election. A substantial majority of the Australian people – a much greater one in fact than those who voted for this Government – have very consistently said they do not want Telstra sold. The Government should have taken note of that and at the very least allowed proper process to be adhered too.

  6. Australians, on virtually any question of economic intrusion by the government will say they want it. “Bring down the price of petrol!” “Force the banks to have low-fee accounts!” “Keep Telstra public!” “Don’t let the Aussie dollar fall below 50 US cents!” But electoral results make clear they value economic performance, and that is something attainable only if the government ignores those pleas.
    Gibbo’s right – we’ve had plenty of time to consider the idea of a Telstra sale, Australians know full well the government would implement if given the chance, and they still voted for them.
    I dare say the rushing through of the legislation is to do with pinning down the unstable Barnaby Joyce during one of his few lucid moments, rather than attempting to stifle debate in the senate.

  7. I think the point here is the abuse of process and the utter lack of respect for our very fragile democracy(if you look at the constitution)- and the fact that we have no bill of rights.
    That is what we should be outraged about.
    Personally, together with the anti terrorism laws etc- I find it all frightening.

  8. Well at least we got one good laugh on Tuesday when Ellison claimed loudly that we don’t deport Australian citizens.
    I remember the TAMPA debate, it was the most shameful thing I have ever listened to. I remember Natasha’s speech expressing just that.
    The results of that have been horrendous for us and the refugees.
    I find it difficult to pay my electricity bill since the SA government sold ETSA and the line rental for an essential like my phone has trebled through partial privatisation.
    I guess having a phone will soon be a luxury.
    What I have never understood though is why the 1.6 million shareholders were stupid enough to buy what they had aleady paid for and forced the rest of us to cop much higher prices.

  9. Of course you remember the Tampa Marilyn. It’s the only thing you’ve talked about since.
    Honestly, I don’t know where you folks have been hiding but I seem to remember the Telstra debate started about 10 years ago and has been done to death. These supposed figures of 60-70% opposition are a fantasy.
    The Government has not rushed through anything folks.
    For years the Senate has been nothing but a rubber stamp…with a big NO on it. Obstructive doesn’t even begin to describe it. As hard as it is to come to terms with folks, this is called democracy. That is where the majority have control, not the 2% of elitists who know what’s good for the rest of us.

  10. Andrew “The level of vote you get overall has not got much to do with how many people you speak for on a particular issue, or for that matter whether a view is worthy of consideration.”
    This again my friend is a fantasy that elitists like the Dems and Greens trot out to justify their stupidity. You just pick figures out of the air and say that everyone supports you on this issue or that. Unfortunately for you we require a government who can run a whole country, not just a few pet issues that suit them at the time.
    What, in effect, you are saying is that 60-70% support you but 2% voted for you. Now I get it!

  11. gibbo
    your interest in accuracy while vilifying, verballing and misrepresenting people is truly of Howard like proportions.
    I know polemicists don’t feel the need to worry about facts when unleashing their rhetorical flourishes, but suggesting that giving six days of daylight to significant amendments to the Trade Practices Act (which may make it even easier for the market gorilla of Telstra to do as it wishes in certain areas) is not ‘rushing through’ is pretty feeble.
    The inevitable place your logic goes to is a one party state, where alternative views are seen as having no role or value at all – indeed where ideas that are at variance with the ruling elite would be seen as counter-productive and best silenced or removed all together.
    Feel free to keep advocating it, but you count me out of a future like that.

  12. I notice those in favour of sale have only trotted out onto the Senator’s blog now after the fact.
    With this sort of abuse of process is it any wonder that the population is cynical of politicians.
    As a resident of regional and rural Australia for my entire life, it is self evident that the Nationals are nothing but Liberal-lite. Not that it matters as both Liberal and Labor want to get rid of them.
    This bill goes against all democratic principles. To go against the will of the people, 70% of wish Telstra to remain in their hands, the Commonwealth’s hands, not the government’s is to go against the principle of democracy which we are supposed to support and respect.

  13. Gibbo – in your enthusiasm to have a go at Bartlett/Democrats/anyone else that isn’t a conservative, you’re (deliberately perhaps) missing the point and ignoring the issue.
    Yes! the Government’s intentions to sell Telstra has been around for 10 years and yes the debate as to whether that’s a good thing or not has been around for that long.
    No! the ACTUAL LEGISLATION – those 5 Bills – that makes that sale possible has not been around for that long. It hasn’t even been around for two weeks and it is now effectively law. No one got to have a good look at it before it was pushed through. How do we know this legislation is good legislation? We don’t because it was not properly debated, it was not properly examined. Because the Government very deliberatly ensured the Senate could not do its job.
    Regardless of whether you think the sale is a good thing or not – the Government ramming through legislation that has been hastily constructed and not scrutinised, should be a huge concern to everyone, no matter who you voted for at the last election.

  14. Thanks Yulia! Seems we agree. What irritates me is that people in favour of selling Telstra seem to be the same ones in favour of dumping all procedural checks and moving towards the one party State they so desparately desire.
    Now, I am in favour of selling Telstra, but I am not in favour of this methodology. What Gibbo seems to be missing is the fact that the whole point of our system is to have a group who do say NO every now and then. That’s not being obstructionist, that is being a review. Don’t forget, every Act that is established in law has been okayed by the Senate. Just for your info, Gibbo, according to, 113 pieces of legislation have been passed this year. 158 were passed last year.
    Plenty of stuff gets through, the point is that on really big issues, we need to ensure that every box is ticked before we go writing millions of laws which, we may find, suck in the end.
    Not too many conservatives at the moment remember it was the Liberal Party who wouldn’t pass the supply bill in the Senate, leading to the Whitlam sacking. I can’t remember Labour ever not passing one of those!!!
    The Senate’s JOB is to be obstructive, Gibbo. If you don’t want proper democratic process in your lawmaking, go and live in Uzbekistan or something. I hear they have softer immigration laws than ours.

  15. Villifying and verballing? How quick you are to rush to the role of the victim you sooky lala.
    There is a condition that psychiatrists call “projection” where you see you own hatred and fear projected into others. What is this if not projection:
    “The inevitable place your logic goes to is a one party state, where alternative views are seen as having no role or value at all – indeed where ideas that are at variance with the ruling elite would be seen as counter-productive and best silenced or removed all together.”
    That right there would be the net result of people of your political persuasion ever gaining power. A single, utopian, all powerful state with all serving the “common good”.
    Keeping Telstra as a government owned and regulated monopoly is the quickest way to acheive your one party, one size fits all, “for the common good” solution that in reality serves no-one well except the ruling elite.
    My first job out of school was for Telecom, as it was in those days, and the service levels were simply appalling. Talk about non existant services to the bush. You couldn’t get a phone fixed in less than four-six weeks in Sydney! Despite your constant whining, the facts are that competition has been the best thing that ever happened to Telstra.
    Monopolies are usually bad. Government owned ones too.

  16. Gibbo – my biggest concern with the process the government has undertaken in privatising telstra is the need to make absolutely sure that telstra won’t be able to continually bully competitors due to their control of unconditional local loop access and local exchanges. It’s interesting to look at the history of competition in the U.S. telco industry, where AT&T was broken up due to having a natural monopoly over the telecommunications infrastructure.
    for an overview.
    I’d like to know what regulations and guarantees the government has in place to protect competitors from predatory behaviour from Telstra. For instance, telstra has previously charged retail ADSL customers less than wholesale customers, making it impossible for these ISPs to compete. What’s going to stop them trying similar things when they are a private company? Government regulations, of course – in fact the ones that have just been passed without proper scrutiny by the parliament.
    Will the legislation that has just been passed ensure that competitors are protected from this type of behaviour? Who really knows?
    It’s fair enough for the government to sell Telstra, it has been their policy for a very long time, and they now have the numbers in the parliament to do so – but why rush through legislation that hasn’t been appropriately scrutinised by parliament, especially when they have no intention of selling telstra in the immediate future? Why not take some time to get the process right, and to reassure the industry that they won’t get clobbered by a monopolistic behemoth?

  17. Gibbo, you can easily find out stats from the parliamentary library in relation to how many bills were blocked by the senate. It is around 2 or 3% with other bills which have been accepted by the Senate with amendments of which were unsatisfactory to the Coalition where the amended legislation was in effect blocked by the Coalition in the House of Reps. In fact back in the 1970s when the Coalition had control of the Senate they blocked nearly 30% of the ALP governemnt’s bills. Now that is obstructionist.
    This is what John Howard said in 1987 when he was leader of the opposition:
    “The Senate is one of the most democratically elected chambers in the world-a body which at present more faithfully represents the popular will of the total Australian people at the last election than does the House of Representatives.”
    On Telstra, I must say I am not totally against the sale of Telstra. I think that Telstra’s retail arm should be sold and the Government should retain control of the network infrastructure. This would end Telstra’s monopoly on network fees and infrastructure and would then lead to all telecommunications companies paying the same price for use of infrastructure. It would also make the Government accountable to the Australian people in spreading services across the nation.
    The Telstra sale ideology from the Government may have been around for the term of the Howard government, but it is the laws and regulations that need to be scrutinised properly by a Senate inquiry into this particular package of bills (including the Future Fund for the bush.) Senate inquiries hear from experts in the industrial and commercial sectors as well as stakeholders and the general public. To stop a proper inquiry (which is what the Government and Senator Joyce did) is tantamount to slopping the sale together whilst ignoring any potential problems within the legislation itself.

  18. Max when has the government ever been accountable??????You have to remember Andrew that your party voted along with the government to bring in the Looting System aka GST. Your party voted along with the government to bring in the RAP that GBRMPA decided that we need.( like a hole in the head). Your party voted to take the guns off law abiding citizens for no reason whatsoever. The list goes on and on. The democrats had their chance and blew it.

  19. Andrew
    As this is my first comment on your blog can I firstly congratulate you on doing this – we need to see more politicians engaging with the electorate in this manner.
    Is it correct that during the Telstra debate Senator Fielding voted against having a ‘family impact statement’ tabled?
    As for what should have happened with Telstra I agree with Max – the infrastructure should have remained in gov’t hands, that way we could have genuine and fair competition in telecommunications, rather than what’s going to happen now where competitors will always be at a disadvantage.

  20. It is good to see the responses to this posting from Andrew.
    I have just had a quick read of the above comments and as someone who has followed the operation of the Senate for over 3 decades now, I was appalled at the actions of the Government in the Senate last Thursday and yesterday. In recent weeks, I have made my thoughts known to politicians on all sides.
    Even today,I received a email from a ALP Shadow Minister with an attachment relating to Telstra. I received another one who from a ALP senator who suggested that I make contact with the Clerk of the Senate.
    My query was whether there was a “precedent” for referring a bill to a Senate Committee with a limited time to investigate then report back to the Senate. There was another ocassion. recieved a response from the Clerk.
    We know that the Howard Government wants to restrict the operation of the Senate and perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we support the actions of the Coalition Government.
    How many Australians really take a interest in our political system, the operations of our parliaments and more-so the Senate.
    If it wasn’t for the work that has gone on with the Committee of the Whole which is a valuable tool for all senators, then we may have been in a worse position.
    Re Telstra, I note further media reports re the long term effects of the privatisation of our communications system. Even Senator Barnaby Joyce isn’t 100 per cent sure whether he had done the right thing and he and his colleagues will have to explain to the people.
    I even note that a member of the NSW National Party crossed the floor today and voted against the sale – House of Representatives.
    Perhaps we should take a closer look at the operation of the Australian Democrats over the years that they have been in the Senate and even Senator Bob Brown was targeted by the Government for not participating in the Senate Inquiry last Friday.
    Even Senator Fielding, Family First, Victoria was gagged in the chamber yesterday along with another Democrat senator. Their speeches had to be incorporated.
    What happened to honesty, principle and justice in our federal political system?
    I don’t think the issue of Telstra is going to go away and now we face debates on Industrial Relations, Welfare to Work reforms.
    At least we have a senator who is prepared to devote some of his time to making his thoughts known to others.
    Whilst there are other politicians who have their own website, Senator Bartlett’s site is impressive.
    Keep it going.

  21. If you were to check my website about the constitutional issue regarding the sale of Telstra, and why that is basically totally ignored, then whatever was done over the last 10 years was not talking about the real legal issues.
    The real issue is that if the legislation (in constitutional valid in the first place) is flawed, then in time to come some “Mum and Dad investor” will likely suffer the consequences. That is why it is essential that legislation is properly scrutinized!
    We have the ALP carry on about the sale of Telstra, but I have yet to hear them making any noise about legally challenging the validity of the legislation!
    This has been so often with many other issues where the ALP opposes something but other then making noises really do nothing else.
    Many people may not realise this but when legislation is not properly scrutinised then the mere difference of a comma (“,”) in a sentence can be the difference as to loose or win a case in the High Court of Australia, and so face hundreds of thousands of dollars of cost!
    Telstra legislation, in my view, ought not have been rushed through as there was clearly no need for it. the fact that it was must give grave concerns as to what else is being rushed through that could be detrimental to peoples rights?
    What we found was that Senator Barnaby Joyce indicated that the Minister had stated if the Senate didn’t pas the bill then the deal would be off. Now, what Senator Barnaby Joyce seemed to overlook was that if the Minister had this kind of attitude then how could he rely upon the honesty of the Government!
    Surely, if the Senate had rejected a sale then the need to upgrade still would have existed! What was rather indicated, as I view it, was some form of blackmail to pursue that unless Telstra was being sold the improvement would not eventuate.
    What we should have is Senators who are prepared to stand their grounds, not being bullied, and who will not weasel out of their election promises.
    In fact, I wrote to Senator Barnaby, Joyce about 2 weeks ago, about my concerns that the 2 billion dollars deal might end up to be a sham and that was discovered to be so as the legislation was proposed. In my view, Senator Barnaby Joyce might discover in time that the 2 billion dollar deal still may never eventuate. After all, why should taxpayers fund some private company, as if we do that with Telstra then what other private company will be next?
    My view is, that Telstra was never constitutionally validly privatised, and so the shares sold are worthless. Time will learn if this is so.

  22. Goodness knows why people are so concerned about Telstra. It has no future as a public, private, or mixed company. Its rates are exhorbitant, its network antiquated, and its capacity to survive the coming mass of high-speed internet transmitted wirelessly or over things like power cables is pretty much non-existent.
    RIP, Telstra – soon to be killed by market forces for the benefit of Australian consumers everywhere. (And good riddance!)

  23. Does the guillotine make any practical difference? The only way the Bill itself could have been defeated would have been for coalition members to cross the floor in the Senate. Would any amount talking by the opposition parties have persuaded a coalition member to do that? After all, the coalition MPs were too spineless even to vote against the guillotine.
    As long as MPs are more interested in their political careers than they are in good government, we might as well avoid the costs inherent in having debates.
    Anything that could have been been said about the Bills in parliament can be said now in public, with exactly the same effect – i.e. none.

  24. for all those people supporting the privatisation I wish you understood that statements that telstra services are “up to scratch” are a sad joke. where we live (less thanan hour from canberra) we suffer frequent and lengthy loss of service, have no broadband access and lose thousands of dollars a year in lost businees due to the decrepit copper wire network and its fallability
    all those things are going to get worse for rural people and anyone who believes that Howard and co will deliver on alleged “promises” to maintain equity of servcies etc should remember all the other government lies, non-core promises etc
    and of course telstra will be busy delivering the best of new technologies to the areas where profits are highest, as a publicly listed trading company thats their mission
    Joyce and other Nationals (and the NFF) have done for their cause what Meg lees did for the democrats when she inflicted us with GST

  25. Nick
    There was a motion moved seeking a family impact statement to be tabled by the Govt. Senator Fielding did not vote against it – he was not present for the vote. The motion lost (which it also would have if he was present and had voted for it.)
    You are right that the Bills would have passed anyway without a guillotine, but the guillotine enabled it to happen without any genuine scrutiny. Frankly, I think people who support the sale of Telstra should be more concerned about this, as it has meant that the regulatory regime and licencing conditions for Telstra are far weaker than they should be.
    These flaws were not able to exposed, because the Senate’s ability to question the Minister about them, and to seek commitments from her as to how they will work and how they will be administered was taken away.
    It was a sure bet that Telstra would end up being sold, but some extra scrutiny may have generated enough pressure to at least remove some of the holes in the framework Telstra will be operating in in the future.

  26. Phwee! You know you’re doing something right when the conservative loons feel the need to waste their time with raving sophistry.
    Great post Andrew – unfortunate that we live in such ‘interesting times.’

  27. Sylvia –
    The need for debate in the Senate is crucial. This is because scrutiny of legislation in some form must take place, regardless of whether there is any practical possibility of stopping the legislation.
    This is because Senators generally read the legislation being discussed and consider its implications (correct me if I’m wrong Sen Bartlett!!). Reporters in the galleries listen to these considerations and project them into the community. If this scrutiny did not take place in the Senate, the journos would need to read the legislation themselves and consider implications in their own time. What are the odds of that????

  28. Funny to see so many people complaining about the coalition grip on the senate now.
    Didnt think much of it when you voted the pricks in did you ???
    Australia – you’ve got the government you deserve.

  29. Actually I’m a proud australian but I’m ashamed that Howard and his equally loathsome cronies can also claim that title.
    I didnt vote them in.
    The shameful abuse of power in the senate this week is one item in a long list of disgraces that have put our great country to shame in the international stage.
    Where’s that idiot Gibbo now?

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