The Guardian 21 September, 2005

Criminal sale of Telstra

The criminal sell-off of the remaining 51 percent of Telstra will be compounded by the criminal slashing of 14,000 Telstra jobs. The sale legislation was rammed through the Senate last week with dissenting voices in the house gagged. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was also shoved aside, the legislation going through minus its amendments aimed at strengthening consumer safeguards.

The gag was imposed by the government via a mechanism by which the government can declare legislation "urgent" and cut off debate.

The National Party’s craven turnaround in voting for the legislation will not be forgotten by the electorate, particularly the people of rural and remote Australia who the Nationals claim to represent and who will pay the heaviest price in the loss of services because of the privatisation.

Nationals leader Mark Vaile — who added the sell-off to his privateer’s CV alongside the sell-out free trade agreement with the US he negotiated — has already admitted that the "competition" mantra will not deliver better services to the bush: just the opposite.

As Greens Senator Kerry Nettle put it: "The sale will result in the loss of unprofitable services to many Australians and will likely cost the jobs of thousands of Australians as unprofitable services are cut. To argue that the sale of Telstra is somehow inevitable progress is absurd. To argue that the government has no business controlling an essential service is absurd, and to argue that Australians will be better off after this sale is perhaps the most implausible aspect of the government’s position."

Thus the government’s $2 billion fund for regional telecommunications is an empty gesture. Without Telstra’s universal service obligation — including the cross subsidisation of regional services — and the maintenance of Telstra itself as a publicly-owned service, any government guarantees aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

The Community and Public Sector Union and the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union have warned that Telstra plans to cut up to 14,000 jobs. They have called on Telstra management and the government to make public a cost reduction document written by Telstra’s chief operations officer Greg Winn which they believe contains the details of the planned job cuts.

The Community and Public Sector Union’s Assistant National Secretary Stephen Jones warned Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Jones — who was instrumental in allowing the sale legislation to pass — that the job losses would hurt regional Queensland. "Job cuts of this magnitude would have an enormous impact. In Queensland communities such as Toowoomba, Cairns, Maroochydore and Townsville would be hit hard."

Regional centres in other states that will also be hit include Moe, Bendigo and Geelong in Victoria; Wollongong, Grafton and Bathurst in NSW; Murray Bridge in SA; Belmont in WA; and Hobart in Tasmania.

Mr Jones asked: "How will Telstra meet its commitment to improve service delivery to regional Australia with a reduced workforce? Will this cost cutting program lead to more off-shoring of jobs to India or China?"

Like all other publicly owned assets and services, Telstra is not the possession of any government to dispense with as they see fit. Like our public education system, public health system and the ABC, Telstra is part of a legacy passed on by previous generations whose toil, sacrifice and taxes ensured that future generations would have the benefit of such services. It is a legacy this government is determined to grind into the dirt.

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