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Senator reticent to rush sale of Telstra; Communications Minister warns about consequences of blocking the sale.

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Monday 12 September 2005

Senator reticent to rush sale of Telstra; Communications Minister warns about consequences of blocking the sale


TONY EASTLEY: The message from Sen ator Barnaby Joyce about the proposed sale of Telstra is: "what's the rush?" The Government wants to have its Telstra legislation passed by the end of the week, but Senator Joyce is declining to say which way he's going to vote.  


Communications Minister Helen Coonan is warning the Queensland National Party Senator that if he blocks the sale he'll lose not only the $2 billion contained in the communications fund, but also an extra $1.1 billion offered as part of the Telstra sale. 


From Canberra, Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath reports. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: What happens when the National Party becomes the Opposition? 


BARNABY JOYCE: In the inordinate rush to draft this legislation people have made mistakes. Obviously they have. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce in Brisbane yesterday. Now the Government has rectified that problem, saying the bush fund will be in cash, but it wants the legislation passed by week's end. 


Communications Minister Helen Coonan is warning Barnaby Joyce about the consequences of blocking the legislation  


HELEN COONAN: I want to make it very clear that if this package is rejected there will be no $1.1 billion and there will be no communications fund of $2 billion in cash. But the Government has certainly sought to address the concerns that were raised on Friday. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And National Party leader Mark Vaile wants Senator Joyce's backing too. 


MARK VAILE: I believe Senator Joyce is a man of his word. A number of weeks ago he indicated he would support this because it was too good to walk away from as far as regional Australia is concerned, so I would expect that he would continue to support it. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: It's pretty lonely out there, and Labor's enjoying the Government's discomfort.  


Communications spokesman Stephen Conroy. 


STEPHEN CONROY: This is a detailed Bill that deserves more of a consideration than it's already got. Barnaby's already found one significant drafting error; there will be others.  


Labor has identified a number of areas where there are significant flaws, and we would like the opportunity to get further evidence from expert witnesses who can either confirm or deny that. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: This morning Barnaby Joyce is being cautious. He doesn't want to be seen to be playing into Labor's hands, but he's serious when he says he wants more time. 


BARNABY JOYCE: I think that we have to look at the legislation and see what changes have been made. There's been a couple foreshadowed over the weekend by concerns that were brought up by the National Party on review of the legislation, and they were very much integral to the package that the National Party had extracted, so it was important that they were dealt with.  


But now I think we'll just keep our own counsel about which way we're going to go on this, and see what the legislation actually describes. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Are you happy with the pace of all of this and the pace of the Senate inquiry? 


BARNABY JOYCE: Um, I think it's a little bit quick. Not only do I think that, but I have to be honest, that's what most of my constituents think. 


I think when you rush it you start making mistakes, and that possibly may be what has happened with the drafting of this legislation. And seeing that we've uncovered a couple of things that were of concern, I think we should sit back and have a closer look at the legislation before we vote for it. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: So what did people in Queensland say to you? What did they say to you when they saw the legislation, saw what players down in Canberra had been saying about the legislation? 


BARNABY JOYCE: Well, to be completely honest, they were saying what's the rush? 


TONY EASTLEY: Taking it easy, Queensland National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce.