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Minister discusses five-part resolution proposed by Queensland Nationals to cover the sale of Telstra.

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Monday 1 August 2005

Minister discusses five-part resolution proposed by Queensland Nationals to cover the sale of Telstra


PETER CAVE: The Federal Opposition says the stag e is now set for the full privatisation of Telstra, that the Queensland Nationals special Telstra resolution paves the way for the sale to go ahead. 


Yesterday, the Queensland Nationals endorsed a five-part resolution spelling out the conditions for the sale, including the establishment of a multibillion dollar trust fund to guarantee services in the bush keep pace with those in the cities. 


Labor is accusing the Nationals of doing an about-turn, embarking now on "a public auction to sell out their constituents". All that's left to decide, says Labor's communications spokesman, Stephen Conroy, is the price. 


Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Nationals leader Mark Vaile has put a $2 billion price tag on a trust fund he says must be set aside from the Telstra sale proceeds to ensure country Australia receives the latest, upgraded telecommunications services for the same price as their city cousins once the giant telco is sold.  


The new Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce says it will cost a lot more than that, with some in his party arguing for a figure more like $5 billion. 


The Communications Minister Helen Coonan says the Government is willing to consider setting up a trust fund, but isn't willing to discuss amounts. She maintains there's not much difference in the objectives between, "Our National friends and their Liberal colleagues", and indeed the Government when it comes to the future of Telstra's services in the bush.  


Senator Coonan says the Government's already invested substantially in rural and regional Australia, so it knows "roughly" what's needed to make a credible response.  


HELEN COONAN: I think Mark Vaile is nearer the money as to what could be conceivably spent.  


But I make the point very firmly, that the Government currently does this out of recurrent expenditure and over the course of three inquiries, the Government has spent well over a billion dollars in rural and regional Australia.  


So the point about the fund is, if the Government is going to be asked to consider a fund, it needs to be credible, it needs to be focused and it needs to identify what is a reasonable need. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the Treasurer Peter Costello, who's previously argued all money from the sale of Telstra should go into a Future Fund to pay for the Commonwealth's superannuation liabilities, is more cautious than Senator Coonan.  


PETER COSTELLO: People put forward various alternatives, these matters will be discussed inside the Government. And the Government will make its decision. If interest rates go up, or inflation were to break out then that wouldn't be doing anybody in Australia a favour.  


So the decision which we take will be consistent with good communications policy, but it'll also be consistent with good financial management. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor says all the Government need to do now to get Senate approval for the sale is "haggle over the price". 


Communications spokesman, Senator Stephen Conroy, says the Queensland Nationals weekend resolution marks the beginning of the end for rural and regional service standards. 


STEPHEN CONROY: This is the thin end of the wedge and the Queensland Nationals are now on the table and available to be bought, on the basis that they've now said, "Here are the conditions on which we will sell Telstra."  


The completely opposite position that they took to the Queensland voters before the last election, where they made it quite clear they would not be endorsing the sale of Telstra. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Isn't the position now though, that they are opposed to the sale of Telstra and remain so, and they'll only consider once all those conditions are met? 


STEPHEN CONROY: A resolution was put up opposing the sale of Telstra at the National Party Conference on the weekend - it got three votes. They've completely moved from the position that they put to Queensland voters before the last federal election. And what you've got now is the Queensland National Party behaving like political prostitutes and all the Government has to do is haggle about the price. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But Terry Bolger, the immediate past president of the Queensland Nationals, says they haven't all but said yes to privatising Telstra. He says the party is taking its cue from the community and that's reflected in the detailed, five-pillar Telstra resolution.  


TERRY BOLGER: And it says these things have got to be done before we can support the sale of Telstra, and that's what the community's telling us. But our position hasn't changed. You look at the first paragraph and we say we'll oppose any further sale of Telstra, until all these things are there. Not anything else but until they're there. And until they're there we're not going to sell it. 


Right now that asset isn't up to speed and we're not going to agree to it and Barnaby said on radio program this morning, if it's not there, we won't support, and if it means crossing the floor, well so be it. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And how far away do you think it is? 


TERRY BOLGER: Well that's up the Government, how much money they want to put into it. I think it's years away yet. 


PETER CAVE: Terry Bolger, the immediate past-president of the Queensland Nationals.