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Communications Minister discusses Nationals' claims before they will allow the sale of Telstra.

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Monday 1 August 2005

Communications Minister discusses Nationals' claims before they will allow the sale of Telstra.


TONY EASTLEY: The Government is already clearing the w ay to fully privatise Telstra, and it hopes to have the legislation debated by the end of the year. But to sell the rest of the carrier it needs those Nationals votes. 


The Queensland Nationals have delivered a log of claims to the Communications Minister Helen Coonan. It will be up to her to try to win over the Nationals. 


Senator Coonan is speaking here with Louise Yaxley. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Senator Coonan, what can you say to the Nationals who've put up this log of claims? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, what I can say is that the Government has already moved to implement all of the matters other than the fund. We've agreed to a local presence for Telstra, and I'm likely to have something to say about that later this week. That becomes a licence condition on Telstra. 


Secondly, we've agreed to regular reviews, and the only issue there is when they should commence and at what intervals they should occur. 


The Government has given an unequivocal guarantee that the universal service obligation will remain. That's non-negotiable. We already have parity of price provided in core pricing in the price control arrangements that we have, and those price controls will be continued. 


So the only issue in the matters discussed by the National Party that's of any significance, in my view, is the idea of a fund.  


Now, I should make it very clear, Louise, that the Government has not considered a fund. Until now we've not been asked to consider a fund, and if there is to be any consideration of one, instead of shooting in the air, I've said I think it needs to be focussed and based on identified need, not to be picking technology and not to be spending taxpayers' money on work that would be undertaken by carriers in any event. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: So, Senator, when would the Government decide whether it will even have a fund? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, obviously the matter will be discussed by government, but until now, where there have been areas of unmet need in telecommunications, the Government has measured from recurrent funding, and we know what is required to make a credible response to rural and regional Australia.  


We've had the Estens Inquiry, and the Government has spent about $180 million on that. In total, in responding to all inquiries, we've now spent over a billion dollars in rural and regional Australia. 


There's no difference in the objectives between our National friends and their Liberal colleagues, and indeed the Government, on what is being aimed for here. We all want to make sure that services in rural and regional Australia are as good as they possibly can be. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Telstra seems to be the one outraging those that you want to win over, with its comments particularly on the universal service obligation. Senator Joyce said Telstra was either joking or foolish. What do you think Telstra's role is in making that comment? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, I mean, I can't speculate, but I do think that it was not a comment that was helpful in the circumstances, because Telstra doesn't have any choice about complying with the universal service obligation and the extensive list of consumer safeguards that this government has built, and which we will continue, quite irrespective of whether or not Telstra is sold. These obligations remain on Telstra as part of its licence conditions, and they will not be rolled back or changed. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Telstra's also reported to be planning to spend a billion more on capital expenditure, and brokers see that as cutting the price that'd be available for the Government after a sale. What do you know of these plans by Telstra? 


HELEN COONAN: Well, I've had no personal discussion, or nor has that really been brought to my attention, other than as a broad proposition in the media. But I do think it's very difficult if that is what is being proposed, but Telstra obviously has to run its commercial operations.  


It has a new CEO who obviously has a very different view about some of the matters that have been important for us anyway in the lead-up to the decision about whether there'll be a sale, including regulation. 


But I also make the point that the Government has not yet taken a decision as to whether to proceed with the sale of Telstra. It is not for sale just at any price, and the Government will not be interested in a bidding war.  


We're interested in securing decent services for people in rural and regional Australia, indeed all Australians, irrespective of where they live. 


TONY EASTLEY: Communications Minister, Senator Helen Coonan.