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National Party representative comments on opposition in the bush to the sell-off of Telstra.

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PETER CAVE: The pressures on the National Party over the sell-off of Telstra continue to mount with calls for Federal MPs to use Saturday’s Senate defeat to put the sale on hold.  The Telstra Privatisation Bill was defeated in the Senate after the unexpected opposition of former Labor Senator, Mal Colston.  Yesterday, Senator Colston told journalists he wouldn’t be reconsidering his position.  Well, that’s prompted calls from within the National Party for renewed resistance to the sale.  Indeed, the party in New South Wales will consider a motion on the sell-off next month.  Michael Carey spoke to the New South Wales President, Helen Dickie.


MICHAEL CAREY:  Helen Dickie, the question of Telstra is now an open one, again with Senator Colston saying he won’t reconsider.  Should the Government and the Nationals reconsider now?


HELEN DICKIE:  Yes.  I think that the National Party really needs to reconsider where they’re at.  The phone calls that I got through in the last few days is that people out here in the country aren’t happy with selling the rest of Telstra and I think we have to listen to them.


MICHAEL CAREY: It’s a very generous package, by their own description, that the Government has put forward to offset those concerns.  How has that been greeted?


HELEN DICKIE: Look, it was very generous but I’m afraid we didn’t have it all spelled out, and I think that was one of the problems, that we really didn’t understand everything that we would be given.  And I think it’s a battening down, I guess, of the bush.  They’re just a bit worried about how much has been sold off in all sorts of areas and they’ve decided this is a stand-off.


MICHAEL CAREY: You say you are getting a lot of reaction from people who are unhappy with the sell-off.  Can you just give us an indication of how serious the concern is?  Is it a first-order issue for the bush or is it just one of a number of things?


HELEN DICKIE: Look, I think it’s one of a number of things and that’s our problem in the bush - people working seven days a week for little more than the dole.  They’re unhappy.  They’re unhappy with their politicians, with all sorts of leaders, in the bush, and selling off Telstra is just another thing that disturbs them, and though they have been offered lots of good things, I guess everybody’s a bit suspicious of politicians and what they do offer.  So they know they own something tangible in Telstra and they wish to keep it that way.


MICHAEL CAREY: Is it fair to say that Mr Fischer and his parliamentary colleagues are in an invidious situation, now?  He’s got his administration calling for him to abandon a policy which, as part of the Government, he is now locked into.


HELEN DICKIE: As I said, it’s still under discussion.  New South Wales still have to discuss this.  It is not a point of view that, at this stage, we’ve actually decided on.  We’re still discussing this and it’s very hard to be a part of a coalition.  It’s extremely hard and that’s the National Party’s problem.  They want to see good government.  They want things to go along as smoothly as they can.  On the other hand, they still have to have their own point of view.  And yes, it’s a very invidious problem.


MICHAEL CAREY: We’ve had some calls from within the National Party for those MPs who support Telstra privatisation to face disendorsement, loss of endorsement.  Is that a reasonable sort of line and would New South Wales follow that?


HELEN DICKIE: Look, New South Wales never threatens like that.  It’s not anything that we ever do.  It’s just not our culture in New South Wales and I certainly haven’t heard that from anybody in New South Wales, no.  It’s not a stand we would take.


MICHAEL CAREY: Even though the date seems to be floating around, we are obviously moving into an election mode.  Does having New South Wales discuss this next month and possibly move against the sell-off on the eve of an election if that’s going to be an election policy for the Coalition, isn’t it possible that you’re doing more damage than possibly good?


HELEN DICKIE: Oh, yes.  Look, this will all be discussed at our executive meeting and, naturally, we wouldn’t be there to damage our politicians.  But as an organisation - our politicians aren’t bound by the organisation;  they only, hopefully, listen and heed - but yes, New South Wales would not be there to create problems but they would be there to put their point of view.


PETER CAVE: The New South Wales President of the National Party, Helen Dickie.