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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 34

Senator CONROY (2:48 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I refer the minister to Telstra’s announcement of its plans to axe 12,000 jobs. Can the minister confirm that, as shareholder minister, she was advised of Telstra’s plans before they were disclosed to the market? Can the minister advise the Senate what, if any, action she took or intends to take to dissuade Telstra from its plan to slash these jobs? Will the minister now accept that these jobs are the inevitable consequence of the government’s extreme privatisation agenda and that Telstra workers are being sacrificed to prop up the flagging share price before the sale?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Conroy for the question. The situation with the job cuts and Telstra is that, as everyone knows, the government does not run Telstra and the government does not set the numbers of employees, nor does the government sit on the board and take part in management decisions. I would have thought that, with the events the way they have unfolded over the past couple of weeks, it would be abundantly clear to Senator Conroy and to the Labor Party that it is a matter for Telstra what it does in relation to jobs and indeed some rationalisation as part of the strategy that it has recently released. The situation is that Telstra has to make decisions as to how it is going to run the company. The government’s job is to set the rules. It is up to the regulator to enforce the rules, and it is up to Telstra to get on within the rules and to show what this company is made of and what it can do.

The situation in relation to jobs is that nobody likes to see anyone’s job being threatened but it is completely impossible for the government to be mandating levels of employment in Telstra. We should not do that—and indeed we will not be doing that. The government’s role in relation to telecommunications is to set the rules for over 100 telecommunications providers, not just Telstra. Some focus on what Telstra does on the part of the Labor Party is certainly not going to be of any advantage either to Telstra or to the general competition regime. It is interesting that Senator Conroy, in a speech last week in which once again he squibbed on actually announcing any policy on the part of the Labor Party—he is still prepared to leave the heavy lifting to everyone else—acknowledged that competition in telecommunications has actually delivered billions of dollars to this economy. How would you have competition delivering billions of dollars if, as Senator Conroy wants, the government were micromanaging not only Telstra but every other telecommunications provider? It is of course a recipe for absolute nonsense.

The job cuts in relation to telecommunications partly result from the development of technology. We know that under the Labor Party the number of Telstra staff members fell from 90,000 to 76,000 between 1990 and 1992. And who was the telecommunications minister? Yes, it was Mr Beazley. The Labor Party has presided over the largest job cuts in the history of telecommunications and certainly in the history of Telstra. Telecommunications is an area where, because there are constant advances in technologies—

Senator George Campbell interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator George Campbell, shouting across the chamber is disorderly.

Senator COONAN —new jobs are being created all the time. There is every prospect that people whose jobs are rationalised as part of Telstra’s regime and Telstra’s review will be able to be relocated within the industry. Telstra should get on with running its business without the interference of the Labor Party.

Senator CONROY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to her attempt to avoid responsibility for these job losses with the comment that ‘work force issues are a matter for Telstra, not the government’. How does the minister reconcile this claim with the fact that in April Telstra management were directed to re-employ former Liberal Party staffer Mr John Short on a contract worth $2 million? Can the minister explain why the government will only intervene to protect a job in Telstra if you are a mate of Senator Minchin?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Once again, Senator Conroy shows his abysmal ignorance of telecommunications. He has said very plainly he has got no policy interest. His paper last week showed that he had no policy interest. As far as jobs go, what the Labor Party needs to do is get on with passing this government’s industrial relations reforms that will give Australians the best possibility of having a job, a decent future and some prosperous livelihood going forward.