The biggest sell-out
The Government gagged debate in the Senate on Monday night to rush through the sale of another 16.6 per cent of Telstra. With the help of independent Senators Harradine and Colston the Government got its majority with a 37 to 35 vote. The sale will leave the government holding 51.1 per cent of Telstra's shares. One third of Telstra has already been sold off. Last year the Government attempted to sell off the remainder, but failed when Senator Colston opposed its sale. It will only be a matter of time before the pressure is on again to sell the remaining shares, with the now familiar arguments that the company is being held back by not being completely privatised. Now that the privatisation vote has been taken, further job losses are expected. In the lead up to the vote management refused to answer questions over the fate of hundreds of rural and regional jobs. Telstra appears to have been holding back information on future retrenchments fearing it might jeopardise the Senate vote. Corporatisation and the partial sale of Telstra have already resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs. "The drive for big staff reductions and the large scale outsourcing of and casualisation of work began in earnest in 1996 when Telstra was put into the hands of the merchant bankers", said Colin Cooper, President of the Communications Division of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU). In just three years, 1996-1998, Telstra has reduced its workforce by the equivalent of 22,200 full-time employees. Telstra has already confirmed to the Senate that it cannot give any unqualified guarantees on jobs or rural and regional services. The $304 million ($1m for Tasmania) "social bonus" from the further sell- off of Telstra is a short-term measure. It is not a permanent benefit and sells the people of Tasmania and the rest of Australia short. But the loss of billions and billions of dollars of revenue that could have funded social services is permanent. Last financial year Telstra made a pre-tax operating profit of $4.47 billion. It paid $1.8 billion in dividends to its shareholders. Each time a part of Telstra is sold off, the people of Australia get a smaller share of the dividend. A few hundred million dollars "social bonus" is no compensation for the loss of this dividend. The big task now is to prevent the sell-off of the remaining 51.1 per cent and put Telstra back into public hands and under public control.