The Guardian June 23, 1999


Telstra privatisation:
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.

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