The Guardian June 6, 2001


Editorial:
Privatisation behind telco crash

The bankrupting of One.Tel and the financial losses and inconvenience 
for One.Tel customers is a direct consequence of the so-called 
"competition" and privatisation policies first introduced by the Hawke-
Keating Government and assiduously implemented by the Coalition.

Competition policies were specifically aimed to break up and privatise 
publicly owned enterprises such as Telstra and public transport systems 
and, as a bonus for the private enterprise jackals, the sell-off of the 
Commonwealth Bank, Qantas, airports, government insurance companies and 
anything else that could turn a profit.

Although a nominal 51 per cent of Telstra remains in government hands, the 
fact is that many operations formerly carried out by Telstra and its highly 
competent and trained staff are now contracted out to private companies. 
Although the White Pages still lists "Sales" (including installations) an 
inquiry will be immediately referred to a private company when one wishes 
to support a publicly owned enterprise.

Telecommunications, by its nationwide networking, can only be efficiently 
carried out by one operator and this should be retained as public property. 
This is what happened in the past over many years and it was this public 
ownership and management that built up the telecommunications network that 
now exists. Having built the network, governments are now hell-bent on 
selling it off to corporate predators and breaking it into little 
incompetent pieces.

A government concerned for the interests of the Australian people would 
have directed the board of Telstra to fulfil its social obligations to the 
country and the city and also substantially lower phone tariffs. It could 
have retained staff and provided the Australian people with the benefits of 
new technology. It could still do this. Instead governments have appointed 
to the board persons who are also working for its privatisation agenda and 
the sabotaging of the integrity of a publicly owned telecommunications 
network.

One.Tel was one of the many predators, intent on lining the pockets of 
their executives and shareholders, who were given rights to take their 
pickings from Telstra's business. The real face of the corporate world has 
been well illustrated by the payment to two retired directors of bonuses 
amounting to $14 million, not to mention the millions more they skimmed 
from the timely sale of their shareholdings.

The predatory nature of capitalism has also been exposed by the actions of 
Optus in attempting to force One.Tel mobile phone users to switch to Optus. 
It is par for the course these days that corporate managements make no 
provision to pay the staff their accumulated entitlements let alone display 
any concern for their future employment.

The demand voiced by Costello and Beazley that the two directors should pay 
back these bonuses and that corporate laws should be tightened to require 
more disclosure of management dealings is no more than a diversion from the 
real issues. If the Labor Party now sees that corporate law is inadequate 
it was just as inadequate when the Labor Party was in office and the same 
rip-offs (Christopher Skase for one), went on during their time in 
government.

Another angle is the fact that employees were tied into the company by 
holding shares. One worker is quoted in the The Australian newspaper 
(31/5/01) as saying: "We have lost more than our jobs. We have also lost a 
lot of money on our shares, which were part of our salary package. They 
kept saying the share price wouldn't go down, the business was fine."

But Adler, Rich and Keeling, who have ripped off One.Tel workers to the 
tune of $25 million, knew better than to believe their own tails and got 
out before the company crashed and selling of their shares before their 
value fell. They left their billion dollar mates Lachlan Murdoch and James 
Packer high and dry, more than $900 million of their investments now 
worthless.

It is the whole policy of "competition" and privatisation that has failed. 
If it is not reversed there will be more One.Tel and HIH collapses in the 
future with management clearing out and ripping off other shareholders and 
workers.

Not only should a future Labor Government tighten up corporate laws but it 
should take immediate steps to restore the whole telecommunications service 
to public ownership and democratic control.
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