The Telstra sale: some very false assumptions
by Peter Mac On the steps of Royal Perth Hospital last week, Prime Minister John Howard stated that: "You can't indefinitely have a telecommunications carrier the size of Telstra half-owned by private shareholders and half owned by the Government". It is not often that the Communist Party of Australia can agree with something Howard said. Mind you, he then spoilt the whole effect by adding: "And we're obviously not going to renationalise the 50 per cent we've already sold." He also added a level of absurdity to his argument by declaring that ".when our telephones were delivered by the old PMG" (i.e. some 30 years ago) "they were nowhere near as efficient and available as what they are now"! Nevertheless, Howard's statement had the effect of highlighting the issue of the sale of our national telecommunications system, despite the attempts by hisGovernment to promote the idea that the sale of the remaining government-owned part of Telstra is a foregone conclusion. Such an assumption is certainly unwarranted. The assumption that the only opposition to the sale of the remainder of Telstra comes from rural communities is also unwarranted. Widespread opposition to sale The majority of people — city and country — oppose privatisation. They are well aware of the parasitic nature of the private companies entering the Australian telecommunications industry. They know that these companies utilise the public telecommunications infrastructure without contributing to it. They provide a less reliable and lower level of service than could be supplied by an adequately-resourced public utility The fracturing of the communications into many service providers creates many inefficiencies and much wasteful duplication. It is more expensive with the many layers of profit and need to advertise widely, and by the Government's own admission, is not prepared to provide a universal service at a universal price. Only a publicly owned system with cross-subsidisation can do that. The Government would have us believe that the sale is inevitable — with the aim of weakening opposition to its full privatisation, not just amongst the general population, but also within the ranks of the federal parliamentarians. Behind the scenes lobbying of "weak links" in the parliamentary opposition, particularly among Democrat and Labor members, is constantly taking place. The Government has delayed the Bill to sell off the remainder of Telstra, not just to persuade National Party MPs that country services are up to scratch, but in the hope that it will find the extra votes it needs in the Senate. And that's why public action is necessary, to let the politicians know that the sale is unacceptable, and to thus ensure that parliamentary opposition to the sale doesn't crumble as it did with the GST.