Nationals act on Telstra

25 Sep, 2002 10:00 PM
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FEDERAL National Party politicians have been told to rein in their 'overly enthusiastic' support for a Telstra sale, by the party's state councils.

The Queensland, NSW, Victorian and WA branches banded together to table a combined motion at the Nationals' federal council meeting on the weekend, to give a clear signal to the party's federal MP's that they weren't yet satisfied with telecommunications service levels in the bush, so talk of a Telstra sale was premature.

The motion's proposer, NSW president Patrick Maher said debate had shifted to the Telstra sale, when it should be centred on service adequacy and future access to technology.

The National Party has long had a policy that it will not consider any further sale of Telstra unless and and until the Party is satisfied that services and access to affordable communications are achieved in Australia.

But their states left their parliamentary members in no doubt that they though that benchmark had yet to be achieved.

In four separate points they claimed the infrastructure improvements stemming from the Besley report had not yet been achieved; mobile coverage was still of concern; the digital data service obligation had not yet been delivered in parts of regional Australia; and there was still no living Customer Service Guarantee to future proof service levels.

The list of four problems pre-empts the Estens Rural Telecommunications Service Inquiry which is due to report later this year, but Mr Maher said he had no qualms about that, as the delegates around the Federal Council table lived and worked in rural Australia, so could make a fair assessment of telecommunications service levels.

Although the motion was designed to get the party's federal MPs to toe the line on the Telstra sale, no politicians spoke to the motion.

Later Nationals leader John Anderson said he was "quite comfortable" with the motion.

"It is a position I've helped map out," said.

However, Victorian National Party MP John Forrest later admitted: "I've got a long list of horror stories about Telstra. We've come for a low base and we've got a hell of a long way to go."

WA delegate Vicki Brown said lower volume rural areas would be vulnerable to the quest for increasing profits from a fully privatised Telstra, adding that even now service levels weren't up to scratch, such as slow internet speeds which made downloading documents prohibitive.

"You could go a drench a mob of sheep and come back and still be waiting," she said.

In particular, the states were concerned that is appeared to be National MPs who were being quoted in the media supporting the sale, while their rural-based Liberal colleagues remained silent on the electorally important issue.

They were also unhappy that Queensland senator Ron Boswell had been calling for the sale sooner rather than later.

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