Just because Sol Trujillo has departed, it doesn't mean Australia is
without a telecommunications bully capable of flying off the handle and
needlessly trashing relationships without due regard to a more reasonable
culture of negotiation and consensus-building.
Stepping up to take Trujillo's title as chief head-kicker is one Senator
Stephen Conroy. And there's a good chance that he'd take that description as
Conroy's form as a Labor factional bovver boy is on display in his
rambunctious "my way or the highway" ultimatum to Telstra shareholders. In
some ways it's a shame Trujillo isn't still around - his response would have
What's missing from Conroy's swinging attack on private property rights in
his attempt to promote greater competition is the necessary admission of
culpability: the perceived problem of Telstra competing with those who would
like to have access to the network Telstra owns is all the Labor
government's fault - not the fault of Telstra's shareholders who are now
being ordered by Comrade Conroy to suck it up for the greater good.
No, not the fault of this Labor Government, but the previous one that
stuffed up Telstra's privatisation in the first place. It's a bit rich that
Conroy now wants to fix his predecessors' mistake by lumbering the cost and
loss of rights onto the people Canberra encouraged to buy Telstra shares.
It's a basic principle of half-decent government that if it wants to acquire
property from individuals, it must fairly compensate them. There's zero hint
of that in Conroy's ultimatum to Telstra to functionally separate, to treat
its competitors as nicely as its own customers, to facilitate the
cherry-picking of key customers while still having to provide an onerous
"Universal Service Obligation" and quit its Foxtel holding and ownership of
the hybrid cable Foxtel uses.
That Conroy is taking a cricket bat to the heads of Telstra shareholders
when he's yet to work out just how his National Broadband Network thingy
might really function is simply thuggish.
Conroy has talents, but calm and reasoned administration tends not to be
mentioned as one of them.
There is a great and somewhat inevitable opportunity - or there was until
today - to reasonably fix the mistake made by Kim Beazley and Paul Keating
through the NBN process. Telstra's network could fairly form the backbone of
the NBN at a great saving to taxpayers and at a fair price to Telstra
Perhaps Conroy is just applying Beijing-style leverage to those
Forcing Telstra to sell its Foxtel stake is somewhat more interesting and
lacks the clear "greater good" argument that can be applied to functional
and perhaps actual separation.
And making Telstra a forced seller with Murdoch and Packer having first dibs
is a dubious proposition. Is this why Kerry Stokes has been so keen at get a
slice of Packer's Foxtel pie?
There's also a degree of injustice for those with long memories. Telstra was
the patsy in the Foxtel syndicate, losing a fortune rolling out the cable
while Murdoch and Packer made a fortune selling content to run on the cable.
Given the constant attacks on the Rudd Government by Murdoch media, one is
left to wonder why Conroy would now want to do that camp such a big favour.