New minister set to revisit telco legislation

The Australian government will grind on with its so-far frustrated plans to sell off Telstra Corp. Ltd., with Australia’s third Communication IT and Arts (DCITA) minister Helen Coonan set to look at new ways to satisfy demands from stakeholders and minority powerbrokers.

A spokesperson for Coonan told Computerworld that, while it was too early to nominate specifics about how any legislation regarding the sale of Telstra may be resuscitated, Coonan was “very keen” to meet with a range of stakeholders and “sit down and look at the options”.

The spokesperson said it is too early to comment on whether parts of Telstra, such as advertising and search subsidiary Sensis, could be sold separately but emphasized Coonan had managed to pass difficult and complex legislation in her previous portfolio as minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, and nominated the Super Choice Bill as an example. The bill, which gives employees a choice of superannuation funds and fund portability, gained crucial support from the Democrats in June 2004 after eight years.

Australian Progressive Alliance leader Meg Lees has immediately welcomed Coonan’s overture to rework the Telstra legislation, telling ABC Radio that new legislation should look at incorporating customer-service-level guarantees for Internet services.

“It’s good to hear that the minister acknowledges there are major issues and hopefully we will be able to keep talking…I don’t think (Telstra is) ready to sell. However, it’s very positive that the minister is prepared to look at that legislation and keep improving it.

“In other words, rather than just guaranteeing a basic phone we now need to look at what other countries such as Canada have done and substantially increase what we expect of our national carrier,” Lees said. During her first interview with the ABC’s Insiders program, Coonan said she sought to actively engage with stakeholders and would be all ears.

“I think the worst thing coming into a portfolio like this is for a minister to have so many preconceived ideas that you are not genuinely interested in other points of view. So I will certainly be conducting a number of meetings and I will be very, very interested to hear views across the spectrum,” Coonan said.

In terms of where Coonan’s IT vision may be headed, the spokesperson acknowledged recent delivery of an IT strategic framework document from within DICTA, but said it would have to be looked at and considered.

Shadow IT spokesman Kate Lundy compared Coonan’s appointment to the movie Groundhog Day, and described the government’s new strategic IT framework as “a framework for the bleeding obvious” that was needed in 1997.

“It’s the same old story, sell off the incumbent telco and play footsies with the minority parties and independents over media cross-ownership. It’s a false credential that (Coonan) has any sort of legislative nous — they just had to put someone in,” Lundy said.

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