Communications Minister Helen Coonan is coming to visit Goulburn this Friday, apparently at the request of Hume MP Alby Schultz. They’re going to talk to local councils about Telstra Countrywide, (senior TC managers will be there too) and then make an announcement, something to do with broadband.

This is very interesting for two reasons. Firstly, Telstra Countrywide was a hot topic at yesterday’s joint party meeting. Three MPs raised their concerns about this arm of the telco, and what’s going to happen to services in regional Australia bush once Telstra is fully privatised.

You have to wonder if constant critic of the Telstra sale Alby Schultz was one of them. The thing that makes it interesting is Alby himself. He knows his electorate doesn’t like the idea of the sale – he’s said so on many occasions. So why invite the minister? It’s not such a stretch for her to come along: Goulburn’s only 45 minutes up the road from Canberra.

Is it too far off course to suggest that this is a public relations exercise, aimed at winning over the very electorate that is dead against it, and has some of the worst telco services in the state, in the eyes of many residents?

Does the government think this might cost them some votes at the next election? Unlikely, given Hume is a safe Liberal seat, and Labor made such a poor showing last time, they’re unlikely to gain any ground. But is Alby trying to score some points anyway? By having the minister come to break bread and make important announcements, he can then say he’s working hard for his constituents, because he’s got principles about this sort of thing. Pity he won’t back it up by crossing the floor against the sale.

So this ministerial visit could well be a pointless exercise. The government will have a senate majority in a few months, and the Telstra full sale will happen, like it or not. Howard will be counting on the electorate to have a short memory. Besides, when has a public outcry about a particular issue stopped them from doing exactly what they want to do in the first place?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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