Shadow Communications Minister Stephen Conroy will go head-to-head with
Telstra and the Federal Government in coming days as he cranks up a Labor
campaign to expose “corruption” and “incompetence” in the handling of the
Telstra sale.

Conroy is determined to expose concessions he claims turned
the National Farmers Federation in favour on the sale and the control
that Telstra is taking in the formulation of competition policy.

Promising a no-holds-barred encounter, Conroy will today host
Telstra Regulatory and Public Policy GMD Phil Burgess at an exclusive
Labor fundraiser in Sydney. While Telstra played down the
meeting, Conroy is expected to make no bones about the concerns he has over
the company’s tactics. Likewise, Burgess was expected to reiterate his disdain
for regulation. “He’s not shy about what he’s got to say and I’m not famous for
being shy about what I’m going to say. I’m looking forward to a good discussion,”
Conroy said.

At a Senate Estimates hearing on Monday, Conroy will grill Communications
Minister Helen Coonan over the alleged NFF promises as well as a range
of pending reviews and decisions he says are stymieing the industry. The NFF
has officially stated that it “sought and received assurances” on the government’s
regional funding package before giving its eleventh hour support in
September, and opponents have suggested a secret deal has been done.

“This is bordering on corruption. When the government makes a promise to
spend taxpayers’ money, the public are entitled to know what the promise is,”
he said. “What is the government’s commitment? Have they promised to roll
the ACCC no matter what they propose?”

ACCC MARGINALISED: Conroy claims to have uncovered grave concerns
across the industry over the way Telstra can negotiate policies under the new
legislation and says that the ACCC is at risk of being driven out of the process.
He claims that Coonan was specifically warned by the ACCC about flaws
in the Telstra operational separation strategy but had ultimately delivered a
“heated-up accounting separation,” allowing Telstra to veto “behind-closed doors
proposals.”

Conroy said, “it failed the tests that the ACCC proposed and that they argued
and advocated for. In truth, again the minister tried to hide this, but the
ACCC wrote to the minister saying that this proposal will not fly, it is not good
enough, it is not strong enough.”

“What we fear is that there is no detail. This is an ongoing process of negotiation
between the government and Telstra. We think it is fundamentally
flawed by excluding the ACCC in many different areas and that’s a scandal…
These are serious issues about how any government should behave.”
Proof of Telstra’s power, the government’s “back-sliding” and the
dwindling power of the ACCC, Conroy says, is exposed in the carrier’s
posturing
over ULL pricing. “For Telstra to try and usurp it was an outrage and it would
have been even more outrageous if the government had caved to Telstra at that
stage. I still think they are going to cave to Telstra but they’re just going to do
it in a slightly more dignified manner,” he said.

Conroy will also attack Coonan over a host of long-promised reviews and
particularly what he described as “incompetent” handling of the search for a
permanent Chair to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
While ACMA recently defended its ability to operate without a permanent appointment,
Conroy claimed yesterday, “this is an organisation that is paralysed,
which is very poor public policy and is just slothfulness and incompetence by
the government.” He said, “the Minister gave the statement to Parliament back
in February that this is an urgent piece of legislation and that they needed to
begin the search.”