As we never tire of pointing out, Cuba came to grips with telco privatisations well before Australia. T3 is on the block, the Opposition is howling – and the Rightthinker.com website seems to have found a new model for our policy makers:

The government of the Gabonese Republic in West Africa decided in January this year to sell a 51% stake in their national fixed line operator to international investors. This is a country with a population of only 1.4m people and GNI/capita of only US$4,000, according to the World Bank. This is a country ruled by the autocratic El Hadj Omar Bongo since 1967. And yet Gabon is more forward-looking and has a better grasp of economic policy than the Australian Labor Party…

Our Government still can’t go all the way on Telstra. They’re parking part of it in the future fund. And that’s only going to create future problems.

The Australian Shareholders Association was spot on over the weekend: “I don’t understand why the Government isn’t getting rid of the lot of Telstra,” its chairman Stephen Matthews said. “It is still in the position where it is wearing three hats: one representing voters, one being a regulator of the industry which needs increasing competition and finally, being an owner.”

Finance Minister Nick Minchin admitted over the weekend that the Government didn’t want to be selling shares in an election year. Instead, they’ve come up with a half solution.

Telstra won’t be privatised. With 30% parked in the Future Fund, the Government will still remain the major shareholder. And that’s enough for Telstra to remain a political football – and a political problem.

What happens if the Future Fund wants to sell its Telstra shares? Short-term share price measures are guaranteeing that the political pain will continue.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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