Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie fired up in a major way over broadband at an Alan Kohler facilitated lunch on the 17th floor of the RACV Club in Melbourne yesterday.

I was on Donald’s table as the handbag for the missus, RACV director Paula Piccinini, so there wasn’t an opportunity to fire off any questions from the floor. However, it’s no great secret to say that Donald’s oozed passion for fast broadband. When he sat back down after taking a few questions he continued to regale the table with tales of woeful regulation and inadequate investment.

Spin queen Sue Cato flew down from Sydney for the day, as did Telstra’s number one media nemesis, The Australian’s Michael Sainsbury, whose copy got combined with two other journalists to produce this story.

Presumably it was Cato who injected the nice line that following debate contributions from the G9 and T4, Donald was looking forward to hearing what R2D2 thought about the issue.

It is disappointing that Telstra hasn’t released Donald’s speech to the ASX or on Telstra.com, although it simply adds to what has been quite an expensive campaign involving regular missives to shareholders and customers with their billing statements.

Donald’s explanation of the mess that was US telco regulation over the past decade was very interesting and gives some insights into why Worldcom went bust and AT&T became a pale imitation of itself. He warned that Australia was heading down the same path.

Let’s hope a copy of the speech was sent to Graeme Samuel and Helen Coonan as they contemplate doing a sweetheart deal with Telstra to finally get the company moving on its proposed $4 billion fibre-to-the-node investment. After hearing Donald’s spray yesterday, Kohler columnised today calling for fibre-to-the-home.

The other strong argument made by Donald yesterday related to the seamless 40% increase in iron-ore exports over the past three years, compared with just an 11% gain for the eastern seaboard coal industry in Queensland and NSW.

It’s hard to argue with the contention that the integrated port, rail and mine ownership of BHP and Rio Tinto has benefited the nation, whereas the piecemeal ownership of ports, rail and coal mines has cost the nation billions as we fail to take advantage of the China boom and 100 ships line up for coal at Newcastle.

Peter Fray

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