By Jennifer Thompson
SYDNEY — Three hundred supporters of Telstra's public ownership gathered in Lower Town Hall on August 15 for the launch of the Keep Telstra Public campaign. Speakers included Democrat Senator Cheryl Kernot; national president of the Communications Division of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, Col Cooper; Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Wendy Caird; and Gwen George from the Older Women's Network.
Kernot, who spoke on the condition that no other political parties were on the platform, drew enthusiastic applause for her repeated undertakings to block the Coalition's attempts to sell one-third of Telstra to the private sector. Environmental repair was important enough to be funded in its own right, she said.
Kernot spoke of the need to draw the curtains on a decade of economic "rationalism". Privatisation was the economic fashion of the '90s, and like '80s downsizing, would result in massive cost to workers, she said. Citing the experience in other countries, where CEOs' salaries surged and jobs were cut massively, she warned that privatisation would deliver Telstra's profit stream into private hands, where any efficiency gains would also end up.
Cooper welcomed the chance for public debate on the issue, and said the Senate reference committee public hearings had shown the government's arguments to be "pretty weak". He dismissed the push to privatise on the grounds that private enterprise was better as "pure ideology" and not reflective of the facts. While Telstra was due to announce a $2.4 billion profit, Telstra management was comparing staffing levels with US telecommunications companies which provided a much lower quality service to users, he said.
Caird reflected that the government's drive to privatise was part of a "small government" ideology. Gwen George noted that an accessible and affordable telephone service for all Australians was a basic human right. She pointed out that the 000 emergency number was of special importance to older people, and could be guaranteed only by a public carrier with the obligation of providing a universal service. n