Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"The Stanhope Tax"

Telstra has threatened to add a “Stanhope charge” to every one of its telephone bills in the ACT. Until now the communications giant has maintained uniform prices across the nation.

But it says the new charge, likely amount to $27 per Canberra household, would be added only to bills issued in the ACT and would be clearly labeled with a statement saying it had been imposed as a result of the new utilities tax introduced by the Stanhope government.

The Chief Minister was unmoved by Telstra’s threat last night saying he did not think it becoming of a major national corporation such as Telstra to propose such an idea, but that that was a matter for it.

“It needs to be understood that the full quantum of the tax that would be imposed in a full year on Telstra through this utilities charge would be less than half the salary that the Chief Executive of Telstra currently makes in a year,” he said.

$3.5 million of the $16 billion that the ACT will raise from the tax from next year is expected to come from telecommunications companies. The rest will be raised from gas, electricity and water utilities in proportion to the number of kilometres of ACT land their pipes and wires cover...

“For telecommunications companies we are talking here about a dollar a fortnight,” Mr Stanhope said. “But if Telstra feels inclined to outline on each of its bills to ACT customers that a dollar a fortnight of its bill is attributable to a utilities charge by the ACT government, good luck to them.”

Telstra is understood to be concerned not so much about the amount of the tax but about the potential for it to spread to other states. Its spokesman John Short said until now no Australian government had charged it for the land covered by its cables.

Telstra's biggest competitor in the ACT, Transact, partly owned by the ACT government indicated yesterday that it would consider following Telstra’s lead and labeling the charge.

Its General Manager Dianne O’Hara said that the fact that the ACT government owned a proportion of her firm would not deter her. “They are a significant shareholder, but they are certainly not the major shareholder,” she said.

The Chief Minister said that if Transact did decide to go down the path threatened by Telstra he would not move to stop it. “I would not intervene in an operational issue with Transact or indeed in any Territory-owned corporation or in any corporation in which we had a stake,” Mr Stanhope said.

The Treasurer Peter Costello lent support to Telstra and other communications companies in their campaign against the new tax in Question Time yesterday. He said that while the Labor Party federally was saying it wanted more investment in broadband “here we are in the ACT, where a new tax is being proposed on all utilities including broadband”.

“Again, I call on federal Labor; I call on [Mr Beazley and the Shadow Treasurer Mr Wayne Swan] and each and every other one of their small but dwindling faction, to come out and completely dissociate themselves from new taxes on infrastructure. It can be done very easily; it can be done by condemning the Stanhope proposal. It can be done by giving a pledge that federal Labor will not be trying to replicate this new tax right around the country” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Swan said last night that the Shadow Treasurer was still examining the fine detail of the Stanhope proposal. He said that federal Labor did not support the imposition of any new tax likely to discourage investment in infrastructure.