Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Alston, Beazley and the telecommunications union should hang their heads in shame.

Whatever the Coalition says about this week's long-overdue decision to split Telstra, don't expect it to call for an inquiry.

Here's why.

The Coalition's then Communications Minister Richard Alston (now High Commissioner to London) ordered such an inquiry in December 2002.

Academics and interested parties spent all that year's Christmas season preparing submissions and produced 68 of them by the deadline of January 31. Hearings were to begin on February 7.

Then on February 5, Alston got the committee to cancel the inquiry.

He said the prospect of an inquiry had "achieved its objective by flushing out [Labor's spokesman] Tanner into admitting that his structural separation proposal was a foolish and unworkable concept".

As a result there was "no valid reason for progressing this inquiry".

Rarely has a politician misused the parliament's processes so cynically...

John Quiggin spent Christmas working on one of the 68 submissions. It's here.

He wrote at the time:

Like 60-odd other suckers, I put a submission into the House of Representatives committee inquiring into the structural separation of Telstra. I knew it was an Alston stunt, designed to embarrass Labor, but I thought it might provide a useful forum for public debate. Apparently Alston has now realised this and panicked. Even though he had the numbers on the committee, the evidence showed that his policy was incoherent and unsustainable. So he's ordered the troops to put up the barricades.

Here's the email the committee sent him:

Dear Professor Quiggin

The committee has decided NOT to hold the public hearing scheduled for
tomorrow, 7th February, 2003. It has also decided NOT to hold any of the
scheduled public hearings.

I apologise for any inconvenience.

Just about the only public figure who comes out of this well is Keating. He opposed the creation of the Telstra megalith at the time.

Beazley, and his mates in the telecommunications union insisted that somehow a megalith would be good for us.

The Coalition bought the line.

It is a measure of how far we have travelled that these days the merits of genuine competition are not in dispute.

Alston, Beazley and the telecommunications union that foisted Telstra on us should hang their heads in shame.