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Senator Conroy rejects Telstra calls

Minister calls for more negotiation, but promises to pass separation legislation by year's end

Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has rejected Telstra’s calls to remain structurally intact and delivered a scathing attack on its role in reducing competition during a speech at the CommsDay summit in Melbourne.

“We remain absolutely committed to debating and passing this legislation before the end of this year. As I have said, there is no justification for delaying these fundamental reforms,” Conroy said. “They directly address the structural dysfunction of the communications sector, for the benefit of all Australians.

“Those keen to hold back these vital and historic reforms must explain how more delay would benefit consumers and our small businesses.”

Conroy went on to attack large institutional investors that have criticised the Government for its moves to legislate structural separation and said their actions artificially deflated Telstra’s share price.

“Under the previous Telstra management, the Telstra share price fell almost 40 per cent from when Sol Trujillo was appointed to his departure announcement [$5.10 to $3.15]. Where was their public campaign questioning the strategy of the previous Telstra management at that time?” Conroy said.

But the minister provided Telstra some hope of success in its negotiations with the Government and said its clear desire was to allow the telco to voluntarily split.

“We are engaged in very positive and constructive talks with the Telstra team. David Thodey and Catherine Livingstone have given very strong indications of their intent to continue with that positive interaction, and we share that view,” he said.

“As I have said before, the Government strongly believes it is possible to achieve a win-win outcome in the interests of Telstra, its shareholders and, more broadly, all Australians.”

Conroy’s push for a negotiated settlement came as analysts claim the telco is mainly focused on delaying the legislation and achieving a deal behind the scenes.