Telstra split bill 'one vote short'

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Telstra split bill 'one vote short'

Fielding holds the cards.

Australia's minor political parties appear likely to support the Federal Government's plan to split Telstra, with key supporters of the legislation telling iTnews that Communications Minister Senator Conroy is just 'one vote short' of forming a majority on the bill.

The Government requires the support of Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Family First Senator Steve Fielding and independent Senator Nick Xenophon after the Coalition announced it would oppose the bill this year.

The Greens have expressed some conditional support for a split of Telstra - compelling the Government to consider amendments such as a broadening of the definition of a 'Standard Telephone Service' to a wider array of services, protection of Telstra workers, and a review of the Trade Practices Act to ensure that small businesses are in no way hampered by the legislation.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has voiced similar concerns.

Xenophon told iTnews that after meetings with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and the industry, he is convinced of the need to act on telecommunications regulation without delay - with caveats around ensuring equality of services in regional Australia.

Xenophon said he is working - albeit with limited resources - to promote amendments to the bill.

"I think the issue of structural separation should be seen as distinct from the issue of the NBN," he told iTnews. "This is an opportunity to maximise the benefits for consumers by opening up competition. We need a much more level playing field in this industry."

But, like Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, his support is strictly conditional.

"It is important that there be safeguards to ensure regional Australia doesn't miss out on this opportunity," he said. "We need a framework that is genuinely robust, that locks in competition in the long term, rather than just seeking the means to push this thing through. You don't want a situation where you get rid of one monopoly and entrench another."

Xenophon told iTnews that there is time yet to work through amendments to the legislation - provided his team and the industry "work quickly" to produce an outcome satisfactory to the Government, the industry, and the other minor parties.

One vote short

Should Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce maintain his position, and amendments suggested by Ludlam and Xenophon be accepted by the Government, the ball will be firmly in the court of Family First Senator Steve Fielding.

A spokesperson for Fielding said that the Senator is still in negotiations with the Government.

While he is "yet to finalise a position on the bill", Fielding initially expressed concerns for Telstra shareholders and remains wary of the possibility that "the legislation is a gun being held at Telstra's head".

"We are not looking to delay this legislation," the spokesperson said, "but remove that gun so that good faith negotiations between Telstra and the Government can take their course."

Senator Fielding's office has since contacted iTnews to clarify the Senator's position, stating that he is "happy to have the debate over whether the bill should be delayed."

Should the amendments proposed by Ludlam and Xenophon be rejected, or Fielding choose to side with the Opposition, Conroy's next port of call will be to work on Joyce in the new year.

Joyce has previously said he wishes to delay the legislation until February 2010.

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