Telstra sale sparks election debate

The re-introduction of legislation to sell Telstra is unlikely to pass the Senate with Independents baulking at the government's privatization plans.

The bill which aims to pave the way for the government to sell its 51 per cent stake in Telstra was reintroduced yesterday by Communications Minister Daryl Williams.

He left the timing of the sale open, saying the government wanted to maximise its return and would not sell its holding until it was sure the telco was delivering adequate services across Australia.

However, the government needs the support of Independent senators to secure passage of the bill but the Democrats, Greens and Labor remained opposed to the sale.

Their opposition to the bill saw it defeated in the Senate last year. The Democrats claim its reintroduction to parliament indicated the government was preparing for a double dissolution election.

Opposition communications spokesman Lindsay Tanner welcomed an election fought on the Telstra issue.

"[Prime Minister] John Howard is proceeding to attempt to privatize Telstra in complete defiance of overwhelming public opinion," Tanner said.

Greens Senator Bob Brown said he believed the government had reintroduced it to fit in with the Australia-US free trade agreement.

"The bill is being brought in to meet the push by the American telecommunication corporations to get their hands on Telstra," he said.

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