In a statement issued yesterday announcing the government's plans to undertake a scoping study into the possible sale of its remaining shares of Telstra, Senator Coonan said she would "look at the adequacy of the current telecommunications regulatory regime, implement the remaining recommendations of the Regional Telecommunications Inquiry (also known as the Estens Inquiry) and continue a program of visits to rural and regional Australia.
"The government is committed to ensuring that all Australians have access to adequate communications services, regardless of where they live," Senator Coonan said. "In 2005 I will continue to travel around Australia listening to the concerns of rural and regional communities and ensuring the recommendations stemming from the Estens Inquiry are implemented".
The federal government has sought to allay concerns from rural and regional Australians about the level of telecommunications services provided to the bush, a critical issue for the junior partner in the governing coalition administration, the Nationals.
Nick Minchin, the Minister for Finance, said in yesterday's statement the government was proposing th re-introduce the Telstra sale legislation into parliament in 2005.
"The government has always stated that it has three pre-conditions for the sale of Telstra: arrangements must be in place to ensure the adequacy of telecommunications services for all Australians; legislation has to be passed through the parliament; and there must be an appropriate financial return for the taxpayer.
"A scoping study is an essential part of looking at the third precondition -- if, how and when an appropriate return for taxpayers could be achieved". For major appointments of business and legal advisers, expressions of interest to undertake the scoping study will be advertised before the end of December, with a request for tender to short-listed candidates issues in February and advisers selected in March. Communications and process advisers would be appointed in a similar timeframe. The study is expected to be completed mid-year.