Conroy 'bullies' telcos: Turnbull

Australian Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused his Labor counterpart of bullying telcos over his reaction to criticism of taxpayer money paid to Telstra.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

After Communications Minister Stephen Conroy on Thursday reportedly mocked Vodafone CEO Bill Morrow's call to stop paying Telstra for universal service obligations, comparing the US-native CEO to the controversial former Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Conroy of being a telecommunications bully.

Earlier this week, Morrow wrote an opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review calling for a review of the subsidies paid to Telstra to provide fixed line phone services because mobile services were fast replacing fixed line as a primary means of communication in Australia.

Conroy reportedly mocked Vodafone at an industry event on Thursday for "lecturing" while losing so many customers.

"They lost 750,000 customers due to poor service and they want to lecture to everybody, they want to cut those people off. They are doing a good enough job of that themselves," he allegedly said.

"We haven't seen another telco CEO act like this since Sol Trujillo."

Turnbull said on the AM program on Friday morning that Morrow's article was "perfectly reasonable", and Conroy was engaged in bullying the telecommunications industry.

"He adopts a very arrogant and bullying attitude to the industry. After all, this is the minister who said in New York not so long ago that he was so powerful that if he told Telecom executives that they had to wear red underpants on their heads when they next came to meet him, they would do so because he was so awesome in his magnificent power," he said.

Turnbull said that the telecommunications industry was so regulated that Conroy was flaunting his power, but despite lashing out against the minister, Turnbull would not commit to reviewing the universal service obligation scheme. He said he would have to wait until he had access to all of the financial information if the Coalition wins government in September.

Earlier this week, Turnbull also suggested that NBN Co should be in so-called "virtual caretaker mode" and not be entering into contracts that a potential future Coalition government may disagree with.

"I'm just saying this is just common sense prudence, if I was the chief executive of NBN Co in these circumstances or if I was a director of that company, I would be careful and try to avoid, in so far as I could, entering into contracts that might be seen as, in effect, shackling the right of the new government," Turnbull told Radio National.

Caretaker mode of government officially commences after the issuing of election writs, which will occur on August 14.

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