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Committee reject Sensis jobs proposal

A Greens pitch to force Telstra to keep Sensis production jobs in Australia has been rejected by a parliamentary committee.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

A parliamentary committee chaired by Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham has rejected a Greens proposal to require Telstra to keep production jobs for all printed and online national number directories in Australia.

The Greens had proposed altering Telstra's carrier licence to require the telco to keep the production of directories such as the Yellow Pages and the White Pages within Australia. Telstra announced in February that it would cut 648 jobs in the struggling business, with up to 391 back-office roles being outsourced.

The proposal was widely welcomed by the unions, but Telstra and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warned that a change to Telstra's carrier licence to force the jobs to stay in Australia could potentially put Australia in violation of Article XVII of the World Trade Organisation General Agreement on Trade in Service, which specifies that government measures must not discriminate against foreign services or suppliers.

In the committee's report tabled today, chair Simon Birmingham said that while the committee is concerned about potential job losses in Australia, it is also concerned about breaching Australia's trade obligations. It stated that Telstra as a private company should have a right to make decisions about its operations.

"In giving consideration to Australia's international trade obligations and the fact that as a private company, Telstra (or Sensis) should, as far as possible, be able to make commercial decisions about their operations, the committee is not convinced of the need to amend Telstra's licence conditions at present."

In a dissenting report, Labor Senator Doug Cameron and Catryna Bilyk accused Birmingham of being "just a bit glib" in being concerned about the job losses, but not doing anything to prevent those losses.

"In our view, the effect of Australia's trade obligations against which it is said that a licence condition such as that proposed might offend are overstated," they said.

"The government should give careful consideration to extending the licence requirement for Telstra to produce directories; to require that they be produced in Australia; to protect Australian jobs in the public interest; and, as a measure, to take account of changed technology and consumer preference."

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