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Telstra resorts to personal attacks in FTTN war

Telstra PR spinner Rod Bruem would want to have a lot of confidence in the carrier's legal team today.
Written by Brett Winterford, Contributor

commentary Telstra PR spinner Rod Bruem would want to have a lot of confidence in the carrier's legal team today.

I refer to his rather grubby attack on ALP Senator Kate Lundy over what he sees as a potential conflict of interest between her role as an elected Senator and her husband's job as a lobbyist for his competitors.

Blogs and commentaries (and mine are no exception) are often dealing in opinions, half-truths, innuendo. But writers deserved to be raked over the coals when they get their facts completely wrong.

Bruem suggests Senator Lundy has failed to adequately "disclose her relationship" with her husband, Mr David Forman during debates around telecommunications regulation.

"At times," he writes, "you get the impression that Lundy and Mr Forman plan their pincer attacks on Telstra over the family breakfast table before taking themselves up the hill and staging a public re-enactment before the cameras in Parliament House."

Bruem's powers of suggestion are most impressive, his facts are wrong. As Lundy has stated in her reply to parliament, she has on no less than three separate occasions made the potential for this conflict of interest a matter for the public record.

Bruem's blog also suggests that Forman and Lundy's personal relationship, which has been public for at least six or seven years now, was some big secret parliament and press gallery alike. He mentions that "one prominent journalist" he spoke to hadn't made the Lundy-Forman connection.

It's far more plausible that the more learned of the journalist ranks decided Lundy's personal life to be just that — personal, and have until now declined to comment on it. They would only feel the need to be as vocal as Bruem if in the possession of solid evidence that Lundy had over-stepped the mark and abused her position for her husband's gain.

The curious thing about Bruem's blog is its timing.

There have been plenty of other times interested parties could have brought up the potential for Lundy and Forman's partnership to be problematic. There was some snickering, for example, about Parliament House in 2002 when Lundy went into the bat for the local photonics industry while her partner was a key player in it.

Hansard 26 August 2002 (pdf)
Hansard 21 November 2002 (pdf)

But her political opponents chose never to raise the issue publicly.

It might be because Lundy has had an interest in the IT&C industry from well before she met her husband. While she may occasionally be privy to some deeper insights about these issues via her husband, but her advocacy is one founded on genuine concern and interest in the issues. Lundy could, in fact, feel unlucky not to have the IT&C portfolio considering her history in it.

The fact that Lundy's questions in parliament around Telstra ring true with the opinions of her spouse shouldn't surprise anybody. One, he is a former business journalist with an equally fervent history of advocacy when it comes to Australian innovation. Two, I'd say a good deal of her constituents (other than Telstra shareholders) would agree with her concerns.

Now back to the question of Telstra's timing. Why a witch-hunt now, while Lundy is on the backbench?

The answer is simple. The questions Lundy is asking in parliament about Telstra are vital ones. They are about the one thing Telstra is most scared of — structural separation. Should Telstra win the FTTN tender, structural separation would make such a win far less profitable.

Maintaining the pretence that operational separation is working, however, will only harm consumers.

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