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MP urges govt to buy out Telstra over rural service failures

Independent MP Bob Katter has doubled down on calls for the federal government to buy out Telstra, saying the telecommunications giant has failed to provide an essential “life or death” service to hundreds of thousands of rural customers.

The telco giant announced plans to cut 2,800 jobs from its direct workforce on Tuesday and effectively cut almost ten per cent of its staff.

Mr Katter wrote to Communications Minister Michelle Rowland and Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Tuesday following the “slap in the face” decision and called for a Foreign Investment Review Board investigation into the ownership of Telstra.

The Queensland MP said Telstra’s majority shareholder (HSBC – Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) raised a question of “national security” and a “foreigner’s unwillingness to oblige by the universal service obligation”.

“Essential services, must, be provided for by government – water, sewerage, electricity, and telecommunications. There are others, but these are the basics,” he said in a statement.

“In our case in North Queensland, with frequent cyclones and flooding, it can be a matter of life and death – either you get to make the call for help, or you don’t.”

Mr Katter said Australians in rural and regional areas were “fed up” with paying for an inadequate service and Telstra’s excuse of “too much demand on the network,” citing “hundreds” of complaints from regional constituents experiencing regular service outages and poor phone reception.

“Well, how about instead of cutting jobs, you increase your network,” he said.

Telstra said it will save about $350 million annually from job cuts to its workforce by the end of the 2025 financial year while making an $8.4-8.7 billion pre-tax, pre-interest profit.

Mr Katter expressed concern Telstra would “continue maximising profits” because “we can’t tell them what to do” as “the government doesn’t control them anymore”.

Former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard initiated the sale of Telstra in 1997 and it became fully privatised in 2011.

The telco giant now has more than one million shareholders and is currently one of the most widely held ASX-listed companies.

Telstra CEO Vicki Brady on Tuesday told reporters the company’s proposed job cuts, set to occur by the end of the 2024 calendar year, would kickstart a “reset” of its enterprise business in a bid to simplify operations and improve productivity.

Ms Brady acknowledged while parts of the business were “performing strongly”, others were “not delivering to expectation”.

“We have new and different competitors, we have rapid advances in technologies happening, our customer needs continue to evolve and we have ongoing inflationary and cost pressures,” she said.

“We need to be a more efficient and sustainable business to ensure we can keep investing in the levels required to meet the ever-increasing demand for our connectivity and services for our customers right cross the country”.

Speaking at a doorstop interview on Tuesday, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the government would be seeking advice from the competition regulator over Telstra’s “distressing” decision to sack almost 10 percent of its workforce.

“We’re thinking of all of the families who are impacted by these big job cuts at a major Australian employer. We need to make sure that the services don’t suffer as a consequence of these changes,” he said.

“From our point of view, we want to make sure, and the Budget was part of this, that as our economy changes, that we get better at adapting and adopting technology, that our people are the big beneficiaries of those changes in our economy and in our technology base as well.”

Consultation on 377 jobs on the chopping board will begin immediately, mainly from areas supporting the products and services to be exited in Telstra’s enterprise business.

The jobs due to commence consultation will not impact Telstra’s consumer customer service teams. Skynews

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