Australia has missed its chance to split Telstra should it win the National Broadband Network (NBN), according to former finance boss, turned shadow communications minister Nick Minchin.
The Liberal veteran and Turnbull supporter ended a six-month stint in the defence portfolio to become Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's duelling partner after the September opposition cabinet reshuffle.
I regret the antagonism between Telstra and the [Howard] government... It set back the development of telecommunications in Australia
Minchin told members of the telecommunications industry, including the Terria group, structural separation should be taken off the table.
“Structural separation is not necessary [because] it is far too late in the evolution of telecommunications to discuss it,” Minchin said.
“The opportunity was there in 1999 (when Telstra was privatised) but the time has passed.
“I believe [Telstra] will never voluntarily separate and no sensible government would force it to do so.”
Minchin, who spent five years overlooking Telstra and the ensuing T3 sales, said the then Howard government and Labor opposition are responsible for the poor handling of the privatisation of Telstra.
“All government's make mistakes — we were up against a Labor senate — but I regret the antagonism between Telstra and the [Howard] government,” he said.
“It set back the development of telecommunications in Australia.”
He told separation lobbyists he stands by his views that Telstra should not be split, and labelled the NBN as “populous and scant in detail”.
While he conceded that both parties are “committed to reliable and cost effective” broadband network, Minchin said the venture does not require taxpayer funds. He said he is “suspicious” of private ventures funded by tax payers.
Minchin said the government's NBN initiative is a naïve “big-bang” solution and suggested the $2 billion of NBN funds to be drawn from the now defunct Communications Fund should be used to subsidise industry broadband deployments alongside the $270 million Australian Broadband Guarantee.
He attacked the government for culling the fund and the OPEL network, and called the NBN a “populous and deeply flawed” process.