T3: The Untold Story

The phone rang. It was Barnaby Joyce, the deal was done. “You’ve got your loss assessment”. It was September 2005 and Barnaby Joyce, the newly elected Senator from Queensland had just pulled off the deal of a lifetime.

There were a lot of big winners that day. Helen Coonan had closed a $15 billion deal.  Barnaby Joyce has secured a $2 billion fund and a multi-million dollar compensation scheme.  Telstra had its dreams come true and was to become a fully fledged publicly traded $50 billion company.

I had a relatively small win. My five-year battle was over, and unlike the other players stood to gain only what I was owed, small change in the scheme things, but I was happy to move on.

You can’t have winners without losers though. Barnaby Joyce’s throwaway line in his speech  leading up to casting his crucial vote on Telstra’s full privatisation about an “independent assessor” went unnoticed by the media, but it didn’t slip by Telstra and the notorious DBCDE, then known as the Department of Communications.

Helen Coonan refused to tell the Department what she agreed to, but they assumed the comment about an independent assessor meant the Minister had agreed to the sort of Inquiry they believed ought to be stopped. There would be an investigation, compensation would have to paid and more worrying, someone credible might write a damning report.

For years, everyone from whistleblowers to competing corporations have raced to the Minister’s office with the latest Telstra scandal expecting surprise, outrage and a swift reaction from the Government.

This isn’t how the Australian telecommunication regime works. Competition, regulation and a level playing field might make good filler for media releases but they are a fairytale in this country. The Minister’s Office and Department have enforced an unwritten policy of selling out anyone and everyone to prop up Telstra since before the days of T1.

With the compensation scheme Barnaby Joyce had made a precondition for his support for the T3 bills on the cards, Telstra and the Commonwealth Government had a common enemy –  me, a couple of other small businesses and the Endeavour Foundation, a charity for the disabled.

A week after the T3 deal was done, Telstra and the Department met in the Minister’s office and a conspiracy to cheat us all was born. I wasn’t special, just a name on a list. All they needed know was that I just might happen to have evidence of wrong-doing by Telstra or the Department.

You might think the Endeavour Foundation would be afforded special consideration because no one likes lowlife who cheat a charity, but Helen Coonan, Telstra and the DBCDE don’t see the world that way. If you are an unhappy Telstra consumer, competitor or contractor in business – it’s their mission to put you out of business.

The Minister’s office, Telstra and Department came up with the idea claims assessment didn’t necessarily have to mean that. They could bury it if it meant an assessment of a claims assessment instead. In other words, an assessor would ask, “Have you made a claim?”  and let you know if you said yes or no.

This is so silly even the Department’s own legal team didn’t understand what they were trying to do. They advised the Minister and Department the ACMA has the requite powers to conduct an Inquiry and the Minister has the authority to order the ACMA conduct it.

Chris Cheah, a Department stooge parachuted into the ACMA set the Minister’s office straight. The ACMA could have no part in this. The AMCA  has a lot of power, and if directed by the Minister to use it, couldn’t guarantee a meaningless outcome. An ACMA Inquiry would lead to a far-reaching Inquiry.

With the ACMA ruled out, Telstra and the Department looked for fresh direction

Simon Bryant and David Lever, the Department’s managers in charge of crafting policy to protect consumers and competition floated an alternate strategy. They could bypass an Inquiry entirely by looking at cases resolved years earlier.A little confusion on dates and the commitment to an independent assessment would on paper be fulfilled without lifting a finger.

No stone was left unturned. With a flurry of emails and phone calls Lever and Telstra’s lobbyist Athol Chalmers worked together to build up dirt files on potential claimants. Searches for a consultant dirty enough for the job came up empty.

By Christmas, they decided on a solution – scrap the search for an Independent Assessor and the Department could go ahead and write a report itself.  It was called an Independent Assessment of Claims against Telstra, and filled with pointless guff – but so long as the media didn’t find out – it’d do just fine.

They had won round one. The Government had conned its way into out of an investigation, compensation and damning report.

Next on the chopping block – the future of the entire media industry.

END PART ONE

Joe Public – who has written posts on Bad Apples.