By MEL MARTIN
GREIG Ireland believes services on which people depend for their safety should always be provided by the government, regardless of their profitability.
And telecommunications is one of those.
So he's not sure privatising Telstra is such a good idea, particularly for regional areas.
"We've seen the banks closing services in the bush, because they look at it as a money-making issue," Mr Ireland said.
"The politicians can say all they like, but once Telstra is in private enterprise, it could definitely be a retrograde step."
And Mr Ireland is not alone, with a new survey finding that 70 per cent of Australians were against the full sale of Telstra.
Mr Ireland believes good telecommunications is essential, especially in the bush where people can live hundreds of kilometres from the nearest doctor.
"The lives of farmers out in the bush are just as valuable as the lives of people in the city," he said.
"At least good telecommunications leave people with a good chance to get help if they need it."
Not that Australia's telecommunications service is currently perfect ? Mr Ireland, who travels a lot for work, has to carry two phones from different carriers to be contactable when on the road.
"Having two carriers gives me greater coverage. But still, as soon as you leave the highway the coverage is patchy, and even along the highway, there are black spots."
After seemingly winning over Nationals' Senator Barnaby Joyce with a $3.1 billion sweetener package for rural telecommunications services, the Federal Government will introduce legislation when it sits in two weeks to enable the sale of the remainder of its stake in Telstra.
Of that, $1.1 billion would be spent on upgrading broadband and mobile services in regional Australia, and $2 billion on a 'communication fund', from which revenue would be committed to address communications shortfalls.
Senator Joyce, who had threatened to vote against the estimated $30 billion sale, said he would take the deal to his party before making a decision on which way he would vote.
Nationals' Federal member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker welcomed the package, saying it would deliver better mobile phone and broadband internet services in regional Australia.
"We will maintain the Universal Service Obligation, which requires Telstra to guarantee access to standard phone services, and improve the Customer Service Guarantee, which sets minimum timeframe for the installation and repair of phone services," he said.
But the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) have attacked the package, saying the $1.1 billion fund was 'totally inadequate' and offered little for the upgrade of infrastructure.
"It also appears the $2 billion future fund is nowhere near what is currently being spent on future proofing now, so how can the Government support something which is leaving the bush worse off than we currently are?" NFF president Jock Laurie said.
And Labor agrees.
"Once Telstra is privatised, its focus will be profit not service, and country Australians will lose out," opposition leader Kim Beazley said.
n Are you happy with Telstra services? Do you think Telstra should be fully privatised? Tell us what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org or 53 Moonee Street, Coffs Harbour.