Nats ultimatum to telstra boss

By ALEX EASTON

Vaile lays down the law to new chief of TelstraTrujillo put on notice to protect bush services

FEDERAL Nationals Leader Mark Vaile has told new Telstra boss Sol Trujillo he must protect phone services in the bush, during a meeting at Lismore yesterday. Mr Vaile and Mr Trujillo met in Lismore for the first time yesterday. The meeting came as Prime Minister John Howard said he would consider a plan for a telecommunications future fund, first raised by the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC). It also came as Mr Trujillo prepared to meet Telstra staff in Lismore and ahead of his first public speech, at Invercauld House last night. Despite having previously said they would not meet while in Lismore, the two men did catch up, with Mr Vaile later saying he used the opportunity to reinforce the importance of the Universal Service Obligation (USO). The USO is the Government's front-line defence for regional phone services and demands Telstra provide the same standard of basic services in the bush as it does in the capital cities. Mr Trujillo has recently questioned the value of the USO, saying he did not believe it was sustainable. "As far as the Government is concerned, the USO is not negotiable," Mr Vaile said after the meeting. "I delivered a clear message that the Government is determined to advance Australia's interests by securing better telecommunication services in regional Australia." Mr Trujillo did not mention his meeting with Mr Vaile when he arrived at the Telstra Country-Wide office, but he did point out he grew up in a US state, Wyoming, where the biggest city was about the same size as Lismore. "The point is, we have customers everywhere," he told the Lismore staff. "A lot of customers focus on Sydney and Melbourne, but I want you to help us focus on all our customers throughout Australia." Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Howard said the Government would look at whether the telecommunications future fund could be brought in without pushing up interest rates. "We won't be going into deficit and we won't be agreeing to anything that's irresponsible," he said. Treasurer Peter Costello had earlier expressed fears that spending billions of dollars setting up the fund could put pres- sure on rates.



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