The Australian government introduced legislation in Parliament Tuesday to open the country's phone and satellite system to competition as part of its
plans to sell state assets and break up monopolies.
The legislation, which will become law over the next few weeks, enables the sale of the debt-ridden satellite carrier Aussat Pty Ltd. to international consortia.Market analysts have speculated that Aussat, whose satellites would also provide phone links to networks in Asia, is worth around A$1 billion ($783 million).
Buyers can use Aussat to link into and compete on the phone network against state-owned domestic phone carrier Telecom Australia and OTC Ltd., the overseas link with which Telecom is to be merged.
Communications Minister Kim Beazley told Parliament the three government bodies with the monopoly on telecommunications links "have not been as
innovative as they might have been."
The Labor government's divestment of state assets includes the planned sale of Australian Airlines Ltd., 49 percent of Qantas Airways Ltd. and 30 percent of the Commonwealth Bank.
The government says it has received around 30 inquiries from international companies wishing to buy into Aussat, which has debts of around A$600 million ($470 million).
A stipulation is that 51 percent of Aussat must be held by Australian companies.
Business plans must be submitted to the government by June, followed by negotiations to produce firm bids. The government plans to complete the sale by the end of this year.
Interest has been expressed by two North American groups, one headed by BellSouth Corp. and Britain's Cable and Wireless PLC, the other by Bell Atlantic Corp. and Ameritech Corp.
Bell and Ameritech paid the New Zealand government NZ$4.25 billion ($2.5 billion) last year for Telecom Corp of New Zealand Ltd.
The Australian government has also discussed Aussat with Japan's domestic carrier Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. and international link Kokusai Denshin Denwa Co.
The monopoly of Aussat and merged Telecom-OTC would end on June 30, 1997, when further competition will be permitted.