Oz gov’t gets OK to sell Telstra stake

SYDNEY – Australia’s biggest privatization of all time is set to go ahead next year, after the conservative federal government won over two rebel independent senators late Thursday to support its legislation to sell off one-third of telco monolith Telstra.

The public share offering of Telstra, which is a 50% shareholder in Rupert Murdoch’s Oz cabler Foxtel and is spending about A$4 billion ($3.2 billion) on a national cable rollout, is expected to raise around $7 billion on the Aussie stock exchange.

Telstra, which is attempting to boost efficiencies by pinkslipping 22,000 staffers, delivered a record $1.8 billion profit for fiscal 1996.

The huge profit strengthened the stance of opposition parties, which control the Senate, against the sell-off. But the government prevailed by winning over the two independent senators with old-fashioned pork-barreling, promising $280 million worth of benefits to the states of Sens. Brian Harradine and Mal Colston.

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