Aussie coalition partner won't automatically support Telstra sale

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - The new leader of a junior governing coalition party said Friday he would only support the 30 billion Australian dollar (US$23 billion; euro19.06 billion) sell-off of the government's stake in Australia's former telecom monopoly if services for rural areas are improved. 

Mark Vaile, who takes over the leadership of the Nationals in mid-July, said his party, which holds the balance of power in the upper house Senate, would only support the Telstra Corp. sell-off under certain conditions. 

"I'm not going to try and set a time frame to work to,'' he said of when the full privatization was likely.  

"We need to know that there's a reasonable expectation of reasonable access, if you like, to new technology in the future.'' 

Vaile will take over as head of the Nationals' in mid-July after current leader John Anderson steps down due to health concerns.  

Vaile, who currently is trade minister, also will become deputy prime minister. 

His party's support base is among farmers and people living in rural areas of Australia - who fear they will see telephone and Internet services suffer if Telstra is fully privatized because providing those services to remote areas is not profitable. 

Speaking late Thursday after being chosen as the Nationals' leader, Vaile stressed he would not desert those supporters in a rush to sell Canberra's 51.8-percent stake in Telstra. 

"We've continued to say that it's the services that are provided and the level of services that we expect in the future in rural and regional Australia that are important in this debate,'' he said. - AP 

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