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The Australian Government has moved a step closer to flogging its 51.8 per cent state in incumbent telco Telstra after winning a key vote earlier today.

The Australian Senate backed plans to flog the Government's stake in the business despite a concerted campaign by opposition MPs and trade unions.

The Government is set to raise around A$30bn (£14bn) from the sale of its share in the firm, which is expected to go ahead next year.

In a bid to ease concerns about the future the Government has agreed to set aside more than A$3bn to help protect and improve services in rural areas.

As part of the sell-off, the Government also plans to separate Telstra's retail, wholesale and network business to ensure that the telco "treats its wholesale customers fairly".

Speaking last week Communications Minister Helen Coonan said: "We are now at a critical point in Australia's telecommunications history when consumers are looking for new advanced services and the industry is having to make major investment decisions."

She said that the sale would help boost competition and improve services for customers.

Opponents of the sale, though, claim that services will decline, especially in rural areas. And there are fears that as many as 14,000 Telstra jobs could be axed following the privatisation of the telco.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) claims that details of the job losses and other cost-cutting measures are contained in a confidential document drawn up by senior execs at the company, something rejected by Telstra. ®

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