The Australian government has cleared the first hurdle in its bid to privatise dominant telecoms operator Telstra, steamrolling opposition to the plan in the House of Representatives earlier today. Rebel National Party MP Kay Hull attempted to have the issue put to the country’s voters – a course strongly supported by the Labour party – but the government used its numbers to ensure the proposal did not reach the public; the bill was passed 78 to 59. Earlier in the day Prime Minister John Howard revealed the government’s intentions, saying that the state’s 50.1% holding in the telco was hindering its competitiveness. ‘It can’t be half-owned by the government and half in private hands,’ he told ABC Radio, before going on to claim that it was a myth that state ownership was a guarantee of better services. The Bill must now be passed by the Senate where the government does not have a majority. It will need the support of a minor party and a number of independent senators for the Bill to be passed into law.