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Court Opens Way To Charge Utility Co. Rates

Following a landmark Federal Court decision in Australia, which could have ramifications here, private utility companies are about to be charged council rates for using public land to run things like cables. John Howard reports

The Federal Court in Australia ruled last month that communications companies Optus and Telstra must pay local councils for the right to lay pay-tv cables on public land.

The companies, which are appealing the decision, were charged rates by 17 councils in NSW and Victoria on the basis that they were laying cables to generate private profits.

While an appeal is pending councils have since sought legal advice about the decision and have been told they can begin charging rates. South Australian councils are the next to start charging and are now planning to raise millions of dollars.

The big winners appear to be home owners with the millions reaped from companies certain to lower residential rates across the Australian states.

Local Government Association executive director, John Comrie, said, " We are talking about millions of dollars being raised which will not have to be paid by other ratepayers."

Mr Comrie said the ruling meant private companies which used public property are now liable to pay rates unless they had exemptions.

Australian mayor's are now saying there was no reason why privatised Government enterprises should be treated differently to other companies either.

"There is nothing unreasonable about it, they are privatised companies operating in the market place," said mayor, Tony Zappia.

" Why should any operator not have to pay when every other business has to pay rates," he said.

The difficulty now appears to be assessing the amounts council's were owed which is likely to run into the tens of millions across Australia.


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