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Tuesday, 31 March 1998
Page: 2021

Miss JACKIE KELLY (9:30 PM) —I am thrilled to speak tonight on the Telstra (Transition to Full Private Ownership) Bill 1998 . The gobbledegook that we heard from the member for Canberra (Mr McMullan) really brought home to me just how out of touch the opposition is in terms of the technology of today. That is why we are selling Telstra, and we are being up-front and honest about it.

He was going on about this accrual accounting and this fiscal mumbo jumbo. Just when in the last 13 years did the member for Canberra take to the people the sale of the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas, Williamstown dockyard, Aerospace Technologies of Australia, Garden Island dockyard, Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, Aussat, major airports, the Moomba-Sydney gas pipeline, our uranium stockpile, the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation and now the entire New South Wales electricity industry? Just when was one of those privatisations by the party that stands up and says, `We don't believe in privatisations,' one of those sales of government owned enterprises which were, as the member for Canberra so aptly said, owned by the taxpayer, taken to the people of Australia?

At the last election the one-third sale of Telstra was taken to the people of Australia. This government delivered that: we sold one-third of Telstra. The proceeds from that went to retire debt. They did not go to fund vote buying exercises or recurrent expenditure. They went to pay off debt, unlike previous privatisations.

Again the further sale of Telstra is being taken to the people of Australia. We are putting this legislation in place in the expectation that, when we are re-elected, this will go through as a mandate from the people of Australia. The reason why people will vote for the coalition on this issue is that they do not believe Labor would not sell it if they got elected. Just when and how would Labor not sell Telstra? We have heard that several times tonight. They say, `We won't sell Telstra.' Let me tell you that the residents of Lindsay do not believe that. We do not trust Labor. We do not trust them to lift the toll on the M4; we do not trust them to cut the waiting lists at the Nepean Hospital; we do not trust them to raise the Warragamba Dam wall; we do not trust them to aircondition our schools and give them assembly halls. They have not honoured a promise in seven years. Nothing they have done will convince the people of Lindsay that they have any intention of not selling the remainder of Telstra if elected. They just would not believe them, but they do believe in up-front politics.

We have clearly set out that we will sell a further two-thirds of Telstra if re-elected and that the proceeds of that sale will go to retire debt, as we have already demonstrated with the one-third sale and the retiring of debt. Why have we taken this decision? Because time is running out for Telstra.

In 1992, the former Labor government introduced Vodafone and Optus into the communications market. They made some very anal-retentive moves in the telecommunications market by trying to dictate policy in one of the most vibrant and volatile industries ever seen in this century. The diversity and dynamism of the telecommunications market come from the fact that it is market driven; it is consumer driven. Governments trying to dictate in this area leads to the complete stuff-up that we now have with the closure of the analog system for mobile phones.

Let's face it, with that decision and the entrance of Vodafone and Optus into the market, Telstra was no longer a monopoly. New entrants are coming into Australia daily: AT&T, AAPT, Primus, Northgate, World Exchange in my own electorate of Lindsay, Hutchison, Global Mobility, Cable and Wireless, Catapult, Qualcom—in fact there are already numerous other merchants seeking more spectrum for further mobile phone services. Iridium will be offering satellite telephony services for around $4 a minute from a $5,000 handset from September this year. For those of you who can recall when the old mobile phones looked like house bricks and cost about $4,000, we know where that technology will take us over the next five years. We are talking about a satellite phone system for anywhere in the world. You will be able to ring around on a set call with one billing system.

Optus is also looking at satellite services for phones, digital voice and fax and data. Their Mobilesat S3000 is set to come on line as well. So we are seeing a great splurge in satellite technology. Come on Telstra! Get with it! Wake up and see where the industry is going! If you want to stay with the telecommunications industry, then get capitalised and invest in what is coming up around the corner.

I was talking to some Telstra representatives the other day, and they were not particularly enamoured of the D-amp system in the United States. They certainly had absolutely no interest in ADSL technology, and I really doubt whether they had ever heard of satellite telephony services, let alone the types of communications that are looking at data transfers of eight megabytes per second. That is where the future is. That is why Telstra has to be privatised. That is why Telstra has to have access to private capital so that it can actually start investing very heavily in the technology of the future. This is where it is all going; it is where it is all happening. The opposition are coming up with their obligatory opposition and saying, `Fiscal this and fiscal that and da, da, da and a great public asset.'

What on earth is government doing funding and capitalising a GBE to compete with the other enterprises in a private market? Why are we doing that? Telstra is not a monopoly, and we should not be investing huge sums of money in it so it can compete with VSAT technology from Israel's Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. It is very interesting what they are currently doing with lotto services and with service stations, with the stock exchange in India and with pipeline monitoring. They are now moving into considering long distance learning and multimedia. That is where the future of this communications technology is going. Our laptop computers are turning into TVs. Our TVs are turning into computers.

It is all about bandwidth. The technology companies everywhere are looking at upgrading their current infrastructure to bring a higher bandwidth into subscribers' homes, and Telstra has to do that. Their ISDN lines, their optic fibres and the cable roll-out, sure, do not go to rural areas, but, let us face it, that is only 128 kilobytes per second. That is probably giving you average video quality technology. They should really be looking to ASDL technology, which is looking at eight megabytes per second, which can be transmitted using a modem on Telstra's existing copper lines within a range of 10 kilometres of a local exchange, which covers most rural towns. Raising the enormous resources re quired to chase that technology is the challenge.

We do not want to be left floundering in the 1990s because government wants to control Telstra, wants to dictate what Telstra can invest in, wants to dictate what competitors it lets into the market, and wants to dictate what the consumer can have access to. We are not about that. This technology, this marketplace, is driven by the consumer, and it must remain so to get the enormous leaps in technology that we have experienced in the last 10 years. It is not all about government controlling Telstra because we have to make a profit; it is all about setting Telstra free to compete in a very dynamic, profitable and visionary marketplace.

A standard 28.8 kilobytes per second modem is a pretty average modem today and, attached to an ordinary home computer, would take half an hour to download 20 seconds of fully compressed video clip. It would take probably half an hour again to download 45 seconds of audio, which in future we are looking to be downloaded via telephonic services. It would take half an hour to download five megabytes of software. The asymmetrical digital subscriber line technology, ADSL, which is available in the world today, means that eight megabytes per second can be downloaded, leaving still one megabyte available for ordinary telephone usage. That means the film Titanic, a three-hour video, can be downloaded in three minutes. Video on demand is here to stay.

That is what the consumer wants. Telstra needs to invest in the technology to compete in tomorrow's communications world. Telstra must borrow money on the commercial market to upgrade, not keep on looking to government to fund and dictate the new direction of expensive technology that consumers demand. It is a very dynamic marketplace, and we should set Telstra free.

Why would government, with a $10 billion debt from the 1995-96 budget, be propping up a GBE to compete in this private market? The VSAT technology is set to bring interactive multimedia to the masses. It bypasses the enormous cost of terrestrial infrastructures to which Telstra is irrevocably tied at the mo ment. There are other dynamic changes in this area, such as interconnectivity between subscribers and number portability. You can truly compete in this market. Other providers of technology satellite services, optic fibre cables and the ADSL technology are all able to compete via different pathways for the same subscriber, and then it is up to the consumers as to which one they find suits them best. The ACCC will always be overseeing this.

The opponents of this legislation also oppose the $250 million regional telecommunications infrastructure fund. They oppose that fund. They oppose that investment in new technology. They are opposed to that future in services to regional Australia.

Some 60 per cent of kids in year 3 today will have careers in job streams not yet identified. They are going to have jobs that we have not even described yet. Yet the opposition is on about preserving jobs within Telstra. If we let this dynamic marketplace go, the number of jobs created with this technology, including video graphics and a large number of other areas that come with it, will be enormous. We have seen that with the privatisation of a number of United States and UK based telecommunications companies. The jobs that were lost through efficiency gains with the privatisation were more than compensated for by the jobs that new industries created in that market.

We are still dictating that Telstra and all communications providers in this area should provide various guarantees to rural and metropolitan subscribers. We are looking at the customer service guarantee, the universal guarantee and also at our 17,000 most remote rural users. We are looking at a rebate of $160 a year because they do not have access to untimed telephone calls. Obviously, because of distance, any call that they make is automatically going to be STD.

I would suggest that, in the near future, in the next five to 10 years, we will be looking at calls right across Australia at any time of the day or night via satellite for something like 35c a minute. I do not think you can get a better service to the rural communities of Australia than that. That will happen in a free market. That will happen with the sort of technology that is available today.

Mr Kerr —Would you like to stake your parliamentary salary on that?

Miss JACKIE KELLY —I would. I have absolute faith in the technology of today. It is really something that is dynamic. The opposition does not understand. They do not even grasp where it is going. I bet the member opposite who made that comment would not even know what ADSL technology meant. He probably has never seen the modems that drive it. I have held in my hot little hand a satellite phone that is available through your car kits. I have held in the palm of my hand a telephone I can place into the PMC1A card of my computer and turn it into a voice service as a telephone with aerial attached. The technology that is available is quite dynamic.

Telstra is not even looking at this area. It needs to be driven to do so by a very competitive private market. The sale of Telstra is absolutely urgent, because time is running out for it to get with it. It will ultimately bring a better service to Australians, especially those in rural areas. We need to bear in mind that this government has legislated for substantial fines if those tasks are not met, but I do not imagine that those fines would ever be imposed because the consumer dictates this technology. It is absolutely wrong for government to even try to tell this sort of industry where it should be heading into the 21st century. I commend the bill to the House.