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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 6989

Mr NEHL —My question is addressed to the Minister for the Arts and the Centenary of Federation. Can the minister inform the House how the further sale of Telstra will help all Australians benefit from new information technology? How will it help small business to get involved in the information technology revolution?

Mr McGAURAN (Arts and the Centenary of Federation) —I thank the honourable member for Cowper for his interest in this matter. It has always been an article of faith for the member—indeed, for all of us on this side of the House—that all Australians, wherever they choose to live, should have access to the Internet at the cost of a local call. Now it is being delivered. The $36 million allowed for from the social bonus fund from the further privatisation of Telstra will mean that all Australians in regional areas will not have to pay STD rates to access the information superhighway. They are going to have the same access to the Internet as those who live in metropolitan areas. At the same time, Australians in rural and regional areas will benefit from the $45 million local government fund which will allow those local governments to provide public Internet access for their communities.

Small business in the information technology sector will also benefit, for we are assigning $158 million to assist the growth of the information technology sector through the Building IT Strengths program. The economic benefits to small business from further assistance and access to the information technology sector are only too obvious. If they are going to go into the next century as players in the information revolution we have to have firms that are so developed that they can grasp the opportunities. We do that by assigning $78 million to establish centres, in every state and territory, where small businesses can lease premises, share resources and get assistance to improve their business and planning skills, their technical skills and their networks, to make them more competitive—especially internationally competitive. Businesses at the leading edge of technology—those working on the next generation of IT services—are going to be able to test their work at sites across Australia. An amount of $40 million is going to set up these sites across the length and breadth of the nation. This is going to enhance small business's capacity to develop new designs and products for the next generation of IT services.

As the member for Cowper would appreciate, these industries are supporting these innovative proposals. In a statement released yesterday, 21 June, by the Australian Telecommunications Industry Association, its chairman said:

It will mean that Australia's small and medium information IT&T firms and entrepreneurs will be provided with assistance to create new business and employment opportunities thereby encouraging international competitiveness and overseas investment.

At the same time, the Australian Information Industry Association issued a statement welcoming the government's new initiatives. It said:

To encourage the growth of e-commerce in Australia it is important that all Australians have online access to these services, especially those in rural and remote areas. Therefore, the Association welcomes the Government's initiatives to promote online facilities and points of access.

Who would oppose these breakthrough, innovative and long-lasting initiatives by the government? Only the members on the other side of the House.