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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7093


Ms KERNOT (6:22 PM) —I wanted to return to the appropriations debate on the sale of Telstra and the way in which the government's restoration of services and delivery of some new telecommunications services have been totally dependent on the sale of Telstra. The minister made much in previous comments of the integrity of this current government. He talked about the openness and the transparency of the sale of Telstra policy. As I recall it—and I took a very keen interest in this debate—in 1996 and in 1998 the Sydney Morning Herald conducted ongoing polls into public opinion on the sale of Telstra. As I recall it, 60 per cent of those polled consistently said that they did not believe Telstra should be privatised, and within that 60 per cent a very high proportion of country Australians felt that very passionately.

That was the case in 1996 and it was again the case in 1998. Yet with a victory of a mere 3,500 votes out of 12 million votes cast, this government arrogantly goes ahead and claims a mandate for the total sale of Telstra, having managed to placate a few National Party members along the way with the temporary ruse of saying, `We will only go to 49 per cent at this stage, and we will have this wonderful independent inquiry.'

I do not think it is fair or honest of this government to talk about integrity, about being open and honest, and then say, `We can ignore what people say about what they really think about our policy.' Australians do not want Telstra sold. They are lamenting the fact that 16 per cent has now been sold to take it to 49 per cent, which sounds a bit of a death knell for the rest of Telstra.

On the matter of being open and transparent, I wonder if the minister would apply that description to the government's support for—or lack of support for, or lack of clarification of—its own code of conduct, a code of conduct which does not seem to have any circumstances which fit it. I wonder if the government now applies the description of `open and transparent' to its own Charter of Budget Honesty whereby it now fails to include forward projections. The government is not as full of integrity in action as it has been in rhetoric because the actions show that when the pressure is on the openness and the transparency are usually sacrificed in the name of expediency.

Apart from challenging the notion of integrity, I think that it becomes clear that when the government says, `We are going to sell Telstra, no matter what you all think,' you are entitled to ask, `What will the government do with the proceeds?' So I want to look very briefly at what was happening with the Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, because I think it is really important to point out that even after the first third of Telstra was privatised there were reports about the decline in service levels in rural and regional Australia. Now we are supposed to feel entirely comfortable that this decline will be arrested because we have sold 16 per cent more!

We have also been told that we are putting in place some other infrastructure. While I have said that we certainly look with interest at the kinds of projects—many of which are pilots and trials—which have been funded through this infrastructure fund, the reality is that most of them are temporary projects and most of them have limited one-off funds. So the replacement of infrastructure—which the minister is claiming—is in fact a very temporary thing. It is undermined by the loss of income stream which comes from the sale of the rest of Telstra.

The really important point about governments having choices about what to do with the proceeds of privatisation is this: from the sale of the first one-third of Telstra, bankers and brokers received over $260 million in fees. That is more than the $250 million which the government initially allocated to the Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund. What a contrast! What a way of showing the government's choices in this matter! (Time expired)

Sitting suspended from 6.28 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.