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Thursday, 24 June 1999
Page: 7412


Mr NEVILLE (11:19 AM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to talk in detail on the further sale of Telstra. I for one do not accept the mantle of deceit. I have never deceived the people of my electorate on where I stand on the 49 per cent issue and, indeed, nor have my colleagues. If we are in the business of deceit and we are in the business of the sale of public assets, I would like to know why the Labor Party told the Australian public that you were not going to sell the Commonwealth Bank, and then you did; that you would never sell the second half, and you did; and that you would never sell Qantas, and you did. The Leader of the Opposition argues the case that this is a commonsense policy that you have adopted. Suddenly, you have changed from being the great privateers to becoming people defending public ownership.

I suppose there would be a lot of people in regional and rural Australia who thought there was some merit in retaining the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories had a very proud record of providing pharmaceuticals to the bush. We might have thought that was sensible.

I take some pride in this because the sale of this 16 per cent of Telstra will deliver something that I was personally involved in. I was one of the two authors of the Bundaberg resolution, which is often quoted in the media. It was a package of those things that had been neglected by the Labor Party for half a generation when they were in office. In this Bundaberg resolution, we benchmarked, if you like, seven things that the bush wanted, including reliable mobile telephony and the removal of black spots in terrestrial television reception—things that in 13 years the Labor Party had done nothing about.

The Labor Party saddled us with a digital system that was arguably going to miss 40 per cent of regional and rural Australia. Talking television, in my own electorate of Hinkler, between Bundaberg and Gladstone—two quite large provincial cities quite close to the coast—there are 3,000 to 5,000 people without adequate television. For 13 years, the current opposition did nothing about it. Now under the $120 million program that the government has undertaken to provide, not only will some of those black spots be filled but SBS will be extended to those areas. In Labor's day, SBS had to be delivered to the capital cities—it was absolutely essential; but when it came to giving it to regional and rural Australia, we confronted a torturous position that was dragged out over months and months, and many of those communities have been without SBS for many years. That is also part of that $120 million package.

I take offence to the provision of $1 billion for regional and rural Australia to give them the same entitlement to telecommunications, broadcast communications and mobile telephony that the rest of Australia takes for granted. How dare the Leader of the Opposition come into this House and say that the provision of these basic links of the community to people are pork-barrelling. It is evidence of 13 years of virulent neglect. To my way of thinking, for the government to provide $1 billion of the likely $16 billion to $18 billion of this 16.6 per cent sale of Telstra is commendable justice. The Leader of the Opposition should hang his head in shame. He has no answer. He himself had no policy initiatives. When someone sets out to fix it, all he can call it is pork-barrelling. It is pathetic.