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Monday, 31 October 2005
Page: 78

Ms HALL (5:16 PM) —It is with a heavy heart that I stand to make this speech before the parliament, because in recent times I have become more and more concerned about the arrogance of the Howard government, and, of course, that will have enormous implications for the people of Australia. After the 2004 election, when the Howard government gained control of the Senate, the Prime Minister assured the Australian people that his government would not become arrogant and would not take the Australian people for granted. But every action and indication for the future make these words of the Prime Minister pure fiction. He and his government are pursuing an extreme ideological agenda and forcing this agenda on the Australian people without providing unbiased information or allowing proper debate. An excellent example of this is the Howard government’s arrogance in blatantly spending $40 million of Australian taxpayers’ money on advertising its draconian industrial relations changes instead of providing unbiased information that gives the argument for and against these changes so that all Australians can make informed decisions as to whether or not these changes will benefit them and the nation as a whole.

This week two important and nation-changing pieces of legislation are listed for debate: the government’s terrorism legislation and the industrial relations legislation. My fear is that these important pieces of legislation will be introduced, debated and passed within the same week or, possibly, the same day. If they follow the government’s arrogant handling of the Telstra privatisation legislation, that is exactly what will happen. The Howard government’s action in gagging the debate on the full sale of Telstra was reprehensible. I suppose you could say that I have a vested interest in this, because I was due to speak just as the government decided to gag the debate. I was extremely upset about the arrogant gagging of this debate and about being prevented from speaking, because the people of Shortland electorate had told me very clearly what they thought about the full sale of Telstra, and I am going to take this opportunity to share that with the House today. They told me that they are very worried that, when Telstra is fully privatised, prices will increase and the poor service that already exists in Shortland electorate will get worse—that Telstra will be driven by profit, not by providing services.

Within the electorate of Shortland, Telstra services are by no means up to standard. I have to say that Telstra Country Wide within my region are always willing to try to help, but sometimes you cannot solve insolvable problems. The office is constantly contacted by people with regard to mobile phone coverage and problems of not being able to access broadband. For instance, when the bush fire brigade situated at Gwandalan have to respond to fire alerts, the only place where they can access mobile phone coverage is by standing on top of the fire engine; when they stand on top of their fire engine they can pick up a signal. To me, that compromises the safety of the area and shows that the services are not up to scratch. Shortland electorate is not in a remote or provincial area; rather, it is considered by this government to be in the outer metropolitan area. But I can say to the members of this House that I cannot travel from one end of my electorate to the other without my mobile phone coverage falling out on at least six occasions.

This government has promised nothing to help the people of Shortland electorate. It is not going to do anything to improve their telephone service. It really upsets me that the part of the electorate with which I have the most trouble with mobile phone coverage, the part of the electorate from which I receive the most complaints, is the Central Coast. It is very interesting that the member for Dobell, whose electorate adjoins mine on the Central Coast, said in a speech to parliament that the residents of his electorate wanted cheaper prices and better telecommunications services and that is why Telstra should be sold. But I have news for the member for Dobell: that is not what they will get; they will get poorer services and higher prices, and that can be supported by international experience.

The member for Dobell also said that the sale is in the best long-term interests of the people of Australia even though, as a private company, Telstra will not have any requirements to maintain service to rural and regional areas. Just because the Howard government has suggested that it will give money to rural areas, that is not going to guarantee that this service will be equal to or as cheap as the service in major cities. I find that very concerning, and so do the people that I represent in this parliament. I say to members on the other side of this House that, if they listened to the people that they represent, they would know that these people are very concerned about this sale.

It seems strange to me that the government would push through the full sale of Telstra without proper debate. There were a number of members in this House who wished to speak on this piece of legislation. When 70 per cent of Australians were opposed to the full sale of Telstra, the government gagged debate. Under this government, the cost of line rentals has increased, average prices paid by residential and small business customers have increased and Australian telecommunications prices are the fifth highest in the world.

There is one issue that I would like to put on the table during this debate, and that is the issue raised by Mr Norm Harland of Harrison Street, Belmont North relating to the problem that people in the Shortland electorate are having in accessing the Telstra broadband service. This issue will show how poor the service is and how ludicrous the current situation is. In the street that Mr Harland lives in, Harrison Street, the residents at Nos 59 to 71 cannot receive broadband but those at Nos 55 to 73 can. Telstra has been approached, and I received a letter from Telstra saying that their investigations had revealed that the service is not currently connected to BigPond and that if Mr Harland had a BigPond connection then maybe things would improve. Telstra also said that they understand that there are some questions as to why some residents can access ADSL and others cannot. The letter says:

Telstra has a legislated responsibility ...

It then says:

We regret that ADSL is not available to some residents at this time. Telstra is well aware of the demand for ADSL in the area and has been working with the community towards providing a solution.

The letter suggests:

Customers who are experiencing technical difficulties need to raise these issues with their current service provider ...

That is exactly what Mr Harland did. Upon receipt of the letter, he contacted Optus, his service provider, and spoke to Optus Sales about getting ADSL on his home phone. Optus checked on the LOLO database for his home phone number, and it revealed that the transmission losses were too high and that DSL was not supported at any speed available. Mr Harland checked further, but was told that for legal reasons they were unable to provide a letter stating this. So on the one hand Telstra is saying that the information is there, and on the other hand Mr Harland is unable to get it. All the checking showed that, no matter what Mr Harland did, he was not going to be able to access the broadband service. To me, this is very poor service. People have been treated arrogantly, and there is absolutely no promise by the government that they are going to help people in the Shortland electorate. All I can see for the people that I represent in this parliament are poorer services and higher prices.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight my concerns about the full sale of Telstra. To me, this is the model for the way the government is going to handle legislation within this parliament. It has no respect whatsoever for the Australian people, and it is arrogantly and blatantly ignoring their wishes and pushing through legislation without proper debate, without proper consultation and without properly informing the Australian people about their legislation and agenda. (Time expired)