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Wednesday, 22 August 2001
Page: 26352

Senator TIERNEY (3:07 PM) —I have a feeling of deja vu in this debate because I was here yesterday when Senator Carr was making a statement relating to higher education. For Senator Carr, the history of higher education seemed to start in 1996; nothing occurred before that. Yesterday I rolled out what the problems were in higher education, created by the Dawkins reform of 1987. In a similar fashion, today I want to roll out what happened under the communications policy of the ALP from 1991 to 1996. The great tragedy for Australia was that we were on the edge of the information revolution in this country and who was holding the levers at that time but the Labor government under Paul Keating. And who was his minister? Michael Lee, whom I used to call at the time the Rip Van Winkle of communications policy because he was asleep at the wheel when the most vital decisions in communications policy were being made.

The way that `rational' decision making was made under the last Labor government was basically through caucus backroom deals by Keating, wanting to get his way on satellites or whatever else. There was no logic, there was no structure to the whole thing. And when we were on the cusp of the information age, we had the battle between Keating and Hawke for the leadership. This was a time when there was a rapid movement of ministers in and out of the field of communications. At that time, we had six ministers for communications in 18 months under the Labor government. Under this government, we have had Senator Richard Alston for 5½ years. We have had stability in policy making and a consistent direction as we moved towards a deregulated approach in the communications industry. There was nothing like that under Labor: it was just chaos. At that time, a whole range of decisions was made which could have totally nobbled the roll-out of communications and the information age in this country. It is a miracle that we have done so well, given the poor start in laying down the basic policy in communications that occurred under the previous Labor government.

I would like to go into a few very short examples. One classic related to the A and B licences for pay TV, the satellite bidding process. You might remember that at the time we had Senator Collins, who signed a document that he had not read. There was a major Senate inquiry into the situation where a group, through a collapsing bid process, got control of licences at a very low price. We had a major hearing into that.

At the same time, one of the central issues in communications policy was the ABC. There was a major hearing into the maladministration of the ABC by the Labor government. Senator Carr was on that inquiry—indeed, he was the first speaker. He was so interested in the inquiry that he and his mate Senator Forshaw spent half the time talking through the inquiry. He made some rather unfortunate allegations about some things that Senator Alston had done— allegations that were completely incorrect and were proved incorrect by a witness. Senator Carr was taken to court by Senator Alston and had to pay up for saying some rather foolish things outside the parliament.

So what we had was a rather chaotic picture of communications policy under the last Labor government. It is to the great credit of the Australian communications industry that they did so well, given the poor start under the Labor government. It is total and rank hypocrisy for Senator Carr to get up here today and criticise our minister, who has done such a great job in communications policy over the last six years.