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Wednesday, 17 August 2005
Page: 80

Senator McGAURAN (3:17 PM) —Mr Deputy President, if you ever doubted that the Labor Party have utterly marginalised themselves in this debate then you only had to listen to the two previous speakers who carried the debate in this chamber. Frequently they are the two, the tag team, who stand up to debate the Telstra issue. They could not have been more marginalised in their presentations today, after the announcement today by the Prime Minister and the minister for communications—in fact the whole government—in relation to the future proofing plan of Telstra, an announcement worth some $3.1 billion. All we hear from Labor is that same old bogey—‘don’t sell Telstra’. They lay their whole case on the basis of antiprivatisation. First of all, no-one believes them because of their record in government, no less than the outrageous and dishonest sale of the Commonwealth Bank. More than that, they utterly underestimate the constituency, particularly in rural and regional areas. The constituency in those areas is not against the privatisation of Telstra at all.

Senator Lundy —I raise a point of order. Mr Deputy President, I believe that Senator McGauran specifically misled the Senate on that point.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator McGAURAN —Although Senator Lundy has gone into shock over that statement, let me repeat it. She underestimates the constituency, in particular, of the rural and regional areas that are not against it in the main. If you look hard enough you will find some against—

Senator Lundy —I raise a point of order. Mr Deputy President, I believe Senator McGauran is misleading this chamber.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator McGAURAN —She is reeling in shock. The point is that rural and regional people are quite pragmatic about the ownership of Telstra. They know it is not who owns Telstra, government or private, it is whether the services can and will be delivered and are up to scratch. That has been our position all along. If you think that they are hooked on some ideological bent in regard to the sale of Telstra then you are out of touch—and, of course, you are. Last week Labor brought in a matter of public importance quoting some pretty dodgy polls from the Canberra Times and elsewhere in regard to the populism position they are taking: that rural and regional areas are against the privatisation of Telstra. Let me remind the other side, for the umpteenth time in this debate, that we have gone to the election on four occasions with this policy and we, as a coalition, hold more rural and regional seats than you. That is the ultimate poll, and that is the ultimate piece of evidence that you need. Every time you try and trump this up as an issue in this chamber, let alone out in the electorate or at election time, you fall flat. Today you have fallen completely flat. Talk about flogging a dead horse. Senator Ronaldson, you will probably get your turn tomorrow because last week and this week is the only chance they have to run on it. We will start a tag team match ourselves against Lundy and Conroy. Ronaldson and I will get up and we will debate—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator McGauran, please refer to Senators by their correct titles. I have pulled up a couple of people on both sides for this today.

Senator McGAURAN —He was formerly Mr Ronaldson, now Senator Ronaldson. The government have had three planks on this matter. First of all, we have sought to encourage competition. Second, we have sought to bring regulation to the industry across the board—such as a customer service guarantee. Third, where the market fails the government will inject funds, in particular in rural and regional areas, to fill that market failure and to bring the infrastructure and services up to a parity. The coalition believes that the sale of Telstra has always been in the public interest, let alone in the interests of the 1.7 million existing shareholders.

The five minutes given for this are not enough for our case to be put, but I recommend that the opposition go to today’s press release from the Prime Minister and the minister for communications to read about the $3.1 billion to be injected into rural and regional areas particularly, and to understand that this is a major policy which will be supported by the rural and regional areas, despite your anger and feigned objection.