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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 1877

Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (10:25 AM) —Regional Australia has some real concerns about what is before us in this latest bill. At the start, there was the promise of sunny uplands for regional Australia and of a pricing mechanism that would be favourable to regional Australia. We have the distinct feeling at the moment that that is not going to be the case. That is a feeling that is held by other people around here, including Mr Windsor, who has been hovering around this chamber like a moth around a light, having further discussions with Senator Conroy. The reason we have this distinct feeling is that last night we asked what the debt was of this organisation. We did not get the answer. It was $27 billion, and then they went out and borrowed another $10 billion. That money has to be financed. The debt of our nation at the moment is $184.6 billion. Obviously, the boffins have come back and said, ‘You must pay this debt; you must finance this debt; you must get a return on your capital.’ And that requirement to get a return on your capital means that you have to start making changes in what is offered to regional Australia.

Regional Australia never asked you to go off your head and borrow the amount of money that you are about to borrow. What you are going to do is put regional Australia in a worse position than the one they were in when they had to deal with a monopoly. This is the position that we have come to at the 11th hour. The Australian people are awake to it. They are awake to the fact that we are about to launch a monopoly that has the capacity to charge regional Australia and others the money required to pay back the money that you are borrowing from overseas to stick on top of all of the other debt that you have us swimming in.

We will be listening very closely to you, Minister, to hear how you are going to look after regional Australia. I distinctly remember the Independents saying that this was the reason that you became the government. And the fruits of their labour may be but ashes in their mouths if what is actually delivered to regional Australia at the end of the day is not a better deal but a massive debt and a desired return on that debt that puts regional Australia in a position such that they are worse off than they are at the moment. We will be listening to you and looking at your amendments very closely. Because if you do not deliver on what you have promised about looking after regional Australia then I imagine that the Independents would be honour bound to make sure that this does not go through.