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- Start of Business
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- INTERSTATE ROAD TRANSPORT CHARGE AMENDMENT BILL 1998
- INTERSTATE ROAD TRANSPORT AMENDMENT BILL 1998
- CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1) 1998
- VETERANS' AFFAIRS AMENDMENT (MALE TOTAL AVERAGE WEEKLY EARNINGS BENCHMARK) BILL 1997
- TAXATION LAWS AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 4) 1998
TAXATION LAWS AMENDMENT BILL (No. 7) 1997
- Second Reading
- Consideration in Detail
- CHAMBER PROCEEDINGS: PHOTOGRAPHS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Smith, Warwick, MP)
(Bartlett, Kerry, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Lee, Michael, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Draper, Trish, MP, Smith, Warwick, MP)
(Lee, Michael, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Nelson, Dr Brendan, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
- Aged Care
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Billson, Bruce, MP, Ruddock, Philip, MP)
(Lee, Michael, MP, Evans, Richard, MP)
(Lee, Michael, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
(Kelly, Jackie, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Hindmarsh Island Bridge Case
(Gallus, Christine, MP, Howard, John, MP)
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION AND HONOURABLE MEMBER FOR BANKS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- SPECIAL ADJOURNMENT
- ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER HERITAGE PROTECTION BILL 1998
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- ASSENT TO BILLS
- TELSTRA (TRANSITION TO FULL PRIVATE OWNERSHIP) BILL 1998
- National Student Leadership Forum on Faith and Values
- Aged Care
- Industrial Awards
- Grafton Meatworks
- Economic Rationalism
- Aged Care
Hindmarsh Island Bridge
National Student Leadership Forum on Faith and Values
- Start of Business
- STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS
- CHILD SUPPORT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1998
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Child-care Centre: Joint Venture
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Smith, Warwick, MP)
Department of Defence: Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Grants
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, McLachlan, Ian, MP)
Department of Veterans' Affairs: Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Grants
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
Cartage and Transport Contracts
(Tanner, Lindsay, MP, McLachlan, Ian, MP)
Department of Veterans' Affairs: North Queensland Office
(Ferguson, Laurie, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
ANZAC Ships Project
(Morris, Allan, MP, McLachlan, Ian, MP)
- Child-care Centre: Joint Venture
Thursday, 2 April 1998
Mr ANTHONY (4:44 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on the Telstra (Transition to Full Private Ownership) Bill 1998 . This is a very important bill and I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on it. There are three issues I would like to address. Firstly, I want to highlight the considerable benefits to the nation, and particularly to the people of the far north coast of New South Wales, which will derive benefit from further privatisation of Telstra. Secondly, I must respond to some of the outrageous claims made by the Labor Party in this debate. If these claims go unanswered, there is a chance that someone outside the ALP may believe them. Finally, and most importantly, I would like to discuss what privatisation means for rural and regional Australia generally and, in particular, for the electorate of Richmond which I represent.
The first point is the benefits of privatisation. The partial privatisation was extremely popular, with the float significantly oversubscribed. The benefits went well beyond allowing ordinary Australians the opportunity to share in our largest company. In particular, over $1 billion was poured into the Natural Heritage Trust—Australia's largest ever environment package. This has been a huge benefit to rural and regional Australia. Community groups and local councils in Richmond put in excellent bids for the Natural Heritage Trust grants, and were rewarded accordingly. Natural Heritage Trust funding has flowed into projects all over the electorate of Richmond, in particular in the Byron area and the Tweed Valley, but also in Lennox Head and Wollongbar.
The Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund has also been a major beneficiary. With the partial privatisation, $250 million has been earmarked for Networking the Nation. An early beneficiary in Richmond was the Regional Internet Marketing Cooperative, which aims to market our primary produce directly to our overseas customers through a new Internet service.
The independent Networking the Nation Board has just announced another 49 projects which are receiving Networking the Nation funding totalling $21 million. In particular, over a quarter of a million dollars has been allocated to two North Coast projects. The Northern Rivers Social Development Council will get $105,000 for its community service and access project, which covers areas from the Tweed down to Ulmarra. This project will allow the disadvantaged to get online and discover the Internet.
Likewise, Norlink has been allocated $150,000 for its networking the northern rivers project, which also runs from Tweed down to Ulmarra. This ambitious project aims to develop an integrated regional telecommunications strategy for the northern rivers region. So $49 million has now been approved by Networking the Nation. This obviously means that there is another $200 million remaining over a five-year period, and I would certainly like to encourage communities in my electorate of Richmond to continue applying for funding.
The remainder of the funds raised by the first sale are being used to repay the national debt—$90 billion worth of debt, including the disgraceful $10.5 billion in the last 12 months which was accumulated by the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Brand (Mr Beazley) in his last stand. Paying off government debt benefits all Australians, whether they choose to participate in the float or not. The $8 billion we spend each year servicing Labor's debt could instead be put to the benefit of the nation.
The full privatisation of Telstra will allow us to move more than half the debt levels of two years ago and still leave over some money for a new fund, which the Prime Minister has called a social bonus. It is my view that this bonus should primarily be directed towards looking after older Australians and those who care for them. May I remind the House that when the ALP was in government, it ran down capital stock in nursing homes by 75 per cent in its last three years in government. In contrast, this government yesterday announced a package of over $270 million called Staying at Home—Care and Support for Older Australians.
Telstra needs to raise money to expand and to compete with private sector phone companies like Optus, AAPT, Primus, Northgate and others. That is why taxpayers should not have to bear the burden or risk any of this extra debt in its further capitalisation.
Let us look at why Labor cannot support privatisation. There are seven reasons why Labor opposes this bill, and all of them, quite frankly, are bogus. The Leader of the Opposition wants to privatise Telstra. He has said as much. `You could privatise Telecom if you put your mind to it,' he said on Meet the Press on 5 June 1994 when he was Treasurer. Kim did not put his mind to it, for the seven reasons I will reveal. Four of these reasons are public—what they are telling their electorates—and three are reasons which they keep private.
What are the ALP's overt reasons for opposing privatisation of Telstra? Let me go through them. The first public reason is that we should not sell Telstra because it is a monopoly. What a load of rubbish. It was the current Leader of the Opposition as Minister for Bankruptcy—Minister for Finance, I beg your pardon—who brought competition into the telecommunications industry with Optus and Vodafone. This government enhanced the competition with the introduction of new players last year. The results have been spectacular, with international calls falling by up to 75 per cent, and domestic STD calls falling by almost a commensurate amount.
The second argument is that the government will lose money on the deal. This is ridiculous. The Labor Party line is that it is in Australia's financial interest to sell Telstra and that we should not forgo the annual dividends from the company. I can understand its thinking because, when Labor embarked on its selling spree in its last eight years of government, it paid all the money from privatisation into day-to-day spending.
I remind the House that it was not just the Commonwealth Bank that the member for Brand promised employees he would never sell. It was also the following: the Commonwealth accommodation and catering services, the Defence Service House Corporation loan portfolio; ANDEL; the Australian Defence Force home loan franchise; the Commonwealth housing loan assistance schemes in the ACT; Australian Airlines—to Qantas; the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation; the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories; the Moomba to Sydney pipeline; the uranium stockpile; Qantas; and Aerospace Technologies of Australia. The list went on and on.
In contrast, we do not use the proceeds of privatisation to fund recurrent expenditure. In fact, most of the proceeds from the first part of the Telstra privatisation went to paying back the family farm; paying back Labor's debt which alone was costing us $8 billion a year in interest payments. Part 2 of the Telstra sale will allow us to pay off over 40 per cent of the Beazley debt, giving us an immediate massive saving on interest payments. We will be able to reduce ongoing interest payments on the government debt by more than the government receives in the dividends from Telstra—around $1.5 billion according to Access Economics.
Another argument of Labor's is that the bush would suffer. Labor's argument against full privatisation of Telstra is that Telstra would not look after regional Australia in private hands. I am one of 40 coalition members who represent a rural seat. Labor holds three. The ALP has never really cared about regional Australia and it is not going to start today. In many ways, this is a shameless scare campaign by a cynical and desperate opposition. Rural and regional Australia suffered from 13 years of neglect by Labor, particularly in the area of telecommunications. While the coalition government has addressed many of these problems, my constituents naturally still have some concerns which I will address shortly.
Another public argument is that it will all be gobbled up by foreign interests—foreign shareholders. This is both hypocritical and untrue. In Labor's 13 miserable years, net foreign debt rose from $24 billion to $87 billion, a threefold increase. In that 13-year period, foreign interests took over a plethora of Australian icons including: Tooheys, Castlemaine, Swan, King Gee, Brashs, Arnotts, National Mutual, BTR Nylex and Peters ice cream—just to name a few.
In the same period, foreign investors also gained large chunks of Qantas, Fairfax and the Ten Network, just to name a few. Speaking of foreign interests, under Labor's plan there would be two publicly owned telecommunications companies in the world which would remain in public hands—they would be, in the People's Republic of Korea, Telecom under President Kim Il Sung, and Australia's Telstra under perhaps Prime Minister Kim Beazley.
As the ALP well knows, there are stringent restrictions on the ownership of Telstra. By law, Telstra will be at least 65 per cent Australian owned. The chairman of the board will have to be an Australian citizen, as will most of the directors. Telstra's headquarters will have to remain in Australia. Telstra will be exempt from restrictions emerging from the Multilateral Agreement on Investment—that is, if we choose to sign it; and many people have reservations. Telstra will remain Australian. Labor knows that and it hates us to say that.
Let us look at some of the opposition's covert reasons for opposing privatisation. I know the member for Watson (Mr Leo McLeay) will listen to this carefully. The first of these covert reasons is that it was not their idea; the coalition thought about it first. Mr Deputy Speaker, do you remember the ALP talkfest in Tasmania only a few months ago? Then again, maybe you do not. Most Australians do not because it was a while ago. Let me remind you. Two things happened: firstly, Labor's lady-in-waiting, perhaps now Cheryl `Scarlet' Kernot—
Mr Leo McLeay —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I have been intrigued by the member's speech. He has swayed off and on, has not said much about the sale of Telstra, which is what this bill before us is—the Telstra (Transition to Full Private Ownership) Bill 1998 —
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Forrest) —What is your point of order?
Mr Leo McLeay —My point of order is: while many of the things he said had nothing do to with the bill, what he is saying now has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the bill. I draw your attention to that and ask you to bring him back to the matter before the House.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —It is not a valid point of order. I am satisfied the member for Richmond is within the context of the legislation.
Mr ANTHONY —Secondly, Labor briefly decided to advocate selling 16.5 per cent of Telstra. At that conference Cheryl did apologise and in many ways the unions ordered Kim to do a backflip and that was the end of their proposition of selling Telstra. One must wonder about the member for Holt (Mr Gareth Evans), about relevance deprivation syndrome. In other words, they see their duty as opposing anything the government does, good or bad, rather than presenting themselves as a government in waiting.
Another argument is that perhaps it is too popular to sell Telstra. That is the second covert reason. Privatisation mark 2 will probably be just as popular as, if not more popular than, privatisation mark 1. The opposition cannot have been too happy when they read in the Australian Stock Exchange share ownership survey released on 2 March 1998 that the total share ownership now stands at 40.4 per cent of the Australian adult population. I might add that there is very little variation between metropolitan and regional areas—metropolitan 41.1 per cent, versus 39.4 per cent in regional Australia. Actually around 1.1 million Australians have now entered the share market for the first time in the last nine months.
It does get worse for Labor—96.2 per cent of the people who purchased Telstra shares have kept their holdings intact. They have not sold any Telstra because they believe in this company, our company. Labor realise they won't get any of the credit because they were opposed to the initiative every step of the way. Labor ran an ambush privatisation campaign. Who were all the beneficiaries? I mentioned all those icons that were sold off. In many ways they were the previous government's mates and the big end of town. By contrast, it is the mums and dads who benefit from the coalition's privatisation of Telstra. Australia now enjoys the second highest share ownership ratio in the world after the United States.
Another reason is that the unions will not let them. This perhaps is the most important and perhaps the most embarrassing reason for the ALP's opposition to this bill. They have been told by their union paymasters that they are not allowed to support it. ALP members of this House in many ways do have a high record of union bosses who did not quite make it. Some of those left this House a little unceremoniously in question time. The member for Batman (Mr Martin Ferguson) is a case in point. He has been rewarded with a shadow ministry, in spite of his extraordinary performance as the Pied Piper of the ACTU. In his six years at the helm—and some elements of the right wing of the Labor Party would probably agree with me on this—over 300 workers resigned from their union every day. That is a total of 665,000 Australians.
Mr Tanner —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I again raise relevance. This clearly has got absolutely nothing to do with the legislation before the House today and I ask you to call the member to order.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member is in order, though I do remind him of his need to be relevant to the legislation before us.
Mr ANTHONY —Ninety-two per cent of Telstra employees took up the government's share offer, in spite of the opposition.
Let us look at rural Australia. This is the third and perhaps the most important part of my address—what privatisation means to rural areas, particularly the people I represent on the north coast of New South Wales. My position and the position of the people of Richmond is simple: service to rural Australia must not just be maintained but improved. Let me say again telecommunications services to rural Australia must not just be maintained but improved. However, the issue of untimed local calls and service levels in the bush have nothing do with the ownership of a particular carrier.
Let us look at untimed local calls. Untimed local calls are a legislative right. Indeed, this government has strengthened the law to include data as well as voice for residential customers. Business customers can also now get untimed local calls. In addition, from the end of this year 17,000 telephone users in remote Australia who do not have access to untimed local calls will be rebated up to $160 against pastoral call charges. This is a good initiative. This is an interim arrangement as Telstra does not have the capacity to cope with the anticipated increase in demand which untimed local calls in remote Australia will create.
Let us look at the customer service guarantee. The customer service guarantee which we introduced will continue to apply for a fully privatised Telstra. This guarantee ensures that customers get the compensation for inadequate service, if that is what happens. The compensation will be paid by the telephone service providers. Under the legislation this is not the only penalty they will face if they are not up to the task. The bill gives the Australian Communications Authority power to order changes to the way a provider operates if necessary.
Let us look at the universal service obligation. It was the coalition government which introduced the universal service obligation. Telstra and other carriers will continue to be subject to the USO. This USO is a law which compels Telstra to provide a standard telephone service and pay-phones to all Australians no matter where they live or work.
Let us look at the cost of services. Competition is likely to develop more slowly in some country areas than in capital cities. The government has recognised this and established price control mechanisms. This means that, when prices are forced down by competition in metropolitan areas, they must also decrease in rural areas, regardless of the effect of competition there.
Let us look at the area of mobile phones. The previous Labor government decided on an arbitrary phase-out of analog phones by 1 January 2000. This government is concerned that regional mobile users, whether they are using Telstra or one of the other two carriers, do not lose out. The government has introduced a package of measures to ensure that all areas in regional Australia that currently receive mobile coverage will continue to have equivalent coverage. This certainly was a significant win for the member for Hume (Mr Sharp), other National Party members and members in regional Liberal Party seats. The digital service is still not as good as the analog system in parts of my electorate of Richmond. Obviously, those services will not be diminished until we have adequate digital coverage.
Bagging Telstra certainly suits the political purposes of the Australian Labor Party and some of their soul mates in the Democrats. The fact is that Telstra is and will remain a great Australian icon which we can all be proud of. Telstra spent over $1.5 billion on capital telecommunications equipment in Australia in the last six months of 1997. Of that, $587 million was spent in rural Australia.
The benefits of privatisation are obvious. Those benefits go to all Australians not just the many who will participate in the float. This government has provided the guarantees that ensure that areas in regional Australia will be catered for. The government has clearly enhanced consumer protection for telecommunications users over the last two years. However, being better than Labor is not exactly an ambitious benchmark. I want continually improving telecommunications services for the people I represent on the north coast. I certainly will continue to stand up in this place and ensure that that is precisely what the people of Richmond and the people of Australia get.