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Wednesday, 8 April 1998
Page: 2745

Mr ROBERT BROWN (11:25 AM) —When this Telstra legislation goes through today, this day will be remembered as a day of infamy, shame and betrayal.

Mr Fahey —These are technical amendments.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —These amendments that are being proposed at the present time, as the minister at the table indicates, are technical amendments; nevertheless, they are designed to make some peripheral change to the detail, to the essence of this legislation. What I want to emphasise is that, as far as the legislation is concerned, they make no significant change.

What I am particularly concerned about is the fact that there have been claims made by the government, in supporting and promoting this legislation, that in some way the interests of the national community would be best served by privatising Telstra. You will remember that it was estimated initially that the first third of Telstra would bring in about $8 billion; it is now estimated that the sale of the second two-thirds of Telstra will bring in $45 billion. If that initial estimate was correct, these proposed sales should bring in nothing more than $16 billion. So, of course, the government was seriously out in its calculations. It is also seriously out in the claims that it is making that, as a result of these sales, the Australian people generally will be—

Mr Fahey —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I have been most patient. These are technical amendments. There is a wrong numerical reference in the bill as it now stands. These amendments seek to change that numerical reference to a section of the Telecommunications Act. Whilst I am trying to be patient about the debate, I ask that you bring all members back to the question before the committee: that is, a very narrow question.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —I thank the Minister for Finance and Administration. When I responded to the previous point of order by the member for North Sydney, I was referring to the debate on the bill itself and, of course, the reality is that this is a debate on the amendments. Everybody speaking should restrict their remarks to the amendments—as I am sure the honourable member for Charlton will.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —Mr Deputy Speaker, another ruling of great wisdom from you. The point that I am emphasising is the fact that these amendments which are being proposed by the government make no significant difference to the core of this legislation—the nature of the legislation, the purposes of the legislation and the impact that the legislation will have. It is perfectly in order for me—as you have indicated, Mr Deputy Speaker—to proceed in that way.

The claim has been made that the Australian people generally will benefit. I want to emphasise that, of 18 million Australians, less than two million Australians purchased part of that one-third sale of Telstra. So, while there may have been two million purchasing it, there are 16 million who lost out as a result of it. Those shares were made available to the initial purchasers at something between $1.95 and $2 each; at the end of last week, they were selling for $3.89—almost $4. The difference, of course, represents the real value which has been ripped off the Australian national community to the extent of something like $8,000 million.

Where was that $8,000 million transferred from? The ownership of the Australian wage earners who did not have the funds to be able to take advantage of that sale. It has been transferred to those people who bought the first third of Telstra—including 30 per cent represented by foreign interests. I take no pleasure in referring to this, but exactly the same thing has happened every time privatisation has been undertaken. For example, in the case of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, the shares sold for $2.30, yet at the end of last week shares in the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories were selling for in excess of $11—which means that the losses to the Australian public, in that particular case, were another $600 million.

Mr Fahey —Who sold it?

Mr ROBERT BROWN —The minister says, `Who sold it?' The implication, of course, is that that sale was made by the previous government. Yes it was; I take no pride in that. The point that I am making is that it does not matter who the government is that sells off these public assets, they are always undersold and the people who benefit are those people who have the financial capacity to buy them—they are not the people that I represent in Charlton. (Time expired)