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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7083


Mr NEVILLE (5:29 PM) —I found that a fascinating little tirade. Let me say this to you: when talking about regional services in the context of this consideration in detail, we have never said that we are against privatisation. There was a distinct difference. The difference was this: we went to an election clearly spelling out what we wanted to do. We at no time misled the Australian public on what our intentions were and we mandated that two-thirds of the shares would always be in Australian hands; that no individual would ever own more than five per cent; that there would be two directors from country Australia; that the majority of directors would always be Australian; that the chairman would always have to be an Australian; and that the headquarters would always have to be in Australia. Therefore, every conceivable sandbagging of the security of Telstra was put in place.

In addition to that, not only did we tell the public what we were going to do, but, when you were in a similar situation, you told the public that you would never sell Qantas—and you did—and that you would never sell the Commonwealth Bank, which you did.


Mr Anderson —But they would never, ever, ever sell the second half.

Ms Kernot interjecting


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. D.H. Adams) —Order!


Mr NEVILLE —I am talking about private ownership and never once did you honour any of those promises. There was never a condition put on the bush that we had to sell Telstra to do these things. What we did say, however, was that, in the selling of Telstra, it is only appropriate that some of the new infrastructure goes into regional Australia. For example, $120 million is going into SBS and into black spots in the television network. We did not treat the bush like Labor did. If you were so concerned about the bush, when you put SBS in place, why did you put the SBS in such a long drawn out tortuous mode? If we followed your timetable, some parts of regional Australia would not have SBS for another four or five years. We put $120 million in to expedite that.


Mr Zahra —What about Triple J?


Mr NEVILLE —We are not talking about Triple J; we are talking about SBS. What is more, in my electorate of Hinkler I have parts that through 13 years of Labor virtually had no television. I take great pride in the fact that I negotiated with Minister Alston and that we are now going to fill not only SBS black spots, but some of the commercial ones so that people between Bundaberg and Gladstone might be able to watch commercial channels as well as the ABC and the SBS—a right that all Australians have had for years. That did not happen during those 13 years of Labor. And I repeat: you sold off Qantas, the Commonwealth Bank, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and other things that you have had to buy back.


Ms Kernot —It does not make it right to sell Telstra.


Mr NEVILLE —Let us get down to basics, and the basics are these: there is nothing wrong with selling infrastructure provided you invest that sell-off either in new infrastructure or the retirement of debt. In the retirement of debt you get back into your recurrent expenditure an amount that you can spend many times over. If we did not have your $80 million of debt, what could we do with $9 billion a year, every year, in perpetuity for the bush and, for that matter, for all the rest of Australia?

The trouble with your time in parliament was that you not only ran up debt but did nothing for the bush. We well remember Paul Keating having to be dragged into country Australia during the drought. My successor, the previous member for Hinkler, Brian Courtice, was going around saying that there was no rural crisis. There is nothing wrong with selling infrastructure if you invest it in new infrastructure, and that is precisely what we have done for the bush.

You sold infrastructure time and time again. You did not put any of it back into new infrastructure and you did not put any of it into retiring debt. You misled the public in the selling of those items and, worse than that, when you got the money in your hands and you could have done something good for regional Australia, you spent it on recurrent expenditure. How can you get up and hypocritically criticise us?