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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7084


Ms KERNOT (5:34 PM) —The honourable member for Hinkler says that there is nothing wrong with selling an asset if you spend some of the money investing in infrastructure, as distinct from failing to retire debt as well. But the thing that nobody has been willing to address in the coalition in recent times is: what happens when you have nothing left to sell and a government which has no intention of showing a national leadership role in finding real money to invest in a long-term way in regional infrastructure? A lot of the funding in this budget is for two years. What happens when you have sold the rest of Telstra and you have nothing else to fall back on? We have seen that mistake made in many other countries around the world.

There is also a point about the benefits you claim in selling the asset in order to retire debt. There is a cross-over point about the year 2002 where the difference between the money you save on the interest being paid and what you lose in the income stream makes a big difference to the money the government will have to use in retiring debt in the long run. You have always failed to acknowledge that in debates about this issue.

The problem for the National Party, in particular, is that country Australians know this. They know about the long term; they live with the cycles; they live with the seasons. They know about the commonsense of maintaining your most valuable asset. That is why they are instinctively sceptical about this privatisation. I wonder if any of you noticed the poll in today's Herald Sun in Melbourne. I did not bring it with me, but I recall it says that a very high percentage of Australians are sick to death of the economic trinity of privatisation, deregulation and user pays. They have lost faith in privatisation as having the capacity to deliver improved services. Why? Because they have seen water failures in Adelaide. They have seen electricity privatisation. They have seen hospital privatisation. Now we are supposed to stand back and blithely accept that, in privatising Telstra, we will find a provider go against the normal instinct of wanting to make a profit and willingly roll out its network in areas which cost a lot of money.

That is why it has always been important to have a role for government where the market fails. Simply saying, `We'll take this bit of money and in the short term create this bit of alternative infrastructure,' is no long-term solution. Unfortunately, while I think a lot of the money will be spent on exciting and necessary initiatives, I want to point out to you that the equivalent minister in the New South Wales government had the government pay for the connection to the Internet for every small business person in country New South Wales. He did not say, `This is an important thing to do and you can only have it if you let us sell an asset.' He said, `This is an important thing to do and the government will find the money to make it happen.'

All the things that this government has said about electronic commerce opening up the potential of regions and giving people who live in regions the opportunity to remain in regions for lifestyle choices and communicate and trade with the rest of the world are very important, but where the money comes from is also important and, if you were genuine, you would make that money available without this being tied to the sale of an asset. It has been a particular failure of policy in this country that the future of regional Australia is always tied in some kind of ad hoc way to some big pork barrel. (Time expired)