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Wednesday, 23 June 1999
Page: 7197

Mr LAWLER —My question is addressed to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the minister outline to the House what the government is doing to improve services and telecommunications infrastructure for those who live and work in regional, rural and remote communities? Are there any alternative policies in the public arena?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. He represents a vast area of New South Wales. He is very keen to see that people in that far-flung region have every possible opportunity to advance their interests in what are unquestionably challenging times. The reality is that we are now in a position to offer $1 billion worth of social bonus, which will greatly enhance both the quality of life and economic opportunities for people in rural and regional areas through what amounts to a coordinated and well-directed set of policies. This is in stark contrast to the total absence of policies being put up by the other side.

Interestingly, I am told that those glum faces out there on the other side reflect the fact that they have been told to go out and sell their policies. In caucus they have been told to go out and sell the good message of what they have to offer. It must be a pretty demoralising experience because I thought really that, in answering the question, it would be most useful to have a look at what members on this side of the House are able to say about the policy position that they are currently in and that they are able to put to their people.

The member who asked the question was able to say yesterday that securing a second partial sale of Telstra is a best of both worlds victory for the people of western New South Wales and that better recreational and commercial telecommunications services will eliminate the tyranny of distance in western New South Wales while the nation will pay billions of dollars less in interest. The federal member for Murray has been able to say that the $1 billion social bonus from the 16 per cent sale of Telstra will deliver improved telecommunications services throughout regional and rural Victoria, boosting business, information technology and job opportunities. She said that the funding intentions announced today would help rural and regional communities to access the future. Can they offer those things to their people? What can they offer by contrast? Where can they go out with their rural communities and make these sorts of claims? They cannot.

The member for Hinkler has been able to point to the fact that between 200 and 250 rural and regional communities will now get access to SBS television—200 to 250 communities across rural Australia that do not have SBS will now get SBS. The member for Riverina has been able to talk about extended mobile phone coverage. That is one policy that they did have. They had one. It was to deny a whole lot of Australians access to mobile phone coverage. We are not only keeping it alive but extending it for a whole lot of people right across regional Australia. The member for Riverina says:

Extended mobile phone coverage and federally funded SBS are two issues that I have been working hard to achieve . . . In securing funding for these initiatives, we narrow the service gap between city and country areas.

The NFF, quoted here just a moment ago, said that the most valuable element of the extra allocation would be improved telecommunications infrastructure in the bush. It said:

Country people will also benefit from the significant reduction in call costs for extended zone users in rural Australia . . .

The federal member for New England has been able to say that this would be of great benefit for New England and other areas of regional Australia. It was beautifully summed up by the member for McEwen, who is able to say to this House that farmers from her area of Mansfield have not only thanked her but also asked that those thanks be passed on to the federal government. What a contrast with the policy vacuum that the others are supposed to go out and sell—I do not know what with—in the areas that, presumably, the Leader of the Opposition wants them to go to.