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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17484


Mr TANNER (2:09 PM) —My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party. Can the minister confirm that Telstra has shed around 13,000 workers in just the last three years? Is it not the case that most of these staff were employed in direct customer service and network maintenance activities, particularly in regional Australia? Can the minister confirm that Telstra has just made redundant a further 100 network maintenance staff in Sydney, an area which has suffered huge fault levels due to rain upsetting Telstra's dilapidated network? Minister, how will privatising Telstra ensure that recent massive cuts in Telstra's staff, investment and service are reversed?


Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for his question. Can I say at the outset—and I will table this graph in the House—that the overall fall in telco prices since we came to government in 1996 is 24.8 per cent. I think that is quite a relevant consideration for the House.


Mr Tanner —That was the last question.


The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne has asked his question.


Mr ANDERSON —The general point that has to be made to the opposition is that they no longer believe in competition. The reality is that, in the sort of environment that the member for Melbourne is talking about, competitive pressures will always drive better customer outcomes. That is a basic rule of economics. The fact is that competition is driving those price reductions. If Telstra is not able, in an area where there is dense business caseload, to hang on to its customers its customers will go somewhere else.


Mr Tanner —That's the problem.


The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne!


Mr ANDERSON —That is the way the market ought to operate. Let me make it quite plain that, wherever there is a sufficiently dense business caseload or load for Telstra and for telcos to operate, competition can only produce better outcomes for consum-ers. We have upgraded the USO and introduced a CSG—never done by Labor. Where there is not a sufficiently dense business load and where those mechanisms are nec-essary it is a question of the willpower and willingness of the government of the day to ensure outcomes that will produce a result—not the ownership structure, as has been well proved by past history.