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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17486

Mr McMULLAN (2:17 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. Is the Treasurer aware of independent dividend forecasts, for example by Macquarie Equities and by UBS Warburg, which indicate that the forgone dividends from Telstra would exceed public debt interest savings even if Telstra were sold for $5.25 a share? At 1.30 p.m. today it was $4.43. How can it be good for the Commonwealth budget to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to sell an asset that will make the budget worse off?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —What the government has said is that it seeks parliamentary authorisation to offer additional equity to private investors in Telstra and will do so at a time which is commercially appropriate. We have said that on a number of occasions. I have also said, incidentally, that we missed the opportunity, when the Labor Party frustrated the sale earlier—

Mr Tanner —That was the National Party!

Mr COSTELLO —and I do find it rather interesting that the Labor Party now gets interested in the proceeds in relation to Telstra. The government equity in Telstra, from peak to trough, has fallen by $30 billion. I did not have any questions from the member for Fraser, when the Telstra price was up at $8 or $9, about the financials of offering the shares, surprisingly enough. But I must congratulate you: the fall from peak to trough represents, in the Commonwealth's hands, a loss of net worth of $30 billion.

Mr Tanner —You can't be running it very well. You should resign, shouldn't you?

Mr COSTELLO —The member for Melbourne says this is some—

The SPEAKER —The Treasurer will resume his seat. I have both privately and publicly cautioned the member for Melbourne against persistent interjections. I now warn him!

An opposition member—What about the Treasurer for saying `you'?

Mr COSTELLO —Mr Speaker, let me make one final point which perhaps even the member for Melbourne could understand. At the moment, Telstra is half in the hands of private investors and half in the hands of government. If the Labor Party policy really is that we need a nationalised telecommunications company, surely they would be proposing to buy back that 49 per cent interest. What logic is there in having a utility which is half in private hands and the other in relation to taxpayers? If you really do believe in nationalisation and the socialist objective of the Australian Labor Party, then come forward with your policy and buy back 49 per cent. There used to be an old saying: what is a socialist? A socialist is a Communist without any guts. And the Labor Party is a socialist without any guts. Have the courage of your convictions. Come on; tell us how you propose to buy it back. Stand here and tell us about the virtues of nationalised telecommunications.

Mr McMullan —Only an idiot would half privatise Telstra; is that the argument?

The SPEAKER —If it would facilitate the member for Fraser, I remind the Treasurer of the use of the word `you', which is inappropriate in response to a question.