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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17488

Mr ANDREN (2:26 PM) —My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Given his comments in a media conference this morning that the real test on the outcome of the full sale of Telstra would not be known for 10 to 15 years and that future governments will be responsible for maintaining so-called future-proofing, how can the minister ask country people to have faith in gaining equity of access to telecommunications services when his own statements indicate he has no idea of the outcome and when the current regulations requiring voice quality standards only for land based services are patently insufficient now for Internet connection to many areas in my electorate?

The SPEAKER —Let me remind the member for Calare of standing order 144 before he writes his next question.

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —That of course is a highly partisan interpretation of what I said this morning. In relation to the member for Calare, that is increasingly something of a pattern, I have to say and I regret to say.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr ANDERSON —It is. It is just a matter of record. I made the point this morning that in all of this debate nothing is more important to me, to the people I represent and to my colleagues from country electorates than getting telecommunications right—the services as sound as possible, at the lowest possible cost and with the greatest possible reliability. I made it very clear that that is plainly not a function of ownership. If it were a function of ownership, I would not have had the greatest gap that could ever have been described between what urban Australians enjoyed and what I enjoyed living out in the north-west of New South Wales 15 years ago under a Labor government. That is the simple fact of the matter: it was never worse—and I see the member for Calare nod.

Public ownership per se is no guarantee of services—none. Firstly, the guarantee of services is, wherever the business case is dense enough, competition. It is as simple as that. Competition is what drives the price reductions that I tabled a moment ago and that the great majority of Australians, including the great majority of rural Australians, have benefited from, enjoy and now expect. Secondly, where competition will not do it, only a government with a regulatory framework and a commitment to see it through will guarantee it.

My point this morning was a very strong one. We have taken the steps to close the divide—and I outlined them at some length a moment ago to get them on the record. It is a proud record; I am proud of it. I can look anyone in rural Australia in the eye and say, `Your services now are one heck of a lot better than they would have been if the ALP had still been in power.' It was just pointed out to me by one of my colleagues—I think it was the member for Maranoa, who has a very good eye—that the former Labor minister who canned analog is in the gallery today. Michael Lee, thank you very much for canning it. That was a clear demonstration of the Labor Party's commitment to rural and regional Australia. One of the things we have done under this legislation—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr ANDERSON —This is very interesting, but they do not want to hear it. It will be a licence condition for Telstra to continue to operate that they maintain a presence in rural and regional Australia. I note with very great interest that the ALP were never going to privatise anything—they were not going to privatise the Commonwealth Bank! Did they put a condition of licence into the Commonwealth Bank Sale Act to ensure that it maintained a rural presence?

Let us get real. Let us concentrate in a visionary and forward-looking way on what will deliver what country Australia needs—not opportunistic rhetoric, not the ideology of opportunism, but some actual vision and commitment of the sort that this government has shown in getting the service gap closed and putting in place a future-proofing mechanism to ensure that it will remain closed, provided only that you have governments with the willpower and commitment to deliver on the future proofing. Our record there is second to none.