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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17513

Mr PYNE (4:15 PM) —You have to admire the ALP's front in standing up on a matter of public importance to do with privatisation. The ALP has more front than Eric Bana as the Incredible Hulk, than Cox-Foys, than David Jones—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for Ballarat will remove herself under 304A. She has already been warned.

The member for Ballarat then left the chamber.

Mr PYNE —She likes the attention, I think, Mr Deputy Speaker. She does it far too regularly.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Sturt!

Mr Tanner —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Under standing order 76, I request that you urge the member for Sturt to withdraw that imputation against the member for Ballarat.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I do not think it was offensive, and I called him to order.

Mr PYNE —You have to admire the ALP's front in coming into this House and trying to argue their position on privatisation. The ALP have not only privatised more government instrumentalities than the coalition has even tried to do but also managed to put all the money that they gained from privatisation into the bottom line of the budget. They simply threw it to the winds on things like the Working Nation program and on huge budget blowouts for the Submarine Corporation to pay for submarines, unlike this government, which actually used the money from privatisations to reduce government debt. But I will get to that in a moment.

When in government, the ALP managed to privatise not only the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories but also National Rail, Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank. The most egregious of these privatisations was definitely the Commonwealth Bank, because in that case the minister for finance at the time, Ralph Willis, actually wrote in the prospectus for the partial sale of the Commonwealth Bank that the government had no intention whatever of further reducing its shareholding. Let us face it: the minister for finance at the time, who I think was the then member for Gellibrand, was fortunate to escape from being prosecuted under section 996 of the Corporations Law, which states that—

Mr Tanner —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The point of order is on relevance. The absurd claim about the former minister for finance has nothing to do with Telstra or telecommunications.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne would have to know that he was given a lot of tolerance by the chair. That is a spurious point of order.

Mr PYNE —The member for Melbourne well knows that matters of public importance traverse widely across a subject, and this subject is privatisation. The former minister for finance was lucky not to be prosecuted under section 996 of the Corporations Law about making false and misleading statements in a prospectus. When the opposition were in government, they actually told people who were preparing to buy shares in the Commonwealth Bank that they could rely on the fact that the Commonwealth government of the time would not sell down their remaining stake in the Commonwealth Bank. In a question in question time, Ralph Willis was asked:

So unlike before, this time your commitment is iron clad?

And he replied:

Absolutely, yes.

That was in October 1993. It was not long after that that they were hawking the rest of the Commonwealth Bank off to the stock markets. What did they do with the money? I could say something that is unparliamentary, but instead I will say that they threw it to the winds by wasting it on pointless exercises—in particular, by the time the Working Nation program had finished, after spending $1 billion, it had not actually created one extra job.

The coalition's proposals with respect to privatisation have been to reduce government debt. What has been the effect of this? It has taken pressure off interest rates, it has helped to encourage growth in the economy and it has helped to reduce unemployment. The sound nature of our economic management has helped to create jobs, free up the economy and encourage investment from overseas. What makes anybody think that, if the ALP were in power again, they would not sell the remaining part of Telstra themselves? As the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, who spoke before, has pointed out, they would be as quick out of the blocks as possible in selling Telstra, because that is what they had planned to do before the 1996 election—just like the Commonwealth Bank. Kim Beazley admitted it himself.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Members should be referred to by their seat.

Mr PYNE —The member for Brand admitted it himself. He admitted that in 1995 he attended a meeting with Prime Minister Keating and John Prescott about selling Telstra to BHP. Not long after that it was revealed that the department of finance had prepared a five-tranche full sale of Telstra to go ahead in 1994, 1995 or 1996, depending on the outcome of the election. So the Labor Party do not come to this debate with clean hands—far from it. How can the Labor Party stand up here and put their hands on their hearts and say that they are the party of antiprivatisation when the runs are on the board—CSL, Qantas, National Rail and the Commonwealth Bank, and their plans for Telstra which were exposed by the opposition in 1996 during the election campaign?

Mr Tanner —National Rail? We didn't sell National Rail; you did.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne will restrain himself.

Mr PYNE —Not long after the 2001 election, when the Labor Party said that they had an ironclad commitment to opposing the privatisation of Telstra, the member for Melbourne himself came out with a policy for the structural separation of Telstra and to flog one half of that off to the public. The member for Melbourne himself exposed the fact that the member for Brand had wanted to sell Telstra, and then he cut him out, junked his policy, for the 2001 election with a new policy for structural separation which involved the sale of part of Telstra. He did not even have a commitment himself to being opposed to the privatisation of Telstra, and what happened to him? His policy was junked as well by his own people. An email that was sent to Sue Mackay in June 2002 said that this was the advice that had been received:

I spoke to—

and the name is blanked out—

today. They say the anti-Tanner forces, led by Senator Sue Mackay, are marshalling their troops to roll Tanner on structural separation in caucus this Tuesday or the following week. They claim there is cross-factional support to kneecap him.

He junked Kim Beazley's policy and his own policy was junked. The Labor Party are all over the shop on what their true position is on privatisation. They have one policy for opposition and another policy for government. They have one policy for the Right of the Labor Party and one policy for the Left of the Labor Party.

The sad fact of the matter for the poor old member for Melbourne is that now that most government instrumentalities that could have been privatised have been privatised—mostly by the Labor Party—they have handed the policy area back to the poor old Left in the form of the member for Melbourne, because there is nothing left to worry about selling, except for the main one, which is Telstra. Now is the time to prepare for the full sale of Telstra. There are tremendous benefits in the sale of Telstra.

Mr PYNE —I will be a minister before you are a minister, Lindsay—let me say that much. That is for sure. You will be in opposition a lot longer than the next couple of years. Nevertheless, there are tremendous opportunities and benefits in the full sale of Telstra in the next couple of years, and the appropriate time to pass the legislation is now. The ALP holds itself out as a party that supports greater share ownership in Australia. It says it is in favour of wider share ownership. But it is the coalition that, because of the sale of the first two tranches of Telstra, has made Australia into the largest share-owning democracy in the world per capita. Forty-one per cent of adult Australians directly own shares, and 54 per cent of adult Australians either directly or indirectly own shares—that is in comparison to 32 per cent in the United States and 31 per cent in New Zealand. There are 2.1 million Telstra shareholders. There are 560,000 people in Australia who bought shares for the first time in the sale of the first tranche of Telstra and 321,000 in the second tranche. Almost one million Australians bought shares for the first time when Telstra was first offered for sale, making the point that Australians want to be shareholders, invest in the stock market and have control over their own spending, their own investments and their own destinies.

In the past, the Labor Party has agreed with us on this. The member for Werriwa himself, when he was obviously a rooster rather than what he is now, which is a turkey—like the member for Melbourne, who is also a turkey, being a Crean supporter, as opposed to the roosters, who are the Beazley supporters—said he was in favour of greater share ownership and planned to act accordingly. But Workers Online had this to say about it:

Far from being Labor's new Light on the Hill, Latham's share ownership agenda is a dousing of the flame, a desertion of the ideas of working together as a society rather than as individual players for our mutual benefit. If we give up on this we may as well all join the Liberals.

Of course, we would not have the member for Werriwa in the Liberal Party, nor any other member of the Labor Party. But the point is made that Labor mouth support for greater share ownership but their practice is to oppose it—just like they mouth support for lower taxes but their practice, as developed by state Labor governments, is to increase taxes. (Time expired)