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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17518

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (4:35 PM) —It is interesting to follow one of the Independents in the House, because some of the things that they have said have branded them. I remember what the member for Calare said on the border protection legislation in the last parliament. He stood up here angrily one night and said, `I don't care what my constituents say—I am going to vote the way I want!' Do you know what? I care very deeply about and listen very carefully to my constituents in Dawson. Quite understandably, there was no doubt three, four or five years ago that there was a great deal of disquiet and anger about Telstra's service. We would get scores of phone calls and letters in the office from country people unhappy with connection times, repairs and a whole host of other things. Let me just tell you what has happened since then—

Mr Windsor —Do you want some?

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —Sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker. I listen to others with courtesy but obviously that does not apply to the Independents.

Mr Windsor —I take exception to that!

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —I have listened with courtesy and I would like others to pay me the same courtesy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order!

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —The reality is that in the last three years I have monitored very carefully complaints coming into my office. From the scores of complaints we would get in a week, we now get approximately one complaint a fortnight. We refer these complaints immediately to Telstra Country Wide and they are generally rectified very quickly.

I have to say that I am very pleased with Telstra Country Wide service—very pleased indeed—as are my constituents. They ring me and tell me they are happy with the service. They cannot believe how quickly things have been rectified. As a response to that, there will be further safeguards in the legislation that is coming before the House. One of the things that people have said to me—quite understandably, with a great deal of concern—is that they wonder what would happen to the level of service if Telstra were to be privatised. They are very happy with it now, but they what to know what would happen. That is quite a reasonable and understandable question, and it is one I asked myself. I waited to see what the minister was going to do about the concerns country people have about the future. Sure, the service is good now in the Dawson electorate, but what will happen in the future?

I am pleased to see, in the response to Estens—in which all 39 recommendations were taken up—that there is a very big focus on future-proofing. That means that there will be $15.9 million provided for extended mobile phone coverage to small population centres and key highways, $4 million to extend the satellite phone handset subsidy and $10.1 million to support information technology. There is a national broadband strategy, with $2.9 million for the strategy implementation group and $23.7 million—to be matched by the states and territories—to fund investment in broadband in regional areas for connectivity for health, education and local government sectors as well as the broader community. There is $107.8 million for a higher bandwidth incentive scheme to ensure that people in regional areas have access to broadband services at prices broadly equivalent to the prices in urban areas—which is extremely important.

But it was future-proofing that I was interested in and was looking for particularly. I am pleased to see that, through a licence arrangement, Telstra Country Wide will remain for rural and regional Australians. In terms of future-proofing, reviews of regional telecommunications services will be conducted at least every five years. The concerns that my constituents had about services continuing will certainly be addressed through the future-proofing, and I am very pleased to see that.

I would like to go to some of the statements made by previous speakers. I note that the Labor Party are in a ferment about all of this—but the Labor Party were going to sell Telstra anyway. We know that because, of course, when they were in government one of the leaders brought John Prescott in to talk about how Telstra could be privatised. There is no doubt that the Labor Party would do that. The leading speaker in this debate, the member for Melbourne, put forward a proposal to break up Telstra.

I would like now to go to what the Labor Party actually do as opposed to what they say. It was the Labor Party that privatised the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas. Is there a universal service obligation for the Commonwealth Bank? Do we have unlimited accounts—no fees and charges—for people in rural and regional Australia from the Commonwealth Bank? No, we do not. Do we have a community service obligation for Qantas, which the Labor Party privatised? Can you get unlimited flights out of all of these happy places in rural and regional Australia, thanks to the Labor Party and Qantas? No, you cannot. There is no universal service obligation for anybody through the Commonwealth Bank or through Qantas. No, the Labor Party were happy to just flog them off and take the money, and now they are back here saying that we have not delivered. Let me tell you: the universal service obligation, the community service guarantee and future-proofing will ensure that rural and regional Australians will not cop what the Labor Party made them cop under their privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas.

Mr Windsor —You are arguing against the legislation.

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —I see that the member for New England is very happy with all the Qantas services into his electorate and very pleased with the fees and charges that the banks are imposing in Tamworth. I hope to hear him next time on an MPI complimenting the Labor Party on what they did for bank fees and for flights into his electorate. I am delighted to hear that he is happy, because not a lot of people are. I want to now move to the Independents—

Mr Windsor —There are more of them.

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —Not after they start counting things up, mate. There is one less already. In Queensland, the member for Darling Downs is Ray Hopper. Ray came to a meeting recently and said to us that he went in as an Independent. He is a good man; he had good intentions. He went in as an Independent. After he got there, the Labor Party made him head of the local sports club in the parliament—but they did not do anything else for him. They spent a lot of time with him, but they did not do anything. He said that after 12 months he added up what had been delivered to his electorate: $600,000. He went and had a look at what had been delivered to other electorates, and he decided that his electorate was being dudded. He joined the National Party. Do you know what has happened in the 12 months since he joined the National Party? His electorate has got $12 million in opposition, which he can justify. He said, `I was doing the wrong thing by my electorate not being a member of the National Party. I wanted to see things delivered.' Ray Hopper joined the National Party and he has seen it pay for his constituents.

The Independents—with great opportunism, because they thought that the community was going to run with them—decided to oppose our actions to liberate the Iraqi people from a cruel regime. They were going to run with the Labor Party's line and doom people in Iraq to maintaining a murderous and treacherous regime. I will be interested to see what will happen when people in those electorates actually add up what is being delivered to them and what is happening in this parliament, because the National Party backed the liberation of the Iraqi people. We backed a righteous war. And we will continue to back the right things not only for people in other countries but also for our rural and regional constituency. You will never hear a National Party person say, `I do not care what my constituents say.' Let me say that the National Party does care about rural and regional constituents. We will continue to deliver, and you can back our delivery against that of Independents—in fact, you can back us 20 to one. We have seen an Independent who added up the figures as an Independent, decided his electorate was being dudded and has now become a National Party member and has seen things delivered.

I also have a message for the ALP. They are saying that the National Party is going to be done over. The National Party is doing over the Labor Party in Queensland on sugar. The National Party has told the Labor Party in Queensland to back off and go back to the drawing board on sugar. For the Labor Party to come in here and say that we do not deliver for rural and regional Australians is absolutely wrong. The National Party is going to do over the Labor Party in Queensland—like my Liberal colleagues are doing them over on health funding, on public hospitals. The Labor Party in Queensland—like every other state Labor government—is refusing the funding from the Commonwealth. The National Party is going to do over the Labor Party on road funding. I notice the ALP will not commit to Roads of National Importance; we will. We know how important they are.

Mr TUCKEY (O'Connor—Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local government) (4.45 p.m.)—I move:

That the business of the day be called on.

Question agreed to.