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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21667

Mr JOHNSON (3:55 PM) —I am delighted to speak on this MPI and respond to some of the absolute nonsense and hypocrisy that we have heard from the opposition. Before I continue, I take the opportunity to congratulate the new Minister for Communi-cations, Information Technology and the Arts on his appointment. He has already demonstrated why the Prime Minister appointed him to this important portfolio; he has already left the shadow minister in his wake. I am sure that the people of Australia will benefit tremendously from the new minister's stewardship of his portfolio.

Time is limited, so I want to make sure that I get on the record up front the examples of Labor's hypocrisy in relation to privatisation. Ten minutes go very quickly so, before I allow time to get away, I will mention some of the important Australian icons and institutions that Labor have privatised during their time in government. It is very important for the people of Australia to know exactly where the Labor opposition stand on these things. They might say one thing in opposition but when in government they do completely the opposite. For the benefit of the House and, indeed, the Australian people—and especially for the benefit of the constituents of my electorate of Ryan, who I know have a very strong interest in the privatisation of Telstra—the list is staggering. During its time in government the current opposition privatised the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation; the Moomba-Sydney pipeline; Aerospace Technologies of Australia Ltd; the Commonwealth uranium stockpile; CSL, formerly Commonwealth Serum Laboratories; Amdel; the Commonwealth Accommodation and Catering Services; the Defence Services Housing Corporation loan portfolio; the Defence Force home loan franchise; and the Commonwealth housing loan assistance schemes.

These are just a handful of the many Australian institutions that were under government control, stewardship and management and that the opposition privatised during its time in government. Today in the debate we have heard the shadow minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all of those members opposite fail to be rigorous and complete in their presentation to the Australian people and say, `Yes, we also privatised. We were in the business of privatisation ourselves.' This MPI is just another example of Labor's misrepresentation and their mischief. It is an example of the fog of Labor's hypocrisy, policy incompetence and ineptitude. All they do is oppose; they do not propose.

I think the member for Melbourne—the shadow communications minister—is a reasonable sort of guy. He believes in fairness, I think. He balances his very committed socialist leanings of nationalisation with hanging around the corridors of Melbourne merchant banks. I want to applaud him for his fairness in giving equal time to both sides of political philosophy. As the minister very appropriately and skilfully alluded, the government's record on privatisation and of making it very clear to the Australian people where it stands has been excellent. It has been clear and coherent. The government has explained to the Australian people—and, for my part, the people of Ryan—that it supports privatisation. There has been no misrepresentation or mischief in the way that the shadow minister's MPI reflects on the opposition.

We have gone to the Australian people at three elections and said, `We support privatisation.' We have a genuine commitment to what privatisation will do in the interests of our country, in the interests of competition and in the interests of making sure that the consumers of Australia benefit from privatisation. One of the main points that the shadow minister and the opposition always fail to bring up is that the government has accepted all of the 39 recommendations of the Estens inquiry. The independent Regional Telecommunications Service Inquiry provided a very comprehensive assessment of telecommunications services in regional Australia. It made 39 recommendations to ensure that the government did not leave the people of Australia, including the bush, out of all the benefits of telecommunications and privatisation. The government accepted all of those recommendations.

I want to take the opportunity to mention two of the recommendations which are relevant to this particular MPI, which are recommendations in relation to service adequacy. Recommendation 2.9 was that regional, rural and remote Australia not be forgotten and that the worst affected parts of rural and remote Australia be given special or additional attention from the government. The government has responded completely to recommendation 2.9. The government's position is that the ACA will commence work immediately on identifying the worst performing ESAs using the network reliability framework, and Telstra will provide the government with a formal undertaking on a strategy to improve the performance of identified ESAs, with time frames and funding commitments. So why don't those opposite, including the shadow minister and the opposition leader, mention that the 39 recommendations of the Estens inquiry have been positively responded to by the government?

Recommendation 4.1 deals with dial-up Internet speeds. The RT inquiry noted that the Internet Assistance Program is achieving its objectives of helping users achieve faster and better Internet browsing capabilities and email services but, of course, recommended that a licence condition be imposed on Telstra to ensure that the benefits provided under the program will be guaranteed into the future—and this MPI is about the future. What has the government done? The government has responded very positively. It has said, `Yes, we will support this recommendation. Recommendation 4.1, which is about benefits to rural and regional Australia, will be guaranteed.' The government will impose a licence condition on Telstra to provide a minimum dial-up network speed for all Australians over its fixed line network.

All this nonsense and hypocrisy that we hear from the opposition is just part of their policy ineptitude and incompetence. The Liberals and the Nationals stand very united on this. We are very strongly in support of privatisation, because it is in the national interest. I wonder if the handful of Labor members opposite who hold shares in Telstra—Graham Edwards, Sid Sidebottom's spouse, I believe, and Warren Snowdon, the member for Lingiari—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Barresi)—The member will refer to members by their electorates.

Mr JOHNSON —I just wonder if those members will actually support the government's position. They hold shares in Telstra and they benefit from Telstra, so I encourage them to support the government's position, because it is in the national interest.

It is a shame we are allowed only 10 minutes to speak on this, because more time could be used to point out to the Australian people the real and complete issues. The other important thing the shadow minister always fails to bring up is that it was the opposition, when they were in government, that put Telstra under the jurisdiction of the Corporations Act.

Mr Tanner —It's us again!

Mr JOHNSON —I do not recall the shadow minister or any of his colleagues, including the Leader of the Opposition, ever saying to the Australian people, `Actually, it was us when we were in government. We ensured that the Corporations Act would govern Telstra.' That is a very important point that needs to be added to the story where we are concerned.

In the remaining seconds I have, I want to turn to what the then Treasurer of the previous Labor government said in his second reading speech in relation to the sale of the Commonwealth Bank. He said:

... in the budget deliberations we considered the clear budgetary advantages of selling the government's remaining 50.4 per cent stake. The sale will make a major contribution to the reduction of outstanding government debt, to the benefit of all Australians.

So is there a difference between, on the one hand, the proceeds from the sale of the Commonwealth Bank going to pay off debt and, on the other hand, the proceeds from the sale of Telstra being allocated to pay off the massive Labor debt that the Howard government inherited when it came to office in 1996? (Time expired)