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Wednesday, 27 May 1998
Page: 3178


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (12:08 PM) —I thank honourable senators for their contributions to this debate. We apologise that Senator Alston is not able to be here. He is on his way back to Canberra and will be here shortly. He has asked that I sum up the second reading debate and move to the early consideration of the bill in committee.

A number of important issues have been raised by honourable senators opposite during this debate. Can I say from the outset that I share with Senator Margetts an interest in the approach of the Australian Labor Party to these issues. We saw, as Senator Margetts will remember, an approach by the Australian Labor Party in government which—and I believe to former Prime Minister Keating's great credit—embraced competition policy. We saw a move to bring the benefits of competition to the Australian economy, and I praise the former Prime Minister for that. Although he had many failures as a Prime Minister, one of his great achievements was to bring competition policy to many parts of the Australian economy that had not previously be exposed. He did so in a sensible, practical and workable way.

The Australian Labor Party in government had that approach to competition. They also, as Senator Margetts will recall, had an approach to privatisation—the privatisation of great Australian icons. In government, of course, having promised at the 1990 election that they would not sell the Commonwealth Bank—and Ben Chifley would turn in his grave—they sold the Commonwealth Bank. It was the Victorian Labor Party that sold the State Bank of Victoria.


Senator Schacht —That is national infrastructure.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —We will get to infrastructure, Senator Schacht, because you are pretty good at selling that too. You sold Australian Airlines. The people opposite sold Qantas. Of course, it might be argued that one of the two major airlines formed a significant part of the national infrastructure. After promising they were not going to sell, Labor sold the airline. It also sold the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories—a massive, dominant and crucial part of the social fabric of this country that provides serums and a range of other pharmaceutical products.

Senator Schacht, by way of interjection, mentioned infrastructure. We know from reading what has been written since the defeat of the Keating government that the first tranche of the Australian Labor Party's telecommunications privatisation program in the area of telecommunications infrastructure was well afoot in 1991. Their plans to sell Telstra, in fact, were well afoot. Their plans to privatise the Yellow Pages and a range of other parts of Telstra, and indeed Telstra itself, were well in hand at the time the Keating government was defeated. The first tranche of the Australian Labor government's telecommunications privatisation program was the sale in 1991, as I recall, of Aussat. You have to go back—I think it was the Aussat repeal bill in 1991—to see who supported the sale of that important part of a telecommunications infrastructure.

Senator Schacht has gone very quiet now—he is complying with standing orders for the first time in his parliamentary life. He has gone very quiet now we raise Aussat, this crucial part—


Senator Schacht —I rise on a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. I have always had an attitude that when people get up and drop a bit of abuse on you and so on, that that is the give and take of the parliament. I have never been a great one for taking points of order. But I have to say that I have been here for nearly 11 years and I have always complied with the standing orders and the direction from the chair. I know Senator Ian Campbell is enthusiastic in exaggerating my role in the Senate, but I have to say that I have always complied with the standing orders in the Senate and I think that you might want to reconsider the broad scope of his remarks in that area.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Calvert) —Senator Schacht, you have made your point, but there is no point of order.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. The point I was making, of course, was that the Australian Labor Party in government was pretty gung ho about selling major bits of infrastructure, and Aussat was clearly a part of that. A substantial part of the telecommunications infrastructure of Australia was sold and, of course, it could only have been sold if the Senate had passed the Aussat repeal bill in around 1991. This was very much part of Mr Beazley's policy when he was communications minister, it was very much part of Australian Labor Party policy, and it was the first bite of the Labor Party's implementation of their plan to privatise telecommunications in this country.

The sale of Aussat did not really need the support of the Democrats to get through this parliament because clearly the coalition would have supported it. You hear from the Democrats fairly regularly, when a privatisation debate comes up here, that they have never supported a privatisation. The fact is that when it came to Aussat, a crucial piece of telecommunications infrastructure—the sale of the substantial satellite network of Australia—the Labor government was supported, of course, by the Australian Democrats. At the time, I understand Senator Kernot led the charge to get the Democrats to support that legislation.

Senator Margetts, I know you were not here in 1991, but your party has been the only non-coalition party in this place that has been consistently opposed to privatisation on fundamental philosophical grounds. We have always supported privatisation.


Senator Schacht —You are just filling in time until Richard gets here.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I am not; I am making the point about the hypocrisy of the Australian Labor Party when it comes to these debates. They have not given any reason why the national transmission network should not be privatised, and I wanted to knock over a number of the arguments in relation to that. The Labor Party's philosophy and policy in relation to this, if they were to be consistent, would have a number of logical consequences. They have said that we cannot sell this—and Senator Schacht, by way of interjection, has made it clear that this is their philosophy—because this is a major part of infrastructure, and it should not be sold. Firstly, they sold Aussat—


Senator Schacht —There is no comparison between a satellite and 1,500 transmitters across Australia.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —There is no comparison, but of course Aussat is a network; it is a communications network. If you continued in a consistent manner the application of the Labor Party's philosophy and principles and policy in relation to this matter—and the great thing about the Labor Party, I guess, is that they do not follow a consistent path, because if they did, the country would have been in a worse position than it was. They are very pragmatic, they change, depending on which way the wind blows, like an old windmill. If the wind blows from the east, they swing around like a wind vane.

If you cross the Tweed River—this is the Wayne Swan doctrine and the Kim Beazley doctrine—just in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, their policy, position and rhetoric on native title has to quickly change. If you move from Western Australia across the Nullarbor Plain, their position on native title has to change. When Mr Beazley, Mr Smith, Senator Cook and Senator Bishop, amongst others, go to the city of Kalgoorlie, they have a position on native title, but when they get over here it is different. So I guess, in a way, the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the Australian Labor Party and their smorgasbord approach to policy—


Senator Conroy —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order on relevance, and what the Labor Party's position north of Tweed Heads has to do with this bill.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Calvert) —Senator Conroy, the minister is summing up the second reading debate, and I am quite interested in hearing what he has to say. I am finding it rather difficult with interjections from my left, I might say.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —On the point of order, as part of my summing up of this debate, I am going to get to issues effecting regional—


Senator Conroy —What has Wik got to do with this?


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I was about to get to issues effecting regional Australia. Mr Acting Deputy President, we have had all of the coalition senators talking about the government's range of policies in relation to regional Australia and, if I am allowed to under your stewardship of the chamber, I am going to get to the hypocrisy of the Australian Labor Party in relation to the treatment of regional Australia, particularly when it comes to things like Wik, and that is why it is important to look at regional Australia.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think you have made your point on the point of order. There is no point of order, and I ask you to continue your summing up on this particular bill.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I appreciate being allowed to continue. This is where the hypocrisy is, and I was getting to the point about consistency in policy as it relates to telecommunications quite specifically.

If you were to apply the Schacht doctrine, the Lundy doctrine, to the ownership of telecommunications infrastructure and the ownership of networks, they would not have sold Aussat, they would have kept that in public ownership, and, quite frankly, they would have purchased from Vodaphone, or Iridium, their low earth orbiting satellite network. They would go and buy 66 satellites because it is a crucial part of Australia's emerging telecommunications infrastructure and they would say, `Sorry, this is national telecommunications infrastructure and the public should own it.'

Furthermore, they would go to Foxtel or to Telstra corporation and they would say, `This cable that you have rolled out on the ground to enable hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Australians to get the benefit of cable—'


Senator Schacht —Iridium cannot broadcast television; it is about mobile phones, dill!


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Schacht, you have been continually interjecting. I note from the speakers list you have already spoken, you will have an opportunity in the committee stage to reiterate your position. I would like to hear the minister make his points in silence.


Senator Schacht —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. It goes to relevance. I spoke to the bill. It is their bill. He has spoken about everything else that is not in the bill. Iridium is a satellite system that has got nothing to do with television or radio broadcasting—it is about mobile phones, for goodness sake. We have had talks about Wik; we are asking him to debate the bill.

We know he has got to fill in 15 minutes of time until Senator Alston gets back from abusing the ABC board, but we ask the minister at the table to talk about the bill. Further to my speech in the second reading debate, could he please explain, simply, whether the government has signed an agreement with the ABC or SBS on what money it is going to provide for the next five years to pay for transmission costs? It is a simple request from the second reading debate, and you still have not answered it. I can tell you, Parliamentary Secretary, Iridium is not the way to deliver ABC broadcasting.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —If that was a point of order, it was a rather long one. There is no point of order. Minister, will you continue your summing up, and I remind you that, presumably, the questions asked by Senator Schacht will be answered in the committee stage.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —If we do not have this constant interruption with points of order, I will get to it. I have got a series of responses to very important points made by honourable senators opposite—mostly, other than Senator Schacht.

There is a key principle here: we are trying to look at the position of people like Senator Lundy, who contributed to this debate on the public ownership of the means of production and these distribution networks, when it comes to telecommunications. If you can argue that broadcasting and the ownership of broadcasting networks is not related to Telstra and Foxtel's cable, then Senator Schacht is drawing a very long bow, if not a very long cable. If you apply their principle, which is that the Commonwealth should own this transmission network, then the Labor Party's policy should be that they would nationalise the Foxtel cable network. It is as simple as that. There is no difference.


Senator Schacht —The Foxtel cable is owned by Telstra which we want to keep in public ownership.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Senator Schacht reinforces our position that they would prefer to have a cable network, and indeed Optus is cable. Senator Schacht might by way of interjection—without encouraging him any further—suggest whether the Labor Party intends to nationalise the Optus cable network.


Senator Schacht —Here we go.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —In principle there is no difference. This is a transmission network. To get to the specific points, we do need to ensure that regional Australia receives a better service than it is receiving at the moment. We do need to ensure that. The privatisation of the transmission network is the best opportunity that regional Australia has to ensure that their transmissions are received efficiently and at the best price. The ABC desperately want this new regime because it gives them options. It gives the SBS and ABC the benefits of price competition. It gives them a whole range of new options when it comes to rolling out new services into regional areas. That is why the ABC and SBS and regional areas in particular benefit from this.

I get to the point that I was discussing when we were debating that point of order earlier, Mr Acting Deputy President. These Australian Labor Party people opposite would have you believe that they are the friends of people in remote and regional Australia. I ask Senator Schacht or Senator Lundy to go out to Wyndham, Kununurra, Leonora, Leinster, Laverton, Esperance, Halls Creek, Mount Magnet or Meekatharra—any of those places—and hold a discussion on public policy out there. I will tee up the venues.


Senator Schacht —Yours is the first government ever to put a TV station off the air—GWN in Wyndham.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I challenge Senator Schacht. We will have a debate about public policy in Kalgoorlie. Do you know what they will say to the Australian Labor Party? `Don't you pretend to be our friends up here. We know how you voted on the Wik legislation, we know what you were doing to our economy. Don't come and talk to us about ABC or SBS.' You would be lucky to get out of there in one piece, Senator Schacht, after voting the way you did on the Wik legislation. You are destroying regional Western Australia.

Oppostion senators interjecting—


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —The people in remote and regional Western Australia know that you do not get the best expansion of transmission services by having the transmis sion network owned by the Commonwealth of Australia. What you have got to ensure is that you have a good access regime. We have already put in by way of contract between the ABC and SBS a five-year guaranteed contract. Everyone talks about five years but it is actually 14 years. They all ignore that. You have got five years plus three years plus three years plus three years, so the access is guaranteed for an absolute minimum of 14 years.


Senator Schacht —You have not guaranteed the money for 14 years.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —The Commonwealth has guaranteed the funding. Furthermore, the access regime is guaranteed as well. In terms of coverage and quality of ABC and SBS services, the legislation does provide a regulatory framework which will underpin contractual controls to ensure that the government's commitment to preserving the existing coverage and quality of ABC and SBS is met. The opposition, of course, choose to ignore that. Furthermore, the minister's approval will be required if the NTA wishes to sell or transfer some or all of its assets needed to supply these services. There is a guarantee: if the NTA does choose to move out of an area, it will have to come back to the minister, and the minister is required—


Senator Schacht —He will cave in absolutely. In all of these matters he is an abject coward.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —God help Australia if Senator Schacht ever becomes the minister. The people of Australia remember very clearly what happened with ministers for communications when the Labor Party was in power. We had this fantastic roll-up. We had Mr Beazley when he was minister for communications stuff up Aussat. Then we had Senator Bob Collins. He was a ripper. Who remembers cascading bids? That was a lot of fun, wasn't it?


Senator Conroy —Has this got any relevance whatsoever?


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Well, Senator Schacht interjected about the minister for communications, who has actually got communications policy back on the track. We have got a quite clear policy being imple mented. I say to the people of Australia: on communications policy, compare Senator Alston, somebody who knows what he is doing, a quality minister, to old Mr Beazley, who spent the first couple of years in the portfolio trying to find out what a policy was—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Campbell, could we return to the summing up of the bill?


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —We are talking about it, Mr Acting Deputy President. This bill is a crucial part of our policy to try to fix up the mess that the Australian Labor Party left communications policy in in this country. Cascading bids: say no more. Senator Collins, I hope you are enjoying your retirement, because the communications industry certainly is.

We need to look at the very important issues relating to community broadcasters and radio for the print handicapped. The 19 community broadcasters which currently use the NTA transmission facilities will be required to pay commercial charges. This will put these 19 broadcasters in exactly the same position as the more than 120 other community broadcasters who already make their own arrangements for the use of non-NTA sites. The government estimates that the aggregate increase for these 19 broadcasters will approximate $30,000. The government today announces formally that the Community Broadcasters Foundation will be given—


Senator Conroy —More notes, quick. He has run out.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I have got plenty of notes here; it is just that part of the writing is slightly hard to read. I formally announce that the government will be providing to the Community Broadcasters Foundation an annual grant of $30,000, which will more than cover that.

Can I also say that, in relation to SBS self-help programs, today the minister will be announcing new funding to be provided to the SBS to establish a program to help new self-help groups with their establishment costs. Senator Schacht may want to listen to this. The funding will be around $150,000 in 1998- 99, $300,000 in 1999-2000, and then $500,000 per year ongoing from the year 2000. That is to assist SBS self-help programs.

Furthermore, today the minister will be announcing that new funding of around $2.5 million will be provided to SBS over the next three years to assist with improvements in the quality of SBS television reception in Sydney. While it is entirely a matter for SBS, it is likely that the funding will be used to relocate the main transmitter. As I have said—


Senator Schacht —You must be getting some political heat. You're trying to drag some money out.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Senator Schacht talks about heat. They say that they are friends of the ABC. The ABC is extremely keen to ensure that it receives the benefits of the improvements that the increases in the efficiency of national transmissions will deliver to it. The ABC and the SBS, as Senator Schacht would admit if he were to be entirely frank about this, will be significant beneficiaries of this reform. It is a great shame that the Australian Labor Party have refused to support this. It is clearly an act of hypocrisy compared to their position on these matters in government, particularly in relation to the way they sold Aussat. I commend the bill to the house. (Time expired)