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Thursday, 9 July 1998
Page: 5415


Senator HILL (Environment) (9:20 PM) —It sounds familiar. I remember the Labor Party saying it about Qantas. `We will defend Qantas,' they said. In actual fact they planned to sell it. `We will defend the Commonwealth Bank,' they said. In actual fact they intended to sell it. We know what the Labor Party intended to do with Telstra if they had won. They intended to sell it. Mr Beazley had already told the Telstra people that he intended to sell it. So this hypocrisy from the Labor Party is repeated.

But we do not mind having the debate on Telstra. If the Labor Party decides that, for its political purposes, it ought to vote against the sale of Telstra then it should have the opportunity to do so.

Senator Bolkus interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Senator Bolkus, you have continuously interjected during this debate.


Senator HILL —We on this side are not trying to gag the debate on Telstra. We are wanting the debate on Telstra to come on. We want to give the Australian Senate the opportunity to vote on it. We want to give the Labor Party the opportunity to vote `no' if that is what it intends to do. But by voting `no' a great opportunity to retire a large amount of debt, which would be for the benefit of all Australians, would be lost. Lower debt means lower interest rates, which is for the benefit of all Australians. And that is what this opposition, this Labor Party, is determined to avoid.

The sale of Telstra also releases funds that can be used for other capital purposes—a social dividend for the Australian people. We sold, against the Labor Party's objection, one-third of Telstra and were able to set up the largest reinvestment in the natural capital of this country in the history of Australian government—over $1 billion reinvested from one capital asset, a telecommunications company, into another asset, our natural capital. We would say that that is a good investment for the Australian people. And it is possible to put part of the capital return from the sale of two-thirds of Telstra into other important social needs. It is true: the bush needs and deserves more, and the bush will get it from the coalition.

Honourable senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! There are persistent interjections in the chamber which are totally disorderly. I ask senators to desist.


Senator HILL —We are seeking to implement policies that will provide us with the capital funds to enable us to be able to fund good social objectives in the bush. A government that is interested in the bush would be moving in this direction; an opposition like the Labor Party would be opposing it. Not surprisingly, in here today the Labor Party is going to oppose it. What a great missed opportunity that would be for the Australian people and, particularly, for rural and regional Australia.

We are saying that, if the Telstra bill gets passed, basically, it will not be implemented until after the next election. Ultimately, the people of Australia can be the arbiters. What greater security, what better test, what better application of democracy could you have but to go down that path?

We want the Telstra debate. We have said it all along. We want the debate to come on. We, in the government, are prepared to sit here and debate the bill, as the Australian people would expect us to. It is the ALP that says, `We are going to block debate on the bill'—not just, `We are going to vote against it,' but, `We are trying to block debate on the bill.' That is what the Labor Party is seeking to do. It is not only that—there are other important bills that we are wanting to get debated in this place. We have had this farce tonight on the copyright bill, the filibuster of the Labor Party, speaker after speaker, speaking for 20 minutes, added to the list and saying nothing. It was just to fill in time so that it can avoid this debate.

The ALP has known all along that we wanted this debate and that we wanted time for this debate. I said that to Senator Faulkner many times. But the trouble is, courtesy with Senator Faulkner gets repaid with a mouthful of abuse. Tonight I rang Senator Faulkner's office to speak to him and he was unavailable, so I asked that it be communicated to him that after consultation we thought a better alternative was to sit Friday and Saturday and, if necessary, to come back a week later. (Time expired)