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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6082

Senator CHERRY (2:50 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I refer the minister to comments by the Prime Minister yesterday in relation to a possible sale of Telstra:

We've also got to be satisfied ... it would be sold at a time and at a price that would maximise the return to the Australian public ...

Is the minister aware that it would take a 30 per cent increase in the Telstra share price for the budget to break even in each of the five years following such a sale? Based on the Prime Minister's comment, can the minister assure the Senate that the government would never ever support the sale of Telstra if such a sale would result in a continuing loss to the budget?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I cannot say I have done the calculations that Senator Cherry has put before us about a 30 per cent or anything else increase in the Telstra share price, but what I can say is that, obviously if and when we get to a situation where these matters become relevant, the government will of course take account of the need to ensure that any potential sale of Telstra delivers good value to the people of Australia. I think that is what the Prime Minister has been saying now for some days. I think it is a self-evident proposition.

Senator CHERRY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Prime Minister also stated that to support a sale:

We've got to be satisfied about the bush ...

I presume he was talking about service levels, not the Queensland National Party. Can the minister define clearly and precisely at exactly what level of service the government becomes satisfied about the bush to such an extent that the benchmark test on service delivery will be met?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —We are currently considering our response to the Estens inquiry, but I would have thought that Senator Cherry and anyone else who had an open mind on the subject—and that does not include that lot on the other side—would have to acknowledge the enormous improvement in service levels over recent years. You get quarterly quality of service reports—

Senator ALSTON —I do not know whether you have read them, Senator Lundy, but if you have you ought to be ashamed at how little interest you showed in these issues back in the bad old days prior to 1996. Clearly, things like customer service guarantees were the last thing you were interested in—never interested in outcomes, always interested in inputs. How many workers and how many unionists will be on the ground in every country town? That was where your interest started and finished. You have only to look at all of the improvements that have been made. We are releasing today a booklet which spells out—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator ALSTON —And I trust you will read it from cover to cover. You will be able to see there in all its glory—(Time expired)