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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6266

Senator MACKAY (5:22 PM) —That was an extraordinary contribution, and I personally thought a lot better of Senator Bartlett than that. I respected him, together with Senator Stott Despoja, for not supporting the GST. I think that kind of contribution just shows how much he is prepared to give up to get the leadership of a political party that who knows how long will remain, given that Senator Lees has already indicated that she is starting her own. In respect of Senator Bartlett's speech, I do not think that his heart was in it. If his heart was in it, it was a pathetic speech.

The reality about this $150 million package is that it is a re-allocation of existing money; it is not new money. The minister misled the Senate again and said, `Yes, part of it is new money'. Do you know what that means? It means that the minister has not even read Telstra's press release, never mind the Estens report. He has not read Telstra's press release. And guess what? The Democrats have fallen for the three-card trick yet again. Something new has emerged on the scene, and that is Senator Cherry. Senator Cherry is well known around the place in terms of his previous role as adviser.

Senator MACKAY —He actually put the GST deal together. Senator Ferris probably knows him very well and has probably had many drinks and meals with him et cetera, and I am sure that this relationship may have been re-established through this. I have to say that Senator Cherry and Senator Lees did an awful lot better when they were negotiating the GST package in terms of extracting concessions out of the government than this pathetic amount of money—$10 million. Get real! You have got to be kidding!

Let us go to what this is about. This is a softener. We have Senator Bartlett basically sounding like Senator Alston, defending the government and bagging the Labor Party, saying that we have no policies et cetera. I expected Senator Bartlett to start talking towards the end of his speech about how we were all union officials. At least he did not quite go that far. He obviously has not read the options paper by Mr Tanner just as the minister has not read the Estens report nor the press release. What Senator Bartlett did not do—and I am sure that Senator Cherry will be able to enlighten us when he makes his contribution—is find out exactly where the figures came from. The figures that Senator Bartlett disparages actually came from the department. The Labor Party did not pull them out of thin air; they are departmental figures and that is the reality. The $100 million figure came from the department.

I interjected on Senator Cherry about the ACA and he just wrinkled his nose, not particularly interested in the ACA, so clearly they are not the flavour of the month. I am sure he loves ACOSS, because they supported the GST. I am quite serious. I think this is a softener for the Democrats to change their position on Telstra. There has been a change in the person who deals with the portfolio. I have got an enormous amount of respect for Senator Allison, and I wish that she had stayed in that portfolio after this performance. This is a softener in relation to the Democrats' position on Telstra. Senator Bartlett made it very clear that Telstra will not be sold in this parliament. We will wait and see because there was the never-ever GST, which he had the courage not to support—unlike this. He had the courage and, as I have said, I thought better of him.

Let us go to some of the points that Senator Alston made, because there is no point in picking on the Democrats—if they are going to act like puppets, who cares. No wonder Senator Alston did not recognise Senator Conroy in relation to whom he represented in the chamber, because he did not even bother turning up to the last Senate estimates. He was in Stockholm. What was he doing in Stockholm? I reckon he might have been scoping for another job the way he has been performing recently. Maybe that is the kind of posting that he wants. As for the absolutely nauseating sycophancy that we heard from the minister—as they say in the classics, it was deja vu in terms of the nauseating sycophancy we heard in relation to the GST and in relation to Senator Lees and other people who have been involved in deals. It is either absolutely nauseatingly sycophantic or it is total sledging. Senator Alston never manages to get the balance totally right. I would say to Senator Alston, who is not here because he is not very interested—and we all know that he is bored out of his brain and wants another job—is that at least we had the courage to stand a candidate in Cunningham; there was no Liberal candidate. So do not come in here and accuse us of lack of intestinal fortitude. Also, the minister was wrong. Mr Tanner has met with the Democrats in relation to this matter on several occasions, obviously to no avail. So here we go again.

The deal was done by the Democrats because Labor raised this issue to start with. That is why. If we had not, nothing would have happened. The Democrats would have sat there and nothing would have happened. The Democrats wanted to opportunistically rush through a pretty shabby and pathetic deal to get some kind of glory for themselves. The Democrats' paper that was issued to support this decision is a joke. The Democrats are shamelessly trying to rid themselves of any social equity concerns whatsoever. The Australian Democrats claim that local calls have come down since 1997-98 and ignore the fact that they remained the same under Telstra's new price rises and, in fact, went up in one package. It is extremely disappointing, but not unexpected, that the Democrats have used their votes to sell out to this government for a mere $10 million, and I make the point that the figures actually came from the department itself. I do not say this lightly, but I now genuinely doubt whether the Democrats will stick to their commitment to no further sale of Telstra. Nobody has been more committed than the Labor Party—and Senator Lundy and I in particular—in relation to ensuring that the majority of Telstra remains in public hands.

Australian consumers will remember this every time they pay their phone bills, and thanks to the Australia Democrats for delivering the coalition's price line rental hikes to them—thank you very much. Every time Australians pay their bills, they will be able to say, `Thank you very much,' to the Democrats. In contrast to the coalition and the Democrats, Labor is saying that renting a telephone line should not be allowed to become a privilege only for those who can afford Telstra's high prices. It is crystal clear to Labor senators that the Howard government is basically doing this to fatten Telstra up for privatisation. It is a hugely profitable company and Senator Conroy has already made that point extensively. He covered a lot of figures. I do not know whether you were listening, Senator Bartlett, to what Senator Conroy said.

We do not agree with the coalition that a telephone is an optional luxury for those who can afford it. The coalition does not seem to understand that a telephone is an essential service. If this motion were successful, which it clearly is not going to be now, Telstra would be forced to revert back to the fairer 2001 price control regime until July 2003, allowing a better price regime to be negotiated. Senator Bartlett comes in here and says, `Let's be reasonable. Let's come up with some alternatives.' If you had not intended to vote this disallowance down, Senator Bartlett, it would have given us the time between now and July 2003 and you could have done a better deal than the deal you have done today. You might have got $12 million instead of $10 million but you sold out for $10 million. We believe that this new price control regime is totally unfair and this disallowance, which is now obviously not going to get through, would have been a much fairer way to ensure that that outcome could have been achieved.

I hope Senator Cherry in his contribution will enlighten the Senate as to precisely where he got his figures from. If they came from Telstra and the department, I have to say that you have fallen for the old three card trick yet again, Senator Cherry.

Senator Bartlett —You used the old figures.

Senator MACKAY —That is right. The figures leaked to the Labor Party were Telstra's figures. These are the figures you were denying were correct. These figures actually came directly from the department. Anyway, Senator Lundy wants to make a contribution, so I will wrap up. I will just say this to Senator Bartlett: if the Democrats or the radical centre—or whatever you attempt to call yourselves these days—want to deal themselves back into the game, they should try to make the price of the deal a bit higher than this. Senator Lees, for whom I actually have a lot of personal respect, at least managed to extract a bit more than $10 million, and we are not even talking about new money. What is this really about?

Senator Bartlett —It is new money.

Senator MACKAY —It is not new money. Telstra's press release makes it very clear that it is not new money; it is rebadged money, rephased money or whatever Orwellian euphemism you wish to use. I am very curious and I would like Senator Cherry in his contribution to advise us on this: what is the political underlay here? What is going on here? Why are you doing this? Is this a pathetic attempt to become the radical centre, to deal yourselves back into the game? I would have thought that you would have learnt your lesson on that under the leadership of Senator Bartlett, because he had the courage to oppose some of the government's measures. But I guess that is the price of leadership.

In conclusion, I just think that you cannot expect anything better from Senator Alston. He does not even bother to read his own Estens inquiry report. You cannot expect anything from him. He is on the way out. He is bored. He is looking for another posting. He would be lucky to get to New Zealand. However, we hope he stays, because he is great for the cause of keeping Telstra in public hands. He is great. Every time he says something, the Prime Minister comes in and contradicts him and we have another four or five questions in both chambers. We are quite happy for Senator Alston to remain here. However, I have to say that this deal by the Democrats is very disappointing. It is absolutely pathetic, and if this is a portent of things to come then good luck to Meg Lees in terms of forming a new party.