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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 65

Senator STEPHENS (2:15 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Is the minister aware of comments made earlier today by National Party MP De-Anne Kelly in which she said: `We still have a significant presence in the Senate and obviously as a party to the coalition our views at the end will predominate'? In light of this unequivocal statement by the National Party minister, will the National Party's view on the sale of Telstra `predominate' the coalition's position, or does the minister expect The Nationals to roll over again, just as they did on the GST?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Stephens for the question. The government will pursue its longstanding policy for the full privatisation of Telstra. As I said yesterday, Telstra's future sale will be contingent on adequate telecommunication service levels and appropriate market conditions. Unlike the Labor Party, the government has demonstrated its commitment to improving telecommunication services and ensuring service levels for telecommunications across Australia. This has been particularly relevant to improving services in rural and regional Australia. As I said yesterday, an exhaustive investigation into telecommunications has been carried out by Mr Estens. The inquiry made 39 recommendations, all of which the government has accepted. We announced a $181 million package of initiatives to respond to the inquiry.

The government is continuing to implement responses to all the Estens recommendations. The government remains committed to the sale of Telstra because it believes it to be in the best interests of the company itself, its 1.8 million shareholders, the wider telecommunications industry and, most importantly, all Australians. Competition, as we know, drives new services and lower prices, and regulation provides safeguards to protect consumers. The government does not need to own Telstra to achieve those outcomes. The sale will proceed on those contingent conditions of implementing all of the Estens requirements and the market conditions being correct. As was said yesterday, this is a policy that the government will pursue.

I would suggest that, if anyone is looking for some political split, the very best example, as Senator Abetz alluded to, is Labor's forestry policy. It was extremely diverting, to say the least, to see not only Labor tear itself apart over a policy but also a whole lot of people walk off and sulk and not even be prepared to back their leader and serve on the front bench. The Labor Party had to practically conduct a raffle to get people to sit on the front bench. The government will continue to implement all of the Estens recommendations to ensure that all Australians have first-class telecommunications, irrespective of where they live. It will continue to do this and proceed with its policy.

Senator STEPHENS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her response. I am concerned that perhaps she does not really understand what the recommendations of the Estens inquiry mean in terms of service delivery. Is the minister aware of comments by the Prime Minister that telecommunication service standards in the bush are `up to scratch'? Can the minister inform the Senate what the term `up to scratch' really means? Minister, now that Barnaby Joyce's parents have the phone back on in Danglemah, do you consider that telecommunication service standards right across the bush are up to scratch?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank Senator Stephens for the supplementary question. I am grateful to her for reminding me of the issue to do with Senator elect Joyce's parents. Despite the fact that it is said that their telephone service was a problem, in a report in a newspaper Mr Joyce apparently denied that there was any Telstra deal for his parents.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator COONAN —I am just going on what has been reported in the newspaper. Contrary to what was put yesterday, it does not seem that there was any special deal whatsoever for Mr Joyce's parents. The Labor Party can stop trying to join dots that do not exist with the suggestion that Senator elect Joyce's parents received some sort of special deal. As I said in response to Senator Stephens, we will continue— (Time expired)