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Wednesday, 9 March 2005
Page: 77

Senator CONROY (3:07 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (Senator Coonan) to questions without notice asked today relating to Telstra.

What we saw today was another embarrassing performance by a minister who is struggling to get across the serious issues inside her party and inside her government. Senator Coonan yesterday leaked copies of her speech and briefed journalists that today was the big day. She said, ‘Tomorrow I am going to the ATUG conference and I am going to outline the new Telstra rules.’ Here is one of the headlines in the Sydney Morning Herald—‘Coonan to outline Telstra rules’. What did we get today? Nothing; absolutely nothing. She had to spend five pages attacking Barnaby Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade—five pages ruling out structural separation.

It is obvious that the coalition has more positions on this than you can just about count. Four cabinet ministers are talking at cross-purposes on the issue through the media and they cannot even agree on the objective of the sale. Should it be to maximise the Telstra share price? That is the Minchin position, if I can call it that—to rip out as much money as they can to stick in their pockets so that they can dredge Tumbi Creek a second time. That is Senator Minchin’s position. And then we have the Deputy Prime Minister worried about unleashing a 600-pound gorilla—a fully privatised Telstra—on the market. And he should be, because, unlike the minister, he has probably seen the Citigroup report that Senator Coonan was asked about which makes it absolutely clear that the market is factoring in a massive domination in Telstra’s position in broadband and many other areas. That is the basis of the valuation of Telstra. That is why Senator Minchin is so determined to reject outright the pleas of the National Party—not ‘Rollover’ Ron Boswell, of course, because we know in the end he will roll over. But that is what this is about.

Every backbencher who has walked past a microphone in the past month has a different plan for the privatisation. But we ain’t seen nothing yet. Barnaby Joyce, senator elect, really has set the scene for the stoush. The interesting aside from this morning is that when Senator elect Joyce was on the radio he noted that he did not know what Ron Boswell’s position was on the sale. Come on, Ron, come clean. What is Senator Ron Boswell’s position on the sale of Telstra? He is saying one thing to Minister Coonan and another thing to Senator elect Barnaby Joyce. Come clean, Ron Boswell. Tell us if you are going to stand up and fight. Senator elect Barnaby Joyce has made clear his view of the Queensland National Party policy. He says: ‘Structural separation is the only option for the promotion of competition. It was a key position for the Queensland Nationals and an issue that defines our party.’ So this statement cannot be misconstrued by Senator ‘Rollover’ Ron Boswell, he did not define the party as a proxy for the Liberals but further stated, ‘We have to go in and fight on this issue.’ That is what Senator elect Barnaby Joyce said.

Senator Minchin has dismissed him because Senator Minchin and this government have a clear, unambiguous conflict of interest when it comes to this issue. Senator Minchin wants as many dollars in the bank as he can get, and he does not care how he rips them out. He just wants the dollars—‘Show Me The Money’ Minchin we are going to call him. But at the same time, the very same government is in charge of regulating the sale of Telstra and introducing the new rules to be enforced on Telstra afterwards. That is why we have got so little from Senator Coonan. She cannot afford to outline a serious robust regulatory environment, because she knows it is going to affect the sale price. That is why she said that they were not going to be allowed to make changes—‘Post sale the government will be restricted for some time in the regulatory changes we can make.’ Unless we get it now we cannot get it afterwards, according to Senator Coonan. So come clean. Why are you just fattening up the cow to get as much money as you can? Why do you have this massive conflict of interest? You will not put forward a robust regulatory environment, because you know that will reduce the dollars. (Time expired)