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Wednesday, 9 March 2005
Page: 78

Senator EGGLESTON (3:12 PM) —It is always of interest and something of an amusement to us on this side of the house to hear the opposition to the privatisation of Telstra coming from the ALP. Let us face it, the ALP is basically committed to the 1930s socialist ideology of state ownership of enterprises. It is an ideology which proved a total failure in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but here in Australia the ALP is determined that it will keep Telstra in public ownership because that is where it is coming from in an ideological sense.

There is no point in maintaining public ownership of Telstra to ensure good telecommunications services to the Australian people, because it does not matter whether Telstra is owned by the government or privately owned so long as the government can regulate the telecommunications industry to ensure that Australians wherever they live receive good services. That is where the government are coming from. We believe that Telstra should be sold because there is no point in the government owning a great telecommunications enterprise like that. We will provide regulations which will ensure through the universal service obligation and the customer service guarantee that excellent telecommunications services are provided to people not only in the cities but also in country Australia.

One of the ideological commitments we have as a party is to competition. We have deregulated the telecommunications industry, which means that now there are over 100 companies providing telecommunications services in Australia, and the result of that has been an incredible improvement in the standard of services provided to Australians and a reduction in the costs of calls and telecommunications services in general. That ideological divide is there, and we already have the runs on the board in terms of the success of our ideological commitment, the success of competition. We see no reason at all why Telstra should not be sold, because, as I said, we do not believe that governments should own major services like that when we can regulate the content.

So, given that we believe that Telstra should be sold, we are indeed seeking to ensure that the service provided after it is sold is excellent but also that the price that we get for the sale of Telstra is a reasonable and good price, because we plan to use that money to pay off government debt left behind by the Hawke-Keating government. There is still $30 billion or $35 billion of Commonwealth debt left behind by the Hawke-Keating government which the Howard government hopes to retire with the sale of Telstra. So, naturally, our aim is to ensure that we get a price which will enable that debt to be paid off.

We have done many things to improve telecommunication services within this country. We have ensured, through the Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme, that broadband will spread around regional Australia. We have made sure that people around this country have fast fax and fast internet services. I do not think there is any doubt whatsoever that the government will implement the broad recommendations of the Estens report, which were designed to ensure that telecommunications services in regional areas are maintained at a high standard.

Senator Lundy —They already have, and it did nothing!

Senator EGGLESTON —Senator Lundy says that they have all been implemented. In fact, the government plans to implement the recommendations regarding future proofing in the near future. There is no reason at all why Telstra should remain in government hands. The Howard government’s proposal to sell it is going to provide a better telecommunications service to the people of Australia, and Senator Conroy is just nitpicking on this issue.