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70 Phillip Street, Sydney, Wednesday, 22 July 1998: transcript of doorstop interview [Telstra; Liberal Party leadership; Justice Callinan; CPI figures]



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

 

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, 70 PHILLIP STREET, SYDNEY, WEDNESDAY,

22 JULY 1998

 

E&OE-PROOFONLY

 

SUBJECTS: Telstra, Liberal Party leadership, Justice Callinan, CPI figures

 

BEAZLEY:

 

This is a classic act of deception by this Government. John Howard hasn’t changed his mind on the full privatisation of Telstra. Is says so in the first paragraph of the press release. He wants you to think he’s changed his mind. He wants to sneak through this election campaign thinking he’s only committed to 49 per cent of a sell down when, in fact, he’s there for 100 per cent. This is a decision not even driven by the polls. This is a decision driven by fear and by the collapse of his Government. This is Government on the run, Government confused, Government with no sense of direction, Government deceiving the Australian people.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Senator Alston did say though, it was just announced until an inquiry is held into Telstra’s service levels and that the Government does intend selling all of Telstra.

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Indeed, it does intend to sell all of Telstra. But, you can bet your bottom dollar that the National Party out there in the bush and the Government on the campaign hustings will be saying we’re really only committed to 49 per cent. This inquiry is into matters that only a week or two ago Senator Alston was telling the Senate was complete and absolutely okay, as far as the bush was concerned — that there was nothing to worry about on any of these fronts. But, now he says he has to have an inquiry into it and he won’t go to a full 100 per cent privatisation until that inquiry is complete. The inquiry before it starts has a report that will not be worth the paper that it is written on. They intend 100 per cent, but they want to sneak through the notion they’re only for 49.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Doesn’t this make your job harder to sell to the bush because at least the Government’s at least being seen to be listening to the bush?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No. We’re the only people with an honest policy now. We’re the only people saying exactly what we intend to do. We intend to do these things: not to privatise Telstra one share more — not one share more. And to cement that position, we intend to put a substantial proportion of its dividend into a Telstra fund at arm’s length of Government to improve the nature of our country, to undertake essential national development tasks. As In many areas now, we’re the only people with the policy of true integrity as far as the presentation to the public is concerned. You’ve got the Labor Party’s open policy on Telstra, you’ve got the Liberal Party’s weak and sneaky product.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Isn’t it ultimately a good thing though that Telstra, for the time being, is remaining in majority public ownership?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

It would be a very good thing if Telstra remained in public ownership ad infinitum. That’s what we want. That’s the position that we want. That will guarantee over the long haul that Telstra plays the role in Australian industry for Australian consumers and for the Australian bush that it must play if we are to be a competitive nation. But, that is not the Government’s position. The Government’s position is please believe we only want to sell 49 per cent, but really, at the same time we’re telling you we’re going to sell 100. This is a Government in complete confusion; it is a Government in a state of collapse. This is more about public policy, about trying to paint over the cracks in a collapsing Coalition between now and election day. When you can’t govern yourselves you cannot govern the country. And this piece of paper that I have here with me today is an indication that they can neither govern themselves, nor the country.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

But, isn’t the real issue just the service in the bush rather than the sell off of Telstra? Isn’t that the real concern?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

There are so many issues with the sell off of Telstra. I know we talk a lot about the bush and it’s important to do so. Because Telstra performs important functions there. But, it’s not just the people in the bush who are opposed to selling Telstra. Every Australian in their heart of hearts knows that the only way to keep Telstra in Australian control is not through golden shares or trickery or any of the sort of things that these folk are talking about, but to keep it in public hands. Every Australian knows that. And every Australian knows, because we’re a very technologically adept nation, that Telstra stands at the heart the very heart of the development of Australian industry in the future. And the only way that you can be sure that it will play the role it has to play is if it is in public hands.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, what is your reaction to Peter Costello’s comments about his colleagues approaching him ... (inaudible) . . .the leadership?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, we now have a very divided Government We have the Liberal Party divided, the National Party divided, both of them trying to work out whether they’ll let One Nation into the Coalition by the front door or the back door. We’ve got a three-ring circus, each ring divided in leadership. And the alternative to that, of course, is us: solid, united with a sense of direction. All that Mr Costello’s done is to show out in public what all of us have known for a long time now, John Howard has disappointed his folk as a leader of his Party.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

... (inaudible) ...

 

BEAZLEY:

 

The sort of statements that Costello was making are all the sort of statements people usually use to foreshadow a leadership challenge. Whether it produces one or not, I do not know. All I know is that Mr Costello has got no answers; Mr Howard has got no answers. We have a divided Government, a Government that cannot develop coherent, clear-cut policy In Its core areas. Telstra’s a key issue. Make no mistake about it. This is a serious matter. And the Government does not know how to convey its intentions to the Australian public.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Does Justice Callinan have a future at all?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, it was an alarm bell rung by the Law Council today. A very serious alarm bell, indeed. And we have conveyed the view to the Attorney-General that we would obviously want to take any action as far as this was concerned on a bipartisan basis. It is a problem for the Attorney-General in the first instance. And we await his intentions before we take it further. But, that Law Council has laid down a pretty clear course and we are impressed with their argument.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

What’s your reaction to the CPI figures?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

To get a reaction to it that has meaning you’ve got to look at the inwardness of it. The CPI figures are on target as far as the headline inflation rate is concerned. We’ve had inflation licked for a long time. But, within that contains a spurt in the costs of dental care and in the costs of health care. A spurt of over 3½ per cent in both cases, which brings into stark relief the Government’s decisions to deprive pensioners in this country with assistance with dental care. A pensioner looking at this knowing that they’re not going to get an increase will be very, very concerned about what the reality of cost is In increases for him or her.

 

 

ends

 

 

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