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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1499


Mr SMITH(10.05 a.m.) —-I indicate on behalf of the coalition that we will support and facilitate the passage of this amendment to the Aussat Repeal Bill but, in so doing, it is important to point out that this sale of Aussat marks the end of what has been a very sorry saga for the involvement of government in the delivery of communications by satellite in this country. The Bill which came to the House some weeks ago and which was passed limited the Government to absorbing in the vicinity of $800m of debt, $700m of which was already identified. There were also to be some tax losses recouped, with a net saving to the Government of some $50m. Certainly that is a huge amount of money and shows the folly of government intervention in this area, which has visited upon taxpayers a great cost.

The Bill is primarily about facilitating the sale of Aussat as part of the development of the second carrier to compete with Telecom. Broadly speaking, we support it. The other interesting point to note from the brief remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Communications (Mr Snowdon) is that this is the quickest way to facilitate and advance the prospect for sale. I made mention the other day that I felt it was important for the Minister for Transport and Communications (Mr Beazley)--and I know that he has lost his voice today--to come to the Parliament to indicate, where he can within the requirements of commerciality, exactly what stage the whole process of the issue of the second licence has got to. There are some key decisions that need to be made with regard to the Australian Overseas Telecommunications Corporation about headquarters and the arrangements for the new board and chief executive. They are all matters waiting for decision, and those decisions need to be made very quickly.

It is interesting that this Aussat Bill is being considered today, when Cabinet is about to make a decision on pay TV. My views and those of the coalition about pay TV have been on the record for some considerable time. I make a last minute plea for there to be a sensible, rational decision and that pay TV be supported on this occasion. If the Government is now going to turn its back on it yet again, I say to it that the luddites have won. The Government cannot turn its back on a technology that has been available for 10 years. We must have it available. It is up to the marketplace to determine whether or not it is going to be viable. It would be sheer folly for this Parliament to be involved in legislation which limits technology that ought to be available to this community, and in my view it is not the very best legislation that could be dealt with by the Government.

The Bill does have the added impact of enhancing the price that the Government might receive for the sale of Aussat. Given that there is $800m in possible debts to be accrued by the Government and ultimately paid for by the taxpayer, if the Government can do something within the broader parameters of central policy development then it ought to proceed on that ground alone to support pay television. I particularly appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary at the table, who looks after telecommunications in the absence of the senior Minister, and also his colleague the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Hand), because I am sure he has strong views about this matter. I hope he will be adding his voice to the concerns of those interested in technological growth and will reject the luddites in his own team who are arguing against what would be a very innovative and important development for this country. With those few remarks, all of them exceedingly relevant, I say that the coalition will support this Bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Resolution reported; report adopted.