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Tuesday, 28 May 2002
Page: 2464

Mr TANNER (3:06 PM) —My question again is to the Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the National Party and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. I refer to your previous answer regarding the National Party's support for the full sale of Telstra. Does your commitment to `objective benchmarking' of regional services before Telstra is sold mean a genuine independent inquiry?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for his question. This comes from the wholly owned subsidiary of the ACTU over there, facing some ballistic shareholders in New South Wales—the same group of people who, when we launched the Besley inquiry, immediately set out to denigrate the people on the panel and to say that it would not be a fair dinkum inquiry, that they would not do a real job and that it was just a whitewash and a puppeteer's job. In my view, this was grossly insulting those on the panel—decent, reputable Australians all of them, who did a decent and reputable job and gave us a no-holds barred assessment of the shortfalls in telecommunications in rural and regional areas. It was a fair dinkum process and we gave a fair dinkum response.

We did not dud country people then, and we are not going to dud country people next time around—in due course, when we have established the best way forward. We have made it quite plain that any further sale of Telstra is conditional upon a fair and proper process of establishing that the needs of rural people have been addressed. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition. The point that I make is this: we did not dud them last time and we are not going to this time. If there is one thing I can say with absolute surety in this place, it is that country Australia would rather have us dealing with their telecommunications future than you.

The SPEAKER —I remind the Deputy Prime Minister of the reference I made earlier to remarks being through the chair.