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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19159

Mr TICEHURST (9:52 AM) —I support the government's Telstra (Transition to Full Private Ownership) Bill 2003 on the further sale of Telstra. We have seen speaker after speaker in this House run the same old scare campaign—that Telstra cannot operate unless it is government owned. What a load of rubbish! What we are seeing here is protection of Labor's union mates. We have seen the manifestation of the old British saying `He who pays the piper calls the tune'. Even in yesterday's Australian there is a picture of the opposition leader with the words `Crean calls on workers to sing in chorus'. That is what they are doing here—singing in chorus, the same old stunt.

How many of these Labor members actually know what they are talking about? We hear them throwing acronyms around—ADSL, ISDN, DSL—but how many of them actually know what they mean? These are technology terms that have appeared in the last five or six years. But the issue is not about technology; the issue is about the service level provided to the user. If we look at the mobile phone situation, we find there are many companies providing mobile phones. Who really cares who owns the phone system, as long as that mobile phone works? The real issue is service. There are a number of regional operators. There is a man in my electorate who provides technical assistance to regions in setting up regional phone systems. There are about eight of these systems operating in Australia right now. An early one was down in Ballarat.

How many of the Labor members know what VoIP means? This is a new system Telstra is pushing around, another technology—voice over Internet protocol. We have not heard that mentioned too much by Labor members. But technology is not the issue. Look at what happened with mobile phones. We had a system here called AMPS; it was American technology, designed for rural users. It was line of sight: as long as your mobile phone could see the antenna, you could get a call. What happened when Labor were in government? They decided to bring in a digital system and close down the AMPS. Why did they select GSM, a European system limited to 32 kilometres or thereabouts from a cell? Because in Europe, as in capital cities—where most Labor people operate—that is all you need. Forget about rural and regional areas. The member for Corio said in here yesterday that his phone dropped out a few times on the way from Geelong to Melbourne. That is because he was on GSM. It is probably not even connected to the antenna on his car. If you are over 32 kilometres from a cell, that is the end of your service.

It took the Howard government to come in and introduce CDMA, a digital system. That was not provided by Europeans; that was an American system. The CDMA network can travel by line of sight, just like the old AMPS. We heard the member for Corio talking about his version of fiscal rigour. He talked about the $3 billion profit from Labor per year that would be lost. He did not mention the $8 billion a year we are paying in interest on Labor's debt. Then he said that the sale price of Telstra was going to be $45 billion; therefore, after 15 years the Australian people would no longer get a profit from Telstra. If that is fiscal rigour, I hope he is not providing advice to the shadow Treasurer. He forgot about the idea of investment return on capital.

Then we heard the member for Corio say that he spoke to the CEPU recently. They talked about 39,000 jobs being lost. These jobs might have been lost at Telstra. Where do the union members usually operate? Big companies, government owned companies—that is what they are worried about. They are worried about the big companies, public ownership and losing members. They cannot attract members to unions. There was no mention of the employment provided by the new phone companies. Look at all the service providers. I think the member for Macquarie mentioned there were 87 private phone companies in Australia. What about the employees who have moved in there? Where do they come from? They were either out of Telstra or new trainees.

In my electorate of Dobell, the service level has improved. In the old days you could not get a phone fixed on Friday afternoon. And why was that? Because the jobs were stacked up so they could get overtime on Saturday. That does not happen now because the government introduced service standards. We have standards now for service. If a phone is not fixed within a nominated time, the provider pays a penalty. Those sorts of regulations are built into this new bill. We cannot live in the past.

We heard the member for Fowler going back to the old days, at the start of electricity. She also talked about the problems in New York. I can assure her that that will not happen in New South Wales. In the seventies I was a designer of high-voltage instrument transformers. These were part of the protection system for the major transmission lines in Australia. I can guarantee the member for Fowler that our system here is much more rigorous and offers far more protection than the American system. We also have much better operators and a connected system that will not have the same sorts of problems as the American system.

Of course, we are in a new era. We are not relying on copper wires to provide long-distance broadband. Already in my area, wireless broadband is being provided by private companies. Telstra can provide wireless broadband on CDMA right now. The only issues are pricing and the level of use of their capital equipment. But already one of my local ISPs is providing wireless broadband in Dobell. This is where the future lies, not in old technology. There are new technologies emerging all the time. In reality, we need to be cognisant of what the Treasurer often reminds us in this House: do not listen to what Labor says; look at what Labor does.