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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19302


Mr NEVILLE (1:49 PM) —I would like to finish my contribution on the Telstra (Transition to Full Private Ownership) Bill 2003, which I was not able to complete in the chamber debate. Plain and simple, we already exercise the power. If a future government falls down on the job and wilfully waters down telecommunications legislation around the country then I am sure it will be judged accordingly. We certainly will not let it happen and our track record right back to Networking the Nation in 1997 confirms that.

As to the opposition's hollow and shameless barking about the National Party abandoning its constituency, I have a few things to say. Which party played a central role in delivering the lowest interest rates and the lowest inflation since the 1960s and paid off around $60 billion worth of Labor bankcard debt? The Nats. Who went into bat for vital country programs like the diesel fuel rebate, research and development, and adequate funding for Australia's Quarantine and Inspection Service? The Nats. Who designed the $800 million Agriculture Advancing Australia package, including Farm Help, FarmBis and Farm Management Deposits, delivered in little over a year after coming to government, from which many thousands of farmers and their families have now benefited? The Nats. Who pushed through drought and EC declarations when the Labor states fell down on the job? The Nats. Which party has fought hardest to establish the principles of water property rights for around five or six years? The Nats. Which party promoted the Television Black Spots Program? The Nats.

Why would we be less enthusiastic about keeping Telstra up to the mark? This is an integral part of our raison d'etre. As the Chairman of the Prime Minister's Telstra task force it will be my job to be persistent, dogmatic and determined in making sure that the last cent of the government's promises is delivered. My job is to make sure that as long as the government is in power we deliver on our promises and put into a legislative framework a guarantee that continues the improvement to Telstra services. I can assure the House that there is no backslapping boys club going on here; if the government wanted a mere rubber stamp for the process of selling the remainder of Telstra it would not have chosen me for this role and nor would I have accepted it.

Mr Deputy Speaker Lindsay, you have heard the history in my earlier contribution and today; you have seen the rollouts of superior telecommunications over the past five years; and you have the guarantee that in this framework to allow the sale of Telstra sometime in the future, the government will not sell the remaining shareholding unless our promises are delivered and unless it is the national interest. There is no commitment by me or my party colleagues to sell Telstra merely for the sake of it. I repeat my original mantra: I do not have a sentimental or philosophical attachment to Telstra but rather one to what it can deliver. It is not an end in itself but a means to an end, and that end is high-quality accessibility at an affordable competitive cost. I reiterate: it is about what it can deliver—first, in superior telecommunications themselves and later, more widely, in the reduction of debt or the provision of new infrastructure for people in regional and rural Australia.

Question agreed to.

Main Committee adjourned at 1.53 p.m.