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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6453

Senator BUCKLAND (7:43 PM) —Tonight I rise to speak on what is becoming a very important issue for many Australians living in rural and regional Australia. It may come as no surprise that this concern is about the further sale of Telstra. This week we have heard a lot of news about the government's impending sale of the remainder of Telstra, and tonight I would like to bring all that has been said this week into perspective and clarify what this really means for Australians living in rural and regional Australia. The government have said that they would not sell Telstra until, firstly, regional communications are up to scratch; secondly, they can get the legislation through the Senate; and, thirdly, they can get the right price for Telstra. Earlier this week it was revealed that the government have always intended to sell the remainder of Telstra. That has been the government's position since the last election and they have overtly misled the electorate.

On Tuesday, the Treasurer let it slip that the government had wanted to sell all of Telstra three years ago. I just wonder if that was a slip or whether that was a deliberate statement by him to say, `We always wanted to do it.' This did not eventuate, because Labor stopped it. The Labor Party from day one has unreservedly been against any further sale of Telstra. We also learned from Treasurer Peter Costello that the proceeds from the impending sale of Telstra have been included in the budget and they have been there for some time. An amount of $654 million has been designated to go to merchant bankers in Melbourne and Sydney or overseas to assist with the sale. However, the most outstanding revelation was that the Telstra sale would proceed regardless of service levels—their key promise. On Wednesday, the coalition's attempt to deceive voters in rural and regional Australia came to an end when National Party leader, John Anderson, admitted that rural and regional Australia would not get anything from the sale of Telstra. Mr Anderson has now agreed with the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that the entire proceeds from any further sale of Telstra will go to reduce government debt.

To add insult to injury, the government is also pushing through unfair Telstra price rises. Australians everywhere now will be paying more for phone line rentals, with no guaranteed reduction in local call costs. The government's massive line rental increases, which are now locked in until 2005, were supported by the Democrats yesterday. That was the last bastion of keeping the bastards honest. They stumbled and they fell. By the government's own calculations, Telstra's profits will increase by $170 million from this new package. The Democrats dual deal with the government has left not only rural and regional Australians but Australian consumers generally $170 million worse off. All this was done with the aim of increasing the share price of Telstra when it goes on sale. It is expected that the standard phone line rentals will hit a whopping $32 per month for the next few years. Without doubt, it will hit low-income earners the hardest, but of course this government has no concern for those who are on low incomes in our country.

A recent study by Macquarie Bank has found that Australian broadband prices are 30 per cent higher than those in the US and UK, and they are the comparable countries. The government's recent Estens report has been nothing but a whitewash—an attempt to give credit to this whole sordid, dirty affair. The Estens inquiry ignored the hundreds of submissions it received that complained of poor mobile phone coverage, phone network faults and poor Internet services in regional Australia. Those things exist and will not improve. It ignored all the critical facts and evidence. Coincidentally, the inquiry was run by National Party mates of John Anderson. It ran for only two months and held no public hearings, but that is typical of this government's consultation process: `Don't talk to the people who use the services; you might be told.' During question time on Tuesday, Peter Costello said:

... it would take time before Telstra were in a position to have those additional shares offered to the market. As the Prime Minister said on the 7.30 Report, we would obviously take price into account so that it offers—if that should occur—at a time which maximises shareholder value.

He went on to say:

When T2 was floated off, it was $7.80, and the Labor Party opposed the offering of additional shares.

And then he said:

The financial effect of opposing that sale was, between T2 and T3, the loss of $30 billion on the share price.

... ... ...

The difference between the proceeds as they would have been at the time Labor stopped further sale at the time of T2 and today is $30 billion.

What does this really mean? Did the Labor Party lose $30 billion or did the Labor Party make a saving of $30 billion for the average Australian? I think that the latter was the case.

This accusation is the same as last year's example where Peter Costello gambled and lost $5 billion in currency swaps, causing Australia to go into greater deficit. This is not to mention that in the space of six months the government was able to create a $1.7 billion turnaround from surplus to deficit, and this was after 10 years of continuous strong economic growth. It can do it well when it comes to losing money. This is a government that has gone into deficit when it is not in recession.

So it is now expected that rural and regional Australia should pay the price for this economic mismanagement. How is this the case? It is the case by their being expected not only to pay top dollar for shares in the impending sale of Telstra but also to miss out on using the proceeds from this sale to bring services up to scratch in rural and regional Australia. These same people in rural and regional Australia will also be expected to pay an increased cost of phone line rentals, another $170 million out of their pockets, as well as cope with poor mobile phone coverage, numerous phone network faults and poor Internet services—not to mention the 30 per cent higher cost of broadband prices, compared to some of our international counterparts. Peter Costello has the audacity to say that Labor caused a $30 billion loss between the sale of T2 and T3. To the average Australian, this is really a saving and not a loss. (Time expired)