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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26343


Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL (3:05 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (Senator Coonan) to questions without notice asked by Senators Marshall and Conroy today relating to the provision of services by Telstra and free-to-air broadcasting.

The answers given by the minister today clearly demonstrate that, in the 26 days she has been in the portfolio, she has failed to grasp any knowledge at all to do with the issues for which she has now been given responsibility. She has proven once again her total incompetence in running this portfolio area. Asked today, for example, about mass service disruptions, which have tripled in number over the last year, the minister referred to a Telstra ADSL outage, which has nothing to do with mass service disruptions. She then said that the government does not run Telstra's operation, when the mass service regime has nothing to do with Telstra, as it is a government regulation managed by the Australian Communications Authority. The mass service disruption policy is a hard government regulatory rort for Telstra to avoid its obligations to consumers, but this minister does not even know what it is. With regard to the antisiphoning list, she could not answer specific questions about events on the list and referred to generalities provided by the department about the list—another fantastic gaffe from the minister.

Who can forget the events of the last few days? Certainly the minister should not. On Tuesday the Australian revealed that former Minister Richard Alston had dug his snout even further into the trough through a new consultancy with the national radio network Austereo. In the House, the Prime Minister said that there was no problem. He said the government would not be joining with Labor in implementing a 12-month ban on these activities. But, again, Senator Coonan just could not catch up with the game. She just could not get her lines right. She said:

... the principle is correct. It is a sound principle that recently retired ministers should not take up positions that will conflict with their prior duties, if in fact that is what is occurring.

Again, the minister was quite clearly contradicting the Prime Minister in his response to that issue. She in fact had lent tacit support to Labor's sound policy to put an end to these sorts of rorts. The Prime Minister must be tearing out his hair—or what little he has actually got left—looking at the performance of Senator Coonan in this portfolio in the short period of 26 days. It is a short period of 26 days and she has been an absolute fiasco. Yesterday we had the piece de resistance from Senator Coonan, when she managed to mislead the Senate. Asked a very clear question about whether she or her office had been in contact with Richard Alston, she said simply:

The answer is no.

Less than an hour later, she had to come back and correct the record. She had to make it clear that a staff member had in fact had conversations with Richard Alston about the commercialisation of the CSIRO. It was made clear that, despite the minister's earlier denial, Richard Alston has unfettered access to the minister's office and that the minister's staff are more than happy to converse with and provide research for Richard Alston. Again, the Prime Minister must have choked on his cornflakes when he awoke this morning to an Australian headline: `Minister “misled parliament”'. This is an absolute disgrace. The minister is an absolute joke. She has no idea what she is doing in the portfolio. She had no idea what she was doing in her previous portfolio. She has been promoted and, of course, the fact that she has been promoted to a senior portfolio only means that the gaffes are getting bigger. In the 26 days she has been in the job, she has simply lurched from crisis to crisis. She is in fact challenging Richard Alston's mantle as the world's worst communications minister, less than a month into the job. We will continue to watch this minister's roller-coaster ride and draw attention to her incompetence. (Time expired)