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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26345

Senator WEBBER (3:15 PM) —I too wish to take note of the answers given by Senator Coonan today because those answers reminded me of a very bad parody of the television show Yes Minister. As Senator Campbell said, when asked about outages from the previous year all the minister could talk about was ADSL outages from last night—she does not understand the difference. I was particularly reminded of that episode of Yes Minister where it was explained that government departments actually deal in the opposite of what they are named. Do you remember the episode? The department of employment deals with unemployment. Today we have had a very bad parody of that with the minister for communications—or should I say miscommunications? Remember those convoluted, tortuous explanations that we had from the minister on superannuation, insurance and taxation? They were bad enough, but now we have her inability to provide clear answers to simple questions in her new portfolio responsibilities.

You have to wonder why Richard Alston is such a hard act to follow. His performance as minister was, by any objective, pretty ordinary really. He was more concerned about his allegations of bias against the ABC than actually doing anything. He was more concerned about his access to flat screen TVs from Telstra. And when Richard Alston left the portfolio what did we get? We got the member for Tangney—or dazzling Daryl, as he is affectionately known by the WA media. He should have his time in the portfolio recorded as the invisible man. It took six months to go from Richard Alston to Senator Coonan via the invisible man.

Here we have a minister who cannot get even the simplest things right. As Senator Campbell said, she is 26 days into a new portfolio and the minister has already had to correct an answer that she provided to the Senate. True to Liberal Party operating procedures, when asked whether Minister Alston had any contact with her or her office she replied no. But not an hour later she was back in here to correct that answer. The minister herself had no contact but she was forced to reveal that one of her staff had. Those good old Liberal Party firewall procedures are still working well. I sit here often and listen to the responses and wish that the invisible man was here instead. It would be a lot better.

This minister for miscommunications cannot use one word where it is possible to use 100. I remember those good old flummoxing days in her previous portfolio. It is little wonder that those of us on this side get no further with finding out the important information about her portfolio when the minister rambles all the way through the thesaurus, dictionary or anything else to say absolutely nothing. Sir Humphrey himself would be proud of her. However, the people of Australia and those of us on this side of the chamber are not proud of her performance.

Let us be clear about importance of this portfolio. This is not a portfolio where government should be allowed to just park any old underperforming minister. This is a portfolio with responsibilities for things that are of vital importance to each and every Australian. Telecommunications is of vital importance to every Australian person, particularly those in non-metropolitan areas. There are important issues that are held up by this government's ideological obsession to sell the rest of Telstra. This is a policy that is not supported by the majority of Australians but the latest proponent of that policy is this minister, who has to correct her own answers within one hour of being in this place. A minister who cannot even correctly pronounce the name of the new chair of Telstra is then going to try to convince all of Australia that we should sell Telstra—except, of course, there is no noise from her on the issue of selling Telstra now but that is because we are close to an election. The minister and the rest of the government will lie doggo on that issue for a while, at least until after the election. This is a minister who has key responsibilities to address our ageing communications infrastructure, to make decisions about digital radio— (Time expired)