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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 95

Senator O'BRIEN (3:25 PM) —I also rise to take note of Senator Coonan's answer in question time today. It is interesting that the National Party want to talk about everyone else's promises but their own. They went to the last election telling people that Telstra would not be sold until it was up to scratch. But they do not want to say that now. They will not be held to their promises. The Australian people may have returned a number of National Party senators, but they do not want to be reminded what they promised their constituency to get their vote.

The Labor Party will be making sure that we hold the National Party to account. Let them dishonour their promise to their constituents. They do it regularly. We should not be surprised about it. They roll over whenever the government says jump, and election after election, just as at the last one, another National Party seat falls—be it to the Liberal Party, or to Independents or to the Labor Party. We can expect that trend to continue and, I expect, to be magnified at the next election, when the National Party dishonour yet another promise and vote for the sale of Telstra.

Why would people be concerned about the dishonouring of that promise? Let me tell you what Dick Dewhurst, General Manager, Government Sales, Optus, told the National General Assembly of Local Government, only a matter of days ago, at a dinner here in the Great Hall that I do not think any of the coalition members or senators, and certainly not ministers, attended. He said that the bottom line is that Optus need to make a profit; they can only extend their services in regional Australia in areas where they could make a profit as they had a responsibility to their shareholders.

So the private business responsibility to shareholders means that their services are only going to go where they can make a buck. That is completely understandable; I am not being critical of Optus for that view. That is the nature of business. But, with the full privatisation of Telstra, the same philosophy has to apply and the only thing which will provide any certainty for rural and regional Australians—and I am one of them—is the government guaranteeing, or propping up, those services. We know that the government will then be held to ransom by a monopoly carrier in those remote and rural areas to fulfil the customer service obligations. So that is an issue the National Party need to consider as they dishonour their promise.

I live about 24 kilometres from the city of Launceston. I do not live in a big city. I travel the areas around my state, and I know what the telephone services are like. As a matter of record, let me say that my own telephone service is regularly disrupted by faults. Fortunately, we have a mobile service, so when the line is disrupted we can organise for the line to be transferred to a mobile service. But if I travel about three kilometres back towards Launceston, I find myself in a blank spot. Fortunately, I do not live there, because if my line were disrupted there I would have no service.

If Telstra cannot get a regularly operating line functioning 24 kilometres from the city of Launceston, what hope will regional and remote Australians have to get their line serviced—unless, of course, they are related to a National Party senator prior to the voting on legislation to privatise Telstra? That is about the only hope that rural and regional Australians will have to get a reasonable service. They will need to check their lineage to see whether they have a relative in this place who might be voting on the bill. If they have, they had better put that on the Telstra web site so that they can let their contractors know that they are priority customers. A great many people in this country know that they are far from priority customers of Telstra's. They are great critics of the service that Telstra provide. They are great critics of the level of service that they receive and they are certainly great critics of the fact that Telstra have milked the Australian public with a massive increase in line rental costs. Let us not talk about call costs; let us talk about the fixed cost of everyone's phone line, which has gone up massively under this government. (Time expired).

Question agreed to.