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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7082

Ms KERNOT (5:24 PM) —The member for Hinkler adopted the same approach that the Minister for Transport and Regional Services and others have adopted for so long, saying that because Labor began the processes of privatisation we should forever hold our tongue on expressing a view on that matter ever again. He cited Qantas and he cited the Commonwealth Bank and he cited the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory.

Mr Neville —Just be consistent.

Ms KERNOT —I am totally consistent, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is some baggage that I do not actually carry on this one: I voted against all of those things. And, unlike the member for Hinkler and the minister at the table, I clearly recall the Liberal Party in particular, with the National Party following along obediently behind, saying to the Labor Party at the time, `Do it all now and do it more quickly. In fact, privatise, sell anything that is not bolted down, right down to the forests.' No amount of posturing about who began the process can hide two things. It cannot hide the opportunity for a revision of the effects of that process. We should all review the consequences of public policy decisions. Secondly, it cannot hide the reality, shown by the votes in the parliament, that the Liberal and National parties supported every one of these measures.

What is interesting in this debate has been the position of the National Party, particularly the Queensland Nationals, and I also add Mr Hendy Cowan from Western Australia and Mr Rob Borbidge, Leader of the Opposition in Queensland. When the member for Hinkler says, `We insisted on 49 per cent being a benchmark and there would be a rigorous independent inquiry,' the reality is that at the beginning of the election campaign the Queensland Nationals were saying, `No more of Telstra to be sold.' In the end they were coerced because it was embarrassing to the Liberal Party to have members of the coalition actually standing up for their constituents, who were very fearful of the effects of privatisation on the long-term provision of services in their areas.

I would say—through you, Mr Deputy Speaker—to the member for Hinkler: what makes you have any faith at all in the promise of a so-called independent inquiry? We know what the agenda is. The agenda is to sell all of Telstra. The reality is that by voting for the next 16 per cent you have made that reality all the more inevitable because, as everybody will tell you, once you reach the 49/51 per cent combination, you then give people the opportunity to say, `Oh dear, this entity has some kind of schizophrenic personality—it doesn't know whether it is public or private. It can't do its best for the private shareholders and it can't do its best for the public owners; therefore, we will have to sell the rest of it.' That is the reality in voting for what seems like a mere extra 16 per cent. So the National Party is not absolved from responsibility in going against what I believe are the clear wishes of the majority of Australians who live in rural and regional areas in this country.

The other thing I would say about the general move towards privatisation is this: the emphasis on individualism in this country, the way in which the Prime Minister crows about individual share ownership—and nobody begrudges people the right to buy shares—is working against the collectivist ethos which I think people who live in the bush value. We see that ethos in the proliferation of cooperatives, in mutual societies. We see the way in which country Australians band together for solutions. But under this government, from industrial relations across the board to pork barrelling for the provision of infrastructure, we are seeing that collective ethos seriously undermined—and country Australians do not like it. They like to be able to depend on each other. They like to think that there is an important role for government that they can rely on in the provision of basic infrastructure, for example. (Time expired)