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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17510

Mr SNOWDON (4:04 PM) —Here you have another! Let me fess up to my National Party heritage. My grandfather stood against John McEwen for preselection in the late 1940s. I wish he had won. He would be rolling over in his grave to see the poor performance by the National Party. Where are they? Where are these great supporters of the government's view? Apart from yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, for whom I have the greatest respect—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—While I am in the chair I do not represent the party.

Mr SNOWDON —I know. But you are, Mr Deputy Speaker, nevertheless a member for the National Party. But where is the member for Cowper? Where is the member for Maranoa? Where is the member for Riverina? I know the whip has been ringing around trying to get them all into the House to support the honourable member for Richmond, who has just spoken, but they are not here. They are not here because they are embarrassed by the government's decisions, and it is no wonder they are embarrassed.

We have heard through the eloquent submission made by my colleague the shadow minister for communications that there have been $1.3 billion in cuts in capital expenditure over the last three years. What we are getting as a result of the deal which is being done by the National Party with the government over this little exercise is $182 million over four years. You have to ask: what benefit is that going to give to the people of country Australia? How can the member for Dawson go back to her electorate and say she has done a reasonable job on their behalf in getting these commitments? Let us just recall what the member for Dawson said in July 1998. She told this House:

My objections to the Telstra sale ... cannot be construed as disloyalty. My first loyalty is to my constituents.

She told us a year ago how these constituents felt. In the Canberra Times on 28 May last year, she was reported as saying:

There was no evidence country services were up to the levels enjoyed in capital cities.

Hear, hear to that! She was quoted as saying:

“Rural and regional constituents ... say that they want Telstra to remain in majority government ownership” . . .

Hear, hear to that! She knows that remains the case. She continued:

“It is certainly questionable that further legislation would be enforceable on a totally privatised Telstra,” Mrs Kelly said.

“What is known is that legislation for banks to re-open branches in country towns would not succeed. Why would future Telstra services be any different?

That is a very good question and a sentiment I agree with. We know, she knows and the National Party know that they have been sold out by this government. They have drawn the short straw with their leader. He has demonstrated very clearly that the way he was described by the member for Melbourne remains absolutely correct.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member for Prospect knows she is out of her seat and is disorderly.

Mr SNOWDON —It is also worth contemplating that the member for Dawson was not on her own; her Queensland comrades have also been outspoken on the issue. According to the Courier-Mail of 18 March 2000:

Queensland National Party director Ken Crooke said he did not believe any further sale would be supported “until the community says it's ready”.

Has the community said it is ready? It has not said it is ready in my electorate. Has it said it in your electorate?

Opposition members—No!

Mr SNOWDON —I have not heard a cacophony coming out of regional Australia of: `We want you to sell Telstra. We're happy with our standard of telecommunications. We're happy with the work that Telstra is doing. We want the government to sell Telstra.' I think not. The National Party come into this place and support the proposals being put forward by the government, and they are selling out their constituency. The Weekend Australian reported that the Nationals' Queensland state president, Terry Bolger, told the party's conference last year:

“The Nationals will not support any further sale unless the people of regional, rural and remote Queensland tell us they are satisfied with standard and future guarantees ...”

Are they satisfied? What guarantees have they been given? The Estens report does not give them these guarantees. The best you can say about the Estens report is that it is a trumped-up job done by a member of the National Party who did not bother to travel to regional Australia and yet purports to represent the views of regional Australia. Let us understand what he has done. Mr Estens said there were consultations with a wide range of key organisations and repre-sentatives in regional and remote Australia. Nothing could be further from the truth, because they did not travel around regional Australia. They got a small number of submissions from my own electorate in the Northern Territory. What this report shows is that there was no knowledge, comprehension, understanding or background in what telecommunications mean to people living in regional Australian communities. You would like to think that these people parading in their wellington boots and trying to convince us that somehow or other they understand and represent regional Australia actually do something important. They do not; they simply do not.

When people other than those with the Estens inquiry or the National Party have done surveys of Australia, we have discovered that the people of regional Australia are overwhelmingly opposed to any further sale of Telstra. I have told this parliament before that at the time of the Estens inquiry I undertook a survey of my own electorate. I might remind you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that my electorate covers 1.4 million square kilometres—a fairly large portion of remote and regional Australia—and I think the people in that part of Australia would have a fair understanding of the service that Telstra provides. I got over 700 responses to the survey, and 90 per cent of those supported keeping Telstra in majority public ownership. The Australian Financial Review of 29 August reported that a survey done by the Independents of this parliament—and I can see one of those people in the chamber now—of 250,000 rural and regional voters showed that 80 per cent of their constituents did not support the sale of Telstra.

How can National Party members come into this place and expect us to believe that somehow or other they are speaking on behalf of their constituents in regional and remote Australia? They have—as was pointed out by the member for Melbourne—sold them down the drain. The leader of the National Party has been able to have his way with these people. When I say `have his way', you know what I mean! They come in here impure. No longer can they stand with their hands on their hearts and say they properly represent their constituents. No longer can they stand with their hands on their hearts and say that, when they get into the party room, they do all they possibly can to make sure that they are not done over by the Liberal Party. We know they have been done over by the Liberal Party. We know they are continually being done over by the Liberal Party.

Mr Sidebottom —What about the airports?

Mr SNOWDON —And this is not the only issue. My colleague from Tasmania talks about regional airports. Where have the National Party been on the issue of regional airports? Where have they been? Whenever there has been an issue of importance to do with regional Australia, they have been AWOL, or they have been stuck down at the Grange drinking chardonnay with their mates from the Liberal Party. They have forgotten absolutely what it means—

Mr Griffin —The Holy Grail!

Mr SNOWDON —You are right, the Grail. They were there drinking Grange with their mates from the Liberal Party!

Mr SNOWDON —I know that punchy over here knows what it is like, because when he gets in conflict he gets very vigorous. I know that, in the context of the joint party room, he must be getting very vigorous all the time, because he has got it all over the people from the National Party who join that party room.

I know there are people in the National Party who believe that somehow or other the people who come to the parliament in their name truly represent their interests. What we have seen in this approach by the National Party in relation to telecommunications is that they are prepared to sell them down the drain for a few pieces of silver—a few pieces of silver that will not deliver and will not guarantee services to rural and remote Australia into the future. When you read the Estens report, you come to understand that there is no guarantee for services into the future. They want you to come back at budget time and try to seek allocations from general revenue to increase and improve telecommunications services to the bush, because somehow or other you are going to future proof them.

What the hell does `future proof them' mean? One interpretation is that it will prevent—and it will certainly do so in this instance—any possibility of people in rural and remote Australia, National Party constituents, getting a guarantee that cutting edge technology will be introduced into their communities, as they ought to be able to expect it to be. They will be locked in time; there is no question about that. They are being future proofed. It will be like being in a bottle of formaldehyde. They will be able to get their wind-up phones, if they are lucky enough to have a phone. I notice the Estens report says you do not need even a basic telephone. What the hell do you need if you do not need a basic telephone? We will have this basic telephone in formaldehyde while the rest of Australia is using broadband. We will see fast, digital communications in the rest of Australia but not in the bush. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Order! The Chief Opposition Whip will be out under 304A if she does not behave.