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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21670

Mr WINDSOR (4:05 PM) —I am pleased to speak on this MPI. Unlike some of the others, I welcome the new Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and wish him well. Given his legal background, I hope that he will understand quite fully the uncertainty that a lot of country people feel in relation to this legislation and the great concern they have that one government, under our Constitution, cannot bind future governments to decisions that are made now—no doubt he would be fully aware of that. I refer him to statements made by Senator Nick Minchin, the Minister for Finance and Administration, after the sale of Kingsford Smith airport. Those fears I spoke of were vindicated by him only two days after the sale. Two days before the sale, he was saying, `Government can guarantee certain service levels through regulation and legislation. It will be provided into the future—don't worry about it.' Two days after the sale they started to talk about possible changes. A 747 had a brake problem and all of a sudden they were talking about possible changes within the term of the parliament—not to mention outside the term of the parliament, where it would be unconstitutional.

I am very disappointed that the National Party are not here today. The Leader of the National Party, John Anderson, at their recent conference, made the point that he was very happy, and would like, to have a full-blown debate on the future of Telstra—but he is not here. He did not speak when he voted for the sale of Telstra—he was not interested in a full-blown debate then—and there are no National Party people speaking today. It is an absolute disgrace, in my view. Here is an opportunity for the Leader of the National Party to come in and use the forum of parliament to have that full-blown debate that he is quite willing to have—because there has apparently been all this mischievous information about the sale spread by the Labor Party, scurrilous Independents and others in rural Australia—and where is he? He is not here. It is very disappointing.

At their recent conference, the National Party did change their name. They are now called the Nationals. They are the very party that say to Independents and others in rural Australia, `You've got to belong to a party to achieve anything. To achieve anything in the parliamentary system, you must belong to a party,' and they have suddenly removed `party' from their name. No wonder people are terribly confused about the direction that these people are going in and the contradictory messages that they are sending.

The National Party are the party that say they will listen to country people. They are always saying that they are going to listen. They introduced a new logo and said, `We're going out there to listen; we're looking for local champions; we are going to listen; and we will be spending much more on infrastructure.' They even suggested that they may use some of the proceeds of Telstra. Some hard bargaining was done behind the scenes, and the figure of $5 billion that was going to be spent on country infrastructure came down and suddenly became nothing. I believe the member for Cowper—the custodian of small business in this so-called party that is not a party—was the one who negotiated the figure down from $5 billion to nothing. So the resolution that came from the conference was that nothing would be spent from the sale of Telstra. There are absolutely no guarantees, but they are there to listen and they are going to spend more money on infrastructure.

But listening becomes a real problem when the people they are supposed to represent say that they do not want Telstra sold. They do not listen to those people. `Those people are idiots; they are wizened up idiots and they do not really know—but we know,' is what they say. They say they want to listen, but they do not want to hear. That has always been a great problem. John Anderson, the leader of the party, said at the national conference that he wanted a full-blown debate, and where is he today? I challenge him to come in today and tell the people out there who are going to vote for this new party that are not a party that he is listening to them and he is voicing their concerns. As I said, this is the party that do not want to be called a party. They stated at their conference that they want to be represented and they have to go out into the marketplace and be represented—

Mr WINDSOR —Here he is: the member for Cowper. I am delighted to see him here: the champion of the $5 billion drop-out. The National Party stated at their conference that they are a party who want to be represented by local people and that the way forward is to go and get local champions who are concerned about local issues. If that is not an endorsement of Independents in country areas, I do not know what is! The National Party are the party that say Telstra legislation guarantees a country presence for Telstra into the future and then admit to the Senate inquiry that a regional presence is at the discretion of the minister of the day and that, in theory, a regional presence for Telstra could mean as little as one regional shop in Gundagai and one technician in Kalgoorlie.

I would suggest that the new minister is serious about putting in place things that he believes are fair for country people—and I congratulate him for that and wish him well—but he cannot guarantee those things into the future. He made certain comments in relation to concerns about what the Labor Party may do in the future—well, a lot of people are. The way to overcome that, Minister, is to leave the ownership of Telstra in the hands of the people of Australia. As I mentioned earlier, no government can bind a future government—our Constitution does not allow that to happen. Governments can change their minds; they can change the rules.

A number of polls have been mentioned from time to time in the parliament. When the National Party say that they are out there listening to people, why aren't they listening to the polls? Polls have been done by a number of members. The poll done by the member for Hume showed that over 90 per cent of his people suggested that they do not want Telstra sold. The result of the poll in the electorate of Calare was 90 per cent. The result of the poll in New England, my seat, was over 90 per cent. The result of the poll in Kennedy was over 90 per cent. The result of the poll in McMillan, a Labor seat in Victoria, was over 80 per cent. Even in the electorate of the member for Dawson—and I congratulate the National Party member for Dawson for attempting to listen to her constituency—the poll showed that 81 per cent of her electorate do not want Telstra sold. Talk about the $5 billion drop; we got the big dollar pass there: to take her out of the game they have promoted her for not listening to her constituency. That is an absolutely appalling indictment of what has happened.

But I think there are some local champions on the horizon. I note with interest that, in today's The Land, Mark Vaile is quoted as saying after the conference that branding and logos were meaningless without the `heart and soul'—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Barresi)—The member will refer to other members by their correct titles.

Mr WINDSOR —The Minister for Trade, a National Party member—or a member of the Nationals, the party that are not a party anymore—said that branding and logos were meaningless without the `heart and soul' provided by its greatest asset, the people. The party that are not a party are not going to listen to these people, and the Minister for Trade recognises that. He is quoted as saying:

Without the heart and soul, the words and pictures are comforting but meaningless.

The article in The Land goes on to say:

... he argued that it was people with passion and commitment in the local communities who would make the difference for the party.

I think that says it all. I also noticed an editorial in the Daily Examiner—which the member for Page and the member for Cowper would be fully aware of. Part of the editorial says:

Ian Causley, Luke Hartsuyker and Doug's son Larry—

that is, Larry Anthony—

amongst others, are quite shameless despite the utter contempt with which they have treated their Page, Cowper and Richmond constituents on this issue—

the issue of the sale of Telstra. The editorial continues:

They belong to a political party—

this is when they were a party; this was a few weeks ago—

which clearly has lost any real identity and the backbone to stand up for bush interests.

That editorial, coming from the area where these people say they represent the constituents, indicates the real feeling of country people out there. It is about time that country people in this parliament followed the Alby Schultzes of this world—the member for Hume—and the other country members who have identified and listened to their constituents, and started to translate those messages into legislation. This is nothing but a massive cop-out that will affect country people. I congratulate the new minister for being in the House. I hope that he will take the lead on this, because it is quite obvious that the Nationals and many country Liberals within his government are not prepared to do so.