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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21672

Mr CAUSLEY (4:15 PM) —I am pleased to make a contribution to the debate on the matter of public importance regarding Telstra after the non-contribution from the member for New England. I have listened to him for 10 minutes to get some insight into what his thinking is on Telstra, but he has none at all. I have also listened to the member for Melbourne state the fact that he does not want the sale of Telstra to go ahead, but he puts forward no alternative. He now walks from the chamber because he knows he does not want to listen to this. He has no intellectual rigour in this debate. He simply says, `We don't want to sell Telstra.' I put it to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it was the Labor Party—in fact, I think it was the former member for Dobell—that deregulated telecommunications. From the day telecommunications were deregulated, those non-profitable services in rural and regional Australia were at risk. They were at risk for a simple reason: no company that is out there to make a profit can carry those unprofitable services.

I never heard anything from the member for New England as to what he proposes. He is just a populist. He is irrelevant; for 10 years he was irrelevant in the state parliament and now he is irrelevant in the federal parliament. He came in here on some populist ruse. I challenge him to go back to the Northern Daily Leader in his electorate and ask its readers if they want to go back to 1988 when they were paying full price for services. I bet you they do not, because they now get their services at probably 25 per cent less. The editorial that he read out was written a while ago and when I approached the editor about that and asked him if he wanted to go back, he replied, `No, I do want to go back.'

Even these people are not thinking this issue through. If Telstra is not sold, then who is going to prop up those unserviceable areas out in the bush—the ones that are not paying at the present time? The only argument the member for New England puts up is that we cannot bind a future government. You do not have to be Einstein to know that. I challenge the member for New England and I challenge the Labor Party to guarantee that they will give those same guarantees to the people. They should say upfront—before the election, in fact—if they are not prepared to give those guarantees to regional and rural Australia. If they are not, then they should tell the people of Australia that they intend to change them.

Telstra is a great Australian company. It has the potential and technology to deliver services overseas and earn export dollars. It cannot go forward if we do not let it go free, because no private company can exist when it is hobbled by government. That is what Telstra is at the present time: it is hobbled by government.

I think the member for Bonython said that the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts cannot guarantee that broadband will be rolled out. He did not read the government's reply to the Estens report, did he? The government guaranteed $143 million in upgrading the broadband in the areas of concern in that report. It is fairly clear that a smokescreen is being put up here. It is a disgrace, actually. The Labor Party and the Independents are trying to scare country New South Wales into believing that the sale of Telstra is a threat to them. It does not matter who owns Telstra. The real issue is who is going to give the guarantees on service to these areas into the future. At this stage, the only guarantee that I have heard is coming from this side of politics; it is coming from the Liberal Party and the Nationals. We are not hearing those guarantees coming from anyone else. And as Telstra, if it is not privatised, goes down—as it loses its market share, as it slowly but surely goes broke—who is going to tell regional and rural Australia that it was the Labor Party and the Independents that condemned it by their opposition? I will be one that will be out there telling the community fairly quickly.

The member for New England also said that at the Nationals' conference on the weekend we removed any mention of $5 billion. That was for good reason: we do not want to limit ourselves to $5 billion, I can assure you. We want unlimited dollars for some of the works that we want done in the bush. We want money for roads; we want money for the infrastructure of irrigation; and we want money for health services and education services. But do not forget the states—they have got to put their share in as well. I can tell the member for New England that we will be fighting very hard for those services. We do have a plan and we know that, unless we do it this way, country services will be worse off.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Barresi)—Order! The discussion is now concluded.