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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 92

Senator LUNDY (3:15 PM) —I rise in support of the motion to take note of Senator Coonan's answer in question time today. How interesting it was to see that rather frenzied response from Senator Brandis, as Senator Boswell did his fake heehaws in the corner, in response to that contribution. We are dealing here with the fracturing of the coalition on an incredibly important issue to rural and regional Australians. I have done a lot of work in the area of Internet connectivity for many years, and I know first-hand just how poor services are in the bush. So when Mr Estens says that it is a shemozzle, that is an understatement and the National Party knows that it is an understatement, because they deal day in and day out, as many of us do in parliament, with the consistent and continual complaints about the poor level of services. But, hey, do not take our word for it. Have a look at the recent TIO report, which shows the vast majority of different types of complaints going through the roof. So when the coalition ministers sit over there and say, `Everything is going okay,' you do not need to listen to just the opposition, you need to look at the facts. And the facts are that the number of complaints is going up, the situation is getting far worse in rural and regional Australia and there is absolutely nothing that the National Party seems prepared to do about it.

Another point worth making is about the contribution of the new Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Coonan, who was the first minister to lay on the table what the agenda is all about with respect to privatisation. She said, `It's about keeping Telstra's bottom line nice and fat in the lead-up to a telecommunications sale.' If you understand the language here, you will know that every time a coalition government minister says, `We need to look at the market conditions to look forward to the sale of Telstra', they are talking about how much profit Telstra is making and how much appeal there will be in the market to purchase it. So, Senator Boswell, we are talking here about a government minister, standing up, blatantly saying, `We want Telstra to make more money to create the preconditions for a sale.' Do you know what? That means rural and regional customers around this country will suffer more. They will suffer more than they already have done. We know that they have suffered because of the TIO report into increased complaints and we know that there is worse to come.

I also found it interesting that Senator Brandis chose to mention the issue of price, as part of a very pitiful defence about what is going on in telecommunications. We need to look no further than the increase in the cost of line rentals—the last monopolistic feature of how Telstra extract the most out of their customers around this country—to see how far the cost of line rental has increased. We need to look no further than the recent report into Telstra's price control arrangements to know that there is a dire situation forming here that will completely undermine any claim, or any credibility, that the Howard government cares about price.

What is the best way to keep prices down in telecommunications? Make sure that there is competition. Here is another area of chronic failure by the Howard government. This is one area that the National Party ought to sit up and take notice of, because it has not taken notice of anything else. If you do not have competitive tensions in the market, it is hard to keep the prices down and keep up the pressure on service quality. What happens? Telstra is not placed under any pressure in rural and regional Australia with respect to competition policy, because it is allowed to dump small community based telecommunications initiatives on your patch, Senator Boswell—rural and regional Australia—where you see community groups, organisations, businesses getting together, trying to form a competitive response to Telstra. What happens? Telstra use the full weight of its residual monopoly to knock them out of the market. What happens? Telstra are able to prevail, to continue its monopolistic behaviour and nothing changes. The situation keeps getting worse. That is the scenario here and full privatisation will just make it far worse. But I think it is the motivation of the National Party for this whole privatisation agenda that really exposes the gross neglect to its constituency. It does not care about privatisation; it does not care about its constituents. It is as plain as that. We are going to hear from Senator Boswell now, and I am sure that he will launch into some pitiful defence of why The Nationals are doing absolutely nothing about the privatisation of Telstra.