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Thursday, 17 February 2000
Page: 13785

Mr FORREST (2:51 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister in his capacity as Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the minister inform the House as to how the government is improving services in rural and regional Australia, particularly in regard to postal and telecommunication services? Is the minister aware of alternative policies in delivering postal and telecommunication services?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. Members of the House might like to know that I have actually been prompted to think a little about this question as a result of a press release put out by the member for Batman headed `Labor will give regional and rural communities their voice back'. It proclaims that this will be done through a `strong commitment to Australia Post and Telstra'. I thought this was interesting and that we had actually done a pretty strong job here and had some pretty good things to talk about. So I went and had a bit of a look, and I found that in relation to postal services we have given, for a start, a commitment that no post office or mail centre will close in regional Australia. We have introduced a service charter for Australia Post that requires a minimum retail presence of 4,000 postal outlets, of which 2,500 must be in rural and regional Australia. We are continuing vital subsidies to 700 licensed post offices in rural and regional Australia. We are working with Australia Post to deliver new and innovative services, like the pilot program that Senator Alston and I recently launched to provide Commonwealth Bank business services through Australia Post's electronic network. More than that, in the time that we have been in government we have opened 51 new post offices around Australia.

I thought that was a pretty good record. Then I went and had a look at what happened to post offices when those opposite were in power, and I found that, whilst we have opened 51 new post offices and we have a solid commitment that none will be closed, while they were in government 270 Australian post offices closed. That is their commitment: to give a voice back through their commitment to Australia Post and Telstra. And between the years 1990-91 and 1995-96 alone we lost 195.

Then there is their commitment to telecommunications. The record shows that Labor took the same wrecking ball approach to this area. If it wasn't for the coalition, tens of thousands of rural and regional Australians would have lost their mobile phone service as well. Their spokesman over there conceded that they had signed a contract to phase out analog phone services. The fact is that, whilst we have provided an alternative with the CDMA now being wound out as a replacement, they were going to leave tens of thousands of people not only without a capacity to post a letter, which they had done when they were in government, but also without the ability to use a mobile phone service. The fact is that, when it comes to services from Telstra and when it comes to services from Australia Post, they are the ones who took away rural voices. We are the people who are putting them back in spadefuls.