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Thursday, 11 May 2000
Page: 16303


Mr CREAN (2:07 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. I again refer to his comments on Tuesday when he said, `Telstra had delivered bad news, very bad news on future dividend payments.' Treasurer, despite your earlier answer, are you aware of comments today by Telstra's Director of Finance, Mr John Stanhope, who said of those comments, `The Treasurer's words were not helpful, no.' Are you also aware that your comments wiped more than $1 billion off Telstra's share value yesterday, before Telstra made an official statement to the Stock Exchange mid-morning? Treasurer, why won't you apologise to those hundreds of thousands of Australians who bought Telstra shares and who have seen the value of their investment cut by your loose lips?


Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —The first point, of course, is that the Labor Party thinks that nobody should have a share in Telstra. The Labor Party voted against anybody having a share in Telstra.


Mr O'Connor —We already owned it!


Mr COSTELLO —The member for Corio interjects to say they already owned it. No, I am sorry, your policy has shifted. You are now worried about the share price of private owners, apparently, according to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Having voted against any right to ever take a share, having voted against any right to issue the balance of the equity, which is the biggest single constraint on Telstra as a corporation, the Labor Party would feign an interest in the Telstra share price when it believes in a nationalised phone company. No amount of repetition of false quotes from the Leader of the Opposition adds to the false quote which was given by the previous questioner. What I said on Tuesday is what was reported in the budget, that is, dividends from associated entities, that is, all government business entities—


Mr Crean —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My question goes to relevance, not what was named in the budget but his loose lips, just like with Greenspan—


Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. It was a frivolous point of order. The Treasurer has the call.


Mr COSTELLO —As I said on Tuesday, and as is reported in the budget papers, dividends from associated entities—that is all government business entities, not just Telstra but principally Telstra and the Reserve Bank—fell from $6.5 billion to $2.2 billion: a fall of 66.6 per cent. A point that I also made was that that led non-taxation revenue overall—notwithstanding licence fees which were up, as I also explained in the budget—to fall by 13.6 per cent. Mr Speaker, if you were to read precisely what I said, it was dividends from Telstra and the Reserve Bank. In relation to Telstra, of course dividends came down from 1999-2000 to 2000-01, one of the reasons being special dividends, which were in 1999-2000. In relation to the Reserve Bank, of course, the dividend comes down, but I will not be going into the reasons as to why that is the case, other than to say that the government cumulates all of its dividends, as it always has; it does not isolate them. And, as we reported in the budget, a point that I made on Tuesday, they fall by 66 per cent—I think anybody who looked at that would say that they would rather it did not—and a 66 per cent fall in associated dividends was bad news.