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Thursday, 11 May 2000
Page: 16305

Mr CREAN (2:16 PM) —My question is again to the Treasurer. I refer to his comments last night in relation to the letter he wrote to Telstra seeking information on future dividends and Telstra's reply to him, and in particular his comment that `it doesn't mean that I have any information on Telstra which is not available to the market'. If as you say Telstra's advice to you does not contain information that is unavailable to the market, will you now table that advice in order to clear up the confusion surrounding your claims and those of Telstra's finance director?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I do not know what claims the member for Hotham is referring to, but the matters I have put on the record are the matters that are in the budget. I referred to them in the budget and I referred to them in the press conference, and they are these: dividends from associated entities, which are always included in the budget and never broken down, fell from $6.5 billion in 1999 to $2.2 billion in 2000-2001—a 66 per cent fall. That includes government business enterprises such as Telstra—

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order that goes to relevance. The Treasurer was asked a question and he said, `It doesn't matter that I have information on Telstra which is not available to the market.' What was asked for by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was the information that he had from Telstra and, if it is not available to the market, why won't he table it?

Mr SPEAKER —I will rule on the matter of relevance. In my assessment the Treasurer is being entirely relevant. I am not to know whether the comments in the budget papers are part of the correspondence between him and the Telstra chiefs or not.

Mr COSTELLO —Mr Speaker, I am saying that the budget discloses dividends from associated entities, which includes government business entities, including Telstra and the Reserve Bank, and it pays dividends. In an accumulated way it states what the total outcome is. The budget has always done it in a total way. It has done it for all of the five budgets that this government has brought down. It did it through all of the Labor Party budgets. It never isolates them, nor does the government ever disclose individual dividends.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, further on the point of order: he is answering another question. The question he was asked specifically was whether the information that he had was available to the market as a whole. There has been an exchange of correspondence. He says it ought to be generally available. Where is it?

Mr SPEAKER —The Treasurer was asked a question, part of which was whether or not he would table particular correspondence. So far as I am aware, he is still coming to that answer. For that reason, I have allowed him to continue.

Mr COSTELLO —I am explaining the budget papers, which always disclose total dividends from total organisations. As a former finance minister would have known, I would have thought, it is never broken down. It never has been. It never was by you when you were finance minister. It never has been under us and it never will be done because the government does not disclose or break down the individual dividends. We did not do it in this budget just as you never did it in 13 budgets—and we have done the same in the last five budgets. We put in a global amount, which obviously includes both Telstra and the Reserve Bank. As I have consistently pointed out, it has fallen from $6.5 billion to $2.2 billion. In respect of Telstra, a big part of that is obviously the special dividend that was paid in 1999-2000. There is also a fall, as I also said in my press conference, in relation to RBA dividends. We do not itemise them; we do not disclose them individually. It has never been done in Australian practice. It was never done under 13 years of Labor government and it is has not been done under five years of this government; it would not be sensible commercial practice.

Mr Crean —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order and it goes to relevance. Will he table the correspondence to clear up the confusion?

Mr SPEAKER —I understood the Treasurer to indicate that he is not tabling any correspondence.

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition may care to refer to the Hansard.