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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 25580

Mrs HULL (2:36 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Will the Deputy Prime Minister advise the House of improvements to telecommunications services for people in my electorate of Riverina and in rural and regional Australia as a result of our government policies? Is the government committed to further improvements, and is the minister aware of any alternative policies in this area?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Riverina for her question, and I note her very real interest in telecommunications in her own electorate. As has already been highlighted in this place today, in the end you have to look at evidence, in the end you have to look at the facts and in the end you have to look at performance and compare it with something. There is no doubt that we have delivered consistent, real and ongoing improvements in telecommunications services right across Australia, but in particular in rural and regional areas. Let us come to the most effective device of all for those who are really interested in service delivery outcomes as opposed to political rhetoric and the scoring of cheap personal points, as the opposition spokesman so busily concentrates his energies on, and that is the customer service guarantee. The first question that has to be asked is: who put the customer service guarantee in place? It was not the ALP. Indeed, unless something has happened that I am unaware of, we do not even know yet from their policy platform whether they support it. Yet it is that very mechanism that has set down standards of service delivery which telephone companies have to meet across Australia—and if they do not meet them there are penalties.

I do not know whether anybody remembers the old days of the ALP's fully owned PMG and Telecom, but I remember them. I remember being on a party line; I remember what the service delivery standards were like in those days—all of 14 or 15 years ago when they were still in power. If you wanted a telephone there was absolutely no obligation—none—on Telecom to actually get you one in a decent period of time. There was nothing at all. The evidence is that no-one in the ALP is actually interested in standards—that is really evident to everyone who is listening.

We expanded the universal service obligation, too, to beef it up very considerably. Then there is mobile phone coverage. Who was it who, without a thought for rural and regional Australians, just wiped out the old analog network? And under whom was it that an alternative was found? The coalition, with CDMA, which is now replacing the service that Labor gave away. Then there is Networking the Nation. We have now delivered around $250 million in funding for around 500 projects to expand and improve services. The latest round includes, for example, at Mungindi in my own electorate, a new base station and a repeater to give the town and surrounding area—

Mr Laurie Ferguson —You've never been there!

Mr ANDERSON —Someone has been there—who has been there?

Government members interjecting

Mr ANDERSON —No, they would not have been out there—none of them would have been out there.

Mr SPEAKER —The minister will respond to the question.

Mr ANDERSON —That will give that town and the surrounding area mobile phone coverage, something they would never have got under the ALP. In South Australia a pilot project will trial the use of high quality Internet access for the School of the Air, connecting remote kids in an advanced virtual classroom. That would never have happened under the ALP. In New South Wales a joint project with the state library, worth around $5 million, will provide broadband access to at least 90 rural communities. Then there is the $150 million local call access arrangements for the 40,000 people who live in remote Australia. Was that an ALP doing; was that something the ALP thought of—the putting out to tender of the provision of services out there? And so it goes on: $25 million to complete mobile phone coverage along nearly 9,500 kilometres of Australia's busiest highways.

There is more work to be done—we identified that via the Besley report. The installation, repair and reliability of phone services is still an issue, and mobile phone coverage is an ongoing issue, as is access to the Internet and data speeds generally. These will all be areas of further focus by the government. But, when it comes to alternatives, what do we find? A one-liner from the ALP. And guess what it focuses on? Not on outcomes, but on who owns Telstra. That is all. That is the only policy commitment they have—it is there on Labor's web site. You look up Telstra policy and all you find is a 95-word extract from the Leader of the Opposition's address in reply to last year's budget. All it covers is the question of Telstra's ownership. So there has been nothing since May of last year on Telstra policy and telecommunications policy—nothing. There is nothing about the customer service guarantee or service levels, nothing about ISDN access or Internet speeds, nothing about mobile phone coverage, nothing about improved services for businesses, nothing about distance education and nothing about reduced call costs for remote areas—nothing of substance at all, nothing that matters, for rural and regional Australians.