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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26159

Mr NAIRN (4:33 PM) —I find it interesting that the Labor Party feign such interest in Telstra because, if it were up to them, communication services across my electorate of Eden-Monaro would be pretty lacklustre in comparison to what is available today. We have to remember that it was the Labor Party who forced the closing down of the analog mobile phone network from 1 January 2000. As the alternative digital mobile network mainly suited cities and towns, this move would have left most of rural and regional Australia in the dark had it not been for the coalition government working with Telstra, Vodafone and Optus towards a commitment to provide CDMA.

CDMA coverage is now available around a lot of Eden-Monaro. It was extended to Cooma and the Snowy Mountains area at the end of 1999. Just how vital something like this is became evident when in June last year the dedicated Snowy Scheme SouthCare helicopter workers were able to pinpoint the location of a missing Canadian bushwalker by contacting him on his mobile phone. If we had allowed the decline of regional mobile phone coverage, as proposed by Labor's shutdown of the analog system, the work of organisations like SouthCare would be much more difficult. The Labor Party effectively voted against the extension of mobile phone coverage to towns in my electorate such as Bungendore, Braidwood, Bombala and Narooma. There was no coverage there when I came into parliament. Under Networking the Nation, we are now working on an application for mobile phone coverage from Cooma through to Tumut and off Delegate Hill—a key area to get mobile phone coverage to.

The coalition have a strong record on protecting rural and regional Australia in relation to telecommunications. It was this government that introduced Telstra's customer service guarantee. That never existed under Labor. We have put that in place so that Telstra attract substantial fines when they do not meet their obligations under the service guarantee. Service is what it is all about, not process. The government have indicated that we will not proceed with the full privatisation of Telstra until we are satisfied that arrangements exist to deliver adequate services, in particular to rural and regional Australia. We have always made it clear that our commitment in relation to Telstra is conditional on that. The government's immediate priority is to get more services into rural and regional areas. These are services that have been made possible by the sensible use of the proceeds of the sale of the first two tranches of Telstra—services in Eden-Monaro such as the extension of SBS coverage from Batemans Bay down to Eden on the New South Wales South Coast; continuous mobile phone coverage along the Princes, Barton and Federal highways, which will be happening over the next year or so; the computer gym, a mobile hands-on Internet training facility that visited towns like Queanbeyan, Cooma, Jindabyne, Thredbo, Bombala and Braidwood; start-up funding of $161,599 for the establishment of the Eden Community Access Centre, which is now up and running and provides the Eden community with computer and Internet access; the Cooma Call and Technology Centre, for which we provided $1.65 million from Networking the Nation; videoconferencing facilities to communities like Bombala and a high speed multimedia communications network to serve the South Coast, which has been worked on with seed funding out of Networking the Nation to do planning there.

Also funded by the Telstra sale, the federal government's Accessing the Future initiatives are working to improve the natural environment through the Natural Heritage Trust, to expand access to telecommunications infrastructure and the Internet, restore services to regional towns, modernise local government service delivery and provide new high-tech job opportunities in regional areas. This includes the rural transaction centre initiative which provides to regional areas much needed services such as banking, postal services and Medicare Easyclaim. RTCs are currently in the process of being set up in Bermagui and Braidwood in my electorate, and many other communities across Eden-Monaro are right now, with federal government funding, working out how they could set up a rural transaction centre in their locality. That is good use of funding from the Telstra sale: putting services back in, guaranteeing service through legislation—all things that never happened under a Labor government.

The coalition's plan of providing increased communications services and other facilities as a result of the partial sale of Telstra is an initiative that has been widely welcomed in Eden-Monaro—something that the Labor Party voted against. We have promised not to sell the rest of Telstra until we have more adequate standards in rural and regional Australia, but I pose the thought that, as Labor have voted against so many of our communications initiatives and wound back our mobile phone coverage in their time in government, what services would need to be wound back to fund their GST roll-back if they were to get back into government? Do not believe what they say; remember what they did.