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Wednesday, 29 August 2001
Page: 30577

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (7:35 PM) —Today, the press were summoned for a landmark news conference, and the press release heralded the quiet revolution in rural and regional Australia. My electorate, which is in rural and regional Australia, waited with bated breath to hear what this revolution was all about. I suspect that the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mr Anderson, must have been talking about a different revolution.

There is a quiet revolution going on in regional Australia. However, it is not the revolution that says, `Thanks for all you've done, John, and thanks to the Howard government. Thanks for everything you've done,' because the one thing you have done is cut back services in regional Australia and, when it hurts, you have gone for a bit of a bush visit. We had the Prime Minister on his bush bash some time ago. You come and have a listening campaign to see what you can do about it. Then you say that you will pour out some money to try and fix up a few regional problems, money which is in no way compensating for the moneys that have been ripped out of regional Australia since 1996. That money might fix up a bit of television reception. Members opposite have spoken about the black spot television program before. We get a few bob to try and fix television programs so you can keep regional Australia off your back and they can see the advertisements that are being pumped out, millions of dollars after millions of dollars, telling them all about the good things you have done for Australia, but if people are not experiencing them in regional Australia, they soon will. A few bob is being thrown around to fix up some telecommunications problems that people are still experiencing in regional Australia. What is going to be the reward for that? You are going to sell off a bit of the family silver. People can buy some of it back and you will spend some of that to give them some telephone services and a little bit of downloading for computer systems and the Internet.

Of course, your reward after buying back what you already own is: `When we've done all that, and we're doing it in a very generous way, because we have just had an inquiry telling us that things aren't too bad, we'll pump out a few more hundred million dollars into regional Australia. Listen, we won't do it this time, but we're going to sell Telstra again.' Yet we have massive dividends coming in from Telstra, and what does the government say? It says, `If you oppose the further sale of Telstra, the rest of Australia will not be able to experience the great benefits of Telstra.' They will experience the benefits of Telstra; they do so through dividends, and that will continue.

I noticed the quiet revolution in rural and regional Australia that the minister announced today. By the way, I just managed to capture a little of Channel 7's news earlier, and that landmark contribution to regional Australia did not get a mention. He talks about partnerships and strengthening rural and regional economic and social opportunities. He even mentioned `changes to the national competition policy'. National Party members have been warning the government about the implications of the national competition policy. As early as May this year, the Labor Party—that is, this side of the House—announced at least four propositions involving the national competition policy and how to moderate it in terms of regional Australia so that it can provide a little bit of equity rather than ideology in regional Australia. Here we have the minister, a few months out from an election, saying, `We must do something about the national competition policy, we must get into partnerships, and we must go out and talk to regional Australia.' His Stronger Regions, A Stronger Australia statement will happen only when—it will not be much longer now—regional Australia votes for Labor. So much for the quiet revolution. There will be a revolution, all right, and it will be pretty soon, but it will not be the minister's laughable, fluffy old announcements today and his few bob—I think it is about $2 a head—in 60 regions throughout Australia.