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Wednesday, 19 September 2001
Page: 31045


Ms JANN McFARLANE (7:29 PM) —I rise tonight to discuss an issue that is of great importance and concern to the people of my electorate of Stirling and to the nation, and that is the Howard government's commitment to sell the rest of Telstra should it be re-elected. Before I begin, I would like to express my relief that the seven retail staff working for Telstra in the company's Fifth Avenue office in New York were safely evacuated and accounted for after the tragic events of 11 September. I wish these staff and their families all the best in rebuilding their lives.

Recently, I invited Labor's shadow minister for communications, the member for Perth, to meet with workers from the Telstra depot in Balcatta in my electorate to talk about their concerns about future job losses. I commend Gary Carson of the CEPU for drawing the workers' concerns to my attention. Given that 40,000 jobs have been shed from Telstra since the sale of the first half of the company, I understand these workers' fears about what might happen to their jobs should the rest of Telstra be sold. Labor opposes the sale of Telstra and pledges not to sell any further portion of the company. While I was there I signed the Labor Telstra pledge. I pledge to the people of Stirling this: while I am their representative in this House I will never vote to allow the sale of a single Telstra share. I say this for two main reasons: firstly, I believe in Telstra's role as a nation builder and, secondly, I believe that Australian taxpayers will lose on any further privatisation of Telstra.

Telstra serves all Australians. There is nothing the government has ever owned which is as significant to the lives of ordinary Australians, and there is nothing the government has ever owned that will provide ordinary Australians with technological change when they need it. Telstra is a great national institution and its nation building task is not yet finished, but one thing is clear: Telstra will not perform its nation building task unless it stays in majority public ownership.

Telstra recently announced a $4.1 billion annual profit. This will result in Telstra paying a dividend of more than $1.2 billion to the Commonwealth government, for the benefit of all Australian taxpayers—$1.2 billion for one year's work. So why would anybody want to sell the rest of Telstra when it continues to show record profits at a time like this? Still the government believes in selling the rest of our stake in Australia's biggest company. It is there for anyone to read in the government's own budget papers. Furthermore, it makes financial sense not to privatise Telstra. After 3½ years, the Commonwealth is now $499 million worse off as a result of the sale of the first one-third of Telstra. This is because, over the last three years, the cost of selling Telstra and the amount of dividend lost to the government has been more than the government has saved in retiring public debt. In short, the Howard government has cost Australian taxpayers more than $3.8 billion to save just $3.3 billion. Maintaining majority public ownership of Telstra is a better investment for this nation than retiring public debt. Not only does Telstra nation-build in what it provides in services; it nation-builds in what it provides in dividends. That money goes to our schools, our hospitals and our universities. These are the critical things for the development of our nation and for the needs of the people of Stirling.

Recently, the Howard government allowed SingTel to take over Telstra's main competitor Optus. Singtel is controlled by the Singaporean government. Under the Howard government we have the strange situation where it is acceptable to have a majority foreign government owned telecommunications company operating in the Australian market but not an Australian majority government owned telecommunications company. Is this hypocrisy or just plain stupidity?

Labor has continually argued that Australians are better off relying on the continuing dividend stream from Telstra rather than on a one-off flog-off. The figures for the sale of the first third of Telstra clearly support Labor's view. If the government sells off the rest of Telstra, then Telstra's profits go only to those who are wealthy enough to be shareholders rather than benefiting all Australians. A company built with the collective will and the collective investment of all Australians should not be sold for the benefit of the wealthy few. If Telstra is fully privatised, local services will suffer and more jobs will be lost. If Telstra is fully privatised it will focus only on profits for the few and not the diverse service needs of the many. Australians will have a clear choice at the coming federal election. If they want to stop the full privatisation of Telstra, then they should vote for a Beazley Labor government.