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Tuesday, 3 April 1984
Page: 1141

Senator PETER BAUME(9.26) —I move:

Page 3, clause 11, lines 24 to 39, leave out the clause, insert the following clause:

'11. (1) Shares in Aussat are not capable of being held by any person other than- (a) the Commonwealth;

(b) a person as trustee for the Commonwealth; or

(c) such non-statutory corporation, entity, or person as may be prescribed.

(2) Each share in Aussat shall be issued with the same rights and restrictions with regard to voting.

(3) No shares in Aussat can be sold or transferred unless a statement of the proposed sale or transfer has been laid before each House of the Parliament and the proposed sale or transfer has been approved by resolution of each House of the Parliament.

(4) Any issue, sale or transfer of shares, or any arrangement or agreement, that is contrary to this section is void and of no effect.'

The amendment is in line with the sentiments raised during the second reading debate. We are concerned about the proposal to offer some shareholding to Telecom Australia and we wish to retain Aussat Pty Ltd as a private company with the shares completely owed by the Commonwealth and without any shares held by Telecom. Although I did not point this out during the second reading, debate, the role of Telecom throughout the last few years has been a most interesting one. It lobbied very hard initially to prevent the satellite project proceeding and it did all it could to obstruct the setting up of Aussat and the whole establishment of the projects. Having failed in that it then sought to reverse its ground and did a real Sir Humphrey act. Having failed there it wanted to take over the whole operation. Having tried to obstruct it and to have the whole satellite operation contained within Telecom and having failed, it came back to see whether it could control Aussat. During the debate I quoted certain Press releases which were issued by Labor Party spokesmen in the late 1970s. I am sure that they were prompted by pressure from Telecom putting a certain view about the whole Aussat proposal.

Senator Chipp —Or by the Telecom union.

Senator PETER BAUME —And/or by the Telecom union. We have some documents from the Telecom union which make quite clear what its proposal is and what its view is. Certain people are talking about the acquisition of power and the using of power. We can understand what has gone on in those kind of terms. We simply believe that it is not appropriate and we think it is not necessary for Telecom to be a shareholder in Aussat. We think that that arrangement gives power to Telecom over the operations, the future and the development of Aussat. We think it is more appropriate for the ownership of that company to remain either completely with the Government or, as we proposed when we were in government, with some form of private shareholding. I understand the point that Senator Chipp made in the debate, that his Party had considered the same proposition and it had concerns as to how that private equity would be granted and whether one could get past the use of nominees to concentrate ownership. I understand that problem and I do not believe that it could not be resolved.

Senator Chipp —It has not been resolved properly for the ownership of television stations, has it?

Senator PETER BAUME —I still think we could have resolved it and built sanctions within the legislation had we gone down that road. We cannot see any really rational reason for the Government to have proceeded as it has. We think the revised decision by the Government with respect to ownership of the satellite is a measure of the power which the particular union has over Government members and Caucus and therefore over the Government.

It is widely known that the ATEA, the Australian Telecommunications Employees Association, wants to protect its position of power over the provision of telecommunications services in Australia and, of course, that power is weakened to the extent that the Aussat system does not come within the purview of its union. It has undertaken intense lobbying and it has been able to reverse the statement and the commitment made by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) last year in his May statement, the mini-Budget statement, when he confirmed that 49 per cent of the shareholding of the satellite would be sold to the private sector. This is just one of many policy reversals. It is a matter which we believe is wrong as a method of government operation, and to that extent we think it is wrong in principle. Because of that we have moved amendment No. (2), which has been circulated in the name of the Opposition, which seeks to leave out clause 11, lines 24 to 39, and to insert certain other words which have the effect of restricting the ownership in the way in which I have set out in this speech to the Committee. I commend the amendment.