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Tuesday, 3 April 1984
Page: 1142

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry and Commerce and Minister Assisting the Minister for Communications)(9.32) —The Government will not accept this amendment. The actual effect of it would be to allow the sale of shares to private shareholders up to 100 per cent and, of course, to exclude participation by Telecom Australia or by statutory authorities in the ownership of Aussat Pty Ltd. I do not know what Senator Baume is talking about when he says that on the one hand the Opposition thinks Aussat should be fully owned by the Government- 100 per cent-which is what he said a minute or two ago, and on the other hand he says we can have an optional policy which involves 50, 51 or 49 per cent owned by private enterprise or, for that matter, 100 per cent. I think it is extraordinary that an amendment should be moved like this and supported by comments like that. The Opposition is saying: We will have anything rather than what the Government has proposed. 'We have no idea what, but anything will do rather than what the Government has proposed'.

I just make the point again that I made in the second reading debate: If the satellite-imposed on this country by a series of ad hoc decisions made in haste rather than in quiet reflection, made in terms of grandiose speculations about the benefits which would be provided rather than serious assessments-which has been thrust upon us and which this Government inherited is to operate successfully, it must do so as part of an integrated telecommunications network. It cannot do so in terms of two rival systems, totally divorced in terms of ownership, competing in terms of this most valuable resource, the provision of telecommunications services. It must be, to use Senator Chipp's phrase of a few minutes ago, a consensual arrangement, a co-operative arrangement, between Aussat and Telecom. We do not in any way retreat-and I do not want anything I said earlier to be taken as a sign of retreat-from the benefits which the satellite can provide to Australia in terms of provision of the most up to date telecommunications services. But those benefits cannot be fully gained with an amorphous sort of ownership structure, as suggested by the Opposition. They can be gained only by the integrated approach which the Government has developed both in relation to the development of the services and the ownership and management of the satellite.

Senator Chipp —With respect, what you are saying does not differ essentially from what Senator Baume is saying.

Senator BUTTON —Oh, yes it does, Senator. The Government's proposition is quite simply about the ownership of the satellite. It provides for a 25 per cent ownership by Telecom and the remaining 75 per cent to be held by the Government. The purpose of the 25 per cent ownership by Telecom and indeed the purpose of the honourable senator's own amendment in a sense, Senator Chipp, is to provide that there is a sensible integration of management at the board level in Aussat. What Senator Baume is saying is: 'We, the Opposition, do not like that arrangement and we suggest a few optional bargain basement alternatives'.

Senator Chipp —Which was your original position, with great respect.

Senator BUTTON —I am not talking about anybody's original position, I am talking about what is in the legislation. We were offered a couple of alternatives which there is no clarity about and which do not in any sense ensure any integration between the two arms of the telecommunications system. That is what we are concerned to do. The amendment is not accepted.