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Friday, 23 August 1985
Page: 287

Senator ROBERTSON —Is the Leader of the Government in the Senate aware that the Leader of the Opposition has indicated in his Budget reply speech that a Liberal government would sell off government enterprises such as the Australian Industry Development Corporation, Medibank Private and the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation and would look to sell off the Commonwealth Bank, Trans Australia Airlines, Aussat Pty Ltd, the Australian National Line and all other government bodies? What are the major implications of such a move for the efficient operation of government?

Senator Messner —Efficiency.

Senator BUTTON —I hardly have to answer the question because Senator Messner has said that it means efficiency. Yes, I did see the Opposition Leader's Budget reply which contained a commitment to a comprehensive program of selling out Australian public enterprise. Interestingly enough, there was no mention of privatisation as an important issue in Senator Chaney's reply to the Budget in this chamber. Therefore, I assume there is less than undivided enthusiasm for it amongst members of the Opposition.

Senator Chaney —What an extraordinary conclusion to draw.

Senator BUTTON —Of course, one can also draw the conclusion that there would not be uninterrupted enthusiasm for such sales amongst members of the community, if the Opposition in this place can in any sense be said to reflect a section of Australian community opinion. Let us look at what Opposition spokesmen-apart from Senator Messner-say on this important issue. John Valder, the Federal President of the Liberal Party of Australia, put the correct perspective on this Liberal sideshow recently when he said:

It is all very well to say we will privatise this and we will do that and fiddle about. That's all fiddling with the edges.

Certainly it is fiddling at the edges. It is a somewhat pathetic masquerade for a responsible economic policy but it is also dangerous vandalism, as Senator Missen pointed out in his recent paper entitled, if you please, `The Winter of our Discontent'-the winter of our discontent which I assure Opposition members is about to turn into an ice age. Senator Missen stated:

The sale of the Commonwealth Bank had `no merit' it was `a necessary instrument, a watchdog, to keep private banks from ignoring public need'.

Senator Withers —Rubbish!

Senator BUTTON —Senator Withers has just interjected: `Rubbish!' Senator Missen continued:

People are right to be concerned for their savings held in the Commonwealth Bank under the Liberals.

He also said:

Privatisation of Telecom and Australia Post-

Senator Missen —Mr President, I raise a point of order. At no stage did I say that people in any way were endangering their savings. That is a false statement.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.

Senator BUTTON —I apologise to Senator Missen. However, Senator Missen went on to say:

Privatisation of Telecom and Australia Post are other dubious examples. Anyone who has experienced the chaos of United States telephones or the slowness of its mail will realise that, particularly in this country, the outback dweller and private citizens have a lot to lose from applying mechanistic `supply and demand' rules to their needs. Even the selling off of profitable parts of these enterprises will leave the ordinary citizen with a vast burden to pay for uneconomic . . . services.

Senator Missen was articulating the winter of the Liberals' discontent. The winter of that discontent was made glorious summer this morning by Mr Steele Hall, that son of the Yorke Peninsula, when he said in an address, I think at Canberra Grammar School:

Imagine, therefore, some of my more conservative colleagues trying to get a Bill through the Senate to sell the Commonwealth Bank or to float off Australia's international flag carrier, Qantas.

They can have a few token authorities to satisfy their appetite-they can get rid of the run down, or the obsolete-but they can't and should not get their hands on the `Get with the strength' elephant, or the`flying' kangaroo. I think we can be sure the Senate will see to it that they don't.

These comments contrast strangely with some of the heady rhetoric of the speeches the Liberal Party's national conference by people such as Senator Jim Short, Mr John Howard and Mr Jim Carlton.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I have no doubt that the Leader of the Government could discourse for 60 minutes on his views on the Liberal Party, but I suggest that has little to do with his ministerial responsibility. I also suggest, Mr President, that he is debating the question and that you should call him to order and get him to sit down.

The PRESIDENT —I know that Senator Button is within the confines of answering the question but I tend to think that he is reaching the stage of debating the subject raised in the question. I ask him to try to shorten his answer as much as possible.

Senator BUTTON —Mr President, with the greatest respect, what I was drawing the Senate's attention to was that a lot of other people are debating this question. The outcome of that debate is very important for this country and very interesting. Privatisation is not about small government as some people allege; it is not about cutting taxes in some sort of fire sale mentality; it is all about the ideological obsessions of a Liberal leader incapable of understanding economic policy and with a dwindling grasp of the leadership of his own Party. That is what it is all about. It is most unfortunate that in the context of a very important Budget--

Senator Peter Rae —Why did you do it in the mini-Budget?

The PRESIDENT —Order! I have asked the Leader of the Government to restrict his answer. I ask Senator Rae to cease interjecting.

Senator BUTTON —I conclude by saying that it is most unfortunate that within the context of an important Budget concerned with economic growth in this country the Leader of the purported Opposition should devote so much time to pursuing this ridiculous red herring which has been intruded into an otherwise very important debate.