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Friday, 23 August 1985
Page: 296

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Finance. Why did the Government in the May mini-Budget announce that it would privatise the administration of defence service homes?

Senator WALSH —The Government made that decision because it provided a way of increasing the options available to ex-servicemen. I might also note, if anybody in the Opposition is capable of understanding this, that there is an intrinsic difference between defence service homes and the provision of postal and telephone services; that is, the amount of money which it costs to build a house in one part of Australia against another part of Australia does not vary a great deal. Compared with the cost of providing a telephone or delivering a letter, it does not vary a great deal. The entitlement for individual ex-service personnel is a fixed entitlement to the individual. The cost of delivering a letter, as I have specifically mentioned, from Ingle Downs in central Queensland is approximately $1.70. The charge throughout Australia is 33 cents.

With telephone services the gap is much wider. It is a highly profitable, highly lucrative, business to provide telephone services within the central business districts of any of the capital cities and probably between the central business districts of any of the capital cities. It is innately unprofitable to provide them anywhere else. These ideologues such as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who is neither for nor against Liberal Party motions to cut government outlays just as he is neither for nor against the prospect of changing the Liberal Party leadership, are proposing either that there will be few postal services or telephone services, if any, outside metropolitan Australian or that there will be a large Budget subsidy of about $500m, which will destroy the rationale of their policy anyway.

Senator CHANEY —I wish to ask a supplementary question. As the Minister for Finance, I am sure, on his definition is not an ideologue, I ask him: Will the changes being made by the Government, the privatisation of the defence service homes arrangements, provide a more efficient or a less efficient service to the ex-servicemen that the system is there to help?

Senator WALSH —They will have the choice. Senator Chaney is quite right; I am not an ideologue about these things. I am not particulary fussed whether things are in private ownership or public ownership. But in this particular case, because of the nature of the service, it is absolutely essential that Telecom Australia and Australia Post remain in public hands. I again invite those people who purport to represent rural Australia to stand up, as Mr Hall had the courage to do, and to tell the Sydney ideologues that they will not vote for such a proposition.