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Friday, 13 September 1985
Page: 529

Senator TATE —I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer and the Minister for Communications whether the Government is aware of the privatisation mania which has gripped the current leadership of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party and which is directed to the dismantling of Telecom Australia and Australia Post, amongst other great public enterprises? In particular, is the Minister aware of statements by Mr Howard to the effect that the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, owned by all Australians, should be sold off to a number of investors, including overseas interests? Will the Government withstand this attack?

Senator WALSH —The short answer to Senator Tate's last question is, yes, of course the Commonwealth Government will withstand that. For as long as I have had knowledge of the Commonwealth Bank it has paid very respect- able dividends to the taxpayers who are its owners. Of course, as Senator Tate said, the Liberal Party proposes to flog it off to some foreigner thereby denying taxpayers those healthy dividends.

On the broader question of privatisation-Senator Tate mentioned Australia Post and Telecom-it has penetrated into the consciousness of some of the brighter members of the Liberal Party that it is not possible to recover fully the cost of providing postal and telephone services to the sparsely populated areas of Australia or, probably, anywhere outside the capital cities. Therefore, if privatisation, so called, is to be fully implemented there will be no telephones and no mail deliveries anywhere outside the capital cities. Of course, some members of the Liberal Party are smart enough to know that.

Senator Button —But not Senator Messner.

Senator WALSH —Senator Messner is not one of the smarter members of the Liberal Party. The smarter members of the Liberal Party say that the problem can be addressed by a direct payment from the Budget to whoever privatises these organisations and that will maintain services in those areas. That would cost something like $500m for Telecom alone. More importantly, it would, of course, destroy the rationale for the privatisation policy. If a private firm knew that the Commonwealth Government was underwriting its losses quite obviously there would be no incentive to minimise costs. Indeed, there would be an incentive to maximise costs.

Finally, I do not have any rigid ideological views about privatisation. I think that is fairly well known. Certainly, it has been said publicly before. However, organisations such as Australia Post and Telecom, by their very nature, cannot be privatised without withdrawing services from a very large section of the Australian population. Also the Commonwealth Bank pays very healthy dividends. There is one Commonwealth Government business undertaking which I, as Minister for Finance, would be delighted to privatise. I refer to the Tasmanian railways which cost taxpayers almost $20m in operating losses last year. I look forward to Senator Walters standing up in Hobart, Launceston, Burnie, Smithton and all those other places and promising-in accordance with her new Leader's policy-to privatise the Tasmanian railways. I will be delighted if she can get a bidder to take over the Tasmanian railways thereby relieving Commonwealth taxpayers of the burden of underwriting the losses of that railway system which last year amounted to almost $20m.