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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 710

Senator MAGUIRE(5.28) —I also address some remarks to the annual report of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. This is the annual report for the twelve months to the end of March this year of this very important statutory authority and very successful Australian public enterprise. It was formed in 1946 under the Chifley Labor Government and has had a distinguished period of activity since then. As a public-owned, government business enterprise, OTC provides all of Australia's overseas communications, including telephones, telex, satellite television, facsimile data services and so on. The information is transmitted and received through stations such as that at Ceduna in my State of South Australia. From there the information and data are fed into the domestic network of Telecom for Australian distribution.

During the year under review, the Overseas Telecommunications Commission earned over $400m in revenue and paid almost $45m to the Australian Government as income tax. It returned an after-tax profit of some $48m, which was a very significant increase over the $30m earned last financial year. In fact, it was the largest profit ever earned by this very successful Australian public enterprise. From that profit a dividend of some $19.9m was paid to the Commonwealth Budget by OTC. It should be noted that over the last five years this very successful Australian public enterprise has contributed tens of millions of dollars in social dividends to the Australian Government. It should be noted that it operates on a completely commercial basis. Those on the Opposition benches who carp about public enterprises should note that such an enterprise as this can operate on a fully commercial basis and pay very significant dividends to the Australian Govenment through the Budget.

It is also very important to note that OTC is a very large scale investor in Australia. It is a very large spender on captial items and, in doing so, it keeps up with the latest technology and also aims to provide services which are both efficient and cost effective. It is noteworthy that in the year under review, 1984-85, OTC undertook a capital spending program of $80m and further committeed itself to total expenditure of $275m in capital projects over a period of years. One of the highlights of the year was the commissioning of the under-sea submarine cable between Australia and Canada. That overall project cost $400m and it was brought into operation during 1984-85.

It is very important to note the section in the report which indicates that OTC committed almost $5m for local research and development in Australia in telecommunications technology in that year. There is a very big need to do such things because we are lagging badly behind other countries in research and development technology. It is very important to note that hardly any of the research and development in Australia is occurring in the private sector of the economy. Those who champion private enterprise and the private sector conveniently overlook the fact that it is a very poor performer in the area of research and development. Virtually all of Australia's research and development expenditure occurs in the public sector, either as a result directly of government or through government statutory authorities such as the OTC. One wonders what would happen if some of these vital public enterprises in our country were to be privatised. What would happen to our national research and development efforts if these organisations were sold off to private organisations?

I would like to raise the question of the privatisation of OTC because I happened to read a Press release issued by the former Leader of the Opposition, the deposed Leader, Mr Peacock, on the first of this month-as recently as that-saying that the Government would review its role in the ownership of such organisations as the OTC. I wonder whether, under the new leadership, the Opposition would propose to sell off OTC. I suppose it is more likely under the current leadership of the Liberal Party of Australia, but it is very hard to tell exactly which enterprises are on its list. That fire sale list of government bodies that would be sold off at bargain basement prices seems to change almost on a daily basis. I suppose it is certainly the intention of the Opposition to sell off those which are most profitable because it would suit its arguments and the remaining public enterprises would be unprofitable, inefficient and wasteful.

Question resolved in the affirmative.