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Tuesday, 8 October 1985
Page: 790

Senator TATE(3.23) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I rise to pay tribute to Telecom Australia. I do so because not only is this an annual report of some significance, but it also marks 10 years of operations by Telecom Australia. The great benefits that have flowed to the Australian people and the nation as a result of the dedicated work of many thousands of Australians in the Telecom work force ought to be noted by the chamber.

In 1984-85 some $5.2 billion was outlayed by way of total cash outlay, maintenance operation, capital works, et cetera; $2,310m was paid in salaries, wages and on costs; $1,995m was paid to manufacturers, builders and suppliers of goods and services; $890m was paid out in interest to the Government and to Telecom stockholders-a very important point to note in the context of the coming privatisation debate. In other words, we have an immense enterprise which, I believe, is operating in a very efficient fashion on behalf of the Australian people.

Some $600m was paid to the Government last year in interest on borrowings and some $290m was paid to 70,000 Telecom stockholders throughout Australia, and the net profit left of $385m was invested back into a capital works program. I mention these enormous figures merely to offset the individual and personal character of the operations carried out by many hundreds of dedicated members of the workforce of Telecom, particularly in my home State of Tasmania. I have had the great privilege and pleasure of visiting Telecom in Hobart, Burnie and Devonport and I will visit Telecom in Launceston in the next fortnight of recess. In visiting those particular works and telephone exchanges, I have been greatly impressed by the dedication of the work force, by the evident grasp of new technology and the retraining that goes with it in order to enable the service to become ever more efficient and accessible. The figures themselves indicate that that is the case. Last year there was a record installation throughout Australia of 590,000 new telephone services, 8,870 telex services and 26,500 data services. That is the measure of the tremendous activity of this organisation right across the country.

Having outlined that tremendous success of this enterprise we then come against the hard political fact that the Opposition is determined to destroy this organisation by dismembering it and selling off its most profitable parts, no doubt, to those particular private enterprise organisations which are baying and craving for a part of the very intensely used operations within Telecom, such as between Sydney and Melbourne, or in relation to the new projects and data services that have been made available. Mr Howard made it clear in his speech to the National Press Club that he intends to sell off the most profitable parts of Telecom and to do so he is prepared to sell to the workers of Telecom shares at less than market price. So this great private enterprise market force party is prepared virtually to offer a bribe to the workers of Telecom to take out shares at less than the market price which they could then sell on a future occasion, of course at a higher price, and make a gain. That is the sort of mess that the Opposition's present ideological crusade has got it into. But I believe it will be resisted not only by the Telecom employees, whom I found to be a contented and dedicated group of men and women, but also by the Australian people, who know that this Australia-wide service has provided an unparalled system of communication across such a huge continent, where vast distances separate centres of population. Any of us can pick up a telephone and telephone anywhere in Australia at a reasonable STD rate. This often recurring and often unnoticed and underrated service is provided by this great organisation.