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Monday, 2 December 1985
Page: 2650

Senator MAGUIRE(3.25) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The 1984-85 annual report of the Australian Postal Commission is the tenth annual report of one of Australia's largest public enterprises. I think that in debating this report today we should take note of that fact. The Commission made an operating surplus for the year under review of $24.5m. I note that it is one of the few postal services in the world which does return an operating surplus. The Commission is one of Australia's major employers-in fact, it is probably in the top 10 employers in the country-with a full time official staff of over 34,200. When the previous Government was in power under Mr Fraser and Mr Howard, the then Minister for Communications, Mr N. A. Brown, had two reports before him: First, the report of the Bradley Committee of Inquiry into the Monopoly Position of the Australian Postal Commission and, secondly, the report of the Davidson Public Inquiry into Telecommunication Services in Australia (1982). Both of those reports raised some very concerning questions in Australia. Both reports proposed the end of cross-subsidisation in the Australian telecommunications and postal services. I am pleased to say that cross-subsidisation, which involves the subsidisation of costly services involving telephones and letters in country areas by metropolitan users, where most of the revenue for services is earned, was rejected. The end of cross-subsidisation was rejected by the Australian Labor Party in opposition. We made a pledge in the 1983 election that we would reject the proposal to end cross-subsidisation. I am very pleased to say that the Bradley report and the Davidson report were consigned to the dustbin of history.

What is of major concern to me is that the Liberal Party of Australia is now at it again. It is now on the privatisation kick. Australia's major public enterprises such as Australia Post, Telecom Australia, Qantas Airways Ltd and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia are at risk because of this ideological position which is being taken by the Liberal Party on the question of privatisation. As Australia Post points out at page 14 of its report which has been tabled today, privatisation is no real option for the postal system in this country. Mr Howard, the present Leader of the Liberal Party, has made great play of the policy of privatisation; that is, the sale of public enterprises at bargain basement prices. The Liberal Party would sell off Australia's most profitable public enterprises because that suits its rhetoric and dogma. The Liberal Party puts the line that public enterprise must be necessarily unprofitable and inefficient and if it can sell Australia's profitable public enterprises it fits perfectly with its dogma about the waste and inefficiency which necessarily follow from public sector activity. Of course, that is a line which we in the Labor Party reject totally.

It is of major concern to me now that privatisation has intruded into the South Australian election campaign. Not only do we have the Howard-led Opposition in Canberra proposing the sale of Australia's major public enterprises-I must admit that it is very hard to pin down exactly which ones it would sell because the list changes almost daily-but also its mad policy is now being embraced wholeheartedly by the current Leader of the Opposition in South Australia, Mr John Olsen. In a desperate scramble to try to win the election next Saturday in South Australia, Mr Olsen is following the policies of privatisation laid down by the Federal Liberal Party. He is proposing to sell off the South Australian Oil and Gas Corporation Pty Ltd and other major assets, including the substantial assets of the South Australian Housing Trust which has been Australia's most impressive public housing institution in the post-war period. Mr Olsen, like the Federal Liberal Party, would sell public assets in a desperate scramble to try to find revenues for reductions in taxation expenditure.

Of course, public sector jobs are at risk as a result of those policies. Indeed, in a recent speech the Deputy President of this chamber said that public sector jobs would go as a result of privatisation policies. Of course, privatisation means enormous dangers for country people in Australia, the danger of higher prices for postal and telecommunication services, consumer rip-offs and poor standards of service. All of those are some of the major dangers from the privatisation policies which are being espoused by both Mr Howard and the Opposition in South Australia.