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Tuesday, 6 June 1989
Page: 3392

Senator POWELL(10.42) —Mr Chairman, I hope that you will grant me the indulgence of making some comments on an earlier amendment to another Bill since it was raised by Senator Alston in his comments on this particular amendment.

The CHAIRMAN —You are entitled to deal with any comments made by Senator Alston that I allowed earlier.

Senator POWELL —Thank you, Mr Chairman. I do consider it an indulgence in the sense that, to begin with, Senator Alston accused the Australian Democrats of not responding at all or, in one instance, of not responding adequately with respect to amendments that were before the chamber last night. I am as cognisant as anybody of the fact that we are lagging behind in our legislation. More significantly, I do not stand here as a representative of a Party still dithering around with a previous package of Bills which is highly significant in this economy and with orders to string out this debate. Therefore I have been quite succinct in my comments and intend to continue to be.

However, in relation to why the Australian Democrats made decisions on the amendment specifically before the Committee as well as previous amendments, I now want to explain the context in which we are discussing these amendments. To a degree, on this particular amendment, the Minister for Resources has already outlined some of that context. Clearly in the industrial relations area we too have deep concerns about the sorts of processes that the Opposition is attempting to set in train in the debate on corporatisation, government business enterprises and generally on privatisation. We do not have a lot of sympathy for the Government in the sense that this debate is before us and the Opposition constantly makes these moves. The Government, by moving similarly down the track just a few steps behind the Opposition, brings this upon itself, as I have often said and as I first said, I think, when the Opposition, having succeeded in deregulating the transport area with regard to wheat marketing, then attempted to deregulate the entire labour market and thus develop the same sort of dissension in the community and confrontation in industrial relations as this particular amendment before the Committee at the moment would do.

But the context is a context of a new front bench member in a coalition which has clearly decided that it will push the Government as hard and fast as it can down the deregulation track towards privatisation while it awaits the possibility of actually attaining government itself. That is of major concern to the Australian Democrats in terms of these particular government business enterprises. While we look at each of these amendments individually, the context always has to be in our minds. With regard to the specific accusation of Senator Alston that something that we have done has disadvantaged Aboriginal communities or any other remote communities with regard to the Telecommunications Corporation Bill, we must bear in mind that Senator Alston claims that his amendment-which we did not support-would have broadened the definition of community service obligations. That would be within the context of an attempt to be made later by Senator Alston to a subsequent Bill to gut absolutely the corporation as it is being established by the Government. We are concerned enough about the way the Government is establishing it and we certainly would not want to take it further. Senator Alston's so-called broadened community service obligations would be within the context of an arrangement in which such obligations would now no longer be a part of the operations of the corporation paid for by cross-subsidy et cetera, but up-front as a budget item every year. Can honourable senators imagine-we certainly can-the fate of those remote Aboriginal communities under that sort of system?

Senator Alston talks in other public fora about the luxury that we can no longer afford. He talks about our ideological position on preservation of monopoly. That is an inaccurate assumption. We are concerned to preserve the monopoly to the extent that it is in the interests of the community and to the extent that these community service organisations are able to fulfil what we see as their community service obligations. It is not the Democrats who have a fixed ideological position; we leave that to the Government and the coalition. For instance, in the wheat legislation the coalition mindlessly opposed the position of both the Democrats and the industry. On the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill, 43 Democrat amendments, which would have brought commonsense and decency into the debate, were mindlessly opposed.

Progress reported.