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Monday, 9 September 1996
Page: 3012

Senator CARR —My question is to the Minister for Communications and the Arts. I refer to your comments on the Meet the Press program on 1 September when you said that you could envisage the carving up of the Fairfax group. Noting the trenchant criticism directed at you by both Conrad Black and Sir Laurence Street, could your remarks affect the share price of Fairfax? What is the status of your much vaunted media inquiry which the coalition promised prior to the election? Is this to be a further broken promise and will media ownership policy be driven by further intemperate remarks like those on Meet the Press ?

Senator ALSTON —I am seriously being asked by the leader of the Trotskyist faction in this parliament whether I would explain what drives the share price of Fairfax. In other words, he wants me to give him a lesson on what causes share prices to rise and fall.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator ALSTON —You asked the question. You asked me whether any remarks of mine could affect the share price of Fairfax. I thought I was answering it. What you are really asking me is: what are the factors that come into play when share prices go up and down? It is a very interesting question. It can cover a lot of things. For example, it can mean if the price of the goods that they sell falls or if volume falls or if investors, for one reason or another, choose to move into another stock—there is a myriad number of reasons why share prices can fall. I am amazed that, even with your ideological blinkers, you would not really have come to terms with all this so that you have some understanding of what it is that drives media and other stocks.

They are not driven simply by what might be said on a particular occasion by anyone in particular. They are driven by investors making—

Senator Bob Collins —By the minister for communications.

Senator ALSTON —They might be. You might buy shares on the basis of what you pick up in the non-members bar. Right? You might be interested in putting your superannuation reserves into the latest stock because of what someone told you when you were walking into Parliament House. I do not think too many investors operate that way. Investors make hard-nosed judgments about whether they think that the stream of earnings of a company is going to rise over time, whether they think it is going to expand its market share, whether they think it is performing well, whether they think it has got good management and whether they think it has got increased market opportunities. There is a whole range of factors that I am surprised even Senator Carr is not aware of. Can I suggest that he goes back to basics and buys a book on how the stock exchange works? He might start to understand that the share price of Fairfax—and very many other shares—is driven by a whole range of factors that are unrelated to what you and I might have to say in this place.

Senator CARR —I ask a supplementary question. I asked a simple question in relation to the media inquiry. You were not going to answer, Minister. You have some difficulty answering. Will you reaffirm categorically your commitment to conduct a public inquiry into cross-media ownership and, if so, when are you going to announce the composition and the terms of reference of this inquiry? See whether you can answer that, Minister.

Senator ALSTON —I gather Senator Carr concedes the point. He was not prepared to come back and even give us the slightest idea of how he had thought anyone's remarks might affect the share price, so he is going to change the subject and talk about something else. Let me say on the second leg that when we make an announcement on this you will be the first to know because it will be in a press release. We quite clearly continue to have the concerns about your mogul specific attitude to cross-media. We know that it did not achieve anything in terms of diversity and plurality in the media.

You could not have identified a worse way of going. If you talk to anybody in the media they will say, `There was nothing worse than the old days when you had to go and do a wink or a nod with whoever happened to be holding the baton on the Labor Party side.'

Senator Carr —What about your deal with Packer?

Senator ALSTON —It's pathetic. Now he's talking about what to do with Packer. If ever there was a crowd that invented the term `deal'—(Time expired)