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Monday, 9 September 1996
Page: 3024

Senator TIERNEY(3.12 p.m) —Let me congratulate you, Mr Deputy President, on your elevation to the deputy presidency, this being the first occasion I have had in this chamber to congratulate you. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Faulkner) shows that empty vessels certainly make the most noise because he kept repeating the same point over and over without much substance at all.

The position of the government on this matter is very clear, Senator Faulkner. We made our policy on Telstra very clear before the last election. We were going to sell one-third of Telstra. We were quite up front about that before the last election.

Senator Kernot took a most surprising position on this matter. There is the party that claims they are going to keep the bastards honest. If they really mean that, they should be keeping us to our promise of selling one-third of Telstra. We plan to do that. Instead—and this is what came out again and again of the hearings by the Senate Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts References Committee—the Democrats are taking a position on Telstra that is way off to the left of Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro has done this. Albania has done this. The worldwide move is to partially privatise or privatise these bodies. We are moving to partially privatise in line with what governments right around the world are doing. Why are they doing it? They are doing it because it is a much more efficient way to run telcos. It is on the record of the Telstra inquiry.

The evidence time and time again was that Telstra was 20 per cent to 30 per cent off the pace in terms of efficiency. Just think what that is costing the Australian economy in terms of cost and in terms of missed opportunities for lowering the price of calls. We need more competition. We need the government telco partly privatised so it can compete a lot better in this market.

Yet we had the opposition parties conspiring during that Telstra inquiry to set up a terms of reference to take control of the inquiry away from the government, to put in a whole range of other matters for inquiry, including matters that could be totally separate inquiries on their own behalf. I mention, in particular, overhead cabling and the post-1997 regime. In the end, of course, what they were really on about was this matter of the part-privatisation of Telstra.

It is absolutely amazing that Senator Faulkner gets up and criticises, given the machinations within the Labor Party about this matter over the last five years. The fact is that Paul Keating wanted to sell the lot. Keating wanted to sell the lot. I did not hear Senator Faulkner mentioning that position of the Labor party or its previous leader, to try to sell the whole of Telstra.

The government is not proposing to do that. We were quite up front before the last election that we would sell one-third of Telstra. That will take place. We will see how that works out. Before we take any new position on this matter, we will go back to the people with a policy. We will be totally up front, unlike this Labor government which was going to—if the previous Prime Minister had his way—flog the whole thing off without a mandate.

We have received a very strong mandate from the people to sell one-third of Telstra, and that is what we are determined to do. If we do change our minds later on, we will take it back to the people and be most up front again going into another election. We said that before the election. We have said that since the election and, in question time today, Senator Alston has reinforced what is our policy position. It does not matter how much that empty vessel up the back clangs and makes noises, it will not really overcome that very basic point.