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Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3110

Senator SCHACHT —My question is addressed to the Minister for Communications and the Arts. Minister, when the Prime Minister rang to carpet you over your remarks about the selling off of the whole of Telstra, did he also tell you to drop the idea of a public inquiry into cross-media ownership or did he tell you that later or did he talk to Glenn Milne from the Australian first? Therefore, Minister, have you dropped the idea? If not, when will this inquiry get under way?

Senator Bob Collins interjecting—

Senator ALSTON —Precisely. It just shows what a paucity of intellectual effort there is over there.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Alston, would you address your remarks through the chair.

Senator ALSTON —Madam President, I am simply making the point that you got an answer to this question yesterday. I am more than happy to give you the same answer again. Firstly, there was a false premise in the question. So it is not requiring an answer for that reason alone. Secondly, it asked me about a private conversation between myself and the Prime Minister.

Senator Schacht —He made it public. He told the world.

Senator ALSTON —If you read the transcript on the Monday you would see that Mr Howard said that he had spoken to me twice, and that is correct.

Senator Faulkner —He carpeted you twice.

Senator ALSTON —He didn't and he didn't use that term and neither would I. You are, firstly, asking me a question which is falsely based. Secondly, you are asking me about a private conversation, about which I do not propose to discuss.

Senator Schacht —But it is in the public domain.

Senator ALSTON —It is not in the public domain at all—a private conversation. If we publish a cabinet decision, do you think it follows that you are entitled to come in and ask for the minutes? Well, you are not, any more than you are entitled to know the details on this occasion.

Let me answer that part of the question which I also answered yesterday. In the fullness of time—in due course—you will get a press release. I promise Senator Carr that he would be the first to know if we put out a press release. Clearly, he does not have the confidence that he will be able to understand the proposition.

Senator Carr interjecting

Senator ALSTON —Senator Carr is now answering it. We will make an announcement on that issue in due course.

Let there be no misunderstanding that we will be trying to clear up the mess that you left—the cross-media rules that you put in place in 1986 which were conceived in malice, which were deliberately mogul specific and which were designed to consummate all the sorts of deals that are second nature to you and yours. We want an approach that will ensure that there is diversity in plurality, that competition does prevail and that we do have a healthy media sector in this country. We will tell you how we will go about it when we are ready.

Senator SCHACHT —I wish to ask a supplementary question, Madam President. In view of the fact that the minister has now been rolled three times by the Prime Minister on media policy, now on the public record, how does the minister feel about being Howard's doormat on media policy?

Senator Robert Ray —I rise on a point of order, Madam President. Senator Schacht should refer to the Prime Minister as Mr Howard, so it should have been `Mr Howard's doormat'.

Senator ALSTON —I think that says it all. It is perfectly clear that no-one in their right mind would take such a question seriously, even Senator Ray. If Senator Schacht cannot even get his question right and he needs to have the real leader of the opposition correct it for him, you ought to confer with him in advance. If you want to know what the question is, tell him to write more legibly.