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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3460

Senator MURPHY(7.12 p.m.) —I would like to make a few comments with regard to this report in respect of its consideration of the dilution of public ownership of Telstra. Of course, as has been said many times, the situation regarding Telstra really is the issue of what is fundamental to nation building in this country and the provision of services, services that can be provided to all Australians equally. I think that is one of the very important factors that Telstra has been able to achieve. The fact that we have one of the world's highest percentages of access to telephones—some 97 per cent of Australians have that—clearly demonstrates the real community value of having Telstra kept in public ownership.

There is simply no way, in terms of any future situation with partial or indeed, as Senator Alston said, complete privatisation of Telstra, you would ever be able to deliver that in future, particularly as it relates to new technology. I think more and more it would be the case that people who may well purchase part or all of Telstra simply would not—no government could expect them to—provide the sort of funding that would be required to meet the community service obligations.

Another very important aspect of this is the way the government has sought to link the sale of Telstra to the $1 billion `best ever' environment package. Of course, the government would like us and the Australian public to believe that their environment package was the best ever and that they are the real environmentalists of the Australian political scene. I find that really interesting.

Senator Campbell —We have never said that.

Senator MURPHY —Senator Campbell says, `We have never said that.' I would suggest, Senator Campbell, that you read a few speeches of your leader, the now Prime Minister, Mr Howard. I think your environmental package is already being shown for the con that it really is. I think the record shows that we took a number of steps. I would just like to outline—for your benefit, Senator Campbell—a few of the things that we did when we were in government that you opposed. Under a coalition government, the things that would have gone ahead—because it is clearly on the record as such—would be things such as the mining of Coronation Hill—

Senator Campbell —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The debate is in relation to a report on the privatisation of Telstra. There will be an occasion for senators to contribute to the report on the Natural Heritage Trust bill when it is tabled, and I think that will be in about a fortnight's time or possibly even next week. The terms of reference and this report do not deal with the environmental record of the previous disgraced Labor government. I suggest that Senator Murphy, if he is to be relevant to the debate and the topic before the Senate, would need to restrict his remarks to the privatisation of Telstra, which is the subject of that report.

Senator MURPHY —Mr Acting Deputy President, I want to speak on the point of order. It was the government which linked the sale of Telstra to the environment, not us. It was the government that has continually said that, for the $1 billion land fund to be set up, the sale of Telstra had to proceed. So I would suggest to you that I am quite relevant to this report with regard to the sale of Telstra by mentioning the land fund and the relevance of it. It is the government that put it on the agenda. The government is the one that said that to the Australian public. It is the government that keeps threatening the Democrats and everybody else by saying, `Well, if you don't pass the Telstra bill, there will not be any land fund.' So I think it is quite relevant, Mr Acting Deputy President.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman) —As long as you maintain relevance and highlight the relevance, Senator Murphy, I will listen carefully to what you say. Obviously, the prime purpose of this debate is to debate the Telstra report but, where other matters are relevant to that, I will listen carefully.

Senator MURPHY —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. As I said to Senator Campbell, in terms of records on the environment—and this is directly linked to this particular report because this particular report does deal with the sale of Telstra, which is going to provide the money, according to the government and the Prime Minister, for a land fund that will do certain other things—this has been claimed by the now government as being the best environment policy that has ever been. That is fully relevant to the sale and to this report.

I just want to point out for Senator Campbell's benefit the government's real record in terms of environmental matters which, I think, demonstrates the big con that the government has effectively pulled over the Australian public's eyes in terms of what its previous record was. I think it is important to remind Senator Campbell at least that, had the coalition been in government for the last 13 years, the mining of Coronation Hill would have gone ahead. Uluru and Kakadu would have been handed back to the Northern Territory government—because that was the position that you took—instead of the indigenous people. Wet tropics would have been logged. More recently we have seen the Port Hinchinbrook situation and, of course, there was also the woodchip issue. Senator Campbell, you really ought to take a look at your record. Do not try to pull some con with regard to promising $1 billion for some ridiculous land fund which will come out of the sale of Telstra.

As I said, in terms of Telstra's value to the Australian public per se, you just cannot go past the amount of money that it expends in this country purchasing both services and goods. There are huge amounts of money. In 1992 it had a five-year expenditure program which was in excess of $40 billion. It expended in 1994-95 some $3 billion. I think some 50 companies were awarded contracts over $10 million. Over $200 million has been invested in research. All of those things will be affected with the privatisation of Telstra, if it should proceed, either in part or in whole.

We do not know. At the moment, we have Senator Alston at odds with the Prime Minister. He is saying that you lot are going to sell it all. We know you are. We know you want to. But, hopefully—with the opposition, the Democrats and the Greens and the two Independent senators—you will not be allowed to proceed with the sale. That is the important fact, and that is what should not be allowed to happen.