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Monday, 16 September 1996
Page: 3479

Senator CRANE —My question is to Senator Alston in his capacity as Minister for Communications and the Arts. I ask the minister: is it the government's intention to review the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989? While you are answering that, would you please also explain to honourable senators, particularly to our parliamentary colleagues on the other side, how this compares with Labor's alternative approach?

Senator ALSTON —Back on 15 November 1993, the then minister for communications, David Beddall, announced that Labor had agreed to proposals for a sensible, managed approach to the introduction of further competition. He went on to say that the review would be conducted in 1996-97, with terms of reference consistent with the findings of the national competition policy review. He also said that it was the government's view that a public monopoly must justify the continuation of its monopoly position. Indeed, we went to the election matching Labor's promise. The Treasurer, on 28 June, announced that a review of Australia Post would commence in 1996-97.

It is against that background that I was very interested to see the shadow minister for industry and regional Australia, Simon Crean, interviewed on the Sunday program. He was asked about these issues and he gave a constructive and measured approach. He said:

Well, I think it depends on circumstances in which you let the competition come in. If you retain—if you have a community service obligation, it is possible to open up, I think, more to private competition as long as you're guaranteeing the service.

Laurie Oakes:

So would Labor support that?

Simon Crean:

What Labor would support is initiatives if they are to improve efficiency, as long as you guarantee the service to the remote and regional areas of this country.

That is a perfectly unexceptionable statement. It is very much in line with our concerns. The basis on which we will be conducting that review is to ensure that all Australians are provided with better and more efficient postal services. We were the only party that went to the election promising to improve postal services to regional and rural Australia. Indeed, we are in the process of delivering on those promises.

What is appalling is that three days later Mr Crean apparently got rolled by Senator Schacht, who then proceeded to put out a press release saying that the Opposition had declared it was not interested in supporting any changes to the present operating rules and regulations of Australia Post. He said:

Unlike many other countries in the world, Australia Post pays a dividend to the Australian government.

I do not know whether he meant that other countries in the world pay dividends to the Australian government or whether Australia Post pays dividends to other countries in the world. Putting aside the tortuous grammar of the whole release, it is clear from this that Senator Schacht simply is not interested in good public policy. The opposition, presumably, has reneged on that longstanding commitment.

None of that is surprising because if you had read the Australian of 29 June you would have seen an interview called `Ordinary people'. I have to say that it was about very ordinary people—about Labor people who were suffering mightily from not being able to rule as they had presumed they were born to do. On that occasion, Senator Schacht said:

Some of us were never overly sucked in by the Cabinet process. We always felt there was too much time debating the minutiae of administration and not enough pure politics.

Overlooking for a moment the fact that he was never in cabinet so he was not in there debating anything, what that tells you is that he is not interested in any shape or form about improving the lot of people in rural and remote areas and about benefiting consumers. He is simply interested in a very tawdry and tacky game of running scare campaigns, playing politics, not looking at the detail of issues, rolling ministers, like Mr Crean, and shadow ministers when they have the temerity to suggest that there might be a constructive approach based on their own announcement three years earlier.

We have here a morally and policy bankrupt opposition who no longer have the slightest interest in improving the welfare of ordinary Australians or postal users. The senator is someone who is here simply earning a living playing the game of politics. That is a very sad state of affairs.