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Friday, 18 October 1996
Page: 4481


Senator CARR(9.13 a.m.) —The opposition is supporting this proposal on the basis that we acknowledge that the committee had a specific charge to investigate this matter and recommended to the Senate that such a measure be supported. Of course, the ability to divide the bills is provided for quite clearly within the standing orders of the Senate and is a measure by which governments are held accountable in terms of drawing together unpalatable measures with palatable measures, and in particular attempting to include measures which otherwise would not attract the support of the Senate, particularly given its present make-up.

It is not the first time that this provision has been considered by the Senate. The advice that I have is that a proposal on 9 June 1995 concerning the Human Services and Health Legislation Amendment Bill was one occasion on which the Senate did agree to split the bill on the basis of a proposition advanced by Senator Harradine. The opposition at that time—and the Liberal government as it is now—supported the proposal.

With this bill there is no necessary connection between two very distinct elements of it, and no reason, other than cynical opportunism, for those elements ever being linked. This government has drawn together two disparate measures in an attempt to draw political support for its privatisation program. It is not necessarily because it sees those matters being inherently linked. We would like to see improved consumer protection, and we will be pursuing that under a publicly owned Telstra.

The bill amends two principal acts—the Telecommunications Act 1991 and the Telstra Corporation Act 1991. The amendments to the Telecommunications Act relate largely to the introduction of consumer service guarantees, while amendments to the Telstra Corporation Act provide for the partial sale and also, therefore, duplicate provisions in the Telecommunications Act relating to the universal service obligation. It is quite clear that the consumer protection and access and equity provisions present the Senate with two totally different issues to consider, rather than just the Telstra provisions.

There is no reason to hold up the former while the more difficult sale provisions are considered other than as a cynical exercise by the government to link the two provisions—just as the government is attempting to link the partial sale of Telstra with the funding of the natural heritage trust fund. This is the second leg of their double—the second leg of their attempt to put through the privatisation of Telstra against the overwhelming wishes of the Australian people in a manner which tries to sweeten a very bitter pill which, if taken, will leave a very nasty taste in the mouths of the Australian people for a generation to come.

Labor's position is quite clear. We put to the Australian people our complete opposition to the sale of Telstra. We also put our concern to improve consumer protection. We believe that Senator Lees's motion will provide an opportunity for us to exercise our commitment to the Australian people on both counts. The government has a right to initiate policy but when it comes to packages like this we have the right to say no, and we will be saying no to the privatisation of Telstra.

The Senate is an appropriate vehicle through which to say to this government that this is not an appropriate policy to pursue. We do not see that there should be a linkage of these two provisions in such a way as to present the Senate with a fait accompli. We believe that Senator Lees's motion requires that two new bills be listed as a single order of the day, at the same time allowing for continued discussion of the substantive Telstra bill.

We believe that we would be able to continue the debate on the substantive Telstra motion even if the proposal to divide the bill were to be carried here today. We believe that it is important that there be no attempt to sideline the sale bill but that it should be rejected. We also believe in a continued debate in connection with the consumer services provisions of the bill. The government cannot claim that this move alters the purposes and objectives of the original bill or interferes with its prerogatives in any way because both bills can be dealt with together.(Time expired)