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Friday, 18 October 1996
Page: 4482


Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment)(9.19 a.m.) —The government strongly opposes this attempt by the Australian Democrats to wreck its reform program in this way today. The proposed sale of one-third of Telstra, with consumer safeguards and consumer service guarantees, was an election promise we made to the Australian people and, in part, upon which we were elected.

We undertook that, in selling one-third of Telstra, we would provide within the legislation not only for a continuation of the universal service obligation but also consumer service guarantees. We undertook that we would use the funds from that one-third sale primarily to repay public debt while $1 billion of it would be used to set up our Natural Heritage Trust, thereby reinvesting part of the capital of this telecommunications company in the natural capital of Australia.

That bill, in accordance with our promise, was drafted and put to the Senate. It then went to a committee for comprehensive examination and that committee reported back to the Senate. Debate on the second reading of the bill has commenced in this place and is part heard. Today we have an attempt by the Democrats to scuttle this bill because they are seeking to remove from that part of it that provides for the part sale those customer service guarantees which we say are critical. All through the election and since the election we have said that those provisions were critical to the bill and part of the bill; it is an integrated package.

The Australian Democrats, through this motion today, are seeking to amend the bill in such a way that it will not meet the government's objective of providing customer service guarantees. The motion, therefore, would fundamentally change what the government intended and promised. It would also mean a failure by the Senate to face up to its responsibility to the Australian people to debate our package which, in accordance with our promise, we have introduced in this place. Because of that, and because of our determination that the bill as a whole be put to the Senate, we very strongly oppose the attempt to split it in the way suggested this morning by the Democrats.