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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Melbourne: Monday, 2 October 2006: $20 million Telstra advertising campaign; Government relations with Telstra board.

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Kelvin Thomson MP

Shadow Minister for Public Accountability Shadow Minister for Human Services

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TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP - Parliament House, Melbourne, Monday, 2 October 2006

SUBJECTS: $20 million Telstra advertising campaign, Government relations with Telstra board

THOMSON: Australians waking up this morning and opening their newspapers couldn’t have helped noticing that yet more of their taxpayers’ dollars are being wasted in another Howard Government advertising blitz, this time spruiking up the sale of Telstra.

These ads are so excessive, that even Sol Trujillo’s mother couldn’t help but notice them. They represent the first phase of a campaign which will involve electronic advertising next week and which will be a $20 million carpet bombing campaign.

Labor believes that the Government should fix Telstra, not sell it. John Howard has a shocking record when it comes to Government advertising, we’ve had during his time in office over $1 billion of taxpayers’ money spent in Government advertising.

Last year we had $55 million on the Workchoices campaign, before that GST, Strengthening Medicare and a total of $1 billion with $250 million proposed to be spent next year in the run up to the election campaign. What we are seeing is, that in the run up to the election campaign, it will be taxpayers footing the bill for Liberal party advertising, not the Liberal party itself.

Labor believes that this money could be better spent, for example, if you have $20 million you could maintain the payphones which Telstra proposes to take away from railway stations.

We believe that there need to be proper guidelines in place to prevent the misuse of taxpayers’ money from political advertising. We were in involved in the establishment, through the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit, of an Auditor General’s inquiry into this matter back in 1998.

The Auditor General proposed a series of guidelines which would better protect taxpayers from abuse. Those guidelines have not been adopted. They should be.

JOURNALIST: You’re not seriously suggesting you can have an $8 billion share float without telling anyone about it?

THOMSON: It’s a question of the use of taxpayer’s dollars. John Howard said Telstra ought to be run as a private company. You don’t see private companies dipping into taxpayer funds in order to fund the float.

JOURNALIST: Given that the windfall is expected to be $8 billion, surely $20 million is just a very small figure in comparison to what the eventual figure will be?

THOMSON: But the principle is wrong, the principle ought to be that taxpayers’ dollars are not be used for political advertising. This is essentially political advertising; the Government ought to establish proper guidelines for the regulation of political advertising. It ought to adopt the Auditor General’s guidelines in this matter. Labor believes, for example, that you should have a body such as the Public Service Commissioner determining whether advertisements are political in character or information based in character, and have a series of guidelines to better protect transparency and propriety of the use of taxpayer dollars. If those guidelines were in place you could have the matter assessed properly by a more independent authority.

JOURNALIST: How does this compare with what was spent on T2 advertising?

THOMSON: I don’t have the money involved or the figures involved in T2 advertising. Of course at that time the Prime Minister spruiked up T2 and said that investors should invest in it. Since that time the Telstra price has effectively halved, and that ought to make the Government wary about using taxpayer dollars in order to spruik up the campaign.

JOURNALIST: Would the Government be better off promoting the T3 float, by improving its relations I suppose, with the Telstra board? There have been many public fights at the moment; would fixing up that be better than spending $20 million?

THOMSON: It certainly would. It’s ironic that this is a Government which says that the Government should not be in the business of running a telecommunications company, and yet you’ve got the Prime Minister seeking to install Geoff Cousins on the board in the teeth of objections from the other Telstra board members. You’ve got the Government expressing views about Sol Trujillo’s salary, you’ve got the Government expressing views about payphones at railway stations. You’ve got the Government prepared to put up taxpayer dollars in terms of advertising its share float. So it’s entirely inconsistent and hypocritical. The Government says it shouldn’t be in the business of running a telecommunications company, and yet that’s exactly what its doing here.


Contact: Patrick Pantano: 0403 502 071