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APEC Meeting at the Gold Coast, 4 September 1996: transcript of media conference

Senator Alston: Well can I thank you very much for coming along. I know that you're here because you recognise the importance of this APEC forum and certainly the 2nd Ministerial Meeting on the Telecommunications and Information Industry is an important directions setting meeting for communications policy for the APEC region.

It provides a way of establishing top level agreement on what telecommunications liberalisation will mean for people across the region and it is particularly timely given that we will be introducing our post 97 package in the next few weeks. So that I'm delighted I'm here with senior representatives of the APEC to explore ways in which we can advance agenda liberalisation.

Alright, so can we have a few questions before I resume the bilateral discussions?

Reporter: Senator, to take you away from the bilaterals for a second, you got a fair swipe around the ears from Conrad Black, the Chairman of the Fairfax board this morning. How do you respond to that comment?

Senator Alston: Well I made it clear in the statement that I put out last night that in the interview which I gave on the Meet the Press program on Sunday, that I was simply talking in the context of changes which might be possible irrespective of the cross- media rules in this country, and indeed I was at pains to point out and I was pleased to see that Sir Laurance Street reiterated the point this morning that commercial considerations will continue to drive the behaviour of media proprietorship.

Reporter: Mr Black has described this as widely inaccurate musing.

Senator Alston: Well I've told you what I had to say. Mr Black was talking of my remarks on Sunday and I told you that they were in the context of me canvassing issues put to me by journalists. In other words I was asked whether possible changes which have muted to the media could occur irrespective of our proposed media inquiry, and I was simply canvassing that issue. I was not in any way talking about any matters directly affecting Fairfax of which of course I have no knowledge and I was certainly not intending to give any personal preference on behalf of myself or the government.

Reporter: Senator, can you offer any hope of any resolution of government policy as Conrad Black has demanded?

Senator Alston: Mr Black's concern I think, as he has stated many times, is that he would like an increase in the level of his holding in the Fairfax Group. That is a decision for the Treasurer and I'm not aware of any applications having being made at this point in time.

(two more questions please.)

Reporter: Do you regret your comments on the weekend in regard to Telstra?

Senator Alston: Well as far as the position with Telstra is concerned, I think the Prime Minister has made it very clear that there has been no change in policy since the last election, and I am absolutely committed to ensuring that we achieve our stand objective of the sale of one third of Telstra. We have a bill before Parliament which encapsulates all the elections commitments we made and I am very hopeful that that in due course we will be able to persuade the majority of the Senate and indeed the overwhelming bulk of the Australian people that going down this path will be very much in national interest and it will be of benefit to consumers in terms of lower prices, better quality of service and better access to new services and products and it will be of benefit to investors, both institutional and retail, in other words the mums and dads of Australia, and ultimately it will be in Australia's interest to have an even better performing and efficient, competitive telecommunications system.

Reporter: Do you concede Minister that your remarks on Sunday will make it harder for you to get the legislation through the Senate, given Brian Harradine's concerns in his letter and could I just ask as a supplementary, to comment on his suggestion that the government should examine alternative strategies such as the redeeming of preference share options which he has put forward, is that in any way an attractive option for the government?

Senator Alston: Well obviously we will be responding to Brian Harradine in due course and we will give careful consideration to all matters that he has raised, and I am aware of the number of concerns he has already expressed. We are always interested in good suggestions, wherever they come from. We are particularly concerned to ensure that people outside the metropolitan areas get a fair deal and we are obviously prepared to talk to all interested parties and that includes Senators Harradine and Colston, but there are others who may well have suggestions on how we could improve the legislation. I just hope there are enough open minds who are prepared to look at the legislation on its merits and to suggest ways that we can have an even better outcome for consumers.

Reporter: Are you likely to announce the media inquiry next week?

Senator Alston: No. thank you.