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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 94

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (3:20 PM) —I can remember in 1996 being in the polling booths and all the polling booths were covered in signs saying, `Don't sell Telstra: vote Labor.' We won that election. The Labor Party are a bit slow. In 1998 we rock out again, and in every polling booth throughout Queensland there were plastic coverings saying, `Don't sell Telstra.' We won the election again. You guys have to get a life. You have to start to understand that there are more issues than Telstra. And in the election on 9 October there was the big policy decision, `Vote for the Labor Party and maintain Telstra.' Four times you have gone with the one policy and you have been absolutely defeated every time. You guys have to think about this. If you do the same thing every time, you will get the same result. You have been doing it for four elections and you got the same result. Now you are trying to put some divisive split between the National Party and the Liberal Party. Let me tell you this: you could not put a cigarette paper between us.

Someone said they wanted to know about Senator-elect Barnaby Joyce. You will see him come into this place and you will be able to count him for the next three years. Every time you are defeated in the Senate you can say, `Senator Barnaby Joyce—that's the guy who defeated us.' Why did we defeat the opposition? Why did the Liberal Party and the National Party get a combined majority—something that has not been obtained for 23 years? Because people trusted us. They were not concerned about Telstra. They did not see Telstra as a vote changing issue. They trusted us. The opposition cannot come back here and attack us, as it has done for our last four terms, and then, on the fifth election, get a different result. It will get exactly the same result.

In 1996, when we obtained government after 13 hard years of Labor, interest rates were through the roof. People had been forced off their farms, their equity sucked out of their properties because of high interest rates. The telecommunications system was a disaster. I personally brought it up in the party room. I said, `The one thing that rural and regional people need is a decent telecommunications system.' Richard Alston was the minister at the time. What did we do? We made $1.5 billion worth of improvements for rural Australia—that is what this government has put in. There are mobile phones right throughout the bush. Yes, there are little places where you cannot get reception. We cannot put up a tower for everyone. We have spent $1.5 billion.

As long as I have been in the National Party, for 30 years, every time there was a conference there was a resolution on the books about untimed local calls. Under Labor, if you rang your neighbour or your town, or even if you rang your son in the cottage next to the house, you paid for a long distance call. It was terrible for rural Australians. Their phone bill went through the roof. What did we do? We fixed it up—no untimed local calls. Local calls for around your district. And we extended it to the next district.

What about the Internet? No-one had the Internet. We not only provided the Internet; we put in broadband for the far-out places. But no-one could use the Internet, so we put in people to show the station owners and their wives how to use the Internet. One and a half billion dollars later, the opposition accuses us of not doing anything for rural Australia. Come on, guys! Get over it. You are flogging a dead horse. You have done it for four years and you do not understand what we have done out there.

I travel around rural Australia a lot. Telstra is not an issue out there. Yes, they are concerned about it, they are worried about it, but they are much more worried about the Labor Party ever having power in the Senate. That is why people in rural Australia returned four National Party senators, and you will be able to count them every time you are defeated in the Senate—(Time expired)