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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 80

Senator MOORE (3:22 PM) —I rise to take note of answers made this afternoon. In Minister Coonan's responses to several questions about telecommunications, she reaffirmed the government's commitment to `first-class communications for all Australians'. Then we heard about the alternative measuring level that we have to ensure that regional and rural Australians have effective communications before the government can make a decision to sell Telstra—that much published and long promised sale of Telstra. The measuring stick for that group is adequate telecommunications. This is a really interesting contrast. For all Australians the commitment from the government seems to be first-class telecommunications, which is something that everybody in this place must support. But for that other important issue that we have been talking about for many years in this place, the sale of Telstra, the measuring stick has changed over the various reviews of Telstra. It seems now that the measuring stick is not up to scratch, appropriate, strong or efficient but is going to be `adequate'.

The minister went on to say that our party on this side of the house was `long on rhetoric but short on detail'. What we have been asking and continue to ask the minister is: can you give us the detail? If `adequate' is your measure, how then do you measure `adequate'? It seems to be stumping a lot of people. We have had reviews of telecommunications by this place—we have had the ACCC reviews—but what we have not been able to work out is absolutely what constitutes adequate telecommunications for Australians. In the recent election, the issue of telecommunications was raised in a number of places. People from all parties talked with the community, and of course it did not turn out to be a major deciding point in the election, as we have been told by Senator Boswell, but what we do know is that in regional Queensland people are still deeply concerned about their telecommunications. They want their representatives from all parties to work out exactly how they can get the best possible telecommunications. This is not a recent argument; it has been going on for a long time. The senator elect from Queensland, Barnaby Joyce, has received wonderful publicity. In my hometown of Toowoomba, the Chronicle has labelled Senator elect Joyce as `the hero'. I hope, Senator Boswell, that they also call you a hero, but at the moment Senator elect Joyce is getting the media. In the Chronicle—that wonderful regional newspaper—Senator elect Joyce has been talking about `going in to bat for our people'.

Obviously, the political dynamics suggest that you have to go to your communities and give them a reason to understand a whole range of things but, in particular, why Telstra must be sold. We hope that the evidence that we have received in recent committee hearings in this place will be discussed in working out the reason. I remember—and I am sure Senator Eggleston remembers the recent community consultations of the Senate Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Committee—people from regional Queensland coming to meetings on the Sunshine Coast and talking about their despair that their telecommunications were neither adequate nor up to scratch. One gentleman sat before our committee and said: `Why are you people not fixing our telecommunications? Don't you understand our need?' This gentleman also publicly proclaimed that he had been a long-term National Party voter, but he was distressed and outraged that he could not have a commitment that they had this particular issue under control.

We hope that the issue of telecommunications is not just passed over, that it will not just be a numbers game. Certainly, Senator elect Joyce has been making it clear that when he comes down here there will not be any automatic guarantee, that he will be here to represent all the people who actually want to see a better deal for regional Queenslanders. He will be hoping, as do all of us, that we will be able to achieve a successful outcome. But this comes back to how you ensure that there is an effective, strong telecommunications process for all Australians—not just for some. As I have said before in this place, it really does not matter whether the people in this place understand the arguments or accept the issues. (Time expired)