Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Coonan. Will the minister please inform the Senate how the government is ensuring Australians have adequate and affordable access to telephony and internet services? Further, is the minister aware of any alternative policies?
I thank Senator Parry for the question and for his ongoing interest in the availability of first-class communications services to all Australians, regardless of where they live. Our investment in telecommunications services has delivered Australians a world-class mobile phone service and fast internet connections and has ensured basic services, such as home phones and payphones, are available to individuals and communities. Our strong consumer safeguards ensure Australians enjoy untimed local calls and can get their phones connected and repaired straightaway. And by encouraging competition and responsible regulation, we have ensured that prices for telecommunications services have been slashed by more than 25 per cent since 1996.
I am asked about alternative policies. Yesterday, I outlined to the Senate Labor’s irresponsible and secret plans to scrap regulation of the telecommunications industry to meet the demands of the Communication Workers Union and the Community and Public Sector Union. Yesterday, I outlined to the Senate Labor’s recklessness in abolishing the safeguards that have delivered choice and better services to Australian consumers.
Today I am fascinated to learn, through the Financial Review, of another secret plan by Labor, this time to force Telstra to provide broadband services through the universal service obligation. This, of course, is the same universal service obligation which Labor would have both Telstra and the unions believe that they are going to abolish. Both positions cannot be right, so perhaps a little later in question time Senator Conroy might tell us which one it is. Or is Labor once more trying to have it both ways, promising the unions and Telstra one thing while promising consumers something altogether different?
We have seen this from Labor, Senator Abetz, many times before—they tell the consumers one thing and tell business another, but they always end up telling the unions, ‘Yes, whatever it takes.’ Isn’t that the well-worn Labor mantra: just say whatever it takes to get elected, make no real promises, don’t do any hard work, make no tough decisions, give no funding to pay for promises—just tell everyone what they want to hear and do whatever your trade union mates tell you if you land in the job.
I have to ask myself whether there is not some manual in the Leader of the Opposition’s office which is handed from leader to leader—from Mr Beazley to Mr Crean, from Mr Crean to Mr Latham, from Mr Latham back to Mr Beazley and now on to Mr Rudd—called the ‘Do and Say Anything to Get Elected Manual’. Chapter 1 is economic policy: ‘Tell the business community you are going to listen to their concerns, attend high-powered gatherings, listen sympathetically and then deliver the media lines.’ Chapter 2 is to knife business in the back and promise the unions they will get everything they demand if they keep quiet, listen sympathetically and deliver the media lines. Chapter 3 is telecommunications policy: ‘Meet with the telco giants, plan to do over consumers and remove safeguards protecting their rights, listen sympathetically and deliver the media lines.’
So it goes on in health, in education, in aged care, in transport and in roads. We see it in my state of New South Wales, with Premier Iemma and his rapidly disappearing frontbench promising the world and delivering very little to the people of New South Wales. The economy of my home state of New South Wales is on its knees at the hands of the Labor government, and now Labor want the people to trust them as a federal government to fix the mess that wall-to-wall state governments have delivered. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, like all Australians, Tasmanians have benefited from the government’s consumer safeguards, which protect basic telecommunications services. I am certainly concerned that in your answer you have stated that these safeguards may be under threat. I would appreciate further information about this threat and what can be done to ensure consumers continue to receive the protection they deserve.
Senator Parry is quite right to identify a real threat to consumers of Labor’s secret plans to do deals and to roll back regulation. It is a bit like putting the vandals in charge of the vault. We have seen it time and time again with this Labor opposition: whatever it takes, say and do anything to get elected. I am afraid I have to say this to Senator Parry: the mantra does not change for Labor, only its leaders. I have to ask myself: when will the Labor Party come clean and tell the Australian people the real truth about its plans?