Wednesday, 28 February 2007
Questions without Notice
I direct my question to the Minister for Finance and Administration and Leader of the Government in the Senate. Will the minister update the Senate on the final stages of the sale of Telstra? Further, will the minister inform the Senate of the importance of the Telstra sale to the government’s Future Fund and its role in easing future budget pressures? Has the minister considered any alternative policies?
I thank Senator Chapman for his question and congratulate him on his recent preselection in the No. 3 position on the South Australian Liberal ticket. Today the government has transferred its remaining 17 per cent shareholding in Telstra to our Future Fund. This is the final step in the full privatisation of this great Australian company—a privatisation, may I say, opportunistically opposed by the Labor Party despite its own privatisation of Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank. As all senators know, in November last year we sold 4¼ billion shares in the T3 public offering, raising $15½ billion. That tremendous result came about because of the very strong retail and institutional demand for a stake in Telstra’s future, and I think we now have another 100,000 Telstra shareholders. We received the first instalment of proceeds late last year and deposited them in the Future Fund in January.
The transfer today of the shares to the Future Fund represents the culmination of a 10-year process of privatisation, opposed all the way by the Labor Party, which commenced with the T1 offering of a third of the company in 1997 and then T2 in 1999, which saw the government’s stake fall to just over 50 per cent. There are two key aspects of today’s transfer to which I would like to draw the attention of the Senate. Firstly, the government can now focus solely on its role as the regulator of Telstra without the inherent conflict caused by our ownership of the company. Secondly, today’s transfer takes the balance of the Future Fund to nearly $50 billion. Just as the earlier sale of Telstra shares helped us repay Labor’s $96 billion debt, the T3 proceeds in this share transfer have helped build up the Future Fund and put it on course to achieving its task of meeting our unfunded liabilities by 2020. Today’s transfer really is about confidence in our future. Telstra is free to pursue an innovative commercial future with the rollout of its 3G network offering new products for consumers and investors alike. Australian taxpayers can have confidence that with the debt eliminated and nearly $50 billion in the Future Fund we have great flexibility to deal with the future challenges to be faced by this country.
I was asked about alternative policies. I think it is worth focusing on Labor’s position on these issues. Labor have previously criticised us for not making the Future Fund more independent of government. But now they propose to interfere in the fund’s operation in a number of ways. They want to raid the fund’s annual earnings to spend on their own pet projects. They want to prevent the fund from ever selling down the current 17 per cent stake in Telstra. Their finance spokesman, Mr Tanner, made it clear on Meet the Press late last year that a Labor government would use this Future Fund stake to try and interfere in Telstra’s operations. In relation to Telstra’s shares in the Future Fund, he said:
Our intention is to keep them in the Future Fund ... and to maintain Telstra in part public ownership, not to sell any further shares, and we would seek to use that to influence Telstra’s approach ...
They are clearly, nakedly, going to use this stake in Telstra to interfere politically in the operation of Telstra. The Labor Party are clearly unfit to govern this country and clearly unfit to manage Australia’s trillion dollar economy.