Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.06 p.m.)-This is a rather strange debate. I well recall moving around Australia 20 or 30 years ago; the constant refrain wherever you were in the suburbs or the towns in the days of the PMG and Telecom, and even in the days of Telstra, was: ‘If only private enterprise’-that was how they put it in those days-‘owned the phone company. It would be so much better. Government does not run things well; the private sector does.’
You would not have found a single Australian 25 years ago-other than those opposite-arguing that Australia’s phone company should be in the hands of the government. It strikes me as passing odd that that thinking has now been turned on its head, and that government ownership is now seen as the only way to guarantee good phone services in Australia. If the principle that the government runs things better and is better at providing services holds true then the government should step in and buy a whole range of private businesses and activities. The government should probably step in and buy internet service providers. If governments really do things better, why do they not step in and buy web design companies? Why not nationalise all the schools? If government does things better, why not nationalise all health provision? If the principle holds true that only government can guarantee good services then that is what should be done. The government should buy the banks, the airlines and the insurance companies. That is what government should do if government ownership really is the key to good service provision.
Given that is the view of the Labor Party, I do not understand why the Labor Party does not state as its policy that it will renationalise Telstra-sure, keep the ownership that the government currently has. If Labor really believes that government ownership leads to better services then why doesn’t the Labor Party have a policy to buy back the rest of Telstra? That would at least be a consistent, honourable and understandable position. I must say, I have to pay credit at this point to Senator Kerry Nettle, who, when I shouted this very point as an interjection the other day, shouted back, ‘We do.’ At least she has the strength of her convictions, unlike the Labor Party. She believes that if it is good enough for North Korea and Cuba it is good enough for Australia. If it is good enough for them to have totally government owned phone companies it is good enough for Australia.
I am surprised that that is not the view of the Labor Party as well. The Labor Party position in relation to the ownership of Telstra is a little bit like the saying in Animal Farm, George Orwell’s book: four legs good; two legs bad-that is, half ownership good; no government ownership bad. It is about as logical as that. Labor’s half-ownership policy is half baked. Labor do not, deep down in their souls, have an objection. They are opportunistic. They lack conviction. I, for one, do not believe for a second that Senator Conroy is against the full privatisation of Telstra. He is very much alone on the other side of this chamber. He supports the US alliance. He supports free trade. And I know that deep down he supports the full sale of Telstra. He lacks conviction in what he says.
Labor clearly lack conviction in this area. Remember the Commonwealth Bank? Ralph Willis put a letter in a prospectus for the part sale of the Commonwealth Bank saying that Labor would never sell the remainder. Well, guess what happened? Ralph Willis, as Treasurer, misled the Australian people on behalf of the Australian Labor Party. It was the same story with Qantas. Qantas was sold by Labor. It was never meant to happen, yet it did.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I must say, if you will bear with me, that I quite like the following quotes. Let’s play the game of guessing who they are from. The first one says:
Privatisation fits in with the Government’s broader economic imperative to create jobs …
That was Kim Beazley, finance minister, on 24 August 1994. But the next quote is the humdinger. I think it really sums up the modern Labor Party. It is a quote from Mr PJ Keating. He said:
There are four dinosaurs in Australia: Qantas, Australia Post, the ABC and Kim Beazley-and the fourth dinosaur is in charge of the other three.
Never was a truer word spoken. And, to finish up, Senator Conroy, on 16 August- (Time expired)