Year of the Outback tour; Rural and Regional Services; Drought; Telstra

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Spot Mobile Coverage Good News for Travellers
August 15, 2002
Address to the Australian Industry Group Annual Dinner
August 19, 2002
Spot Mobile Coverage Good News for Travellers
August 15, 2002
Address to the Australian Industry Group Annual Dinner
August 19, 2002

Year of the Outback tour; Rural and Regional Services; Drought; Telstra


Cattle Sale, Roma
Friday, 16 August 2002
11.40 am


SUBJECTS: Year of the Outback tour; Rural and Regional Services; Drought;



Mr Costello, what are you going to take away from these few days out here in

the bush?


Well, I think it has been a great opportunity as an Ambassador for the Outback

to promote the outback in 2002. I am going to take away a lot of memories of

the people that we have met, experiences that we have had, the warmth of character

as people have greeted us and talked about their problems. And also I think

the way in which there are many success stories, communities that are growing,

(inaudible) developing new opportunities for themselves and for their citizens.

And I think that has been one of the real positives of this tour.


What did you learn?


What I have learnt is that there are a lot of communities here that really

are taking hold of their own futures. And they are really getting better opportunities

for their communities whether it be through tourism or niche manufacturing as

you have seen with some of the Teddies or whether it be in the great industry

of cattle (inaudible). It is so dry at the moment, about me, but you are seeing

a lot of those communities (inaudible) which are embracing the future in a very

positive way.


Treasurer is the Government going to be able to provide rural Australians (inaudible)

Telstra services are sufficiently sound to justify full sale?


Well, we will have an inquiry. And the inquiry will be a genuine inquiry to

look at the state of services. I think the state of services has picked up enormously

over the last couple of years since we did the second part of Telstra and allocated

from that monies to improve services in rural and regional Australia. Money

like as I outlined yesterday, $20 million for spot mobile coverage on highways,

like Networking the Nation Program which is designed to bring internet facilities

into communities that did not have them before. So, we will have an inquiry

and we will await its report to see whether or not improvements are sufficient

to satisfy the Government. But I think, over the last couple of years, there

has been a very considerable improvement in the standard of services.


Is there anything that you saw specifically on this trip that makes you think



Oh look, you go through a town like Morven and you see the Rural Transaction

Centre and people that are able to access Centrelink, and able to access Billpay,

and able to access Australia Post services and then in another corner you have

the Networking the Nation, where people can come in and use internet facilities

which were not there previously. And this has made a real difference. That was

done from the proceeds from the second part of Telstra. And if we had not have

had the proceeds of the second part of Telstra it would not have been done.

Now we have got to make sure that services continue to improve, and we have

got to make sure that we put in place service obligations so that Telstra continues

to deliver new technology in regional areas, and that is our policy.


Mr Costello (inaudible)?


Well, I have driven 800km with a mob of unruly journalists. I have managed

to keep them under control. And whatever Harry did, I think controlling cattle

would be easier than controlling the Canberra Press Gallery.


Treasurer, drought is a burning issue here. Why is it that you didn’t go out

to a property that is affected by the drought and see it first hand for yourself?


We talked to everybody in all of the towns that we passed. And we have talked

to the station owners in all of those areas. And we talked to them about the

conditions, and the conditions in the areas that we have gone through are dry

but they have not applied for a Declaration of Drought. If there were circumstances

to apply for a Declaration of Drought, the application would be made first to

the Queensland Government and in a subsidiary way, Exceptional Circumstances

to the Commonwealth. But, as you have seen, the areas that we have been through

are dry and people are hoping for rain. But the advice that we had, everybody

we met from station owners was that they were not yet at the stage to seek drought



Denis Napthine (inaudible)?


Look, I said yesterday, and I am a long way away from Victorian State politics

here in Roma, western Queensland. And it is very hard for me to follow it. And

even if I did, can I say, this is a matter for the Victorian State Parliamentary

Party. And they have to decide who their Leader is. Just as the Federal Parliamentary

Party very closely guards its right to determine the Leader of the Parliamentary

Party, so the Victorian Parliamentary Party guards its right. And I am not going

to intervene. It is a matter for them to sort out. The only thing I would say,

is that they had better sort it out pretty quickly and get themselves ready

to fight an election. And that is what I would advise all of those that are

considering these matters in Victoria.


Mr Costello (inaudible) Telstra say that their benchmark is that they are guaranteeing

access to update the technology as they come on line, can you give them a guarantee

that will be the position of Telstra?


Oh I think yes. The Government policy is as new technologies become available

they should be made available to all Australians. That is our position and we

will be doing that through legislation and such other means as required. That

is our position, and as I said earlier, in the days before Telstra was part

privatised, when it was Government owned it was not offering nearly the kind

of mobile phone services that it is offering now. It is offering better mobile

phone services now than it was in the days when it was fully nationalised. It

is offering internet services which it did not offer in the days when it was

fully nationalised. And as new technologies become available (inaudible) you

can mandate the introduction on a universal service obligation basis of that

and that has always been our position.


And they also say they won’t support a full sale unless some of the money goes

back to (inaudible) infrastructure (inaudible)…


I am not going to get into arguments about the proceeds of the Telstra sale

which is yet to clear the Senate. It is yet to clear the Senate. And I hear

various Senators incidentally who are voting against the Telstra sale saying

that they would like to determine where the proceeds go. Can I say to those

Senators if they vote against it, there are no proceeds. So there is no point

them trying to join a debate as to how the proceeds should be applied. I have

also said, the fact that we as a Government have now been able to pay $62 billion

of the Labor Party’s debt is giving us a year by year saving, not a once off,

but a year by year saving which we would not otherwise have had. And as a consequence

we can now invest in the kinds of things that would not have been possible otherwise.

Now, if we retire debt, if we get the Government’s interest bill down, if we

reduce the costs of Labor Party Government, when they ran up that debt between

1990 and 1996, you get a yearly saving which gives the Government the opportunity

to invest in better schools, and hospitals and roads through good financial

management. Now that is the point I have been making over and over here, yearly.

But if you just take the money and if you spend the money on pet projects at

the end of the year you have got no Telstra shares and you have spent the proceeds

anyway. I would like to apply the proceeds in an economically responsible way

which will give generations of Australians benefits out of our policies. Sorry,

you had a (inaudible).


(inaudible) Mr Costello you said the Liberal Government should have a look

at Right to Farm legislation. Do you find that an attractive idea?


Well, the point was made to me last year, last night, was that with environmental

controls restricting the use of land and other controls, as to ensure that we

do not unduly restrict the right to farm, that should be protected by legislation.

As I said last night, I have never considered it before, but I wouldn’t rule

it out (inaudible) it is something I think that in the context of environmental

policy ought to be looked at. I am not going any further than that because I

only heard of the idea last night. I will think about it on the way home and

no doubt it is something that can be discussed with our colleagues.


You have had widespread publicity in the cities from this tour, how do you

think that will help to broaden your image given that you are doing your last

doorstop wearing a hat?


Well, I am doing my last doorstop wearing a hat, number one because I was given

it last night and this is the Year of the Outback. Number two if I took my hat

off after all of that exertion auctioneering you will see that my hair is plastered

in funny angles. So it is a way of actually hiding my bad hair day as a consequence

of the auction. But other than that look, for me it is a great opportunity to

get out of Canberra and to talk to another part of Australia and if I had more

spare days and I hope that I do, in future months I would love to come out here

and to do it because you meet the different kinds of problems people want to

talk to you about, you get a much broader view of the whole of the country and

in the Year of the Outback, I hope I have done a little bit to bring the outback

back to urban Australia.

Thanks very much.