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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1948


Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communications)(10.43) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Communications Legislation Amendment Bill 1987 will amend the Overseas Telecommunications Act 1946, the Postal Services Act 1975, the Radiocommunications Act 1983 and the Telecommunications Act 1975.

Provisions of the Bill will empower the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, with ministerial approval, to engage in activities relating to telecommunications in Australia and to engage in activities relating to domestic and international telecommunications services in or for a foreign country. The Bill will remove present requirements for OTC to obtain ministerial approval to exercise incidental powers and to provide consultancy service overseas, and will limit the requirement to obtain ministerial approval to alteration in respect of basic overseas telephone and telegram services. Other provisions of the Bill will enable Australia Post to enter currency hedging and financial futures contracts-hedging contracts-and will make technical amendments to the hedging contracts provisions of Telecom Australia and OTC.

Further, the Bill will impose a moratorium on the provision of domestic pay-television for at least four years. It will make a number of changes to provisions of the Radiocommunications Act relating to the making of standards, spectrum plans and frequency band plans. It will also expand the scope of evidentiary certificates issued under the Radiocommunications Act.

I will deal first with the provisions of the Bill to expand the powers of OTC. The provisions will enable OTC to participate in a number of opportunities that have arisen recently in Australia, including membership of the telecommunications trading and development company proposed by the Australian Industry Development Corporation-AIDC-commercial development of OTC research and development in areas such as antenna design, marketing of specialised computer software consultancy services in Australia. OTC will not be empowered to establish, operate, provide or maintain telecommunications services in Australia.

The amendments will also enable OTC to exploit off-shore opportunities as they arise. In particular, OTC will be able to develop an Australian telecommunications hub-network for the South Pacific region and to provide domestic and international telecommunications in or for foreign countries.

Ministerial approval will be required before these new powers are exercised. In granting approval to specific proposals, arrangements will be put in place to ensure that there is no cross-subsidisation and that relevant government interests are taken into account.

The amendments will give effect to a recommendation of the Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure entitled `Call Us Again'-a review of the Auditor-General's efficiency audit on the control over manpower and property by OTC.

The Bill contains provisions to remove unnecessary requirements for ministerial approval with respect to certain activities of OTC. The requirements in the Overseas Telecommunications Act for ministerial approval before OTC exercises incidental powers or provides consultancies are inconsistent with the powers of Telecom Australia and its subsidiary Telecom Australia (International) Limited under the Tele- communications Act 1975. The restrictions are also unnecessary impediments to the Commission in the exercise of its statutory responsibilities. Similarly, the need for the Commission to obtain ministerial approval to alter services other than its basic overseas telephone and telegram services is inconsistent with the Commission's status as a competitive government business enterprise.

I now turn to the other provisions in the Bill. The provisions in the Bill to enable Australia Post to enter hedging contracts are modelled on similar provisions contained in the Communications Legislation Amendment Act 1985 for Telecom Australia and OTC.

Part IV of the Bill contains amendments to the Radiocommunications Act. The most significant of these is the moratorium on domestic pay-television, which is contained in clause 19 of the Bill.

On 2 September last year I announced that the way was clear for the introduction of new video and audio entertainment and information services to non-domestic premises such as hotels, motels, clubs and TABs. I am sure that most honourable members are by now familiar with services such as Sky Channel and Club Super- station which are currently operating.

At the same time, however, I announced that the Government had decided that the introduction of pay-television services to the general public would not be permitted for at least another four years. The proposed new section 24a of the Radiocommunications Act gives a statutory basis to that moratorium.

Other noteworthy changes to the Radiocommunications Act are contained in clauses 15 and 16. These amendments will enable plans made by the Minister under the Act relating to the use of the electromagnetic spectrum and particular frequency bands to adopt and incorporate existing documents. Documents such as the Australian Table of Frequency Allocations which reflect resolutions of the International Telecommunications Union are already published and widely accepted. The proposed provision will allow such documents to be readily adopted.

Clauses 14 and 17 of the Bill are designed to remove unnecessary repetitions which occur in the process of making standards, spectrum plans and frequency band plans. Under the current provisions, once even a minor change is made to a plan or standard as a result of public consultation the Minister is obliged to resubmit the whole document for a further round of public consultation. This requirement, with its obvious scope for needless delay in the making of plans and standards, is to be removed. Of course, the Minister will still be free to resubmit an amended plan or standard for further public consultation where amendments are more significant and further consultation is felt to be appropriate.

Finally, I turn to the financial impact of the Bill. The provisions to augment the powers of OTC have the potential to lead to an increase in the Commission's profit and consequent dividend payment to the Commonwealth. The provisions to limit the range of activities for which OTC requires ministerial approval will not affect the Commission's revenues and will result in some small administrative cost savings. The provisions to enable Australia Post to enter hedging contracts will enable the Commission to manage its foreign currency exposure in a prudent and effective manner with corresponding savings to the Commission. I commend the Bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum to the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Carlton) adjourned.