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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 3043

Mr SHARP(10.55) —I move:

That all words after `That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

`whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that-

(1) the operation of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission in foreign countries should be supported, but the Commission's engaging in activities other than the provision of domestic telecommunications carriage in Australia should not be supported;

(2) it is neither appropriate nor necessary to impose a legislative moratorium on pay television to domestic premises, and

(c) current provisions, concerning recommencing of public consultation following ministerial amendment of a draft plan in the process of making standards, and spectrum and frequency band plans, should be maintained'.

The National Party of Australia has moved this amendment because it believes that there are certain aspects of this legislation which are not in the best interests of Australians and, indeed, of Australian industry. I will speak specifically about the inclusion of Overseas Telecommunications Commission powers to operate on our domestic market in competition with private enterprise operators. Earlier tonight I expressed the view that the National Party feels that it cannot support the extension of OTC's powers to operate within the domestic market of Australia. However, we believe that can see room for OTC to have its powers extended to enable it to operate on the competitive market overseas. We believe that if this legislation is allowed to go through without amendment the ability that OTC will have as a result will enable it, despite whatever assurances are given in the legislation, to be able to cross-subsidise its profits from its monopoly area, which relates to overseas telephones, telegrams and telexes, and use those profits in that monopoly area to boost its activities in the commercial domestic market. We believe that with an active, viable and effective private enterprise market already operating that there is no need for OTC to have its powers extended to operate in the commercial market within Australia and we believe that there is a very real risk that it may enter into the cross-subsidisation business and, therefore, enter the competitive domestic market on unfair grounds.

This amendment also relates to the four-year moratorium on pay television to domestic homes. This is an area of great interest to the National Party. It is of great interest to remote area Australians because they have little choice in the television services that they watch. Most of them only have the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and many of them would be very interested indeed to have pay television provided in domestic homes in the future. This is a curious inclusion in the amendment. One might ask: Why is it needed? The Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) already has the power within his office to grant or not to grant pay television licences, but he seems to find it necessary in this legislation to tie the hands of any future government so that there is no pay television for the next four years. We find this completely unsupportable.

The National Party opposes it and we oppose it very strongly because we think that any government has the right to determine the situation in the next four years. If the situation is acceptable for pay television to go into domestic homes, we believe any government over the next four years should have the right to implement pay television.

This amendment also relates to provisions that will change administrative procedures within the Radiocommunications Act. At present any changes to the standards, to spectrum plan or to the frequency band plan are subject to at least two levels of consultation with the industry. This legislation, if it is not amended, will bypass the second stage of consultative processes with the industry. We have had consultation with various levels of the industry. I inform the House that the industry is concerned about this. It believes that if any changes are to be made in those areas it should have a right to consult the Minister and the Government. Any changes made without its consultation could have a very serious effect on the operation of its business. It would also seem to be a curious inclusion in this legislation because the Minister already has the right to declare any changes as urgent and whisk them through in the minimum possible time. So this legislation is not needed. We oppose it because we do not think it is in the best interests of good consultative government, of ourselves or of the industries that are affected by the decisions made by this Government or future governments. For all of those reasons we are proposing these amendments. We believe they are sensible. We believe they represent an approach which can be accepted by the Government. It is an approach which I am sure represents the majority views of the Australian people.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Is the amendment seconded?