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Monday, 22 March 1999
Page: 3911

Mr NAIRN —My question is addressed to the Minister for Finance and Administration. Can the minister inform the House of any recent developments relating to the ownership of the National Transmission Network?

Mr FAHEY (Finance and Administration) —I am pleased to advise the honourable member for Eden-Monaro that last Friday the Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts and I announced the government's successful sale of the National Transmission Network for $650 million. I am sure all honourable members would know that the National Transmission Network transmits radio and television programs around Australia for the ABC and SBS for the various regional telecasters and broadcasters from some 560 sites. The price of $650 million was a remarkable outcome for taxpayers and, like all of such sales, it will serve to reduce government debt and to ensure that the interest payments are reduced as well. Every time interest payments are reduced it allows the government to focus on providing services in those core areas for government of education, social welfare and health, and other areas of importance.

The new owner, NTL Australia, has guaranteed that there will be a continuation of all existing services at the current service levels. This means protection for community broadcasters, for emergency service operators and for self-help transmission groups and many of these, as all honourable members would know, are in regional and remote Australia. The new owner has also committed to provide some $5 million for a regional communications partnership to provide for and upgrade infrastructure outside the major cities. NTL has assured the government that it anticipates maintaining employment levels in both management and operation of the networks. Importantly, it recognises the need to maintain staff in regional Australia for maintenance and to quickly and efficiently fix any transmission problems.

NTL is a world leader in managing communications infrastructure and as such it will embrace the challenge to managing the change from analog to digital networks. That means that NTL has an opportunity to deliver integrated television, Internet and data communications to all Australians, particularly those in rural and regional Australia. This sale by the government is a win for taxpayers and a win for regional Australia.