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- Start of Business
- CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- AUSTRALIAN CLIMATE CHANGE REGULATORY AUTHORITY BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME (CHARGES—CUSTOMS) BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME (CHARGES—EXCISE) BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME (CHARGES—GENERAL) BILL 2009 [NO.2]
- CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME (CPRS FUEL CREDITS) BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME (CPRS FUEL CREDITS) (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- EXCISE TARIFF AMENDMENT (CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME) BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT (CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME) BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- CARBON POLLUTION REDUCTION SCHEME AMENDMENT (HOUSEHOLD ASSISTANCE) BILL 2009 [NO. 2]
- CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT (INCORPORATION OF PROPOSALS) BILL 2009
TELECOMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (COMPETITION AND CONSUMER SAFEGUARDS) BILL 2009
- Second Reading
- Third Reading
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Turnbull, Malcolm, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(D’Ath, Yvette, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Turnbull, Malcolm, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Vamvakinou, Maria, MP, Roxon, Nicola, MP)
(Dutton, Peter, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
(Zappia, Tony, MP, Gillard, Julia, MP)
(Stone, Dr Sharman, MP, O’Connor, Brendan, MP)
(Thomson, Craig, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Bishop, Julie, MP, Smith, Stephen, MP)
(Ripoll, Bernie, MP, Albanese, Anthony, MP)
(Rishworth, Amanda, MP, Ellis, Kate, MP)
(Turnbull, Malcolm, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
- Asylum Seekers
- PRIME MINISTER
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL ANSWERS
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- MR DON LANE
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- Start of Business
- Petition: Pharmaceutical Benefits
- Werriwa Electorate: Western Suburbs District Junior Rugby League
- Pearce Electorate: Chittering Landcare Group
- Holt Electorate: Mr Dale Sheppard
- Greenway Electorate: Merriville Road Development
- Lyons Electorate: Derwent and Tyenna Valleys
- Leichhardt Electorate: Employment
- Gippsland Electorate: National Warning System
- Australian Justice System
- AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL PREVENTIVE HEALTH AGENCY BILL 2009
- TAX AGENT SERVICES (TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS AND CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 2009
QUESTIONS IN WRITING
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts: Overseas Travel
(Ciobo, Steven, MP, Garrett, Peter, MP)
(Southcott, Dr Andrew, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
(Southcott, Dr Andrew, MP, Swan, Wayne, MP)
Northern Territory Mining Licences
(Oakeshott, Rob, MP, Garrett, Peter, MP)
Employment: International Students
(Stone, Dr Sharman, MP, McClelland, Robert, MP)
(Robb, Andrew, MP, Rudd, Kevin, MP)
Caring for Our Country
(Coulton, Mark, MP, Garrett, Peter, MP)
- Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts: Overseas Travel
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Mr RIPOLL (11:18 AM) —It is a really great pleasure to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009. I think it is a landmark bill, along with a range of other bills in relation to telecommunications, particularly in the area of competition and consumer safeguards, which is what this bill is about. As the previous speaker said, and as I am sure many other speakers will say, this has been a long time coming. It is about righting the wrongs of the past. It is about making good what ought to be in the marketplace for consumers today but has not happened because of a range of mistakes made by former governments.
It does take a lot of courage, a lot of will, to deal with these types of issues, because they are massive issues. They involve massive amounts of taxpayers’ dollars—into the many billions—and they involve dealing with some complex issues which are, as I said, costly but also very time consuming. They will take many years to correct. Nonetheless, it remains exceptionally important that we deal with those issues and that we do it as quickly as we can. I think this bill is as important as bills in any infrastructure area, be it roads, rail, ports—those vital pieces of infrastructure that drive our economy. Telecommunications is at the core of all of those. It is at the beating heart of our economy and the way that people interact and deal with each other on a day-to-day basis, be it on personal or business grounds, or in the context of health or education issues. There are a whole range of areas where people use telecommunications. So it is exceptionally important that this bill is here. It does tackle all of those very difficult issues.
The reality is that none of the difficulties, none of the problems that exist today, can be fixed without a government that is prepared to intervene, without a government that is prepared to tackle the difficult issues and to make the changes and reforms happen. We know from experience, from what we read in the papers and from comments by Telstra executives that it just will not happen without the hand of government—and that is what these bills are about. This government intends to make sure that the two great priorities in telecommunications—an open competitive market with fair competition, and innovative services that drive the economy—exist and that ordinary consumers are protected along the way and have competitive access to a range of services. We are ensuring that that takes place.
I want to get into the general discussions about the long road that has taken us to this point today. The road to developing a National Broadband Network, to delivering what is a critical piece of infrastructure for all of Australia, started a long time ago. But, since we were elected to government in 2007, Minister Conroy has taken the responsibility to actually deal with this and create a bill that will make this happen, which is taking place now. The Rudd government’s commitment has not wavered on this issue. If anything, we have been forced into a situation which leads us to today.
On 7 April this year the government outlined its commitment to roll out the National Broadband Network as a wholesale-only, open-access network that will drive more effective competition in the telecommunications sector. We know this because of the extensive consultations we have had with the sector. We know that it will lead to better outcomes for consumers and for business.
With that said, the transition is of course a critical period, particularly during the full rollout of the National Broadband Network, which will take some eight years, which is a long time. It is a long time by government standards and it is a long time in the sense that most governments only deal with the short time period of one term—a 2½- to three-year period. I always see it as courageous that a government actually tackles issues that span multiple parliamentary terms. It is very much in line with the view that we had in opposition, and it is certainly the view that I continue to have, that good governments plan for the long-term and make long-term decisions about the future of the economy and for consumers.
On 7 April the government announced its commitment to reforming the existing telecommunications regulatory regime. A discussion paper was released to allow for a full consultation process. The issues were similar to those raised in 2008, which saw over 80 submissions received. There was a very strong response in the most recent discussion paper, with 140 submissions received from a broad range of stakeholders pretty much covering the whole sector—the states, the territories, government, broadcasters, media companies, the ACCC, consumer groups, disability groups, business organisations, unions and consumers. There was a large variety of people making submissions and it covered the whole community, and their submissions are of course available.
After consulting for over 15 months and having received in total more than 200 submissions there was an overwhelming message that came through from every submitter and that is that the current regime simply does not deliver in this era. It falls down in a whole range of areas and that is why the government is now developing its package of reform bills. The reforms in the bill that we are currently discussing, and the process itself, are broadly consistent with the overwhelming majority of submissions, having also received extensive and detailed advice from the ACCC.
This issue has been around for a very long time. Most people will agree that structural separation, the separation between the wholesale and retail arms of Telstra, is very important and probably should have been dealt with right at the beginning. But perhaps because of the difficulties or the lack of will, or maybe the lack of foresight from the previous government, 12 years elapsed, which actually entrenched the current problems and the situation that we face today making it harder and harder and harder.
Mr Bruce Scott —You didn’t support the sale of any of Telstra.
Mr RIPOLL —We hear interjections from members of the National Party and they say, ‘Well, we sold it off.’ If they are saying that they sold it off as some sort of cry that that was a solution, then that is far from the case. That certainly was not a solution. In fact, if anything, it entrenched deeper and deeper the problems that existed in this country about a fair, open and competitive marketplace. Given that what was sold off is not only the largest carrier in the country but enjoys an incredible monopoly, it has to be heavily regulated to control its activities and its anticompetitive behaviour. It has also meant that consumers in Australia endure some of the lowest standards in the world in the OECD and developed countries, in terms of broadband provision and in terms of telephony services, and some of the highest costs around the globe. I will have a bit to say about the National Party and the Liberal Party and some of their past behaviour in this area—as well as some of their current behaviour, which is par for the course when it comes to the LNP.
The reality for Telstra is that it is not only a vertically integrated organisation but also a horizontally integrated organisation. It owns all of the fixed copper lines—the network that spans right across the country and literally feeds to every home, business and person who uses telecommunications services—as well as having the largest hybrid fibre/coaxial-cable and mobile networks. On top of that it also has a 50 per cent stake in Australia’s largest subscription provider, Foxtel. It is not unusual in other areas—be it media, television or other areas—for there to be rules around one player owning too much of a particular sector. They are there for a good reason: it is about competition. Consumers inherently understand that, if one big player owns the lot, there is no competition. We see this in the debate around fuel and in the debate around grocery and food prices. We see this debate in many areas, and the debate is no different in telecommunications. The government is being forced to intervene—to act—although Telstra does have options where it can deal with some of these issues. But, to date at least, it is choosing not to do that.
I heard earlier from one of the opposition speakers about the complaint that it will take eight years and that that is somehow too long. I do not know whether eight years is too long, too short or just right, but I do not think the fact that it will take eight years to complete the National Broadband Network rollout is as important as it is that we actually start today—that we have a start date. It is important that we begin the process because for every day that it is delayed there is no rollout. The reality is that these guys sitting in opposition—and we are going to hear from the member for Maranoa shortly about his complaints and opposition to these bills and all the reforms in the National Broadband Network rollout—had the opportunity, the time and the resources to actually do something. For 12 years they sat on the government benches and did very little or nothing. They complain now that they might have changed some of the policies they had in place and that, if they had just been allowed one more term by the electorate, they would have finally done something. Well, isn’t it always the case? ‘Just give me one more term.’ So they would have had 15 years to maybe finally do something.
The reality is that we are not going to take 15 years; we are going to act right now. As we heard from the member for New England, it takes courage for a minister to step into this debate and make it happen. It takes courage on a whole range of fronts, but it must be done. I think the community really do understand this. They actually have a grasp of it. And why is that? Why do the community understand this? Because for the past decade at least they have realised that they have been getting a lower standard of service, they have realised that they have been paying too much and they have understood that Telstra, as the largest player on the block, has not delivered for them. And nowhere did they understand this better than in the bush. I see the member for Maranoa scoffing and laughing but—
Mr Bruce Scott —Have you ever been out there on a pushbike? Have you ever been west of Ipswich?
Mr RIPOLL —The member for Maranoa will get his opportunity. I know he is pretty sensitive on these issues, because it is his constituents who are telling him that he is wrong. The reality for the member for Maranoa and others like him is that they have delivered very little to nothing for their constituents. And here we see them again. What do they actually do? I do not mean the rhetoric that we will hear, but what do they actually do? In 12 years, there was no delivery. In 12 years, there was nothing. In 12 years, all they did was just sell off Telstra. Now that there is a government with the courage to actually do something, what do the opposition do? They say their plan is to just delay it and block it. That is their plan. They do not want to see any delivery—no national broadband network rollout and no increase in competition. Their myopic view on these issues is to just continue to delay. It actually makes sense for them to delay. If you think about it, that is what they did for 12 years—they just delayed. They always put it off for another day: ‘It’ll be right; someone will fix it eventually.’
That someone is here today and is the Rudd government. It has only taken us two years, 24 months, to get to the position where we actually have legislation in the House. So here is an opportunity for the National Party and an opportunity for the Liberal Party. Here is an opportunity for the opposition to show leadership, some courage, and actually get on with the program, get on with rolling out a national broadband network to the country and get this in place. But no, their plan is quite simple and it is well documented, depending on which leader of the National Party you listen to. Clearly they are all of the view that blocking is the best policy. So I would be very interested to see how they go out to their electorates and talk to their country constituents about how they would get better services and better competition and how they would be able to get reasonable prices and access and how smaller businesses and other organisations in the telecommunications marketplace can gain fair and equitable access to market share. I would be interested to see how they work to resolve all those issues together and explain them to their constituents. I doubt that that will happen. They will just blame the government for the failings of the past when in fact they should recognise their failures over a very long period.
It is pretty easy to sum up this issue in a couple of terms. One is to ask who the winners are. Who is going to win out of this change? That is pretty easy: it is going to be the consumers. We have about 21 million people in Australia. So who wins? About 21 million people.
Mr Bruce Scott —Twenty-two.
Mr RIPOLL —We are getting close to 22 million, yes. If we hit that, it is even better. It strengthens my argument, so I thank the member for that. There will be even more winners. I acknowledge the member for Maranoa for agreeing that there will be more winners. There will be 22 million winners instead of 21 million. It is a great outcome.
Who else wins in this rollout of a national broadband network? Competition wins. When competition wins, people win. Who else wins? The marketplace wins. There will be more access and better opportunity for a whole range of people in the market. Who else wins? Innovation wins—innovation technology. With more players, more access and a better ability for people to share information, innovation becomes centre stage more and more in what can be delivered. Of course, the greatest winners of all are the Australian economy and the taxpayer. Taxpayers will finally be able to have a system that will deliver for them and a system that will deliver for the economy. In all of these debates it does not matter how real the facts are. We see it in a whole range of areas, particularly when we talk about climate change, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme or the emissions trading scheme.
There will always be the sceptics, the naysayers or those who simply want to oppose things because they are in opposition. It is not much different in this debate over telecommunications. You have the sceptics and you have those who say, ‘It’s just not good enough.’ Of course, for those who say that, nothing ever is. When they are there they do not do anything, but as soon as somebody else steps up to the plate it is never good enough. There are the naysayers who will say no to absolutely everything. If it is not their idea, then it is not a good idea. We see those in the National Party as well as in the Liberal Party. Then there are those who are just missing in action. Who are the greatest ones for being missing in action? Those in the National Party. Who stands up for the people the National Party are supposed to represent—farmers, rural folk, bush folk, people out in the country who we all acknowledge do it tough and do not have the sort of service delivery that they should have? No-one in the party room in Canberra does. In the opposition party room, or what was then the Howard government party room, who stood up for the bush? The National Party members are pretty tough in here, but they were never tough in the party room, and they are certainly not tough when they go out into their electorates. We have plenty of evidence of that, so there is no need to debate that.
Who should be supporting this sort of legislation? That is pretty easy. I have mentioned this before. I think it is all those consumers who have a lot to gain out of this rollout—and they are supporting it. As I said, there are just a couple of barriers preventing really good reforms in competition, to opening up the telecommunications market and in having Telstra either functionally or structurally separate, and that barrier is the Liberal and National parties in Canberra. They are too focused on the past. They are more focused on their own image than on actually delivering. Perhaps they are just a little bit ashamed when they think back to their legacy, when they think back to what opportunities were missed and when they think back to all the things they could have done and what they did not do. There is probably some regret now. You can sense it in their tone of voice when they say, ‘We had contracts in place—
An incident having occurred in the gallery—
Mr RIPOLL —I see people in the gallery agree with me!
Mr Bruce Scott —You’ve got babies crying!
Mr RIPOLL —They are crying out for the National Broadband Network! People everywhere are crying out. But I will tell you what they are really crying about in the bush. They are crying about not getting the sorts of services that they deserve and about being misled for 12 years, being betrayed, by the National Party and the Howard government. The coalition could have delivered something for them, but they will complain in this place that it takes too long or that we somehow cancelled some contracts or things that were in place. Isn’t it always the case that they are going to do something? They were always ‘gonna do this’; they were always ‘gonna do that’. But in the end people in the bush missed out—at least, they did then. But now we have a government in place with the courage and the fortitude to deliver this and make this happen. We will not back down. We will make sure it happens, one way or the other, through either the structural separation or functional separation of Telstra. It is up to Telstra to decide. They have some choice, some options. In the end, the winners will be the consumers and the Australian economy.