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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12431


Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (10:13): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011 forms part of a package of legislation that I am introducing today to achieve continuity of key telecommunications safeguards in the transition to the National Broadband Network (NBN). The other bills in the package are the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011 and the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011.

This bill plays an important supporting role to the overall reforms for the delivery of telecommunications safeguards, which are largely set out in the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011. TUSMA will focus on managing the delivery of key telecommunications services under contracts or grants that the community expects will continue to be delivered effectively and efficiently. TUSMA will be accountable to the industry and to government through extensive reporting arrangements. The residual costs of TUSMA that are not met from budget funding will be met through a new industry levy scheme based on current USO levy arrangements. The new levy will be imposed by the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011.

TUSMA is expected to be operational by 1 July 2012 so it can take over responsibility for the Commonwealth's agreement with Telstra to deliver universal service outcomes and other public interest services. The government intends tha t there be an approximately two- year period for concurrent operation of contract and regulatory requirements before phasing out USO regulation. Over time, the current regulated obligations to provide voice services and payphones will transition to a model that is similar to the current arrangements for the provision of the National Relay Service, in that the Commonwealth (through TUSMA) will contract with service providers for the supply of these important services, without imposing specific regulatory obligations.

This bill amends the universal service regime in the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 so that within two years of commencement of TUSMA operations, the minister must consider whether it is appropriate to remove the current regulated USO on Telstra to make the standard telephone service and payphones reasonably accessible, and shift to a fully contractual model for provision of universal service outcomes.

The government recognises the importance placed by many in the community on having access to basic voice services and payphones. Therefore the bill provides that between 18 months and two years after the establishment of TUSMA, the minister will be required to consider if Telstra:

has met relevant contractual and regulated obligations during the initial transitional period, and

will be likely to substantially comply with its ongoing contractual requirements for provision of standard telephone services and payphones.

The minister will be required to separately consider the removal of the standard telephone service and payphone elements of current USO regulation. Each of these decisions will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and disallowance. In considering whether to lift USO regulation, the minister will be required to obtain advice from both the TUSMA and from the communications regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, as to Telstra's record of compliance with its contractual and regulatory obligations for the standard telephone service and for payphones. The minister will also be able to consider any other relevant matters.

If the minister considers that there are satisfactory contractual arrangements in place in relation to payphones, Telstra's regulated obligations for payphones can then be removed across Australia. If the minister considers that there are satisfactory contractual arrangements in place for the standard telephone service, Telstra's regulated USO obligations to supply the standard telephone service will be progressively removed in fibre areas as Telstra migrates customers from the Telstra copper network to the NBN fibre network. In areas where fibre is not being rolled out, and Telstra is not required to structurally separate, Telstra's regulated obligations to supply the standard telephone service will be removed. Linking the removal of USO regulation for the standard telephone service to the progressive NBN rollout in fibre areas is consistent with the requirement that the package of bills not commence operation unless Telstra is legally committed to implement structural separation.

If the conditions for regulatory removal are not met initially, the bill provides the minister with the power to defer consideration of whether regulation should be removed for an additional period of 18 months. Up to two such deferral declarations can be made.

Removal of USO regulation in relation to the standard telephone service will not change the important safeguards (such as the customer service guarantee) that apply to Telstra and all other providers of a standard telephone service.

The bill makes a range of other transitional and consequential amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999. The bill also makes transitional amendments to provide for the phasing out of the USO and NRS levies (respectively) after 30 June 2012 given the transition to a new telecommunications industry levy scheme. This bill also includes consequential amendments to ensure that the ACMA, as the communications regulator, has the ability to effectively enforce the new levy arrangements. The details for the assessment and collection of the new industry levy are included in the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011.

This is an important package of legislation. Together, the three bills will provide certainty for all Australians that telecommunications consumer safeguards will continue to be delivered in the transition to the National Broadband Network, under transparent and accountable arrangements. The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011 makes necessary transitional changes to support the establishment of an independent body that will take the industry away from regulated obligations to a more flexible service provider model that will promote greater efficiency, transparency and competition in public policy delivery. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.