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Tuesday, 25 March 1997
Page: 2367

Senator CRANE —My question is directed to the Minister for Communications and the Arts. I refer the minister to the historic pas sage of the telecommunications reform package in the Senate last night and I ask the minister to describe the tangible benefits which will flow to business in general, in particular business in the bush, from increased competition in the telecommunications industry.

Senator ALSTON —There is no doubt that, as a result of the legislation that finally passed through the Senate last night, Australian consumers have a great deal to look forward to from the new telecommunications liberalised regime which will operate from 1 July. Indeed, it will certainly mean that we will see a lot more competition, particularly outside the capital cities. We are already starting to see that in places such as Ballarat.

There is no doubt it will occur. It is very clear that the United States experience has been that companies targeting particular regional areas have been able to come up with packaged telephony proposals. People who are telephone integrators who are able to offer one-stop facilities will no doubt apply the same strategies here.

It is quite clear that some of the real benefits that flowed from yesterday's package will include the new price cap regime, which is where we had to save Senator Schacht from himself. Quite clearly, a weighted average cost approach is much more sensible.

It is very regrettable that the opposition seems to have not the slightest interest in these matters. If Senator Faulkner thinks he has to get instructions from Ian Healy over there every time he goes out to bat, then quite clearly the Labor Party is exposed as a party bereft of any interest in real policy issues and is simply interested in gimmicks, in political gutter crawling, in trawling through the minutiae of the matters that they have been dealing with in recent times and not showing any sensible interest.

If the political strategy on the part of Mr Healy over there involves simply trying to devise the latest one-liners and political gimmicks and not addressing these historic benefits, then I have no doubt that the Australian public will see the Labor Party for what it is: a party bereft of any interest in policy issues, not interested in the bush, not interested in ensuring that digital data capabilities are extended to 96 per cent of the population by the end of 1998 or indeed a target set for 100 per cent by 1 January 2000.

These are all major initiatives. The right to untimed local calls being extended to include business, voice and residential data calls, and consumer consultation on industry codes of practice are very significant advances that will be very much to the benefit of consumers. I hope that the Labor Party will realise that they are going nowhere when they pursue all these other irrelevancies. They think that political strategy involves simply trying to distract the public's attention. They should not worry about these issues because these are what will make Australia great again. These are the things that can really open up the markets and provide jobs and opportunities for small business to ensure that the bush gets a fair go.

I hope that we will be able to get back to the real agendas and that we will not have any more of this cheap grandstanding and political gutter crawling all the time, relying on leaks, peddling all those matters that are designed to distract attention from your policy bankruptcy. The public will have no doubt about where you stand when it comes to the next election because you are wasting valuable time. You could be doing some policy work but you are not interested in it. Therefore, it will be up to us to ensure that new jobs are created for the bush and small business as a result of this regime.