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Thursday, 27 May 1999
Page: 5648


Senator MARK BISHOP (8:43 PM) —The simple response to the points that Senator Murray and Senator Margetts raised is this: arising out of the inquiries, we became aware and concerned that Telstra was having a total regard to its own commercial interests—there was no balance, no independent assessment and no input from any other carrier or interested party. We were of the view, because of the material supplied to that inquiry, that Telstra was not doing that in an objective manner but was almost using it as a first port of call. `Commercial-in-confidence' became a standard response to any request for information.

Many of the requests for information were obviously a try-on—trying to access legitimate commercial secrets that should not have been disclosed—but we came to the view that Telstra was going beyond the bounds of proper behaviour, and commercial-in-confidence had become almost a first port of call.

The reason we go to the public interest is that we want to have a non-partisan body being able to look at these sorts of claims and to make a decision—an arbitration, if you like. It would do that in the public interest. It would do that necessarily, looking at the interests of Telstra, looking at the interests of other carriers and, perhaps most importantly, looking at the interests of home consumers and business consumers. We want there to be that degree of transparency, independence and impartial assessment. We believe the lessons of the last two years have shown that relying on the simple proposition of the major corporation that something is commercial-in-confidence is not adequate.

Having said that, we do not believe that the ACA, as part of that process of having regard to the public interest, should participate in or countenance in any way degradation of the national USO provider—limit its options or impose unreasonable or unfair commercial obligations on Telstra. Those are my com ments in respect of the difference between commercial-in-confidence and the USO.

In respect of amendment No. 15, essentially the public interest test would examine the relative costs and benefits of the disclosure or otherwise of the information in question. Damage to the USO provider, when determining the public interest as significant damage, would be contrary to the public interest. So the essential thrust of the amendment in total is to allow for scrutiny of the methodology and figures used by the universal service provider to come to a particular figure for the USO costs.

As a universal service provider is unable to put forward a USO figure for the purpose of recovering a proportion of those costs, it is reasonable to expect that the methodology and the figures be released for scrutiny. So that, Senator Murray, is the answer to your broad question. In respect of amendment No. 15, USO calculations by other persons that are forwarded to the ACA—for example a potential future regional universal service provider—can also be subject to such scrutiny.