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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 1916


Senator XENOPHON (12:14 PM) —I have just received a message from former senator Natasha Stott-Despoja to say that she is listening assiduously. You would have thought she would have had enough of this place not to be listening to debates, but she is listening assiduously, and I am sure she is missed in this place for her skills as a legislator.

I do have to ask of the minister some questions which are relevant to the broad concepts here about a level playing field and fairness. Last year when this was being dealt with I co-sponsored an amendment moved by Senator Ludlam—I suppose we moved it together but it was Senator Ludlam’s very good idea—in relation to the issue of equivalence to ensure that when the NBN was dealing with contracts it would do so fairly with the people it was contracting with. There was an exemption there that if there was a private agreement between the parties then the ACCC determination would not apply. So you would not have the protection of the ACCC; you would not have the regulator of those Telstra services, of the copper network in this transitional period, being involved. The concern I have, from information I have received, is that Telstra has been behaving appallingly, that it has been forcing people to enter into these private agreements to escape the scrutiny of the ACCC. That would have been avoided if the amendment that Senator Ludlam moved and I co-sponsored in relation to equivalence had been supported, but it was not.

My question to the minister relates to this whole concept of a level playing field, a fair playing field. Is the minister aware of those complaints from the Competitive Carriers Coalition that Telstra is using or, rather, abusing its market power and position to treat those smaller operators unfairly and to escape the scrutiny of the ACCC? I defer to Senator Ludlam in terms of his experience and expertise in these matters and I would appreciate his input on this because I think he may have heard the same thing. This is a serious issue. While it is not the subject of this bill, it ought to be the subject of consideration by this chamber. It ought to be the subject of consideration by the government as to whether the question of equivalence will be considered, particularly as evidence has arisen in the last few months that Telstra is behaving in ways that are completely unfair to those smaller telcos, completely unfair in terms of their conduct with a view, I believe, to directly avoid the scrutiny of the ACCC by forcing those smaller telcos to enter into private agreements in a kind of ‘take it or leave it’ approach. That is one of the reasons why I think we need significant reform of the telecommunications sector.