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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 1959

Senator BIRMINGHAM (4:11 PM) —That is potentially one of the most extraordinary things a minister has ever said in a debate at the committee stage on a piece of legislation: ‘Don’t refer to the EM; ask us questions about what might be in the EM during estimates.’ The EM is a critical document tabled alongside the amendments to provide some context and some explanation of how the amendments work. Not unusually, amendments—or especially amendments but even whole bills—do not make sense in isolation. The EM is there to provide clear evidence as to what the case may be. The minister appears to be trying to redefine his promise or to define what his promise is—and that is okay. If we can get clarity as to what the minister’s promise is or what the government’s commitment is, then that is fine. I want to know that what is in the EM is accurate and does accurately reflect the government’s commitment. Then we can deal with the reality of that situation.

It sounds to me like the minister is making it clear that the government’s commitment is that there is equal price across the basic service offering—the 12 megs offering. There will be an equal price across the three different service platforms. That is the government’s offering. That is where the equality of that offering across service platforms stops. Should there be anything above that, as the EM says, the prices for higher speed services only need to be uniform within a specified technology and not across all technologies.

If I understood the minister correctly, he argued that uniformity of that basic service offering was because he had managed to get the engineering costs of the technologies to match at that point. I will stand corrected if I misunderstood the minister’s logic or argument there, but am I correct in understanding that you do not expect there to be cross-subsidisation across platforms but that the 12-meg service offering across wireless, satellite and fibre will somehow miraculously come out at the same cost?