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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1013

Broadband


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (14:09): My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Given that the ACCC has approved Telstra's structural separation undertaking, can the minister advise the Senate what this means for telecommunications industry reform?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:10): As everyone in the telecommunications industry knows, Telstra's vertical integration has been the single greatest barrier to healthy competition in this sector. Today's approval by the ACCC implements the Gillard government's decision to structurally separate Telstra. It is a reform that previous governments have failed to undertake—first under the Hawke government, when it decided to merge Telecom Australian with OTC in the early nineties, and then compounded by the Howard government, when they privatised Telstra as the dominant vertically integrated wholesale and retail provider—until today.

These decisions have contributed to two decades of market failure in the telecommunications industry—a point made by the ACCC just last week. The ACCC said:

Telstra retains a dominant position in both retail and wholesale markets—

and—

despite the deployment of competitive infrastructure in some geographic areas over the past decade, on a national basis, competition for the supply of wholesale ADSL services is not effective.

This was the competitive environment that we inherited. The structural separation of Telstra is a watershed reform that will pave the way for competition in fixed-line telecommunication services for the first time in Australian history. It is a reform I have previously described as the Holy Grail of microeconomic reform in the telco sector. It is a reform that Telstra shareholders have voted for overwhelmingly, and it is one the industry had been crying out for.

Senator Brandis: A renationalised state monopoly.

Senator CONROY: And you have just announced today, you fool, that you are buying the copper! You just announced you are buying the copper.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, that should be withdrawn.

Senator CONROY: My apologies, Mr President; I withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: You need to resume your seat; your time has expired.







Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (14:12): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate what the ACCC's decision means for Australian consumers and businesses.


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:12): The National Broadband Network is the vehicle to enable the full structural separation of Telstra. The ACCC decision paves the way for the decommissioning of Telstra's copper network and the progressive migration of customers onto the NBN—unlike those opposite, whose spokesperson today blogged that he is going to direct NBN Co. to buy the copper network. Talk about renationalising! You are ordering NBN to buy it back—to buy back the copper. Read his blog today!

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CONROY: That is right, yes. Has it been to shadow cabinet?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, address comments to the chair.

Senator CONROY: My apologies, Mr President. The NBN, Mr President, will be the first open-access, wholesale-only platform for the delivery of telecommunications services in Australia. It will level the playing field for all service providers. (Time expired)





Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (14:13): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate of any other broadband plans that could critically impact on rolling out the NBN to families and businesses in rural and regional Australia.


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:13): There are now 35 service providers who have signed up to deliver services over the NBN, providing broadband plans beginning from as little as $29.95 a month—just under 30 bucks a month! All those claims from those opposite—that prices were going up; that prices were going to be higher; that services were going to be poorer—have all been exposed as absolute rubbish.

There is only one party that is guaranteeing universal prices—and that is the Labor Party, the Labor government. Under the coalition, families and businesses in the bush will pay more and get less service. The coalition have even committed to abolishing the cross-subsidy for those that live in the bush—treating rural and regional Australians like second-class citizens by offering them a voucher. (Time expired)