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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21646


Mr JOHNSON (2:28 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Would the minister inform the House and the Ryan electorate what regulatory arrangements are in place to safeguard the interests of the Australian community in relation to the provision of Telstra services? How does ownership affect this regime?


Mr WILLIAMS (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I thank the member for Ryan for his question. I am very pleased to inform the Australian public and the Ryan electorate that the Howard government has a very proud record when it comes to regional telecommunications services. It is a record that Labor can only dream of. That has not stopped the opposition, however, from conducting an irresponsible scaremongering campaign over the full privatisation of Telstra.

The fact is that there is an extensive regulatory regime safeguarding the interests of Australian consumers in relation to services provided by Telstra. This regime will remain in place after full privatisation. In fact, not only will all the current safeguards remain; there will be additional safeguards for Australian consumers under the government's response to the regional telecommunications inquiry—the Estens inquiry. The government retains the ability to regulate the telecommunications industry and, if necessary, introduce new regulatory safeguards.



Mr WILLIAMS —Australian telecommunications consumers currently enjoy some of the world's strongest safeguards, including the universal service obligation, the customer service guarantee, the right to untimed local calls and the digital data service obligation. The introduction of full and open telecommunications competition has also brought many benefits to all Australian consumers.



Mr WILLIAMS —Consumers have enjoyed a real decrease in—


The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne clearly believes that unless he gets the attention of the chair he has no need to adhere to the standing orders. I will not sit here and wait while the member for Melbourne persistently interjects. If he continues to do so I will deal with him.


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister is reading out a statement word for word. That is why the House does not take him seriously.


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. There is no point of order.


Mr WILLIAMS —As I was saying, the introduction of open telecommunications competition has also brought many benefits for all Australian consumers.



The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Batman!


Mr WILLIAMS —Consumers have enjoyed a real decrease in prices for telephone services of 20.7 per cent since 1997. The introduction of the customer service guarantee by this government has meant that, for the first time, companies have had to comply with strict time frames for installation and repair of phone services or pay compensation. Before the introduction of the customer service guarantee, the most remote customers in Australia could expect to wait up to 27 months for attention. Under the CSG they can now expect their service to be connected within 20 days of making the request.

The government has accepted all 39 recommendations of the Estens inquiry, and this is another example of a longstanding commitment to regional telecommunications services. The inquiry recommended that Telstra be required to maintain an ongoing local presence in regional, rural and remote Australia into the future.


The SPEAKER —The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts will resume his seat.


Mr Albanese —Mark your place!


The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Grayndler!


Dr Emerson —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I seek leave for the minister to be able to incorporate the rest of his answer in Hansard.


The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Rankin! That was a mischievous point of order and absolutely without foundation. I had already dealt with the matter when it was raised by the member for Werriwa. The member for Rankin is warned.


Mr WILLIAMS —The Estens inquiry recommended that Telstra be required to maintain an ongoing local presence in regional, rural and remote Australia into the future. In response to that the government have announced a firm commitment that we will impose a licence condition requiring Telstra to prepare a plan setting out the activities and strategies it will undertake to maintain its local presence in regional areas.

There is a range of other matters that have been dealt with in the response to the Estens inquiry. The government is also imposing a licence condition on Telstra to provide a minimum equivalent throughput speed of 19.2 kilobits per second for dial-up Internet access over the fixed line network and a Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme to provide financial incentives to service providers.

The Howard government has a genuine commitment to the maintenance of services to rural and regional areas. This contrasts starkly with the hypocritical, Johnny-come-lately actions of the Labor Party in feigning an interest in rural and regional services. The real commitment of the Labor Party to services in rural and regional areas is demonstrated by what the Labor Party did when the Commonwealth Bank was privatised. What the Labor Party did was precisely nothing.


Mr Tanner —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask that the minister table the document he has just read into Hansard.

Opposition members interjecting


The SPEAKER —I am waiting for the member for Melbourne to resume his seat so I can deal with the matter. Was the minister reading from a document?


Mr WILLIAMS —I was referring to notes.