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Thursday, 25 November 2010
Page: 3753


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and the other bill that I am introducing today, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures—Access Arrangements) Bill 2010, build upon the government’s historic establishment of a company, NBN Co. Ltd, to build and operate a new superfast National Broadband Network.

These bills enshrine in legislation the policy commitments the government made in its NBN announcement and provide clarity and certainty to NBN Co. Ltd, industry and the wider community.

The NBN will connect up to 93 per cent of all Australian homes, schools and workplaces with fibre-based broadband services and will connect other premises in Australia with next generation wireless and satellite broadband services. The NBN will better position us in an increasingly digital world to prosper and compete and better enable Australian businesses to compete on a global scale.

In April 2009, the government indicated that it would legislate to establish:

  • operating, ownership and governance arrangements for NBN Co. Ltd; and
  • the regime to facilitate access to the NBN for access seekers.

The government has consulted extensively on the legislative arrangements for NBN Co. Ltd, releasing exposure drafts of the bills in February 2010 and also consulting through the implementation study on the NBN. The bills that I am introducing today have been amended in light of those processes.

The first bill in the package, the NBN companies bill, obligates NBN Co. Ltd to limit its operations to, and focus them on, wholesale-only telecommunications. It also sets out arrangements for the eventual sale of the Commonwealth’s stake in the company once the NBN rollout is complete, including provisions for independent and parliamentary reviews prior to any privatisation, and for the parliament to have the final say on the sale. The bill also creates a power for the Governor-General to make regulations concerning future private ownership and control of NBN Co. Ltd, and establishes other relevant reporting, governance and enforcement mechanisms.

As such, the bill deals with arrangements for both today and into the future. In particular, it makes sure that NBN Co. Ltd will be tightly bound to respect its wholesale-only mandate, thereby promoting competition and better services for all Australians.

The bill covers NBN Co. Ltd, NBN Tasmania and any company NBN Co. Ltd controls. The bill specifies that NBN Co. Ltd must supply services only to carriers or service providers or specified utilities and transport authorities. Supply to utilities and transport authorities will support the rollout of, for example, smart infrastructure management technologies. The exposure draft of the bill enabled the minister to allow NBN Co. Ltd to supply services to specified end users. This power has been removed from the bill.

The bill creates a power for the communications minister and the finance minister to order internal separation of NBN Co. Ltd’s business units, including powers to order it to transfer or divest its assets. These powers provide additional safeguards that can be brought into play, if necessary, to ensure NBN Co. Ltd operates in a manner that is transparent and supports effective competition.

Taking into account the recommendations of the implementation study on the NBN, the Commonwealth will retain full ownership of NBN Co. Ltd until the rollout of the NBN is complete. This will ensure that during the rollout NBN Co. Ltd remains focused on achieving the government’s policy aims, and not on the different risks and rewards that private sector equity investors would require.

After the communications minister has declared that the rollout is complete, the productivity minister may direct the Productivity Commission to undertake a 12-month inquiry into a number of matters. These may include the regulatory framework for the NBN, and the impacts of a sale of NBN Co. Ltd on the Commonwealth budget, consumer outcomes and competition. Within 15 sitting days of the Productivity Commission inquiry report being tabled, a parliamentary joint committee on the ownership of NBN Co. Ltd is to be established, according to the practice of parliament, to examine the report of the Productivity Commission inquiry. This joint committee will report to both houses of parliament within 180 days of its appointment. After it reports, the finance minister may, by disallowable instrument, advise that conditions are suitable for an NBN Co. Ltd sale scheme.

There is no longer a requirement that NBN Co. Ltd must be sold within five years of it being declared built and fully operational. Rather the time frame for any sale is left to the judgment of the government and parliament of the day, enabling due regard to the role the NBN is playing, market conditions and any other relevant factors.

The bill also confirms that NBN Co. Ltd should be subject to the same range of obligations as other government business enterprises. For example, NBN Co. Ltd is not a public authority. NBN Co. Ltd is not subject to the Public Works Committee Act 1969as were earlier government owned carriers like Telstra, OTC and Aussat, and currently Australia Post.

Together with the NBN access bill, the NBN Companies Bill delivers on the government’s commitment that NBN Co. Ltd will operate on a wholesale only, open and equivalent access basis, delivering long-term benefits for competition and consumers. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Secker) adjourned.