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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 204


Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (09:39): I am pleased to see these telecommunications bills before the House. I was interested to hear the last speaker. He comes from a company that was in competition with Telstra and of course we heard a continual attack on Telstra and on telecommunications regulations. For the lifetime of the Howard government there were opportunities to modernise the telecommunications of this country. They had control of the Senate and they could have passed legislation, and they chose not to do so. They made all sorts of commentary about that and spent a lot of money saying that they were improving things but they did not do that.

Students in my electorate are begging me to get the old copper networks improved because of the dropouts they have using dial-up when trying to do homework and trying to move forward with their studies. All around my electorate that is continuing to some degree, but I am very pleased to say that since this government came in in 2007 it has worked to put together the National Broadband Network to modernise Australia, to take us into the new era, to position Australia where it should be with modern telecommunications and to receive all the new opportunities that the NBN will provide.

This set of bills will provide some of those reforms, especially the universal service obligation, as well as providing for the legislative framework to create a new statutory agency, to be known as TUSMA. These bills will set up the long-term structure for three existing services and for two new sets of arrangements, and will ensure the important telecommunications safeguards in the change to the National Broadband Network.

The first of the bills, the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011, will enable the establishment of the agency responsible for the implementation and administration of service agreements. It will outline the structure, reporting and accountability requirements, and will set out ways to collect industry levies to contribute to the costs of the new structure.

The second bill, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011, or the reform bill, will introduce the structure that will enable the minister to gradually lift mandatory obligations from Telstra.

The third bill, the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011, will create a levy that will require related industry participants to help with the costs of the new structure. The levy will replace current USO and NRS levies, and will commence in July 2012. The amount given towards the levy will be based on its eligible revenue. To make a smooth transition to the new levy arrangements, all non-Telstra contributors will not pay more than the combined liability for the USO and NRS levies for 2011-12, and the relevant procedures are in place to ensure this outcome is achieved.

The bills will create new arrangements for existing services such as the universal service obligation to provide reasonable access to telephone services and payphones—very important; the National Relay Service for those with a speech or hearing impediment; and emergency call services, including plans for handling calls to the 000 network around our country. Telstra has a legislative responsibility for the universal service obligation and the emergency call service, while two other parties provide the National Relay Service. The Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011 puts in place new arrangements to help the transfer of voice-only customers from Telstra copper to the National Broadband Network and aids in the development of any essential technology solutions that will maintain the continued provision of existing public interest services such as traffic lights and public alarms. This agreement with Telstra will provide for people in Australia who are outside the National Broadband Network fibre areas to continue to have access to voice-only services if they wish and ensures that Telstra will maintain their copper network for this use for the next 20 years.

With the rollout of the National Broadband Network continuing across Australia, these bills will ensure that those who are not covered by the National Broadband Network fibre network will still have access to their services. The National Broadband Network will cover around 93 per cent of Australia's premises. With the introduction and passing of these bills, we can ensure that rural and regional Australia and those who are vision or hearing impaired are not left without relay phone services.

Local governments are working with NBN Co., advising of potential local requirements and helping in the development and distribution of community education about and promotion of the great opportunities that the National Broadband Network offers our communities, especially in rural and regional Australia.

To make things easier, the process of connecting to the National Broadband Network is much the same as the process of connecting a phone. The customer contacts an approved service provider as listed on the NBN Co. website, discusses with the service provider the service that best suits their needs and reviews the pricing plans. Once the customer has made an agreement with the service provider, and products or services are organised, the service provider will activate the service at the property and the property is then connected to that service.

The internet has changed the way Australians live and offers us the ability to get information instantly, with the click of a button. With the technology for this industry quickly changing and advancing, the National Broadband Network will provide Australians with fast and reliable access to the internet. Communities can use the National Broadband Network to help with health concerns, energy management and farm management. In my electorate, mobile phones are used to move pivot irrigators around and, when the spuds arrive at the processing plant, people can be told what condition they are in and whether it is too early or too late to take them out of the ground.

If people in regional areas are connected to the National Broadband Network, a doorway opens enabling them to have instant access to health professionals via videoconferencing, meaning that they can get advice as quickly as they need it. Schools in regional communities also benefit. In Lyons, many regional schools can now offer vocational education and training. This eliminates the need to travel for long periods and enables students to become skilled workers for our state with ease. Training and educating Tasmania's youth will be key for the economy and growth in Tasmania. The NBN will enable students to stay in school longer and then go on to university education, TAFE education or apprenticeships.

Students can attend TAFE online, as well as most universities in Australia and some overseas. TAFE courses can be completed by correspondence alone, while university courses can be completed by correspondence with exams at the end of each section. This means that more people in Australia than ever before have the opportunity to study. The National Broadband Network will make it easier and easier, especially for regional and rural Australia.

When the industry advances, it creates a ripple effect on other aspects of our lives, including telephone use. In Australia, there is movement towards the smart phone. Whether you have an iPhone, a BlackBerry or a Google powered communications device, you are part of a large proportion of Australia's population who use a smart phone. Australians take up new technology at a very rapid rate. I think we are one of the leaders in the world in grabbing new technology. In regional areas of Australia, mobile services often have low coverage and sometimes none at all. People with disabilities and vision or hearing impaired and older Australians have difficulties using the new smart phones. Before you can make a phone call, you need to read the manual or have someone who knows how to teach you.

Most of my electorate of Lyons is regional or rural, and people rely on their phone services for their everyday dealings. I believe that telephones play a large role in the social lives of many in my electorate. In these small communities, the closest neighbour could be five or 10 kilometres down the road and therefore the phone is used as the main means of contact. It is important that people in these communities are able to reach each other. I am sure everyone is aware that social events in small communities keep people happy and healthy, and we need to ensure that we do our part to keep these communications happening. Without these crucial services, people would be much more isolated.

We have the opportunity, in using new technology, to gain quicker access to health, education and university services. New technology gives Australians the option of a different lifestyle and enables people to move out of the cities into small communities. New technology is making regional communities more viable. With the lifestyle in regional communities becoming a viable option for Australians, the populations of these communities will grow. There are many benefits of living in regional communities in Australia. Regional communities are reasonably self-sufficient in growing their vegetables and rearing their animals. Producing and selling things becomes easier if you have access to the internet. Farms provide the opportunity for families to teach their children how to run and manage the farm, and this sustainable and important industry in Tasmania is thriving. We have some great products that come from farms and regional communities in Tasmania, and these bills will ensure the continuity of services that help these communities.

In Lyons we have dairy farms that sell their milk and cheese and we have many vineyards with cellar-door sales and, I must confess, many goat's cheese outlets. We also have cherry farms where you can go and pick your own fruit. These farms create jobs within the local area and provide skills to their workers in the area, ensuring that the skill and work is carried through the generations. Not only do these businesses bring income back to the states through taxes but they encourage people to travel to Tasmania to see the highlights, and those tourists will spend money on accommodation and travel throughout the state.

In conclusion, I believe that these bills are very important to the general rollout of these new services, in that they set up the long-term structure for three existing services and for two new sets of arrangements and will ensure the link of important communications safeguards in the change to the National Broadband Network. This will allow Australians to access the benefits of fast broadband at school, work and play. I support the bills.

Debate adjourned.