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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3167


Mr TURNBULL (WentworthMinister for Communications) (11:29): I rise today to support the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill 2014. I have been listening to the remarks of the shadow minister for communications, who just preceded me. I could not help but note that, in his discussion about employee share schemes, he said that reform in that area was easy. That is a remarkable concession, given that the reform that is required is to reverse an extraordinary decision taken by the Labor Party in 2009 which has single-handedly done enormous damage to the innovation sector and basically made it unaffordable for start-up companies to issue shares or options to their employees. We are all familiar, as I am sure the shadow minister is, with companies that have had to move to the United States because it is simply not feasible for them to employ the talent that they need in Australia, because of the penal taxation arrangements with respect to these share schemes. It really is remarkable that the shadow minister is such an enthusiastic reformer and thinks it is all so easy, because the problem was entirely created by his own side, and only a few years ago, despite many warnings from us that their reforms would have this impact.

The shadow minister also went through the usual rigmarole of saying that the government is wrecking the NBN and stopping the NBN. I notice that in the last week over 9,000 premises have been passed by the NBN. The rollout is continuing and at a greater rate than it was prior to the election. Yes, we are determined to complete the NBN—sooner, more cheaply and more affordably. The shadow minister does himself no service by saying that the government had promised, or forecast, before the election that there would be nine million premises passed by fibre to the node. That certainly was in the example that we set out in our plan, but since the election it has become apparent that a superior technology, HFC, can be used for a large part of the rollout. HFC has performance characteristics that in most circumstances are even better than what can be delivered under fibre to the node, so, if they had the choice between fibre to the node and HFC as a broadband channel, in most cases people would prefer to have the HFC. The reality is that, with the NBN, what Australians want is very fast broadband, at the least cost to the taxpayer and as affordably for them as possible. They are not fussed about the particular technology. They want the service levels that enable them to do their work and enjoy their entertainment and so forth. That is what we are seeking to deliver and that is why our approach is a technology-agnostic one.

Having dealt with those matters raised by the shadow minister, I will return to this bill. This year marks 10 years since I gave my maiden speech in this House. In that speech I said:

Lucy and I have found that much of our satisfaction in business has come from starting new enterprises: creating new jobs and new markets for Australian technology. Our life's experience has been that there is little reward without risk. We believe Australia's economy and prosperity depend on a culture of initiative and enterprise which supports Australians doing what we do best—having a go—and, when things do not succeed, getting up and having another go.

One of the Liberal Party's core beliefs is that we see government's role as enabling citizens to do their best rather than telling them what is best. That is why we have adopted a strong deregulatory policy agenda and we are progressing the changes to the way in which regulation is created, implemented and reviewed. The key principles of this reform agenda include regulating only where absolutely necessary and that regulation should not be the default position in dealing with public policy issues. In the Coalition's Policy to Boost Productivity and Reduce Regulation that we took to the Australian people during the election, we set a target of reducing regulatory cost to industry, not-for-profits and individuals by $1 billion per annum.

Across my portfolio, the current media, telecommunications and radiocommunications regulatory frameworks are still fundamentally based in a mid-1990s world of relatively stable technologies and business models, but we now live in a world that has seen the explosion of the internet, the ubiquity of the mobile device, social media, the rollout of fast broadband across many platforms, the end of analog television and the rise of cloud computing. All of these changes are having a substantial impact on the regulated entities and bringing new challenges and pressures: the challenges to the print media business model, the increased competition for advertiser and subscriber dollars; the market effects of the structural separation of Telstra; and the expectations of consumers regarding the way they communicate, the services they use and their demand for content. Meanwhile, largely unregulated industries have provided innovative services which have significantly increased access to content but which have been accompanied by increased concern around matters such as privacy and the use of personal information.

The pressures on the regulatory arrangements and the negative impact of outdated regulation on the communications sector will only increase. So we are reviewing every piece of legislation and regulation across the sector, and these are the questions we are asking of regulation. Does it serve clearly identified public policy goals? Has it been effective in achieving those goals? Could those goals otherwise be fulfilled by more efficient and simpler means? Does the regulation produce benefits that outweigh the costs, including those imposed on industry, compliance; government, enforcement; and consumers, reduced innovation, fewer services and higher prices? Is it consistent with other regulations and policies, including those relating to competition, trade and investment? Is it as technologically neutral as possible, to avoid creating regulatory distinctions between similar services that are delivered differently?

In this context, I would like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation for the very constructive role my parliamentary secretary, the member for Bradfield, has played in assisting me with this significant and critically important task. Our aim is to deliver real reform in the communications sector, while maintaining important community and consumer safeguards and ensuring better outcomes for businesses and consumers now and in the future.

The bill before the House includes many communications measures. In fact, they take up a large part of the bill, with a particular focus on burdensome and redundant regulation. Examples of key measures before the House today are, firstly, repealing obsolete sections of telecommunications regulation that were superseded by a stronger, industry-led consumer protection code in 2012. This results in carriers no longer needing to maintain duplicate summaries for each product or service, meaning the government can repeal this measure and reduce red tape on industry without any negative impact on consumers. I note that the consumer group ACCAN has supported abolition of these requirements. Secondly, streamlining requirements to lodge telecommunications access agreements with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission—these lodgement obligations have long been considered an administrative burden not only for access providers but also for the ACCC. Thirdly, broadening the Australian Communications and Media Authority's discretion so it can determine whether they investigate complaints will allow the ACMA to focus its resources on complaints of a more serious nature, including those that might indicate systemic problems. Fourthly, the ACMA will be given the discretion to exempt smaller commercial radio broadcasting licensees and commercial television broadcasting licensees from submitting audited accounts. In addition the requirement for controllers of certain media assets to report annually to ACMA on changes to the control of commercial licenses and newspapers will be removed. Fifthly, duplicated universal service obligation requirements which are now redundant will be removed as they are covered under legislative instruments.

As part of the repeal day today, the Communications portfolio will also simplify the regulatory scheme by removing outdated and redundant provisions which serve no purpose in the current environment, including regulation relating to the National Relay Service levy that was replaced by the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Act 2012; early standards for analog mobile phone signals; services that were phased out in the beginning of 2000; information requirements relating to the original National Broadband Network request for proposal process, which ended in April 2009; and, telecommunication sector requirements in the event of service provider failure which have never been used.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority is also assisting the government on delivering on this regulatory reform agenda. The ACMA has already revoked 46 redundant instruments and is well progressed in removing unnecessary reporting requirements across a range of them. In the context of deregulation, it is also important to recognise that since the election the government has reduced the burden of regulation on the telecommunication sector by streamlining identity checks for prepaid mobile services, amending the permit process for submarine cables and simplifying telecommunications industry code-making arrangements.

The government has consulted widely with companies, consumer advocates and regulators in the communications sector to ensure that we get these measures right. The level of cooperation, specifically from industry and consumer groups, has been crucial to the reforms before the House today. It is evident from the submissions I received before Christmas that industry and consumer groups understand the need for reform and are eager to assist the government to ensure that there is change. The fact that they have worked together, reached a consensus and then come to government with a proposal for change is refreshing, and I welcome and thank them for it.

The deregulation in communications is not just a short-term process. We have made a very strong start on deregulation in the Communications portfolio, but in the longer term real reform will only be achieved through careful consideration of a vast range of complex policy issues. We will need to work together over the coming months on aspects of the existing framework which are not readily removed or adjusted. In Sydney, a few weeks ago, I led the first meeting of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Communications—an initiative of the government to get an industry perspective on key areas for reform and deregulation to boost productivity and reduce the cost of doing business. I am continuing to work closely with the sector and have received very constructive feedback which is assisting me in deciding the priorities for reform—from better regulation for telecommunications consumer protections to looking at the laws relating to radio communications licensing and allocation arrangements, to media ownership and content rules.

We will continue to undertake this consultation openly and positively, balancing industry and public interest concerns and recognising the realities of the industry of today and tomorrow. This is a very different approach to the previous government, where the previous minister, Senator Conroy, dealt with proprietors and chief executives one at a time—all too often telling each of them what they wanted to hear, instead of dealing with them in one room openly, and of course most notoriously with the attempt to the regulate the print sector, imposing sweeping and unprecedented regulations on the industry without any consultation and even without any warning.

We take a very different approach. We are not going to measure our success as a government, as the previous government did, by the number of new regulations and burdens imposed on businesses. Regulation should not be the default position in dealing with public policy issues. Any future changes to the media or telecommunications regulation regime will be undertaken consultatively and will reflect our ongoing commitment to better regulation, which lowers the cost burden on business, while maintaining, at all times, necessary consumer and other safeguards.

I commend the bill to the House.