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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2139


Senator CHILDS —Mr President, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a statement relating to the business of the Senate notice of motion No. 2 and then to move the motion as a formal motion.

  Leave granted.

  The statement read as follows

  Whilst principally a communications inquiry, the terms of reference cover the full range of the Committee's areas of responsibility. The impact of telecommunications developments on industry, employment and the community is the focus of the inquiry. This paper expands on the points set out in the terms of reference and is provided to assist in the preparation of submissions to the Committee.

The Committee seeks information on the technology that is currently available in Australia and overseas and anticipated developments. The information obtained will be set out in the first section of the report and will provide the reference material for the consideration of the remaining points of the terms of reference. While the information super highway with its potential for associated services will attract much attention, the Committee will also look at whether existing technologies and information services are being fully utilised, as well as methods to improve knowledge of existing services and how best to prepare for change. Further, the Committee will examine how users in industry and the community will cope with the plethora of information and the range of hardware and software offered to help gain access to it.

The Committee is particularly interested in how industry will benefit from the access to information as well as the business opportunities that will emerge. The use that developing or emerging industries will make of these opportunities will be closely examined and an assessment of the costs and benefits sought. The Committee will also seek input from all levels of industry about how it sees its demands for technology and information being met and whether the providers of technology are responding to that demand or driving it. In this regard the role of very large international telecommunications companies with their ability to dominate markets will be examined to determine the consequences for small but innovative Australian telecommunications companies. The Committee will pay particular attention to the usefulness of new communications technologies to small to medium sized businesses, both in terms of meeting their needs and costs, and the level of training and support needed. The role that the Australian Parliament can play in providing leadership through creating a forum for debate about how best to support innovative Australian telecommunications companies and, ultimately, the nature of a legislative regime that would support them will also be examined.

The potential for changes to work practices through the use of telecommunications technology is only just beginning to be understood. The Committee wants to identify the possibilities and assess their impact. Opportunities for employment in research, manufacture and implementation of new communications technologies as well as training needs will also be examined.

Perhaps the most profound change as a consequence of access to new communications technologies will be social and cultural. The Committee requires information to allow it to assess the nature of change to home life by the year 2000 and beyond. The opportunities this will open up for people in remote areas for access to information and entertainment, as well as the ability to work and interact with people in any part of the nation or indeed internationally, will change the way of life in these areas. Similarly, in the cities it will be possible to work from home (with implications for childcare), shop from home and be entertained in the home. Improved communications technologies will also benefit older Australians and, given the increased proportion of elderly people as a percentage of the population early next century, the Committee will be examining how they can access the technologies in an affordable way.

The question of affordability is not restricted to the elderly. The Committee seeks information about how to make the benefits of the new technologies available to the majority of Australians. For society to maximise the benefits of the new technologies it has to have access and this issue will be central to the Committee's inquiry.

The Committee seeks information from universities about their research and teaching programs and their contribution to the community debate on telecommunications and future technologies. In addition to hearing about the nature of the research the Committee wishes to examine the interaction of universities and the corporate sector in the development and/or use of the new technologies.

Finally, the Committee will look at the legislative and policy framework that will support the new technologies to see if it is appropriate to meet the needs discussed above. Indeed, the role the Parliament can play in initiating the public discussion and in determining or guiding the developments in new communications technologies will be closely examined. An example of this may be to ensure that privacy issues are considered and that a regulatory regime is in place. Therefore, the Committee seeks information about any privacy implications relating to the matters raised in the terms of reference.


Senator CHILDS —I move:

  That the following matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science, Technology, Transport, Communications and Infrastructure for inquiry and report:

The impact on industry, employment and the community of telecommunications developments up to the year 2000 and beyond. When assessing the impact of telecommunications developments the Committee will take account of the following:

(a)telecommunications technology currently available in Australia and overseas;

(b)anticipated developments in telecommunications technology in Australia and overseas;

(c)availability and affordability of telecommunications technology for the majority of Australians;

(d)industry's ability to implement and benefit from technology developments;

(e)the effect on work practices and employment including working from home;

(f)the social and cultural impact on home life in metropolitan, regional and remote areas;

(g)the extent to which Australia's current telecommunications policies anticipate telecommunications developments; and

(h)the extent to which Parliament should give leadership to Australian innovation and the application of technology taking into account the social as well as technical and economic considerations.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.