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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 315


Senator COLLINS (Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (12.34 p.m.) —I thank the Senate for its support for the Telecommunications Amendment Bill, which seeks to correct a number of problems and which can be referred to as finetuning of the legislation. I was interested to hear some of the comments made by Senator Alston during the debate about the delay in getting the legislation into parliament. One of the reasons for that necessary delay was that, certainly during the time I was minister in charge of that portfolio, highly conflicting legal advice was received by the government in respect of how this matter should be resolved. In addition, the government quite properly desired to ensure that the most exhaustive consultation was carried out with the industry in terms of getting these amendments carried.

  Indeed, a number of the concerns industry had in respect of this longstanding issue were raised with the government only late last year, as Minister Lee advised the House of Representatives. I was curious but not surprised to hear Senator Alston's comments about his concerns over the certainty of the wording in the amending legislation and the need for clarity. There is no question as far as the government is concerned that the wording of the bill, the explanatory memorandum and indeed the minister's own comments in the second reading speech have made it abundantly clear what the government intends by this legislation.

  In respect of what Senator Alston had to say, I comment—I think in the same way as Senator Bourne commented—that I find it passing strange that someone who was so concerned about clarity would have been proposing to introduce an amendment to this legislation, which I am relieved to see Senator Alston did not do in the Senate, that would have added to the legislation an unnecessary set of words in connection with broad public appeal. They would, I have no doubt, have enriched entire generations of lawyers not yet born.

  I want to conclude by saying one thing. I do not want to delay the Senate unduly but this should be put on the record: it is abundantly clear at this stage that the radical, indeed far-reaching, reforms in telecommunications that this government put into place in 1991 have proved to be outstandingly successful. I feel that I should place this on the record as there was no acknowledgment of it by any member of the opposition.

  The objective of these changes was to improve telecommunications services and to reduce costs to consumers, both residential and business. Even in this comparatively early stage of that process, the results have been impressive. There have been, as all honourable senators would know, significant decreases in prices across the board following these changes. Both business and residential customers are now benefiting significantly from the changes that were introduced by this government. For example, very briefly, the cost of a five-minute call between Sydney and Melbourne at peak rates has fallen by almost 20 per cent—the exact figure is 18.5 per cent—and the cost of a five-minute international call at peak rates from Australia to the United States fell by 12.7 per cent in the 12 months to 30 June last year.

  At the same time, a range of new services has been made available such as digital mobile, mobile data and satellite mobile. All of those have now been introduced, to the great benefit of consumers in the Australian market. The government can fairly say, with some satisfaction, that the policy direction, the policy objectives of these changes when they were introduced in 1991, has already been substantially met. I thank honourable senators for their contributions to the debate and for their support of the legislation.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.