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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7326

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (5:57 PM) —I seek leave to have my concluding remarks on the second reading incorporated in Hansard.

The speech read as follows

In summing up this debate I would like to thank all Senators for their contributions.

The Telecommunications Competition Bill 2002 introduces a range of measures to enhance the level of competition and improve the investment climate in the telecommunications sector.

The measures will ensure that consumers continue to enjoy lower prices and improved services from a competitive telecommunications industry.

The objectives of the Bill are to:

· speed-up access to `core' telecommunications services;

· facilitate investment in new telecommunications infrastructure;

· provide a more transparent regulatory market, particularly in relation to Telstra's wholesale and retail operations; and

· enhance accountability and transparency in tackling anti-competitive conduct.

The Bill implements the Government's response to the Productivity Commission's inquiry report on Telecommunications Competition Regulation and builds upon amendments introduced by the Government last year to streamline the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) arbitration process for telecommunications access disputes.

The provisions in the Bill have been developed following extensive consultation with industry and other key stakeholders.

I would like to thank the members of the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee for their report on the Bill. I note that both the minority report by Labor senators and the Australian Democrats' supplementary report are broadly supportive of the Bill.

After carefully considering the Senate Legislation Committee's report, the Government is proposing to move a number of amendments that will:

· improve the effectiveness of the proposed Accounting Separation framework;

· refine the proposed Pre-selection provisions; and

· ensure that parties to access disputes that were notified to the ACCC before the introduction of the Bill into Parliament will be able to seek merits review.

It is important that the telecommunications regulatory regime provides timely, efficient and transparent outcomes for all involved. The Telecommunications Competition Bill will deliver these benefits and provide a boost to competition during a period when external factors are providing new challenges for the telecommunications industry.

The Government recognises that the changing and dynamic nature of the telecommunications industry will require ongoing monitoring to ensure the regime continues to meet the needs of an open and competitive telecommunications market.

Issues such as bundling, which can provide benefits to residential and business end users of telecommunications also have the potential to be anti-competitive.

The greater transparency provided to the regulator from accounting separation will aid it in investigating any claims of anti-competitive conduct, including any alleged instances of anti-competitive bundling.

In addition, I have requested the ACCC to report to me in January 2003 on the wider competition implications of emerging industry structures in the Pay TV sector, including implications for the telecommunications sector. This report is likely to cast further light on this issue.

The Government is also actively investigating arrangements in a number of overseas jurisdictions, including Hong Kong and the UK, as they relate to the regulation of bundled telecommunications products.

The Government will continue to keep these matters under review with a view to determining whether appropriate action is necessary to address

In summary there is a range of specific measures in the Bill each of which will improve the operation of the telecommunications competition regime.

The package of measures combine to make the telecommunications competition regime more timely, effective and accountable.

The Government considers that it is important for the Bill to be passed as soon as possible in order to provide regulatory certainty and to allow carriers to get on with delivering benefits to consumers.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that consideration of this bill in Committee of the Whole be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.