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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7364

Senator LUNDY (12:45 PM) —Labor opposes the section of the Telecommunications Competition Bill 2002 removing the requirements of carriers to produce industry development plans. Carriers are currently required to present industry development plans to the minister, summaries of which are then made public. This enables the minister, the parliament and the public to scrutinise the industry development performance of carriers. While Labor acknowledges that these reports can be burdensome for some smaller carriers, simply removing these provisions altogether is unacceptable. It is appropriate that carriers, particularly Telstra, be encouraged to remain accountable in regard to their industry development plans. The core of these provisions should remain, so as to ensure the industry development plans of the major carriers can be monitored. I foreshadow Labor's support of the next amendment, which does remove an additional burden for future carriers in relation to the preparation of an industry development plan. I will speak to that in more detail later, but is our intention to support the follow-on amendment for this, which further clarifies the role that future smaller carriers can play. That amendment will be moved by the government, and the opposition will be supporting it.

In general, industry development is an issue very important to the federal Labor opposition. It is something in which I have been involved in relation to information technology for a long time and it relates directly to the telecommunications industry. It should come as no surprise in the current public debate about the relative status of the information communication technology trade deficit in this country that Australia would be well suited and far better off if we were able to improve our exports in relation to our imports in the area of ICT. It would be the most inappropriate time to reduce or remove any accountability requirements for telecommunications carriers to state what they are doing in relation to industry development in ICT. A brief history lesson shows how crucial Telstra, in particular, has been to the growth and formation of many Australian companies and the growth of their capability—particularly in telecommunications technologies. Taking into account the sheer size of Telstra, I have no doubt that, as it and other carriers grow, their purchasing power in the Australian marketplace will have a directly determinant effect on the health of our local indigenous ICT sector.

This amendment is to prevent a watering down of those commitments. We believe that industry development plans should stay and that we should continue to be able to scrutinise the larger carriers—in particular, Telstra's purchasing plans and what they contribute to industry development in this country. I should add that—as stories emerge from time to time about the plans and intentions, alleged and otherwise, of Telstra to source a growing number of services and technology from overseas, including outsourcing various aspects of their own IT to other places—it is a really important issue. I would like to know the government's thoughts about the need to retain that level of accountability as far as industry development goes.