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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7364


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (12:49 PM) —I think there was probably a time when IDPs had some relevance, although some might have argued even then that they were largely cosmetic because, whilst indicating areas in which the company's performance should be specified in the plan, they essentially left it on a `best endeavours' basis. In other words, the companies indicated their proposed levels of R&D and what they hoped to achieve in other areas, but there was never any suggestion that they would be compelled to do things which did not make sense or which were quite uneconomic. The IDP provided a measure of visibility as to their plans, rather than our simply not having a clue what they might be up to or what their intentions were. Having that in front of you does not detract from the criticism that ultimately it does not make a great deal of difference.

The Productivity Commission found no compelling arguments for continuing with IDPs, on the basis that larger carriers are well aware of local capabilities and will continue to use local industry for cost and efficiency reasons. Smaller carriers are either resellers or carriers serving a limited or regional market and would have a limited impact on the local equipment industry. IDPs may act as a barrier to entry. Firms will be asked to comply with the principles set out in the Australian industry participation framework run by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources. This framework provides full, fair and reasonable access in the preparation of Australian industry development plans to maximise opportunities for suppliers and the development of industry. The government continues to support Australian ICT industry development through its endorsed supplier arrangement. In this regard, on 21 June 2002, the government released its voluntary procurement and strategic industry development guidelines to encourage its suppliers to undertake strategic activities in Australia in areas including R&D, exports, investments, SME alliances, skill development and technology transfer.

It comes down to this: if the Labor Party really only has Telstra in mind, it may as well come out and say what it will require Telstra to do. However, if it says that it should apply to the industry generally, it has to accept that these decisions are often made globally. If there is an unnecessary degree of paperwork involved in complying with what is essentially a feelgood exercise, they take that very much into account in deciding where to locate for all sorts of levels of activity. We have to get the balance right. We should not for a moment be out there saying that none of these things matters. We should be reminding them that quite often there is a mutual benefit to be derived. But to go beyond that and to force them to do things which they just do not think are commercial is not a good idea. I presume that Labor agrees with that. The halfway position is to get them to spell out plans in great detail and usually to engage consultants and others to prepare them so that everyone can feel a bit better about them. That is a much more significant burden on SMEs than it is on an organisation like Telstra. At the end of the day we would be better off having the resources of all concerned applied to competing in the marketplace rather than simply complying with red-tape requirements which ultimately will make no difference to commercial outcomes.