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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7376

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (1:46 PM) —It looks as though we are going to miss out on lunch, so maybe I will spend a couple of minutes—

The CHAIRMAN —If you are quick, you might not, Minister.

Senator ALSTON —I hope that is so, but I did see Senator Murray lurking and I suspect he will want more than his one minute of sunshine. The short answer to the question is this: I am indebted to Senator Lundy for effectively foreshadowing Labor's policy—a policy that has been a very badly kept secret in recent times—which is to force Telstra out of Foxtel. I think that is a very serious step to take, particularly in the absence of any evidence that it is uncompetitive. We will see what the ACCC has to say about these issues and it may well express a view on a desirable industry structure in terms of vertical integration. However, that is not to say one should assume that because of an apprehension you need to fundamentally destruct the current industry. Yet, that is what Labor is proposing to do. We know that, Senator Lundy, because we have been told by a number of people and, quite clearly, when the time comes there will be an almighty explosion, I can assure you.

This current provision, it must be understood, still requires a public inquiry. The ACCC still has to satisfy itself that any proposal is in the long-term interests of end users. There can be no suggestion of access holidays, special deals or backdoor assistance; it has to meet a test which is very transparent and visible. The advice which will be forthcoming—I hope we will have it by early next year; I have not asked to have it by next year; I would have asked to have had it quite some time ago—will address a number of issues which impact on the long-term future of the telecommunications and broadband industries. Things like video services will obviously be part and parcel of that. It may well address bundling; it may address the availability of new services; it may raise the need to ensure that there is full competition between HFC networks and the DSL networks. We know that Telstra is in both of those networks. I have made it plain that, if there is any indication that Telstra is running dead on DSL, we would take a very dim view. That is one thing; it is another thing to say that simply because they are in Foxtel and there is a possibility that they might act in a way that you disapprove of that would then justify a policy decision to excise them, presumably against their wishes and against the wishes of the shareholders in Telstra, not to mention the shareholders in the Foxtel consortium. That would be a very big step. So, we are ready for you when you finally make that announcement. In the meantime, we will see what the ACCC has to say.