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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 35

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (11:42 AM) —The reason that the government has rejected the Democrats’ amendments is that it is not necessary for clause 8 of the ACMA Bill to be amended to refer to the promotion of competition as a legitimate means of advancing objectives of consumer protection, for these reasons. First of all, promoting competition in telecommunications is a clear objective of government policy and it is regulated primarily through the provisions of the Trade Practices Act. It is a different structure to the situation in the United Kingdom. The committee’s recommendation in this regard appears to be based—Senator Sherry has not said this but I assume it is the case—on section 3 of the United Kingdom Communications Act 2003, which requires the regulator, Ofcom, to ‘further consumer interests in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition’. I concede, no argument, that this is a legitimate role for Ofcom, which has competition functions, and clearly defined ones, but it is not legitimate for ACMA, which does not.

In any case, such an amendment is not needed given the existing provisions in legislation. It is not as if it is a vacuum, I might say, through you, Mr Temporary Chair, to Senator Cherry. In the context of telecommunications, the current objects clauses of the Telecommunications Act and part 11C of the Trade Practices Act adequately incorporate objects relating to the promotion of competition and the protection of consumer interests. For example, the main object of the Telecommunications Act is to promote the long-term interests of end users of carriage services and the efficiency and international competitiveness of the Australian telecommunications industry. The act also promotes the development of an Australian telecommunications industry which is efficient, competitive and responsive to the needs of the Australian community.

An object of the Trade Practices Act is to promote the long-term interests of end users of carriage services and of services that are supplied by means of carriage services. It is also unnecessary for clause 8 of the ACMA Bill to give ACMA the function of developing adequate consumer protection requirements. ACMA will have the functions currently conferred on the ACA and the ABA, including, for example, the consumer focused functions conferred on the ACA under the Telecommunications Act and the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act. In any case, the development of adequate consumer protection standards should ultimately be a matter for government and parliament and certainly not the regulator.

There are some drafting difficulties with these amendments. In particular, it is not clear what the term ‘legitimate’ means, and the objectives to be advanced, of course, should be specified.