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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1213


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (9:31 AM) —I table the explanatory memoranda relating to the bills and move:

That these bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

STATUTE LAW REVISION BILL 2008

Statute Law Revision Bills are important mechanisms which ensure more effective and accessible laws.  The Office of Parliamentary Counsel does an excellent job in reviewing, correcting and updating the body of Commonwealth legislation by preparing these Bills.

Scrutiny of the statute book extends beyond the correction of minor errors and the clearing away of obsolete Acts.  This Bill removes gender-specific language which will ensure that our laws are contemporary.

The timely corrections and repeals of obsolete language effected by Statute Law Revision Bills improve the quality and accuracy of Commonwealth legislation and facilitate the publication of consolidated versions of Acts.

The Bill has four schedules.  Schedule 1 amends minor and technical errors contained in principal Acts, such as incorrect spelling, punctuation or numbering. 

Most of Schedule 2 amends errors contained in amending Acts and misdescribed or redundant amendments.  The remainder of Schedule 2 amends errors in cross references to the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, which came before the Parliament in 2005 but was not enacted until 2007. References to the “Australian Citizenship Act 2006” are amended to refer to the “Australian Citizenship Act 2007”.

Schedule 3 repeals obsolete Acts and makes consequential amendments to provisions of other Acts that refer to a repealed Act.  A large number of these obsolete Acts are administered by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and relate to programs that are now finished.

Schedule 4 amends a number of Acts to replace gender-specific language with gender-neutral language.

The effect of the commencement provisions in Schedules 1 and 2 is that the errors are taken to have been corrected immediately after the error was made.  Schedule 3 commences on Royal Assent and Schedule 4 commences the day after Royal Assent.

While none of the amendments proposed by the Schedules will alter the content of the law, the Bill ensures our Statute book reflects current social standards and it will improve the quality and public accessibility of Commonwealth legislation.

I commend the Bill.


TELECOMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NATIONAL BROADBAND NETWORK) BILL 2008

Access to high-speed broadband services is critical to Australia’s future economic prosperity and social well-being.

This is why the Government has committed to investing up to $4.7 billion in partnership with the private sector and to consider necessary regulatory changes to establish a new national broadband network.

This national broadband network is expected to provide minimum speeds of 12 megabits per second to 98 per cent of homes and businesses within five years.

The national broadband network will be an open access network that provides for equivalence of access charges and scope for access seekers to differentiate their product offerings by allowing the customisation of access speeds, quality of service and contention ratios.  This will facilitate real competition, delivering high quality and efficiently priced services.

The national broadband network will provide a platform for sustainable growth for our economy for many years to come.

The Government is committed to the expeditious delivery of these outcomes.  The Government’s recent announcement of its Panel of Experts, that will play an integral role in the assessment process, and the recent introduction of a Bill to enable access to the Communications Fund demonstrate this commitment.

So that the nation achieves the best outcome from this once-in-a-life-time transformational initiative, the successful proponent will be selected through an open and fair competitive assessment process.

It is essential that parties interested in rolling out the new network are not prevented from participating in the selection process by a lack of information about existing network infrastructure.

It is generally acknowledged that the amount of information in the public domain regarding Telstra’s customer access network and other infrastructure, especially in non-metropolitan areas, is not extensive.

As the owner of Australia’s largest fixed customer access network - elements of which are likely to form part of any fibre-to-the-node network - Telstra is at an advantage to other potential proponents of a national broadband network if it has sole access to information that is essential for the preparation of competitive proposals.

Knowledge of other non-Telstra infrastructure that could form part of a national broadband network, such as that used for backhaul, is also relevant.

It is essential, therefore, that potential proponents have access to sufficient information to develop, with confidence, robust network designs and costings.

The Government has sought agreement from carriers to provide this network information voluntarily.  Some carriers have agreed while others have expressed reservations. 

Most network operators, including Telstra have demonstrated that they are working towards giving this information voluntarily.

We welcome this cooperative approach. Discussions are continuing with carriers to ensure information is available as soon as possible. However, the Government has come to the conclusion that legislation is necessary to ensure that it is able to meet the ambitious timetable to begin rolling out the new network by the end of the year.

It is important that all potential bidders have access to network information to develop their bids, and that private network data is protected.

This Bill provides a mechanism for providing potential proponents with access to relevant information for the purposes of the competitive national broadband network assessment process, so they can put forward robust proposals.

Importantly, the legislation includes strong legislative safeguards to carriers, which guard against the misuse of sensitive network information. The Bill, and any subordinate instruments which are provided for by the Bill, are not intended to override any protections under the Privacy Act 1988 for personal information.  The Bill prohibits disclosure of network information except for specified purposes.  It also includes a sunset provision so that the obligation on carriers to provide information would cease to have force 12 months after the commencement of the legislation. This will enable the Government to meet their commitment to begin building the National Broadband Network by the end of the year.

Carriers will retain ownership of their information and will continue to have full use of that information. 

The information requirements that I have consulted with carriers on are limited in scope, and can only be used for the purposes of building a broadband network. Any instrument issued as a consequence of this legislation would similarly be limited in scope.  This measure will ensure a fair and effective competitive process for the benefit of the entire Australian community.

The Bill enables the Government to allow all parties in the market to compete on the merits of their proposals, not on the basis of control of information derived from their market position. This will increase competitive tension in the Government’s process, resulting in the best possible outcome for the Australian public.

This Bill creates a new proposed Part 27A for the Telecommunications Act.  Under this Part, carriers would be required to provide specified information to the Commonwealth.  The information would only be able to be disclosed to:

  • an entrusted company officer of a company considering or intending to prepare a proposal.  This would include directors and employees of such a company and its advisers; and
  • an entrusted public official, which would include Ministers, other Secretaries, Commonwealth officers and employees and Government advisers, to enable amongst other things consideration of proposals and advice to be prepared in relation to proposals.

The Bill contains provisions to protect the information from disclosure and specifying the circumstances in which that information could be disclosed by the Commonwealth and potential proponents.

The Bill also provides the Minister with the power to make legislative instruments setting out conditions that would have to be satisfied by potential proponents prior to them receiving carrier information, restricting or limiting the entrusted company officers to whom carrier information could be disclosed and setting out conditions for the storage, handling or destruction of carrier information.  These provisions provide a further and flexible mechanism to address concerns, including those relating to national security, about the release of network information.

Subject to the conditions specified in the legislative instruments I have referred to, the Bill would allow entrusted company officers to disclose the information to other entrusted company officers for the purpose of considering whether to make a proposal or preparing a proposal.  It would also allow an entrusted public official to disclose the information to another entrusted official for the purpose of considering or providing advice in relation to the national broadband network process and proposals.

Breach of the non-disclosure prohibition by an entrusted public official would be a criminal offence under section 70 of the Crimes Act 1914 and breach of the provisions by an entrusted company official would be a breach of a civil penalty provision.

The Bill is an important step in the competitive process for selecting the successful proponent that will build the new high-speed national broadband network that is so important to Australia’s future.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.